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Elizabeth Clark "Liz" Phair (born April 17, 1967) is an American singer, songwriter and guitarist.

Phair began her career in the early 1990s by self-releasing audio cassettes under the moniker Girly Sound, before signing with the independent record label Matador Records. Her 1993 debut studio album Exile in Guyville was released to acclaim: by the turn of the twenty-first century, it had been ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Ten years after the release of her debut, Phair's fourth album, Liz Phair, was released on Capitol Recordsmarker and her music began to move in a more pop rock-oriented approach which resulted in a fan and media backlash.

Her signature guitar, which she is often seen playing, is a Fender Duo-Sonic II.

Early life

Phair was born in New Haven, Connecticutmarker, but was raised in Winnetkamarker, Illinoismarker by wealthy adoptive parents. She graduated from New Trier High Schoolmarker in 1985. During high school, Phair was involved in student government, yearbook, and the cross country team, and took AP Studio Art her senior year among many other advanced-level classes. She attended Oberlin Collegemarker in Oberlinmarker, Ohiomarker, and majored in art history.


Origins of music career

Phair's entry into the music industry began when she met guitarist Chris Brokaw, a member of the band Come. Brokaw and Phair moved to San Franciscomarker together, and Phair tried to become an artist there. After moving back to Chicagomarker, Phair began writing songs and recording homemade tapes under the name Girly Sound, and supported herself by selling her charcoal drawings on the streets of Wicker Park. She became part of the alternative music scene in Chicago and became friends with Material Issue and Urge Overkill, two of Chicago's upstart bands to go national in the early 1990s, as well as Brad Wood and John Henderson, head of Feel Good All Over, an independent label in Chicago. (A later attempt at re-recording the Girly Sound tapes failed after arguments between Henderson and Phair.)

Recordings with Matador Records

After asking Wood who the "coolest" indie label was, Phair called up Gerard Cosloy, co-president of Matador Records, in 1992 and asked him if he would put out her record. Coincidentally, Cosloy had just read a review of Girly Sound in Chemical Imbalance that very day and told Phair to send him a tape. Phair sent him a tape of six Girly Sound songs. Cosloy recalls: "The songs were amazing. It was a fairly primitive recording, especially compared to the resulting album. The songs were really smart, really funny, and really harrowing, sometimes all at the same time. . . . I liked it a lot and played it for everybody else. We usually don't sign people we haven't met, or heard other records by, or seen as performers. But I had a hunch, and I called her back and said O.K."

Cosloy offered a $3,000 advance, and Phair began working on a single, which turned into the eighteen songs of Exile in Guyville.

Exile in Guyville was produced by Phair and Brad Wood, and released in 1993. The album received uniformly excellent reviews. The album received significant critical acclaim for its very blunt, honest lyrics and for the music itself, a hybrid of indie rock and pop. The album established Phair's penchant for exploring sexually explicit lyrics such as in the song "Flower": "I want to be your blow job queen/...I'll fuck you and your minions too." By contrast, her trademark low, vibrato-less voice gave many of her songs a slightly detached, almost deadpan character. The combination of these factors won Phair many dedicated fans. She also had several detractors, especially in her hometown of Chicago; in particular, veteran producer Steve Albini was involved in a war of words reflected in Chicago's free newsweekly, the Chicago Reader. Albini wrote an angry response to an article by Billy Wyman (Hitsville), entitled "Not From the Underground: 1993 in Review", that discussed how Phair and several other artists had given an "explicit rejection of much of the insularity that increasingly characterizes underground music". Albini identified the aforementioned artists as "pandering sluts" and said Phair was the modern Rickie Lee Jones, "more talked about than heard, a persona completely unrooted in substance, and a fucking chore to listen to".

Hoping to capitalize on the acclaim for her debut album, the release of Phair's second album received substantial media attention and an advertising blitz. Whip-Smart debuted at #27 in 1994 and "Supernova", the first single, became a Top Ten modern rock hit, and the video was frequently featured on MTV. Phair also landed the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine with the headline "A Rock Star is Born." Nonetheless, the album received mixed reviews, and although it was certified Gold (shipments of at least 500,000 units), it ultimately did not sell as well as expected, as it was hoped the album would introduce Phair to a wider, more mainstream audience. Following Whip-Smart, Phair released Juvenilia, a collection of some early Girly Sound tracks and several B-sides, including her cover of the 1980s classic by The Vapors, "Turning Japanese".

Phair's third album, entitled whitechocolatespaceegg, was finally released in 1998 after some delays, which included a disagreement about content; at one point, the label rejected the album as submitted, and asked Phair to write a few additional radio-friendly songs for the set. The album displayed a more mature Phair, and reflected some of the ways marriage and motherhood affected her. The single "Polyester Bride" received some airplay, but the album was no more successful than her previous records. To promote the record Phair joined the now legendary Lilith Fair. Phair performed on the main stage along with acts like Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and Missy Elliott.

Recordings with Capitol Records

In 2003, her self-titled fourth album was released on her new label, Capitol Recordsmarker. Phair had not released an album in several years; she had been working on her record, as well as making guest appearances on other tracks (she lent backing vocals to the Sheryl Crow hit "Soak Up the Sun").

Initially, Phair worked on several album tracks with songwriter Michael Penn as the producer. When she submitted the finished Penn-produced album to Capitol, the label gave it a lukewarm reception. Having already exhausted her recording budget, label president Andy Slater offered Phair more money to record only if Phair agreed to work with the production team known as The Matrix to come up with some singles for the album. Phair's collaboration with the Matrix resulted in only four songs, but much of the media attention focused solely on the Matrix-produced tracks, which were a departure from her earlier work. The album received many negative reviews, especially from the independent music press, who accused Phair of "selling out" by making the record very pop-oriented.

Though her eponymous album took her higher in the charts than she had ever been previously, and introduced her to a mainstream audience for the first time, success brought about a strong backlash from critics and disappointed fans of her earlier work. Many decried her for "selling out", and she became a "piñata for critics." The New York Times' Meghan O'Rourke's review, titled "Liz Phair's Exile in Avril-ville", said that Phair "gushes like a teenager" and had "committed an embarrassing form of career suicide."

The debut single "Why Can't I?", co-written by The Matrix, did reach the Top 40 charts in North America, and its follow-up, "Extraordinary," was also somewhat successful: it appeared on the soundtrack to the 2004 movie Raising Helen and was the promotional theme for the 2004 Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament; in March 2007, the song began appearing in Gatorade television advertisements. Phair continued to flirt with sexually explicit themes, however, as was most evident in a track called "H.W.C.", standing for "Hot White Cum".

Somebody's Miracle, Phair's fifth album (and final album with Capitol Records), was released on October 4, 2005. The album returned to a more traditional rock sound, mixing the mood of Phair's earlier work with a more mellow sound. The album received mixed reviews and was not a chart success.

Exile in Guyville reissue and future recordings

Phair signed with ATO Records in early 2008 and re-released Exile in Guyville on June 24, 2008. Exile in Guyville was reissued on CD, vinyl, and in digital format. The special reissue package includes three never-before-released songs from the original recording sessions: "Ant in Alaska," "Say You," and an untitled instrumental. Phair has also completed a new documentary DVD, "Guyville Redux." This DVD features an introduction by Dave Matthews, founder/co-owner of ATO Records, and describes the making of the album, in the male-dominated, Chicago independent music scene of the early 1990’s (which included Urge Overkill, Material Issue, and Smashing Pumpkins), and the Wicker Park neighborhood where it happened.

"Exile in Guyville is miles more complex than the porn-star manifesto it was often considered," said Alan Light (former editor-in-chief of Spin, Vibe, and Tracks) in an essay written for the reissue. "Phair spoke for the uncertainties facing a new generation of women, struggling to find a balance between sexual confidence and romance, between independence and isolation. . . . Exile in Guyville sat at the center of a culture in transition."

Phair is currently working on an untitled musical project. No release date has been announced. In May 2009, Phair released a new song "Faith and Tenderness," sold exclusively at Banana Republic.

Other recordings

  • In 1993 Phair released a 7" single called "Carnivore", which featured the song titled "Carnivore" on side A, and a different recording of the same song titled "Carnivore (raw)" on side B. The 7" single was released by the Chicago independent label Minty Fresh.
  • In 1994 Phair contributed a song called "Don't Have Time" to the soundtrack of Higher Learning. The soundtrack is notable for mixing hip-hop artists with indie rock artists, mirroring the cross-cultural aspects of the movie.
  • In 1995 Phair and Material Issue contributed a cover of The Banana Splits' theme song "The Tra La La Song " for the tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, produced by Ralph Sall for MCA Records.
  • For the 1997 film First Love, Last Rites, Shudder to Think and Phair collaborated on the track "Erecting A Movie Star."
  • In 2001, Phair recorded a song called "Down" in response to her divorce. A quasi-stop-motion animation video using photographs was created for it by filmmaker Rodney Ascher (he shot fifty rolls of still photographs in L.A.'s Chinatown), and posted on her official website[22876] The song was never officially released on any of her albums, but the video can still be seen on her website, as well as Ascher's website.
  • Phair contributed backing vocals for Sheryl Crow on Crow's hit song "Soak Up the Sun" in 2002.
  • The song Why Can't I? was prominently featured in the films How to Deal, Win A Date With Tad Hamilton! and 13 Going on 30.
  • In 2004, Phair offered backing vocals on Jimmy Eat World's "Work" track on their Futures album.
  • In 2004, the song Extraordinary was used as the official theme song of the 2004 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
  • In 2005, she recorded the track "Chemistry" with Canadian artist Kyle Riabko.
  • Also in 2005, Phair covered the Rolling Stones song, "Mother's Little Helper" for the Desperate Housewives compilation.
  • Phair also collaborated with singer/songwriter and actress Minnie Driver on a track called "Sorry Baby" on Driver's second album Seastories, which was released in summer of 2007.
  • The summer 2007 movie Nancy Drew featured a new song by Phair, called "Perfect Misfit." A 30-second preview of the track can be heard on the film's official soundtrack's website.
  • Another summer 2007 movie No Reservations features her song "Count on My Love."
  • Phair currently composes the original score for CBS' Swingtown and The CW's 90210.


Portrayed the role of Brynn Allen, opposite her good friend Robin Tunney, in the film Cherish.

She played 1960s pop singer Jackie DeShannon in an episode of the NBC period drama American Dreams.

Phair has a small role, as a yoga instructor, in the film Seeing Other People.

She has also appeared as herself on the short-lived TV series Pepper Dennis and the long-running series Charmed.

Considered for the role of Marie LaSalle in High Fidelity

Personal life

In 1995, Phair married Jim Staskauskas, a film editor who had worked on her videos. They had one child, James Nicholas Staskauskas, on December 21, 1996. The couple divorced in 2001.


Girly Sound

Year Tape Name
1991 Yo Yo Buddy Yup Yup Word To Ya Muthuh
1991 Girls! Girls! Girls!
1991 Untitled Tape 3

Studio albums

Year Title Peak chart positions RIAA certification
1993 Exile in Guyville
  • Released: June 22, 1993
  • Label: Matador
  • Format: CD, cassette, LP, digital download
196 Gold
1994 Whip-Smart
  • Released: September 20, 1994
  • Label: Matador
  • Format: CD, cassette, LP, digital download
27 Gold
1998 whitechocolatespaceegg
  • Released: August 11, 1998
  • Label: Matador/Capitol
  • Format: CD, cassette, LP, digital download
2003 Liz Phair
  • Released: June 24, 2003
  • Label: Capitol
  • Format: CD, digital download
27 -
2005 Somebody's Miracle
  • Released: October 4, 2005
  • Label: Capitol
  • Format: CD, digital download



  • Exile In Guyville Studio Demo (1992)
  • 96 Shelved Demos/Studio Recordings (1996)
  • Whitechocolatespaceegg Demos (1997)
  • Michael Penn Recordings/"4th Album Roughs" (1999-2001)
  • Somebody's Miracle Demos (2005)


Year Title Chart Positions RIAA certification Album
U.S. U.S. Mod U.S. Pop
1994 "Supernova" 78 6 Whip-Smart
1995 "Whip-Smart" 24
2003 "Why Can't I?" 32 Gold Liz Phair
"Insanity" digital single release only
2004 "Extraordinary" 111 Liz Phair
2005 "Everything to Me" 99 Somebody's Miracle


Year Award Category Work Result
1993 Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll Album of the Year "Exile in Guyville" Won
1993 Rolling Stone Critics Poll Best New Female Artist "Exile in Guyville" Won
1995 Grammy Awards Best Female Rock Vocal Performance "Supernova" Nomination
1996 Grammy Awards Best Female Rock Vocal Performance "Don't Have Time" Nomination
2009 ASCAP Awards Top Television Composer "90210" Won


Acting filmography

Film composition


External links

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