Fiona Apple - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
Whether she was aware of the long term ramifications or not, Fiona Apple’s acceptance speech at the 1997 MTV Music Awards for Best New Artist tainted the talented singer/songwriter’s public perception for the rest of her career. Coming off the heels of the wildly popular “Criminal” music video, where she performed in nothing but her underwear, Apple’s remarks concerning the nature of celebrity were admonished by some and championed by others. Ultimately, it didn’t matter which side of the argument you took, as the public backlash toward the platinum selling artist was simultaneously immediate and harsh. Fiona Apple wouldn’t have it any other way. By the time of her acceptance speech, Apple was already notorious for moody piano driven pop music accompanied by brutally honest lyrics of love and loss. Critically acclaimed as a talent beyond her young years, Apple’s boisterous confessionals (both in song and the press) earned her a fanatical following and a fair amount of naysayers. Although the disenchanted and somewhat naïve content of her debut album, Tidal (1996 Epic) solidified her public perception as an embittered teenager, history has proven Apple to be a prolific songwriter of unlimited talent with each successive album progressing her sonic explorations in spite of mainstream popularity. On somebody else’s terms she could have easily been the reigning queen of modern rock but Fiona Apple plays by her own rules. Never one to be a shrinking violet, Apple doesn’t seem to mind if her outspoken antics cost the one thing she loathes most: celebrity.
Fiona Apple McAfee Maggart was born on September 13, 1977 in New York to a family of artists. Her grandfather and grandmother were musicians in the big band heyday while her father, Brandon Maggart, is an actor and her mother is singer Diane McAfee. Apple took up the piano at age 8 and began writing her own compositions as a teenager. Drawing on pop, jazz, and cabaret influences she quickly developed an eclectic formula of piano driven songs with complex structures accompanied by a passionate baritone vocal style. Apple dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and relocated from New York to Los Angeles to shop around a demo tape. Her three track demo tape was passed along to producer Andy Slater who got the young artist signed to the Sony subsidiary label Epic Records in late 1994. Apple immediately entered the studio with Slater at the boards and began working on her debut full length. Walking a fine line between sullen piano ballads and enraged desponded pop songs, Tidal’s arrival in 1996 was not only critically acclaimed but also fit in well with a slew of chart topping mid-90’s female pop stars like Alanis Morrissette and Sarah McLaughlin. It wasn’t long before Apple joined the ranks with Tidal going platinum on the strength of singles like “Shadow Boxer” and “Sleep To Dream”. But it was the infamous, highly erotic music video for “Criminal” that catapulted Apple into the surreal realm of mega stardom.
By 1997 the accolades for Tidal were turning to into awards with Apple picking up a Grammy and an MTV Video Music Award. At the MTV Awards ceremony she lambasted the audience with the anti-celebrity acceptance speech, “This world is bullshit and you shouldn’t model your life on what you think that we think is cool, and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying.” Only 20 years old at the time, Apple successfully bit the industry hand that fed her in just a few seconds. Negative press soon followed though Apple seemed immune to her new found outcast status and continued to tour successfully. Other than contributing cover versions of The Beatles classic “Across The Universe” and Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” to the Pleasantville (1998 Sony Music) soundtrack, Apple was virtually silent for the next three years while she worked on a follow up album.
The 90 word poem that comprised the title for her sophomore release, When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King What He Knows Throws The Blows When He Goes To The Fight And He’ll Win The Whole Thing ‘Fore He Enters The Ring There’s No Body To Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo You Hold Your Own Hand And Remember That Depth Is The Greatest Of Heights And If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where To Land And If You Fall It Won’t Matter, ‘Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right (1999 Epic) did little to bolster Apple’s faltering public image. Although many of her casual fans found the title pompous, the music within was undeniably genius if not exactly radio friendly. Produced by the sonic wunderkind Jon Brion, When The Pawn…expanded Apple’s template into realms of surreal orchestration, circus music, and sing-song spoken word rants not heard since R.E.M. felt the end of the world as they knew it. Although the album eventually went platinum it didn’t expand Apple’s audience with only the single, “Fast As You Can” breaking the Billboard Top 20. It’s a shame considering When The Pawn… marks a dramatic leap forward into a more mature realm of songwriting, flawlessly avoiding the adolescent pitfalls that plagued the majority of Tidal. The album was noticed by Apple’s diehard fanbase, who quickly elevated When The Pawn… to cult like status.
Fiona Apple all but disappeared for the next five years. Much later she would admit to succumbing to a debilitating bout of depression that lasted for years before producer Jon Brion convinced her to re-enter the studio. Work on Apple’s third full length stretched out for over a year with the artist breaking down her entire sound and rebuilding it with a more orchestrated flair. When the finished album was submitted to Epic in 2003 it was universally disliked mostly due to a lack of radio friendly singles. While the album sat on the shelf for the next two years, Apple’s rabid fanbase was growing considerably impatient. After a few of the tracks were leaked onto the Internet, the Fiona cult took matters into their own hands by staging picket lines in front of Sony/Epic offices throughout the world demanding the album’s release. What became the “Free Fiona” campaign gave the artist some much needed positive publicity although Apple remained mysteriously silent throughout the ordeal. As it turns out, Sony weren’t the ones unhappy with the finished product. Apple herself was unsatisfied with the album and set about re-recording the majority of the material with producer Mike Elizondo. When Extraordinary Machine (2005 Epic) was finally released it was the highest charting album of Apple’s career, which is ironic considering Extraordinary Machine spawned no mainstream singles. Yet the face of the music industry, if not the world, had changed. Success no longer hung on mainstream radio play or CD sales figures but had evolved into the digital fan base, and on the net Fiona Apple was a Goddess with Extraordinary Machine hailed as the second coming. Her subsequent tour was wildly successful with the video for “Not About Love” featuring comedian Zach Galifianakis becoming an Internet phenomenon. Apple returned the favor to Galifianakis the following year by making a guest appearance on his joke track, “Come Over And Get It (Up In ‘Dem Guts)”. As of early 2008, Fiona Apple is rumored to be working on her fourth full length album, although an official release date has yet to be announced. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another six years to for the next Apple album to see the light of day.