Fiona Apple overcomes crippling fears

If you are wondering what Fiona Apple did in the seven years between albums, the answer could be: Housework.

After a much buzzed-about return to the stage at the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, in March, the 34-year-old is back with The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, the arduously-named but critically well-received album that follows 2005's Extraordinary Machine.

The husky-voiced US singer-songwriter, who broke out with the 1997 hit Criminal, was rumoured to have let her long-standing problems with stage fright hold her back from returning to performing.

While Apple has admitted to battling obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), she recently expounded on how housekeeping kept her busy for most of the time she was away.

"Half the problem is practical. I am someone who needs to keep my house clean. I, by principle, don't want to have a maid, but how do people do anything and take care of their house?" she told Billboard.

"Laundry and vacuuming and dishes... So that will take time, and then I'm tired, and I'm like, 'I guess my work day is over.'"


Apple has been gushed over as one of the best songwriters of her generation - by director Quentin Tarantino and many best-of lists by magazines like Rolling Stone - but she has struggled to keep herself productive after the critical success of her albums Tidal (1996), When The Pawn... (1999) and Extraordinary Machine.

Discussing the length between albums, Apple continued: "Seven years wasn't intentional. It's just because I'll finish something and then two years will go by where I don't touch the piano.

"I'm jokey about it and I say I'm lazy - and I am sometimes, but with studio work, I really don't like to work. I like to perform, I like to write, but I don't like to have to go in and record."

Her break between her most recent albums is not her first - she went on hiatus after a public meltdown in 2000.

Broke down

Apple, who has had a history of problems with performing live, broke down during a concert at New York City's Roseland Ballroom in 2002, complaining about the venue's sound system, crying, and then walking off the stage just 40 minutes into her set.

But looking much more at ease in the public eye recently, she went on US comedian Jimmy Fallon's latenight talk show last week to address the incident, saying: "The short answer is that I'm a human being. And that I was reacting to life."

On stage at SXSW, she pulled through a set of old and new songs, but mocked her own stage fright by screaming to the crowd at one point: "You're imaginary, you're all in my head! You're not real!"

Apple's quirks come at a price. She's suffered from OCD for most of her life, telling New York magazine recently that as a child, she would run around the kitchen table 88 times, for each key on the piano.

"At its worst, I was compelled to leave my house at three o'clock in the morning and go out in the alley because I just knew that the paper-towel roll I threw in the recycling bin was uncomfortable, like it was lying the wrong way, and I would be down in the garbage," she related in an interview for the June issue of Elle magazine.

But with a new musical direction - for her latest album, she ditched longtime collaborator Jon Brion for a new producer, her tour drummer Charley Drayto - comes a sense that Apple is getting better at dealing with her issues.

On the song Left Alone from The Idler Wheel, Apple sings: "I don't cry when I'm sad anymore".

Explaining her newfound sentiments to indie music website Pitchfork, she said: "When things are really bad nowadays, I recognise the value in it because it's me filling my quota - it's going to make my joy more intense later.

"Now, at my lowest moments, I think of people who come to shows. I still get very sad and sometimes I feel like I have no friends, but when that happens now, I'll think of people whose names or faces I don't know - they're my friends and they love me. I've got them. It really does save me. I still feel awkward, but that's the one thing I can grab onto at my lowest points."

This article was first published in The New Paper.