FIONA APPLE was born in New York in 1977. She has since recorded with Johnny Cash, dated Paul Thomas Anderson and David Blaine, been a PETA activist, released an album with a 90-word title, been mocked at the Grammys for a speech about Maya Angelou, and written songs about her rape as a 12-year-old. Her 2005 third LP Extraordinary Machine, released after three years of record company wrangling, was a multi-platinum seller.
Best thing you can cook?
Nothing. I can bake. I made myself some nice French fries once. But otherwise I just eat out. Lots of salad bars.
First gig you went to?
My mum and dad took me to see Stevie Wonder, some time in the mid-’80s. He was great. Still is. I remember him cracking a lot of jokes about being blind. ‘Hey, the traffic was a bitch, I won’t be driving here again,’ that kind of thing. Everyone loves Stevie Wonder, don’t they?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A veterinarian nurse. I was into animals. Then I wanted to be a self-defence teacher. I had this fantastic woman who used to teach us self-defence. I wasn’t very ambitious as a child. I’m still not.
Last time you used public transport?
In New York a few months ago. I always take the subway to my mum’s house. She lives up in 125th Street.
Best present you’ve been given?
My boyfriend bought me the complete Oxford English Dictionary. It’s about 29 volumes long and has, like, every word ever. That really is the coolest book you can ever have.
What’s the worst thing a critic has said about you?
Oh, I’m sure there’s been lots of stuff about me being annoying and crazy. But I honestly don’t read critics. My dad reads absolutely everything ever written about me. He calls me up to read ecstatic reviews, but I always insist that I can’t hear them. If you give value to the good reviews, you have to give value to the criticism.
Weirdest story you’ve ever heard about yourself?
Somebody insists that I was eating oysters in a bar in LA. Of course I’m a vegan, so that didn’t happen.
Do you read on the toilet?
Everyone does! I have a compilation of profiles from the New Yorker in the bathroom. It’s very well-thumbed.
What else have you read lately?
A novel by Jonathan Ames, a book of short stories by Tobias Wolff and some essays by Charles Baxter. I’m in a reading mood at the moment, but I can go for months without picking up a book.
Most random place you’ve ever heard one of your songs?
I think it was in the Body Shop. I had to leave the store immediately. Hearing my songs in public freaks me out a bit. There was one restaurant I really liked in LA, but I had to stop going there when they started playing my music. It felt kinda awkward.
What’s the coolest thing in your house?
I have a really cool desk. It’s an old French piece from the 1950s, very modernist, made of maple wood. It does a great U-turn in the middle.
What would surprise me in your record collection?
You’ll find a very old copy of Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual. I don’t actually listen to it anymore – I hardly listen to any music these days – but I’d still defend it. She’s quite good, isn’t she?
Fiona Apple is the avant-garde Cyndi Lauper. Discuss.
I’m not sure that’s true, but I quite like it. “The avant-garde Cyndi Lauper.” Yes, that’ll do me.
Have you ever won anything?
I won a writing competition in my first year of high school, which meant I got a story published in a college paper. And, when I was about eight years old, I won a blue riband horse-riding event.
Did you have posters on your wall as a kid?
My bedroom only featured Beatles posters. I had a huge poster featuring the cover of Let It Be, which is my favourite Beatles album. That’s also my favourite Beatles look – the hairy hippie thing. John is my favourite Beatle, of course.
Tell us a secret about Johnny Cash…
I only shared the studio with him for a few minutes. My vocals took about an hour and a half to record. He sat in for the first song, but not for the second. He gave me a hug and said, “Our voices went good together”, which made me very happy.
© John Lewis, Time Out, 4 April 2006