Exile in Guyville is Liz Phair's debut studio album which was released on June 22, 1993 by Matador Records.
In the summer of 1991, Liz Phair wrote and recorded songs on audio cassette tapes, which she circulated in Chicago using the moniker Girly-Sound.
Initially, she sent out only two tapes: one to Tae Won Yu from the band Kicking Giant, and the other to Chris Brokaw. The recipients of the Girly-Sound tapes circulated copies with other early fans.
John Henderson (the owner of the Chicago indie label Feel Good All Over) heard the tapes and contacted Phair. Soon she moved into his apartment and started playing her songs to him. Henderson brought in producer Brad Wood to help develop the 4-track demos into full songs.
Originally, Phair's recordings were supposed to come out on Henderson's label; however, the whole process was made difficult by the fact that he and Phair had opposite ideas regarding what direction to take in terms of sound. Henderson preferred a stripped-down but precise sound, possibly with outside musicians, while Phair wanted a fuller sound.
Phair has stated: "We both wanted something for me. He was projecting onto me what he wanted my music to come out like, which was wrong. So I blew him off."
Eventually, Henderson stopped showing up at the studio, which made Phair move out of his apartment and start working exclusively with Brad Wood on what would become "Exile in Guyville."
Eventually, a Girly-Sound tape had made it to the head of Matador Records. Despite the outcome of the recording sessions, Henderson tipped off Brad Wood that Matador Records was interested in Phair.
When Matador was contacted by Phair in 1992, they signed her. Gerard Cosloy, co-president of Matador, stated that "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 okay."
After the early sessions with John Henderson, Phair started working with producer Brad Wood at Idful Studios, in 1992.
Wood stated: "We did two or three evenings of recording just for fun where we tried to discover something. We recorded "Fuck and Run," and that's when I realized we were on to something. This really spare beat: just guitar, drums and vocals. It was right: simple, driving, direct and blunt. It had so much exuberance."
These sessions were thereby very different from the recording sessions with John Henderson. Eventually, engineer Casey Rice joined Idful and started working with Phair and Wood as she had no band of her own.
Initially, there were many time constraints because Phair had moved into her parents' house which was far from the studio, and Wood had to manage his time between his work at the studio and his work as a janitor; however, when Phair signed to Matador, she sublet an apartment close to the studio, which simplified the process.
Regarding the recording process, Casey Rice stated: "We basically all sat around and thought about how to make the guitar and vocals versions of the songs into what we thought would be better ones. Listen to her four track versions of the tunes, and try to come up with ways of doing them as a 'band'. I do recall there being no lack of candor and if someone wanted to do something, we tried it. If it sucked, no one would hesitate to say so if they believed it."
Brad Wood provided a different recording approach, structuring the drum patterns and bass lines around Phair's vocal phrases and guitar riffs, instead of recording the rhythm section first and then layering the guitars and vocals on top.
Phair has commented: "It was fun. Actually we just played our parts separately. I laid down the guitar, and then I would just tell them what kind of song it would be and what kinds of instruments we needed to do. And then they would go in there and figure out a part and then do it. It was more like collage work than really playing with a band."
"Johnny Sunshine" was one of the first songs recorded in 1992 that eventually made the record. The songs "Fuck and Run", "Never Said" (as "Clean"), "Girls! Girls! Girls!", "Flower", "Johnny Sunshine", "Divorce Song", "Soap Star Joe", "Shatter", and "Stratford-on-Guy" (as "Bomb") all originated from a set of home recordings by Phair under the moniker Girly-Sound, and were re-recorded for the album.
- 6'1" 3:05
- Help Me Mary 2:16
- Glory 1:29
- Dance Of The Seven Veils 2:29
- Never Said 3:16
- Soap Star Joe 2:44
- Explain It To Me 3:11
- Canary 3:19
- Mesmerizing 3:55
- Fuck And Run 3:07
- Girls! Girls! Girls! 2:20
- Divorce Song 3:20
- Shatter 5:28
- Flower 2:03
- Johnny Sunshine 3:27
- Gunshy 3:15
- Stratford-On-Guy 2:59
- Strange Loop 3:57
In 1993, "Exile in Guyville" peaked at #12 on Billboard's Top Heatseekers Albums chart.
By the spring of 1994, the album had sold over 200,000 units, peaking at #196 on the Billboard 200; it became Matador Records' most successful release at the time. In 1998, it was certified Gold by the RIAA.
"Exile in Guyville" received widespread critical acclaim. It was the number one album in the year-end critics poll in Spin and the Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll.
The album was also a moderate commercial success. The videos for "Never Said" and "Stratford-On-Guy" received airplay on MTV.
Phair reacted to the reception of the album, saying: "I don't really get what happened with Guyville. It was so normal, from my side of things. It was nothing remarkable, other than the fact that I'd completed a big project, but I'd done that before... Being emotionally forthright was the most radical thing I did. And that was taken to mean something bigger in terms of women's roles in society and women's roles in music... I just wanted people who thought I was not worth talking to, to listen to me."
The sudden success of the album also generated a somewhat negative response from the local Chicago indie music scene. Phair commented, "It's odd... Guyville was such a part of indie. But at the same time... I was kind of at war with indie when I made that record."
Another problem that arose from Phair's success was also dealing with her stage fright. Despite this, the album inspired a number of imitators, and the lo-fi sound and the emotional honesty of Phair's lyrics were frequently cited by critics as outstanding qualities.
"Exile in Guyville" frequently appears on many critics' best-of lists. It was ranked 15 in Spin's "100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005". VH1 named it the 96th Greatest Album Of All-Time. In 2012, the album was ranked number 327 on Rolling Stone's list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
In 1999, Pitchfork rated "Exile in Guyville" as the fifth best album of the 1990s; however, in its 2003 revision of the list, it moved to number 30.