Meredith Brooks: No More Bitching
Rather than immediately cashing out on the success of her breakout single "Bitch," Meredith Brooks took her time -- now, happily, she's got a new album, a successful producing career (she oversaw Jennifer Love Hewitt's newest effort) and a quaint home that's not at all what you'd expect.
It's a long, winding, precarious road from the collegiate coffee houses of Corvallis, Oregon, to the Olympian heights of the top 40, but that's precisely the ascent made by Meredith Brooks, singer, songwriter, hard-rocking guitarist and now music producer. In 1997, after 15 years in the trenches (and a late-'80s stint with a female trio called The Graces), her debut album, Blurring the Edges, went platinum and her single, "Bitch" ("I'm a bitch, I'm a lover, I'm a child, I'm a mother, I'm a sinner, I'm a saint"), became a worldwide hit. Shortly after that song hit the airwaves, Brooks, then 31, was asked to open for the Rolling Stones on the South American leg of their "Bridges to Babylon" tour. This summer, she has joined Melissa Etheridge.
It's also a long, winding, precarious road up to Brooks's cliff-hugging aerie in the Hollywood Hills. The posted speed limit is 10 miles per hour, and the heights are dizzying; pity the poor Fed-Ex driver who has to negotiate hairpin turns and rutted dirt roads in order to deliver the gold records and the boxes of demos that arrive from obscure singers who want Brooks to produce their next album.
When Brooks bought her house three years ago, she turned the first floor into a full-fledged recording studio (with the requisite kitchen, shower and Jimi Hendrix poster), taught herself how to use Pro Tools software, sent home the engineers and mixed her new album herself. The result, Bad Bad One, was released in May. After producing songs for Lillian Garcia and Jeremy Toback, Brooks got a call from actress Jennifer Love Hewitt, who asked Brooks to produce her next album, due in September.
"I wasn't sure who she was," says Brooks. "But then she arrived on my doorstep and said that she was going to stalk me until I agreed to work with her. And except for taking a break to do a movie [The Tuxedo with Jackie Chan], she's been here almost every day for the past year."
"Who came up with the material?"
"Jennifer's lyrics were really good, and I said, 'Now, let's go deeper. Tell me your life story.' And she did. She's a great writer. She just needed someone to give her some confidence."
"Who wrote the music?"
"Sometimes I would start a melody and then I'd say to Jennifer, 'Go make it yours.'"
We're sitting on a sun porch off the recording studio. The three-story house has two decks and five balconies. On this level there's lots of wicker, some recovered sofas and a few ornamental wrought iron end tables. There's also a wall done up to look like 15th-century Italy and a mirror with beveled glass.
"A lot of this stuff comes from Domaine Decor," says Brooks, "a really cool shabby chic store on Beverly Boulevard. A guy named Peter Willis helped me with the design. He also did all the outdoor seat covers. It's hard to find cool outdoor covers. The funny thing is, Peter used to engineer for me, and one day I walked into Domaine and Peter was there, and I said, 'What are you doing here?' He said, 'I own this place.' I never knew.
"Oh, before we go upstairs," she remembers, "let me show you what Jennifer bought me." We go into the bathroom. On the toilet seat cover is a painted kitty cat, and the toilet seat is painted with a leopard skin design. "Isn't that totally cool? Jennifer's one of the funniest people I know."
Before reaching the "international" top floor--with a rug from Turkey, a sugar box from Sweden, a table from India--we spend some time on the second floor, which Brooks calls rock-goth. "Rock" because of the wall of 15 or so guitars, and "goth" because of the thick, silk curtains.
"This happened because I had no room for all my guitars. And the color happened after I found this antique gold paint that the previous owners had left in the garage. These guitars are all pretty new, because my old guitars were stolen out of my apartment when I was living in Seattle."
"What made you choose this house?"
"I'm from Oregon so I needed either woods or water. And artists who stay here say this house has the greatest vibe. When I'm not on tour, there's always people here, always a vibe happening and always Peet's Coffee. I wrote a song about Peet's Coffee on my first album. On warm nights, we'll open all the doors and play Motown. Al Green. The Supremes. I've always wanted a house where people can drop in and sit anywhere and eat anywhere. And they can do that here. Because all the slip covers are washable."