Fiona Apple Biography

Singer and songwriter

Born Fiona Apple McAfee-Maggart, September 13, 1977, in New York, NY; daughter of Brandon Maggart (an actor) and Diane McAfee (a dancer and singer).

Addresses: Home —Venice Beach, CA. Record company —Sony Music Entertainment, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211. Website —http://


Landed record deal with Work Group, a Sony Music label, early 1990s; released debut album, Tidal , 1996; released When the Pawn , 1999; released Extraordinary Machine , 2005.

Awards: Best new artist in a video, MTV Video Music Awards, for "Sleep to Dream, " 1997; MTV Video Music Awards, best cinematography of the year, for "Criminal, " 1998; Grammy Award, best female rock vocal performance, for "Criminal, " 1998.


Fiona Apple soared into the rock-world limelight with her 1996 triple-platinum debut album Tidal when she was only 19 years old. She captured a Grammy, then followed with 1999's When the Pawn. Despite her talents, Apple gained more notoriety for her tormented life story than for her music. On-stage and during interviews she was so frank and temperamental that many in the music world refused

to take her seriously and instead viewed her as a self-absorbed drama queen who was exploiting her deep-seated emotional wounds. Sick of being vilified and misunderstood, Apple faded from the music scene and at one point quit altogether before releasing 2005's comeback album Extraordinary Machine. This album, released when Apple was a confident and stable 28 years old, shows maturity and depth. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly' s Karen Valby, Apple acknowledged her rocky beginnings in the business. "I was cast in the crazy role and I was perfect for it."

The future singer-songwriter was born Fiona Apple McAfee-Maggart on September 13, 1977, in New York City. Her parents, Diane McAfee and Brandon Maggart, had forged a relationship while performing in a musical together. Apple's mother was a singer and dancer; her father was an actor. They never married but had two daughters together before splitting up when Apple was four. Afterward, Apple and her older sister, Amber, lived with their mother. Apple turned to music at a young age and took piano lessons. By the age of eight, she was playing her own compositions at piano recitals. Apple's thirst for musical knowledge eventually drove her beyond her classical training. She learned to play piano chords by taking sheet music and translating the guitar tablature into the corresponding notes. As a result, her piano-backed music has its own unique, robust feel.

Raised in Manhattan schools, Apple had a hard time early on and was teased with taunts of being an ugly duckling. Later on, classmates called her a dog. By fifth grade, signs of Apple's inner darkness and turmoil began to surface. One day, Apple told a friend that she was going to kill herself—and take her sister's life, too. Apple was taken for a psychiatric evaluation, where a therapist recognized her obvious signs of depression. The therapist also said Apple had a problem with thinking too much.

Apple's father noticed her darkness seeping to the fore before she even entered adolescence. Apple always spent summers with her father in Los Angeles and he noticed she was becoming unsettled, even by the age of ten. "She had trouble sleeping at night—and she had written these inaccessible lyrics about darkness, " her father told Rolling Stone 's Chris Heath. "It kind of scared me in the beginning."

As a child Apple developed bizarre, compulsive rituals to help with her anxiety. Sometimes she played Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and skated around the dining room 88 times—there are 88 keys on a piano. Afterward, she felt safe and knew she would be OK until someone got home. When Apple got mad she would take her step- father's Boy Scout knife and stab the walls of her closet. Once, she carved the word "strong" on the wall. She wrote poetry and essays as an emotional outlet and was obsessed with journaling. When she grew older, she turned her rants into songs. For Apple, writing was a way to express herself. She did not do it with songwriting in mind—that came later.

At the age of 12, Apple was raped in the hallway of her apartment building after walking home from school. The gripping emotions and lyrics expressed in the song "Sullen Girl, " from her debut album, are a result of that experience. Apple has said that coping with the ordeal became a defining moment in her life and pushed her to excel in music because she needed to express herself and wanted the world to know how she felt. Apple also turned to music because she struggled so much in school she did not feel confident she could do anything else with her life.

Apple's break came in the early 1990s when a friend passed along one of her tapes to a New York publicist she baby-sat for. This woman passed it on to Andy Slater, a Los Angeles-based producer and manager of such clients as Don Henley and Lenny Kravitz. Impressed with what he heard, Slater got Apple a music contract with Work Group, an up-start Sony Music label. However, when Slater first met Apple he was skeptical that someone so young could write songs expressing such a sultry, jaded outlook on life. "I was not entirely convinced that this person sitting in front of me—who was clearly 17—had written those words, " he recalled in an interview with the New York Times ' Dimitri Ehrlich. "At first I thought it was a Milli Vanilli thing, " he said, in reference to the 1980s duo that won a Grammy for songs made by pre-recorded studio singers, which they tried to pass off as their own through lip-synching.

Immediately, producers insisted that Apple change her name, believing her given name, Fiona Apple McAfee-Maggart, was too long and awkward. At first, when the record company suggested Apple, she balked. Instead, she wanted to find a completely new name—that is what one of her heroes, author Maya Angelou, did. Apple's mother suggested Fiona Lone because she was a loner. In the end, when her contract arrived, it listed her stage name as Fiona Apple so she went with it.

Apple's first album, 1999's Tidal , which had sold three million copies by 2005, contains a lot of angst-ridden emotions bottled up from the breakup with her first real boyfriend. Making the album proved arduous and was a tumultuous affair for Apple. For starters, Apple had so much self-doubt that she believed her backup musicians felt she was wasting their time. In addition, Apple was becoming waif-thin because she was having trouble eating as she began to obsess over the color and textures of her food. Still dealing with the effects of her rape, Apple also felt uncomfortable sitting alongside the men on her production team.

At one point, production stopped so Apple could return to therapy. Finally, Apple was helped though her doubts by a visit from singer Lenny Kravitz, who came to the studio one night. He assured Apple that the album sounded promising. She believed him, and the two forged a close friendship filled with telephone calls whenever Apple began to doubt herself. She made it through and the album became a hit. The quality of the tracks was inconsistent, but the album was well-received and piqued many a listener's curiosity with its stark, sinister and confessional lyrics. The fierce-sounding album clearly captures an adolescent's dramatic take on life.

In an article in the New Yorker , Sasha Frere-Jones noted that the album, despite its drawbacks and awkward pseudo-literary language, was successful because Apple "had a lusciously capable voice, a unique sense of melody, and a percussive style at the piano—her main accompaniment, " which gave the album a unique feel. Apple created some waves in her MTV video for the song "Criminal, " in which she appeared in her underwear, exposing her rail-thin body. Critics said the video did not promote a healthy image for young women, and Apple later agreed and lamented the choice, saying the video ended up being disturbing rather than sexy. It did, however, receive lots of play on MTV.

Apple became most famous for her 1997 MTV Video Music Award acceptance speech for best new artist where she said the world was "bull****." At the time, Apple said she felt superficial, like she had become a paper doll, molded to play the famous rock-star image the world wanted to see. She felt as though she had betrayed herself, and she warned viewers not to play the game. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly 's Valby, Apple acknowledged her angst from that time. "I felt like it wasn't my music that had gotten me there, and I felt very resentful of that and of myself for that. It had been so important to me to get to this point, to be in this crowd, and once I got there I saw it wasn't anything I could really feel proud of."

Despite waves of criticism, Apple moved on and followed with When the Pawn in 1999, another album that explores the world of unsettled relationships. Full of feisty, yet humorous lyrics, this album was more sophisticated and clearly showed influences from Apple's love of jazz, the Beatles, and Joan Armatrading. Many of the songs, instead of focusing on relationships lost, delved into the intricacies of maintaining healthy bonds with a signicant other. Despite the more mature sound, it sold one-third fewer albums than Tidal. There were other disappointments as well. Apple's frail emotional state came to the forefront again in 2000 when she ran off the stage in tears during the middle of a concert at the Roseland Ballroom in New York after complaining that she could not hear herself. Fans waited, but she never returned.

Apple has spent her whole life struggling to escape from the grips of depression and at times has taken medication to help with her condition. She also had years of psychotherapy. Speaking to the Rolling Stone #x0027;s Heath, Apple acknowledged her suicidal tendencies. "I truly did want to die before. I remember I would be sitting in my shrink's office, looking at his computer with one of those screen savers on, and they have all these cubes in different colors, and I swear my mood would change.… A purple square would come up and I'd feel, 'Everything's OK, ' then a green one would come up and I'd be, 'Everything's terrible.' It would make no sense to me. I still don't understand it."

Six years passed before the release of her third album, Extraordinary Machine , in 2005. In the interim, Apple spent time getting herself together. For a while, she lived in Venice Beach, California, in a house with nothing but a twin bed, television, VCR, boombox, some green dog pillows, and her Staffordshire Terrior, Janet. She spent the time taking walks and sitting in silence on the lawn. By the time the album was released, Apple felt well enough to end therapy and quit taking her anti-anxiety medication, which she had been on for a decade. She began starting her days with long walks to clear her head and has kept up the routine.

Apple's third album barely made it to release. At one point, during her retreat from the music world, Apple actually called her manager and told him she was done with music. She then spent her days sitting around in her robe at her mother's house watching Columbo reruns and trying to figure out what to do with her life. The problem stemmed from a rift with Sony over production of the album. When Apple began work on the album in 2002, she recorded several songs with Jon Brion, who had produced her second album. After hearing the tracks, Sony did not think the album had been made with radio listeners in mind and wanted the songs remixed.

Apple, herself, did not feel the album was quite right and she wanted to re-record with bassist Mike Elizondo. He had played on her second album and helped produce albums for Eminem and 50 Cent. Apple says Sony wanted her to record one song at a time and then submit it for approval but she felt the company wanted too much control. Part of the album had been leaked to the Internet and fans were eager for its arrival. They were so upset with Sony they created a website called and through the mail bombarded Sony with hundreds of foam apples. Apple was moved by her fans' actions and for the first time in her life felt wanted and needed. She decided to finish the album and worked out a deal with Sony, which said it had all been a misunderstanding.

Extraordinary Machine hit the shelves in October of 2005. This album, full of hypnotic grooves and cabaret piano vamps, reflects Apple's own transformation to maturity and stability. As Frere-Jones noted in the New Yorker , the songs have a nice balance of attacks and retreats: "The album contains many moments both of lushness and of restraint.… Extraordinary Machine is just 50 minutes, and it feels short; you want to replay it immediately. It's the kind of album that makes an artist's previous work sound better, a record that makes converts out of doubters."

Selected discography

Tidal , Sony BMG, 1996.

When the Pawn , Sony BMG, 1999.

Extraordinary Machine , Sony BMG, 2005.



Billboard , October 8, 2005, pp. 47-48.

Entertainment Weekly , September 30, 2005, pp. 28-35.

New Yorker , October 10, 2005, pp. 88-89.

New York Times , January 5, 1997, sec. 2, p. 34.

Rolling Stone , January 22, 1998, p. 30; October 6, 2005, pp. 64-66.


"Bio, " Fiona Apple, (February 1, 2006).

"My Happy Ending, " Blender, (February 1, 2006).

Lisa Frick

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

Other articles you might like: