Fiona Apple plumbs the depths of inner mind, brain science, mirror neurons, fragmentation and yes, mosaics, in the making of her newest CD release: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.

Much is being made of her return after seven years

So, ‘The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw.’ These two lines represent two places where I am in my life right now…Apple says. “And turned into this person who feels a lot more powerful and a lot wiser.” Photo Dan Monick via

So often, artists are expected to be prolific, to produce commercially viable work at a prodigious rate, as if this is the only benchmark of success and relevancy.

The popular media calls Apple’s past seven years a HIATUS  =   a gap, a missing part. There are two parts to Fiona Apple’s recent work that have inspired me:

creative process


Apple tells NPR’s Guy Raz:

“The only reason that it takes me seven years to do stuff is because I just don’t really have a plan. I got a lot of problems, but I’m really good at intuiting what I need to do to be happy with whatever I create. I know when to stop myself, I know when to start, I know when to leave something alone. I guess I just kind of indulge that completely, and so I just take my time.”

And we learn in a thoughtful and well-researched review by Philip Steir for YogaBrains:

“She has been reading about the neural pathways in the brain, fascinated by mirror neurons. These are the neurons that create the the sensation of empathy. … She even quotes the brilliant neuropsychologist Donald Hebb and explains his discovery about how neurons that fire together wire together: ‘If you keep on having these negative thoughts or being angry all the time, then that area of your brain is going to get stronger.’ “

Ms. Apple’s vulnerable lyrics are discussed in many recent interviews, as she lets us in on her struggles with chronic insomnia, anxiety and OCD, (obsessive compulsive disorder).  In her seven year “hiatus”  not only has Ms. Apple taken her time, she has used those years quite literally, to grow up, do some psychological self-analysis, decode her brain, and fuel the creative fires.

In the single: “Every Single Night” 

“These ideas of mine/ Percolate the mind/Trickle down the spine/
Swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze/ That’s when the pain comes in
/Like a second skeleton…
“Every single night it’s a fight, with my brain”

She draws out the word “brain”  in a haunting, rich alto chanting like a native shaman singing in circular form, the word forms a climactic shout. We feel the exorcism.  Here’s a nice “remix” on soundcloud

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The so-called “unsettling” new video for the song was shot in Paris and directed by Joseph Cahill. It features all manner of mythological and archetypal imagery:  butterflies, dead squids, wet gooey snails, (“I really like snails” she says)  and Le Tour Eiffel ravaged by sea creatures. Apple explains to, ” I told [director] Joey [Cahill] just to come up with a bunch of things and just do things to me and put me in situations and surprise me.”

mosaic metaphors


At about 1:06 into the video, Ms. Apple sits on an intricate mosaic floor designed with whirling Chinese motifs, and she’s brushes up the colorful MOSAIC fragments using a Hawaiian Hula Girl doll as a dust broom. 

Mosaic Floor at 1:06 a still from Apple’s video “Every Single Night.”, directed by Joseph Cahill

The video’s phenomenal mosaic location shows a pavement done in a “terrazzo-style” broken and pieced technique of many Parisian Beaux Arts floors. For example, the famous Café de Flore, shows a similar  setting style at the entrance to the bathrooms. (below) Note the little square cuts, in the randomly set, sprinkled  background. Can anyone identify the video location in Paris? (UPDATE: The amazing art deco mosaic floors can be found at Palais de le Porte Doreé, Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration) Paris is filled with stunning mosaics made by famous mosaic-terrazzo firms including Salviati, Facchina, and Odorico. And the Hula?  It’s a Polynesian ritual dance form in which every single gesture and movement carries meaning, typically accompanied by chant.

Paris’s Cafe de Flore: a million little pieces –  photo Lillian Sizemore


Does the kitchy souvenir hula doll represent deeper meaning, a metaphor for sacred ritual, or is this scene a cool “surprise me” moment between the director and artist? And what about the FLOOR? Upon a closer look, Apple sits, positioned in such a way that she’s about to be ‘impaled’ by a warrior wielding a spear.

In another song on the album ‘Daredevil’, the lyrics are matched with a hammering durge-like back beat:

I guess I just must be a daredevil
I don’t feel anything until I smash it up…

And don’t let me ruin me
I may need a chaperone

Of course, many artists struggle with self-destructive patterns—  the deep desire to smash things. Mosaic artists often have an intimate relationship to this impulse. There may be broken bits. Fragmentation. The missing parts and the gaps, the HIATUS. There may be need for a chaperone, a guide, a witness. Self-parenting, as Apple calls it.

And so, for piecing it back together in a poetic and self-reliant way —for the courage to feel everything—

For that— we say Aloha and Mahalo, Ms. Apple.  “May you be in the Presence of Divine Breath”

Mosaic fragments and Hula brooms – Fiona Apple tidys up the inner recesses of the mind.

VIDEO: “Every Single Night”





“Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom” The book offers tips on cultivating compassion and happiness in our overstimulated lives. There are chapters on nutrition to feed a healthy brain, and guided meditations proven to create positive effects on our internal world.  The book outlines how rich and beneficial it can be to simply Slow Down & Breathe. What a powerful doorway that can be to awakening the mind’s eye!  Learn more

PAPER BAG: Apple’s song for the film, Bridesmaids, starring Kristin Wiig, directed by Judd Apatow,  “I was like, “Give me assignments. I love assignments..I wish I was one of those people who just sat around and made art. I’ll set it up, but I don’t know if I will be creative when doing something. But I like making something for somebody [else]. I can move a lot faster, I just don’t.”


NEW YORK Magazine: “I Just Want to Feel Everything: Hiding out with Fiona Apple Musical Hermit”  interview by Dan P. Lee – “Perhaps the lowest point of the roughly 30 hours we would spend together came when I asked her about being famous. She was over at the wet bar trying to make Keurig coffee…”

YOGABRAINS:  Feeling Everything: the Yoga Brain of Fiona Apple by Philip Steir

NPR: Fiona Apple’s interview with Guy Raz: “I don’t really have a plan”

NYTIMES:  Fiona Apple Faces Outward by John Pareles  –interview by Carrie Battan “Perhaps that’s why her comeback is so exhilarating– she’s giving listeners a much-needed jolt from desensitizing technology and infinite fragmentation. She’s always of the moment because she can’t step outside of it.”

Fiona Apple quotes from pitchfork interview Outtakes



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