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Love Letter to Fiona

By Elizabeth Gracen & Ericalynn Priolo:

Quite unexpectedly, Fiona Apple has grabbed the musical flag to lead us through this pandemic to whatever lies beyond. Her new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, dropped on April 17, 2020, and was immediately met with high praise and a genuine excitement from every corner—critics, hardcore fans, and new recruits alike.

Fetch the bolt cutters,

I’ve been here too long.

Fetch the bolt cutters,

I’ve been here too long.

— Fiona Apple

The first highly acclaimed album of the new decade, Fetch the Bolt Cutters treads a familiar Apple path into the deep woods, but there is something visceral about this new work. It’s got the special sauce. She’s captured the current zeitgeist in a bottle, and it’s a potent elixir. Hard, honest words soaked in emotion and memory. Good stuff.

Now, this isn’t going to be a typical review of Apple’s new album. If you want to read some terrific in-depth reviews visit Vulture and Rolling Stone, but if you want to listen in on a conversation between two diehard fans and watch one of them dance about it, then you’re in the right place.

My friend Erica Lynn Priolo is a wonderful dancer and artist. We’ve worked together many times on Lineage Dance Company productions over the years and have always shared a love for music and talking about music with each other—especially Bowie. But when Fetch the Bolt Cutters dropped, our minds exploded. We couldn’t wait to talk about it . . . and dance about it. So, consider this an album dance review, or even better, a love letter to Fiona Apple.

Elizabeth: Where should we start? At the beginning? Or another song?

Erica: "Heavy Balloon." Let’s start there. I listened to that song over and over again; it’s hard for me to listen to the other songs on the album now. I think it has something to with the fact that we are inside all the time. That feeling of wanting to get out, wanting to create something . . . but then I say to myself, “You can create where you are right now.” So, it’s a battle.

Elizabeth: It’s a challenge for sure. It is as much a mental, self-imposed restraint as anything else; and Fiona writes about that so eloquently, and of course the music is exciting in such a visceral way.

Erica: I just love that song so much. I feel that being depressed or being unhappy . . . Fiona is so good at wording it and making you feel that you can come out of it. So, when I dance to it, I try to remember, when I get depressed or sad, how you just want to stay in this little ball and you want to crawl out. You can sometimes, but you can get right back into it if you’re in there so deep.

Heavy Balloon

Erica: Someone filled with unwanted emotions, how do they get out? How do they see the light at the end of the tunnel? How do they inflate their balloon again? By reaching, clawing, pushing and breathing.


Elizabeth: All of her work is so honest and personal and raw. She’s not afraid to go “there.”

Erica: She just lays it out.

Elizabeth: This album has a warrior feel. A “line in the dirt” sort of defiance. I heard her interview on Democracy Now the other day; she’s tying the album release with raising awareness for the Indigenous-led collective Seeding Sovereignty, discussing land acknowledgements and Seeding Sovereignty’s rapid-response initiative to help Indigenous communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

They ask her if she was surprised about the critical acclaim and popularity of the album, and you just see her light up—genuine joy—“I had no idea . . .” You can see that she’s thrilled, and she says, “I’ve heard that it’s actually making people feel free and happy . . . and it might be helping people feel alive or feel their anger or feel creative. And that’s the best thing that I could hope for.”

Erica: I love how she doesn’t expect any of her work to get anywhere. She just makes it for herself to get over something. She acknowledges what her problems are, and she makes this music to get over them. It’s for her own being.

Elizabeth: In that interview, she calls herself stupid for not knowing more about the subject of Land Acknowledgment until now—that she felt bad about being so ill informed about the issue but that she was not afraid to say it, not afraid to ask questions and be curious regardless. I love that brave approach, you know? Just, I’m going to get past that feeling of “Oh why god, I’m getting this wrong” or “I should already know this.” That attitude is necessary if you’re a creator for sure, but it applies to so many things. You just have to do it. Perfection is a prison. I fall into it constantly—of not wanting to fail. To be stupid. To look stupid. It’s a terrible stumbling block for creativity. You’ve got to just give it a try and not care what other people think.

Erica: It always stems from there. “What are they going to think of me?” instead of “How is this going to make me feel?” Until you get to a point of confidence in yourself where you don’t give a shit what others think; you just do it. It’s hard to get there, and keep it there. There are moments where I get there. But then there are moments where I am not comfortable.

Elizabeth: Well, we won’t go through every song, but let’s talk about the songs that you danced to. Let’s talk about the title track: "Fetch the Bolt Cutters."

Erica: What’s your take on that song?

Elizabeth: It feels very internal. Something has been stifled. She is ready to get out of herself.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Erica: I agree. At the end of this improv, I was very frustrated with what I was creating and how I was moving. You can see it when I stomp the floor and shake off my anger. I was definitely planning on deleting this and went on to make another video but in the end I decided to keep it. To me, it matched Fiona’s lyrics and mood for this song and the whole album.

Shake it off and keep creating.


Elizabeth: What do you think about "Shameika"? Her middle school song where Shameika told her that “she had potential.” Ha!

Erica: It’s so funny because in middle school my best friend’s name was Joveica, and later on she did not like me. She said she preferred another group of friends. And I even stood up for her. She has scoliosis, and I got in a fight for her. And then she left me for the more popular girls. She took the brace off and got cool!

Elizabeth: Those are rough years. Fiona nailed it. It makes you want to laugh when you hear it, but then you remember how it felt to be denied. My daughter is right in that age where you want to fit in, but you want to be your own thing.

Erica: And you can never really leave how you felt in middle and high school. It stays with you. No matter how much you matured or how much you tried to get away from it because you didn’t like it. Something can take you back to that moment and you’re that low girl who is not in control anymore. I went to my high school reunion about three years ago. I was a hermit in high school. I was a dance major, and that was all I focused on. I had about three friends. So I went to this reunion and said, "I’m going to show them my new self." I got there and went back to exactly who I was in high school!

Elizabeth: The dynamics of growing up. I would never want to have to grow up again. By the end of that song, I feel like she takes what they say about her and sort makes those words her own. She claims it.


Erica: In Shameika, before I started dancing I told myself to keep my focus down. In middle school and most of high school, I kept to myself. I was shy and very uncomfortable with who I was, as are most adolescents. Keeping my focus down as my hands and arms moved swimmingly around my head was a reflection on that.


Elizabeth: I looked at a lot of her videos, all of her work with PT Anderson—one of my favorite directors. It’s interesting because she was such a baby. A scarred baby, nineteen year-old.

Erica: Nineteen! She’s gone through the darkness of having to be sexy and popular. She’s gone through a lot of phases and is not afraid to write about it. As artists, our feelings mean so much to us. Acting, dancing . . . it’s coming from a place where something has to be said and expressed. It’s easy for us to go in all sorts of directions.

Elizabeth: Sensitive people too. How much do you let in? It can be painful. What I like about Fiona is that she’s not afraid to swim around in the mud of it all. It's kind of inspiring. Even if its just a journal, nobody sees it. Say the dark things, the ugly things.

Erica: People are afraid to go dark, so for those of us who venture into that territory, it encourages us to do so.

Elizabeth: I really relate to "Relay." Do you like that one?

Erica: My favorite thing in music is always the drum beat, so with this song . . .

Elizabeth: Like a marching band.

Erica: Some songs I listen to for the lyrics, but some songs, like this one . . . I’m listening to every drum beat and her voice.

Elizabeth: Her voice is like the bass clef of her piano. She’s not afraid to sort of trash her voice. From the very beginning of the album—the audacity to hold the “Youuuuuuu…….” I’m going to stay here on this note. It’s confrontational right off the bat.


Erica: I really enjoy the melodic changes that happen at the end of this song, so I chose to improv that small section. I tried to recreate her voice with the bottom half of my body as the clinking, tapping, and weird sounds represent the enclosed area I was dancing in.


Erica: How about "Ladies, Ladies Ladies"?

Elizabeth: So good.


Erica: Wanted to make this one a little more feminine. With a hip swaying quality, as if to lure my lady friends in.

Elizabeth: The song is inviting . . .

Erica: It’s inviting, but watch out, because our relationship might not work. I want you to come, but I have a feeling that it won’t work out. Women trying to win over another woman. I wonder if she feels that women aren’t supportive of one another, or is she just uncomfortable around them? Because she’s comparing herself. Maybe now she’s trying to connect.

Elizabeth: Well, it’s that Shameika! She did it to her!

Erica: All the bullies were always girls! Mean girls!

Elizabeth: Well, we are your ladies, Fiona. You are safe with us.

Erica: We’ll be your friends.

Elizabeth: We will never hurt you, girl. We love you. xxoo


Elizabeth Gracen started at the publication of her debut YA fantasy novel Shalilly. She is a filmmaker, artist, writer and actress, best known for her role as Amanda on Highlander: The Series.

Ericalynn Priolo received her BFA in dance at New World School of the Arts in Miami, florida. She has been a company member and teacher with Lineage Dance for eight years.

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