Lisa Loeb Biography
Last updated: 04/29/2012 12:00:00 PM
From the Geffen Site on Lisa Loeb
How did I get started? Well, my mom tells this story (so it must be true). When my older brother, Ben, was born, my mother's obstetrician told her to put him in front of the hi-fi and listen to classical music. My brother became a classical musician, as did the obstetrician's son. I then asked my mother what she made me listen to. She was a bit busier when I was born, so she strapped me into my car seat as we drove around San Francisco and listened to music on the radio. She said, "Something about a stairway to heaven."
At three years old, my little brother was obsessed with Kiss, and we would pretend we were in the band. One night, my mother woke us up and got us out of our beds - Kiss was going to be on television without their makeup! We sat through Seals & Crofts and Mac Davis, and then finally the moment had arrived! Kiss on "The Midnight Special" without their makeup - history in the making. They showed the guys, but only the backs of their heads. We were so disappointed, but we learned something profound about the music business that night.
As technology improved, my father bought a new stereo - it had a microphone! My sister and I spent hours singing songs with Olivia Newton-John on her new album, Totally Hot. Then we would take a break and walk across the street to the neighbors to jump on their trampoline and sing songs from the musical "Annie."
My parents were an influence in their own way (I wish my Mother could write this part). She spent the night outside the Ticketmaster with my older brother so we could get tickets to see Elton John in 1978. Between her schlepping me to a million different lessons after school and my father playing the piano constantly (when he wasn't at work looking in someone's colon), I was immersed in music and performance. Even at school we had at least one or two mandatory shows a year. I played Musetta in "La Boh薽e," a postman (with a real hat borrowed from our real postman), a young Mexican girl, an Oscar Meyer wiener in a musical fashion show, and Linus in "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" at the Jewish Community Center.
At home I would sit in walk-in closets with my friend Jasmine and sing songs from the "Best of the Seventies" songbook, like "Evil Woman" and "Philadelphia Freedom." In between making papier-m俢h?whales and doing the Lemon Twist on the Black Top, I made time for lessons - ballet, tap, piano, music theory, ice skating. By the time I was 14, I had enough extracurriculars to last me a lifetime.
I finally quit my piano lessons. Not only was my brother hogging the piano all the time, but he was becoming a world-class classical pianist. So I started to play guitar. It was an instrument I could play in my room, I could play classical or popular songs, and I could carry it around. Also, at the time, my best friends and I loved the Police. There were three of us and three of them. We each picked our favorite member, and I picked last, so I ended up with Andy Summers. He played guitar, so I played guitar. (Later I met him at a book signing for his photography book full of pictures that bordered on groupie porn.)
I went to sleep-away summer camp for six years. It was there that I did my first performance with an acoustic guitar. Alma Doll McCutchin and I did our rendition of "Stairway to Heaven." We changed the words so they dealt with "Cabin #1" instead of that lady. Alma Doll taught me how to finger pick. That sounds strangely sexual, but it wasn't.
Although I was eight years old when I wrote my first song on the piano (I won an award and played in a recital), I really started writing songs when I was 15. I had trouble remembering all of the Rush and John Cougar songs my guitar teacher was showing me, so I happily agreed to attempt writing my own songs. I wrote an instrumental called "Fried Eggs." When I started adding lyrics, I bared my soul secretly in the songs. Later I was embarrassed to realize how obvious the lyrics really were. Oh well. I thought I was being very cryptic like my favorite bands, the Cure, Brian Eno, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix.
So then I went to college. I went to Brown University. At Brown I didn't study enough. I mainly was interested in playing shows with my friend Liz Mitchell. We had a group called Liz and Lisa. We played all the time and spent the majority of the last two years of school in the recording studio. A few years after graduating I went solo, and Liz started a band called Ida. Yes, Duncan Sheik played guitar in our band in college for a year. He didn't have a guitar case. That is his real name. I think.
In New York City I played a lot of shows. I made lots of business contacts and went to a lot of record company offices. Just the other day I went through my old Rolodex and threw away almost all of the cards. Most of the people I bugged in those days with demo tapes have different jobs now. During that period of time, I recorded The Purple Tape over at Juan Pati襬's apartment. All the nights of clubs, coffeehouses and music festivals were finally beginning to pay off. A&R reps were asking for tapes, and everybody else was paying $10.
The next year I recorded some demos with Juan. "Stay (I Missed You)" was recorded that fall. Ethan Hawke asked for a copy of the song to play for Ben Stiller. It was used in the soundtrack for "Reality Bites." Ethan made a cool video for the song. RCA let him make the video probably because he was a famous movie star. I thought it was a good idea because he had a good concept - a video done in one take: no edits. Nonetheless, I tried re-editing the video because I thought it was important to include some shots of me playing guitar and singing. Ethan's idea was stronger artistically and visually even though it didn't show me as a musician, so we went with his version. Later, I would see audience members open their mouths in surprise that I actually could do more than wander around an apartment acting sad over a possible breakup. That was acting - you know, pretending.
People often ask why the album Tails came out a year after the song "Stay." With "Stay" at #1 on the charts, recording an album couldn't happen until after all the touring, promoting the single, signing a record deal and a publishing deal, playing with Paul Shaffer on the Letterman show, getting 70 phone calls a day, etc. After all that marketing/work, I got to go back to the creative part. "Stay (I Missed You)" got a Grammy nomination and won a Brit Award. Now even my parents believed I was a musician.
We put out Tails all over the world. Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia, Buffalo. This is starting to sound like a Beach Boys song. It did well. No, it did not sell as many copies as Alanis Morrisette's album (but it sold way more than The Purple Tape).
I toured with my band, Nine Stories. I toured endlessly with just my acoustic guitar. I played with Lyle Lovett, Sarah McLachlan, Counting Crows and on the Lilith Fair. I sang with Lyle, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, the Indigo Girls and Bill Janovitz from Buffalo Tom.
Finally, it was time to do some more recording. Now here's the album, Firecracker. I like the title because it makes the image of me lying on the ground (see cover art) a little bit more enigmatic and passionate instead of sleepy or "so vulnerable, don't you just want to smack her?" as one journalist once stated. Unfortunately, the title will probably inspire some journalist to write that the album "snaps, pops, and sputters" or some crap like that. (That same journalist will make the keen observation that "she is back with her glasses.")
To me the songs are stories. Some are very close to my heart and personal. "Wishing Heart" and "This" are songs that deal with finding inspiration and direction in one's life. They were cathartic to write and are cathartic to sing. The recording of "This" is a radically different version from an earlier version on The Purple Tape.
"Falling in Love" started out as a cowboy song: a story song with a simple chord progression. I wrote the chorus after spending a night in Las Vegas. The string arrangement, written by composer Dan Coleman, turned the song into a cinematic experience. The arrangement gave it an extra dark and lonely feel. As an added bonus, Shawn Colvin came to the studio and sang harmonies with Juan and me.
"Furious Rose" is another song touched by the orchestra. I wrote it about Freud and a woman he is trying to show is clinically crazy, but she's actually just depressed and misunderstood. I tried to make the verses intricate and Victorian and the choruses more emotional. When I heard the arrangement for the first time, I imagined a woman running through a dark forest.
The song "Truthfully" was written for a scene in the movie "One Fine Day." The song was the story of Michelle Pfeiffer's character beginning to fall in love with that guy from "ER"'s character - sort of romance against one's will. They didn't end up using the song in the movie, but I ended up with a positive love song on the album. (Although I read the script, I am still looking forward to seeing the film on an airplane.)
"How" is a song sort of about being under a microscope, and also the people holding the microscope. About working so hard for something, letting people examine me close up to find they're more interested in their own preconceptions than in finding out who I really am. The song was originally used in the movie "Twister."
"I Do," although the first single on the album, was actually the last song written. Most of the rest of the album was sounding moody and dark, but the contrast of this final up-tempo song really completes the album for me.
Firecracker was recorded in a variety of studios, but once again we mainly relied on Juan's apartment. We like working in that little room with few windows, a large Pro Tools rig and a wide selection of takeout food menus. It's like being in some kind of weird spaceship. Juan and I work together well because we share similar musical standards. Not only is he a great producer and engineer, but he's been labeled a control freak, just like me. Our friend Ami coined a more appropriate term to label us: "Quality control freaks."
We also had a good time working with Bob Clearmountain, who mixed the album. We admired his mixing on lots of albums including Roxy Music, Crowded House, Shawn Colvin and Bruce Springsteen, and we enjoyed making him stay up past his bedtime to help us make sure the mixes were right. We also drank espresso and jumped in the bouncy castle when there were children's birthday parties at his house.
There is a great story about the cover art. A few years ago I found a postcard in Amsterdam. I cherished it but had never heard of the artist. Last summer on a tour of the Benmarl Vineyards in upstate New York, I stumbled upon the original of the painting from the postcard. I walked into this room, and it was entirely filled with these amazing paintings. It turned out the man who owned the winery was the painter! His name is Mark Miller. In the 1950s and '60s, he painted advertisements and magazine covers. His paintings are like a very sexy, romantic, impressionist version of Norman Rockwell. He retired from painting to become a master winemaker, but he has a beautiful gallery at his vineyard, and recently he's been cataloguing and preserving his paintings on Photoshop. For the album cover, he used his computer to transform one of his '50s classics into me.