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Interview: Lisa Loeb

12 min read

The nineties really was a vibrant decade for music. Along with the rise of the boy band and girl bands of pop the decade also gave way to a wave of female singer-songwriters. This was a time when chart topping artists like Alanis Morissette, Jewel and Sarah McLachlan were ruling the roost and showing the industry that a new era of music had begun.

Helping propel that movement was Lisa Loeb who erupted onto the scene with quite possibly one of the greatest and most romantic songs of the decade. Lisa first appeared on our screens, drifting emotionally around an empty city apartment and pouring her heart out over a love lost in the music video for her number one hit Stay (I Missed You) and we fell instantly in love. The song became the soundtrack of a generation and paved the way for further hit singles including I Do, Taffy and the gorgeous, Do You Sleep?.

While success was generous to Lisa for the remainder of the decade we began seeing less and less of her and within a few years into the new millennium she had almost disappeared completely, taking on other projects and putting her commercial releases on a shelf.

With a new year now in full swing Lisa Loeb returned recently with a brand new record, her first in 9 years. No Fairy Tale is an accomplished and exquisite comeback record for Lisa who appears unharmed by the time between releases, this shown by the enormous fan base that has stuck by her side, waiting patiently for the records release and the fresh yet equally nostalgic sound that she brings to her new material.

Ahead of the release Renowned For Sound’s Editor Brendon got to chat with Lisa about the album and moments from her 20 year journey as a recording artist.

Brendon Veevers: You are set to release your new album No Fairy Tale at the end of this month and it is your first studio album of all new mainstream material since 2004’s The Way It Really Is. Can you tell us about the new album and what fans can expect from the new material?

Lisa Loeb: The new material really ranges.  They all have a really strong emotional core that I think people will relate to.  You can hear it in the production as well- there’s a lot of energy and dimension there.  It’s poppy/punky/rock, but based, as always,  in storytelling and songwriting.   I’ve also covered another artist’s songs for the first time ever- one of my favorite current artists, Tegan and Sara, and Tegan sang on the record too.

BV: It’s been just over 8 years since the release of The Way It Really Is. Why the delay between album releases?

LL: Funny, I didn’t think of it as a delay until you asked. ha! I made a reality show, put out a Best of record, made two kids books that come with CD’s, made a Summer Camp Songs CD, started a summer camp foundation, collaborated on a kids’ musical, got married, had two kids, started an eyewear line, developed a voice over career, and moved full time to Los Angeles.  I guess I got a little side tracked, but Chad Gilbert (of New Found Glory) got me in gear by asking me to make this record with him.

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BV: What made you decide that 2013 was the right time for a new record and a comeback to the commercial world of pop/rock?

LL: I finally had a minute to finish writing songs and record an album.  I loved that Chad proposed a process that was more succinct and energetic than any I’d done in the past, which worked well with my busy schedule as an entrepreneur and mom.  I love the genre of music that he’d suggested and had been very inspired by it, so it made total sense.

BV: Was there any apprehension about recording a new studio album?

LL: I thought we needed more planning than Chad thought we did, but in the end, he was right- we jumped right in, figured out which songs of mine to record, decided to write some more songs, and even got some songs from Tegan Quinn from Tegan and Sara to record for the album.

BV: What would you say that the title of the new record is in reference to?

LL: No Fairy Tale is one of the songs on the album.  I wrote the song with Maia Sharp, and it’s meant to say that real life is even better than a Fairy Tale, kind of a way to brag about how great life can be, even with its ups and downs.  It’s a powerful statement.  I think a lot of us strive for some kind of perfection: a perfect life, or good grades, the perfect body, but really the process of a real life is also really rich and worth paying attention to even when it’s not perfect.

BV: Your first single gave you a number one hit when you were 26 years old and at the time you were an unsigned artist. Your career really took off at that point on a global scale. Were you prepared for the success that you found so early on in your career and did you cope well with the transition into the world of celebrity?

LL: It was a huge deal, and on some level I felt I was ready, having played music my whole life, written since I was a little kid, and recorded since high school.  My friend Elizabeth Mitchell (who has a great band Ida and a flourishing career making kids’ music,) and I had a band in college and we enjoyed a great deal of success.  In some ways, I felt that the success was a continuation of the work I’d done at that time, in other ways, I had a lot to learn.  From performing on TV to learning how to travel internationally, continue to stand up for myself creatively, and learn about the music business, I kept evolving.

BV: You are known for your thorough, hook-laden acoustic pop numbers like Stay (I Missed You), I Do, Taffy and Do You Sleep. Would you say that ‘No Fairy Tale’ falls within the same vein as your earlier records in terms of musical style?

LL: If someone’s a fan of my earlier music, they’ll connect with this new music, as it’s song-based, and in the same vein as my previous music style, but more rock and more energetic and in some cases poppier.

BV: Is there any pressure for you to pen a number one hit these days or is the release of a new album or song quite a laid back affair for you?

LL: There’s no pressure from the outside for a number one hit, although it’s always the icing on the cake when a project reaches that level of commercial success.  It’s always been about making music I’m excited about sharing, so there’s no extra pressure, and I can really enjoy the process even more than I did in the past since I really understand now that the process should be something I connect to, regardless of the commercial success of the record.  That being said, I do love cake, and icing too.

BV: You have been recording and releasing records for 20 years now. What do you believe is the secret to artistic longevity?

LL: I think if an artist has something to share, a story to tell and an audience to connect to, you’ll last a long time.  I think we always have to keep making things, even if a person’s not a professional artist.

BV: You worked with Chad Gilbert on the new record, founding member of New Found Glory. How did the collaboration come about and what would you say you learned or took away from the artistic partnership?

LL: Chad called me out of the blue to see if I’d make a “poppy/punky/rock” record that he’d produce.   He covered my song Stay on one of his albums, and got me to sing harmony on it (gladly), and then I performed the song with them at a huge show in NYC.  We got along well since we met, and so the idea of making a record with him, especially the enthusiastic invitation of “jumping into” the studio really made sense to me, since I wanted to get back to making grownup records, but the process of making a couple of other records was taking awhile.  (I’m still working on a couple of those projects.)  I learned a lot from Chad about moving more quickly in the studio and capturing a moment in time, rather than making everything the most important thing in the world.  In that way, I think we created a lasting album that has a lot of life.

BV: Were there any challenges in terms of recording the new record given the years between No Fairy Tale and your last release?

LL: I had been working so much in the studio on a variety of other projects, so I was actually more prepared than ever to jump right into the studio. We were able to make production decisions so swiftly without losing any of the artistic goals and value in the project.  We saw things in focus instead of having the time to over think.

BV: An instant favorite on the new album is a song called The 90’s which has numerous references to the years when you were most commercially successful with nods to Stay (I Missed You) and various moments within that decade making the track quite a nostalgic inclusion. Can you tell us about the track?

LL: I’m so glad you like the song.  Chad had an idea for a song about the 90s’ and I wasn’t sure I could do it.  In the end, I rose to the challenge and was able to write something about making the video Stay and the music business at the time, and the fact that I loved that time period and it was a very rewarding time for me, but it’s also very important to move forward.

BV: How do you approach the release of a new album and do you get nervous before a new release?

LL: I do all the things that people do before a new album, like buy new pants.  Actually, I do have to gear up for touring, which includes travel logistics, clothing, rehearsing a lot with the band, working with my vocal coach to get my voice in good working order, designing merchandise. Make sure I’m healthy and ready to go.  Also, we make videos, set up new websites and content, do interviews, and let people know the record is out.

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BV: You are well known not just for your thought provoking and catchy songwriting talents and hit records but also for your distinctive look owed partly to your distinctive eye-wear and over the years you have been busy releasing your own ‘Lisa Loeb Eyewear’ collection. What prompted you into going into the eye-wear business?

LL: I always wanted to have eye-wear designed specifically for my needs, and also I wanted to share my look with other people who always ask me where they can find my glasses.  Finally I partnered with a company in San Diego, Classique, and we’ve been able to create numerous frame styles for people who want a kind of cat-eyed/sexy librarian look, and one that works well with their face shape, personality, and complexion.  It’s a dream come true, and the glasses are really flattering on lots of people.

BV: Looking back on your 20 years as a successful recording artist, what are the highlights that really stand out for you?

LL: I loved playing in the middle of Madison Square Garden with everyone singing along to every word, I loved traveling the world, meeting the so many of my favorite musicians and producers, from David Bowie to Elton John, to George Martin and Bob Clearmountain, chefs like Mario Batali and Scott Conant, guitar makers from Taylor and Gibson and Peavey, and Fender, and other people who are really talented and successful in their field, and sharing it with my close friends and family. The hotel rooms, flower arrangements, bottles of champagne, Hello Kitty toys, and meeting people backstage or at the autograph table who tell me about their lives is also amazing.

BV: You are considered one of the pioneers of female acoustic singer-songwriters and you have inspired a lot of musicians over these past 20 years. If we were to come across your iPod who would we find as we scrolled through it? What artists are ticking all of your boxes these days?

LL: Right now I’m still listening to Travis’ The Man Who record, Elton John’s Someone Saved My Life Tonight, the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s…., Tegan and Sara, and more.

BV: Though you haven’t released any mainstream records in the past few years you have been kept busy with other projects such as your collection of children’s books and albums. Can you tell us about this project?

LL: I made a kids album called Camp Lisa which was filled with old camp favorites and originals inspired by my summer camp days in Austin, TX.  This led to an offer to make a series of illustrated books with CD included.  Sterling Publishing hooked me up with Ryan O’Rourke to illustrate two books – Lisa Loeb’s Silly Singalongs: The Disappointing Pancake and other Zany Songs, and the upcoming book Songs to Move and Shake.  I remember the times before computers when you actually interacted with friends and families and even by yourself, looking at books like these: full of songs, lyrics, detailed illustrations, and even some fun activities and recipes.  I wanted to share these kinds of projects with other people.  It’s really been a great way to write a different type of songs, and I collaborated on these with my very clever and musical friends, Dan Petty and Michelle Lewis.

BV: Let’s talk about The Camp Lisa Foundation which aims to help underprivileged kids attend summer camp. Can you tell us a little about the foundation and what prompted you to start the venture?

LL: I loved camp so much – it really gave me a chance to get to know more about myself and grow as a person.  It wasn’t about grades and that kind of thing, like school was.  I wanted to share that with other kids who wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to go to camp, so we started the foundation to donate all proceeds from my Camp Lisa Record to these kids.  We work with an organization called Scope to find the kids and the great camps to send them to.

BV: You have also appeared in a number of film and television projects over the years showing off your diversity as an entertainer. Do you have any silver screen projects on the horizon or will the focus be placed predominantly back on your music career for now?

LL: I hope to do some more acting in the future and not just cameos as myself.  Music always ends up being the most important part of my career, but I’m open to all kinds of creative expression.

BV: Do you look back on previous hits like Stay (I Missed You), one that is a timeless classic for fans, with fondness or do you cringe when asked to perform the song?

LL: I love singing that song – it really gave me so much freedom in my life.  Because of its success, I’m able to make music the way I want to, meet so many people, and travel the world.

BV: Will you be releasing records more frequently from now on or will we have to be equally patient for the follow up to ‘No Fairy Tale’ as we have been over the past decade?

LL: I’d love to put out records more frequently.  I’ll try to do better scheduling and following through on my music projects like I have on other projects.

BV: Thanks Lisa

Lisa Loeb’s new album No Fairy Tale is out now