A Conversation With Lisa Loeb
Mike Ragogna: Hello there, Lisa Loeb.
Lisa Loeb: Hey, how are you doing?
MR: I'm pretty well, how are you ma'am?
LL: Great! I was just getting the family all set in the other room watching music videos for Dora the Explorer while I talk with you.
MR: Lisa, I can remember when you were single.
LL: Oh my gosh, can you believe it? I can barely remember it now that I'm married with two children.
MR: That's pretty awesome, and not a fairy tale.
LL: It is! I do have a new record called No Fairy Tale and you're right, when I write about No Fairy Tale, what I mean is that life is not like a fairy tale but it's actually better when it happens. It's real ups and downs, real life situations, not just all painted perfect like you might read in a children's fairy tale.
MR: Beautifully said. You would know a thing or two about fairy tales since you've had some experience recording children's music.
LL: Yeah, you know, it's funny. Before I even had kids, I started making music for kids. I worked with my old friend Elizabeth Mitchell, who I went to college with, who's now a Grammy-nominated children's artist. We made a record and I made a record with my friends Dan and Michelle--we did a summer camp songs record, which led to doing a children's musical and a book for kids that comes with a CD and another one coming out next year. So I've been doing a lot of kids' music and I kind of got a little bit distracted from doing my grown-up music, but now I'm back with more grown-up rock.
MR: Not just grown-up rock music, but you're back with punky pop music as well.
LL: Yeah, you know, because I play a lot of acoustic guitar, so I was working on a really moody acoustic record as well as a jazz standards record. In the middle of that long, drawn out process, I kept getting distracted by doing one kids' project and then another kids' project, then all kinds of work and then all of a sudden, I got an email from my friend Chad Gilbert from the band New Found Glory. We had met a long time ago; New Found Glory covered my song "Stay" on a record that they did. Chad said, "I had this crazy idea, you might say, 'No,' but you should say, 'Yes.' I want to produce a punky, poppy rock record for you." He said, "Don't say no, don't say no!" I said, "I don't know." He said, "Come on, you've got to do it." It's definitely a genre that I like, especially on the punkier side and also on a more rock side, and the pop side. He was like, "Let's do it!" and I was like, "Okay, we can talk about it." He said, "No, let's start immediately." He just wanted to jump right in and do it. So despite my normal process, which is to take a little bit more time and spend a more time planning, I went ahead and said, "Yes, let's do it!" As soon as we could, we got to listening to songs that I was working on to see if they'd fit into that kind of a record. We got to writing songs together, collecting songs from other people, and we jumped in the studio and we recorded the record.
MR: What was the recording process like?
LL: The process was great. Normally, through years and years of making records, ever since I was in high-school, I love working with people who are very detail-oriented and sometimes that leads to a long, drawn out process, which is sometimes how you make records. Fleetwood Mac was known for making records like that, but I think that between my experience and finally being where I am, where I know that sometimes, the faster the process is, the more intimate it sounds and the more energy it has. Also Chad's process is a little bit more geared to his genre of music that he plays and produces. I don't know if anybody would know this, but he's kind of like Prince. I think he hears all the different parts in his head. We both would bring a lot to the project but I think he'd definitely come in every day and say, "Oh, I have this exact guitar part that I want you to listen to," or "I've got this great idea." He would map everything out. Anyway, the process was just a little bit different for me than normal. It was a quicker, faster process. We recorded it within a few weeks, which is unique for me.
MR: In the booklet you have a tracking sheet. You reveal a little bit of the artwork you created for the sheet. It looks like you guys had a lot of fun in the studio.
LL: We did! Chad and I made a better match. I think some people would think we were really different from each other because he's this really big, tall muscular guy who has tattoos all over him and I'm like a petite little acoustic singer-songwriter even though I do love rock music. People probably think of me like "the acoustic singer-songwriter with glasses," but we actually have a lot in common. One of the things he likes to do when he's recording was something that I also had done in the past while recording, which is you make a chart of all the different instruments and songs you want to record, and as you go through, you check it off. Way back in the day, I used to do it with Crayolas and markers because it was just something fun to do, to reward yourself for finally getting that guitar solo right. But he actually does the same thing. He brought this big board in with his markers and he was like, "Let's do this." So I drew portraits of the engineer, Paul, and Chad, who co-produced the record, and me, and we'd all fill in the squares. It was one of my favorite parts of the record, getting all the squares filled in.
MR: Nice. It must be so fulfilling in the end when you see all the colors.
LL: Exactly. It's so sweet; when it takes a while to get a vocal right, you get to color a square in pink or purple or blue or teal and then when you're done it looks like the floor from Saturday Night Fever.
MR: [laughs] Very nice. There are songs on No Fairy Tale that I bet have great stories behind them, "The '90s."
LL: Chad Gilbert, who was the producer on this record, said "One of the ideas I had about a song we should write together is we should write a song about the '90s." I thought, "How am I going to write a song about the nineties?" I definitely lived through them and I had a great time and lots of success but I didn't know how to put it together. Finally, I ended up sort of writing about that feeling; I don't want to go back, I want to continue moving forward. I enjoyed it, but I don't want to go back to it. I also ended up writing about my very specific personal experience, making my video for my song "Stay," which was very popular in the '90s, and now, today. I still get phone calls that people were in various hardware stores and Pottery Barns across America hearing my song over the loudspeaker. Anyway, I got to write about the '90s, and it was actually fun, writing this really fun song to sing along to. We wrote that song together, which, at first, was a challenge. But in the end, I was very proud that we finished up that song.
MR: You mentioned your monster hit, "Stay." Can we go into your superhero origin story a little bit?
LL: Oh, I haven't heard that--"superhero origins." [laughs] Yeah, it was crazy, I was a singer-songwriter with a band in New York city. I had been there about a year and a half or two years out of college playing with my band and things were going well. I was definitely playing a lot of music festivals and South By Southwest, there was interest from some music executives, but I still had a temp job. My friend is Ethan Hawke, who is an actor. We had met through a mutual friend who I had gone to college with and was in a movie with him around that time, Alive. We were all hanging out together in this group of friends, musicians and playwrights. I wrote music for Ethan's theater company, there were actors, too, all kinds of artists. We kind of supported each other. Along the way, he asked me for a copy of my song "Stay," which I used to play in clubs in New York. Actually, we had just recorded this song in an apartment in New York City with my friend Juan Patiño and my band Nine Stories, and we got the song to Ethan and he passed it along to Ben Stiller and he decided to put the song in the movie. He placed it over the end credits, so the entire song played over the end of the movie. It went on the soundtrack and there was a station down in Houston called KRBE with these DJs Paul "Cubby" Bryant and Tom Poleman who decided to play the song on the radio. It became a single and it went to the top of the charts, it went to number one without me signed to a record label. The song was on a label, RCA Records, and of course, they were very instrumental in helping promote the song. But I wasn't officially signed to a label until after that song went to number one.
MR: We touched on your children's projects, "Stay," and this new album. But you've also had a lot of television experience. For instance, there was the cooking show, the dating show.. How did that all line up?
LL: Well, you know it's funny, I had a cooking show with Dweezil Zappa called Dweezil and Lisa, and around that time, I put out a record called Cake and Pie, and I put it out on a major label. At the time, we thought it would be really fun to go out and do shows where I play music, but we also had our friend who is a chef to come with us and do cooking demos with us on stage. He was going to be our pie oven roadie, and we'd take some pies on stage and it was kind of like a live cooking show meets a live concert. We thought that was a really fun idea. The record company did not think that was a very fun idea. They didn't want to support the idea, so we took it under our own wings. We did that live a couple of times and people really enjoyed it. They got to learn how to make a pie, they all got samples of the pies and the cakes, we got to play music, and it was really a fun kind of variety format. We ended up going to The Food Network and pitching it to them. We thought maybe it would be an interesting thing for them to highlight on one of their shows that already existed because at the time, we were really obsessed with The Food Network. Instead of offering us a little segment on another show they ended up offering us our own show, because they loved the fact that we were so obsessed with food and cooking and eating. We ended up making the show about our lives and then learning to cook through it, whether it was from our moms' friends, on the road, meeting new people, or golf tournaments with Bill Murray and his brothers. It just had a lot of different things going on, a lot of education and fun and travel and music. The Food Network show came from music, which was perfect too because the album was Cake And Pie with the word "and" underlined, which meant when people offer you cake or pie you say "Cake and pie," if you want it. It's like life, you should try to get everything you want. You might not get it but you should go ahead and ask for it. So that's how we got The Food Network show.
MR: And, of course, you had the "Win A Date With Lisa Loeb" show.
LL: It's funny you should say "Win A Date..." because I did do a reality show, and that's what you're referring to. I did a reality show on the E! channel called Number 1 Single. When the concept came up, it was before reality shows were quite as popular as they are now. I didn't want to do a reality show where I was naked in a hot tub or really crazy and dramatic or anything like that. That just didn't resonate with me, but what I did feel comfortable with was letting people into my life and, being single at the time, at that point, I was single and had never really dated a lot. I had a couple of long relationships but never dated. It was kind of like having my friends and family in this reality show, take them along my journey, which was important to me, because when I found I would play concerts across the country and around the world, one of the things I enjoyed the most other than playing music was talking to people about their experiences in life, not just in music, but in general. So being able to do a reality show about dating was cool because it opened me up to hearing a lot more stories from other people and sharing my stories with people. I think one of the biggest things that I ended up learning and imparting on people is that I think we're all shy and we're not all the most secure all the time. The best thing to do when you're trying to meet somebody is to really get yourself out there and know that you're not alone. So that's why I had to do a reality show. But it was not a game show.
MR: [laughs] No, I was playing.
LL: I made sure the producers and I knew that, that this was not a game show, it's not like somebody's going to win a prize, and I might not meet anybody. I did not end up meeting my husband on the show, but I ended up meeting my husband a few years later.
MR: Nice. What's that story?
LL: It's sort of a conglomeration of everything, really. He had put together a TV show pitch for The Food Network and was looking for a host, so we got set up on a meeting to talk about it because I might be an interesting host for him and that's how we met. That non-date turned into another non-date, which turned into dates and eventually, we got married.
MR: What's particularly nice about that story is that a lot of people in your situation of not having dated a lot can have great happily ever afters too.
LL: Yeah, well thank you. I think there are a lot of people who are and were in that situation, which is that I was in my thirties and I work all the time and I was looking for somebody who was the right person and also I think a lot of people, especially women and women who want to have kids, are pressured into a situation where they are willing to settle for somebody just because they want to have kids or because they're "supposed to" be married. I think it's important to definitely keep your eyes open and maybe the person you're looking for might not be exactly what you expected, but you should definitely have feelings for the other person and be excited to have a life with them and not just settle because they look good on paper or because it's "that time" that you have to get married. I think that's a dangerous thing to do in your life. At the same time, I also think that people who work that much have to start focusing on your personal life, because sometimes people who focus on their work life don't leave space and all of a sudden, all the time is gone. Especially if they want to have kids, they need to focus on that personal life piece as well because of, you know, the biology of people. You can't have kids forever, unfortunately.
MR: Speaking of family, you'll be touring a little bit for this album, so...
LL: Yes, that's a perfect segue to family and touring, two things that don't really necessarily fit together. That's the big question mark in the sky. I'm going to be touring in the United States definitely in March. I'm sort of feeling out how much touring I can do. I'll be in a lot of major cities and spending as much time as I can at home with my family but then sneaking away here and there to make sure I can get out there and play concerts, and along the way, I'll probably be doing some live online concerts, which aren't exactly the same as live concerts, but it's something cool to be able to do.
MR: Things have changed. It's a virtual world.
LL: It is. I think it's so important to be in person with people, but there are a few ideas I have up my sleeve as well about how to get out there that might work better with having a family that does not involve bringing my entire family with me everywhere because I don't think that's necessarily convenient either or great for the kids, I think it's better for them to be in their routine. But yeah, I'm exploring different ways to get out there and play music for people live.
MR: Now, my traditional question. Lisa Loeb, what advice do you have for new artists?
LL: For new artists? It depends on where they are in their career. If they really are new and just starting out, my biggest advice is twofold; one is focus on the creative side and the performance side and make sure you can do what you want to do. If you want to be a singer, sing a lot and learn about singing and learn how to take care of your voice. If you're a songwriter, write a lot of songs and find people who can sing them. Whatever your thing is, you should be doing that thing and not just talking about it. Also, you should learn as much as you can about the business of music, not necessarily to get those two things too intertwined. You want to express yourself the best you can, but you also want to know about the business of music. If you want it to be your career you need to know about how to get your songs published, how to develop a following that will hopefully generate enough income to support your website and your recording and everything like that. So those two things: Learn about the business, and do your actual craft. Those are the two main things I would say.
MR: And I can't let you go before I ask you, how cool are Tegan and Sara.
LL: [gasps] I love Tegan and Sara! It's funny, when Chad Gilbert brought this project to me and said, "Let's do this punky, poppy rock record," one of his references to see if I'd be interested, he said, "We'll make it sound really cool, like Tegan and Sara," and I was like, "Oh, my God, I love Tegan and Sara!" I don't think he knew that I knew them and had actually listened to them quite a bit and they had inspired me a lot when I was writing music over the last few years so it was perfect and then he said, "You know, Tegan has written some songs that we can put on the record." So we ended up choosing two of her songs for the record and she came and sang on them as well, so it was awesome to be able to work with someone who I'm inspired by and who I respect and also was influenced by sonically.
MR: Nice. I was lucky enough to have interviewed them, I think, a year ago. They really are amazing ladies.
LL: Yeah, they are. I saw them live and I didn't realize how much funny banter they had. I thought of them so much as this rock band, but at the same time, when I saw them sing and play, they really were also classic singer-songwriters.
MR: It seems they're coming from a "get the song first and then everything else sort of follows" plan.
LL: Yeah, exactly!
MR: And you sort of follow that route as well, don't you?
LL: Oh, I always do. I read about other musicians in Rolling Stone, how such-and-such a musician had some songs written but then they went into the studio to finish up the songs and record them. Every time, I try that, it's like the worst thing ever. I absolutely have to finish songs before I'm in the studio. The studio is not a good time for me to do that. It's like baking a cake and then realizing halfway through I should be grocery shopping for the eggs while I'm making the cake. It just doesn't work that way for me. I've got to have all the parts in place. You know, maybe there's a change of pronoun here or there or a melody change or something, but the bulk of the songs have to be totally written.
MR: I have to ask you one mischievous question: We saw Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live playing Sarah Palin. But I imagine you got your own share of Palin comparisons as well, no?
LL: Oh, my gosh, I got so much "Sarah Palin" back in the day. In fact, I had to stop wearing my hair the way I like to wear it because people would say, "Oh, it's like Sarah Palin's," since I had my hair a certain way with glasses. The year that she was running, I dressed up as her for Halloween and my husband who was my boyfriend at the time was Mario, like Super Mario, the plumber. I guess there was a whole thing going on with that. People would stop me at these bars in the East Village where we went to celebrate Halloween and they would say, "Are you Lisa Loeb or are you Sarah Palin?" And I was like, "Uh... whoa." Mind-blowing question.
MR: [laughs] Well, you don't have to worry about that too much anymore, she's kind of history now.
LL: What's really cool, talking about Tina Fey, is that I found out through Twitter--of course I have a Twitter account like everybody else--I found out that Tracy Jordan on an episode of 30 Rock says to Liz Lemon, who is played by Tina Fey, "Now that's not the Lisa Loeb I know!" I love that. I was behind on my 30 Rock so I didn't get to see it, but I love that.
MR: Well, it just goes to show you what a cultural icon you've become, my friend.
LL: Oh yes, of course. [laughs] The glasses.
MR: [laughs] It's not just the glasses. You've endeared yourself to generations with your works with children's music, the TV shows, the albums, and "Stay," a major hit of the '90s.
LL: It's so wild to talk to different people of different ages and from different generations. People say, "Oh, my mom used to listen to that," or "I used to listen to that in high school," or "when I was little..." or "in college..." or whatever it is. It's funny because, in some ways, I feel like so much time has passed and in other ways I feel like it was just yesterday. More often than not, it's somewhere in the middle of those two feelings. But yes, it's a great feeling to get to write a song like that, which became a big hit, and then also get to write all kinds of music, some of that having been played on the radio and some that people know more from just listening to records or coming to concerts. It's really enabled me to try out all kinds of things that I love to do.
MR: Nice. All right, Lisa Loeb, thank you so much for all your time. All the best with the album and all the best with everything. You're an amazing woman.
LL: Thank you very much. Thanks for the interview, I appreciate it.
1. No Fairy Tale
2. The '90s
3. Weak Day
5. A Hot Minute
6. Sick, Sick, Sick
9. Swept Away
10. He Loved You So Much
11. Ami, I'm Sorry
12. The Worst
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Photo courtesy of New Logic Management
JB BARETSKY'S VIDEO UPDATE
"2012 was a very progressive year," says Baretsky. "I have an incredible trio--drummer, Miguel Flores, bassist, Bobby "Cash" Cruz, and guitarist, Chris Amelar, received a couple of magazine features, had a few sold out shows, and bought a few new suits. If this video is any indication of 2013, things are only going to get bigger. Tell that Canadian to watch out! Ha, ha...cheers!"
Gotta love this guy. Here's the video...it's pretty casual, but you get the idea...