by Steven Sanchez
Lisa Loeb, the Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter who burst onto the scene in 1994 with her seminal ballad “Stay (I Missed You),” made her way to Fresno (for the very first time) at Bitwise South Stadium for two performances on Saturday, July 21. The first one was in the late morning at 11 a.m., for children and their parents, and an “adult” performance later that evening at 7 p.m. My plus-one and I went to the evening concert. It was an eclectic mix of attendees of those like me, who were kids. Her music reminded us of our childhood. There were now Gen-Xers, who view Lisa as a musical spokesperson for their 90s ideology, and a few seniors who gravitate to her music because it is reminiscent of classic 60s and 70s folk.
It was just her, an acoustic guitar, a microphone, and her sense of humor. The show itself was a blend of a coffee-house unplugged session, a stand-up comedy show, and story-time all rolled into one. Before and after every number she would tell us about the inspiration for the song she was about to play, her life, touring, and how she makes music. One that stands out was the most relatable; she came into town and settled on eating a salad, but found out later that she missed out on the Taco Truck Throwdown that was happening at Chukchansi Park. That one got a good chuckle.
The rest would make for a good Behind The Music episode as she was revealing the details on what she has experienced in her musical career. How a song she worked so hard to produce didn’t make it into the soundtrack to the George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer film One Fine Day. She had a fangirl moment when she asked actor/comedian Steve Martin to play banjo on her Camp Lisa album. Every now and then she would lose her mind with excitement: one moment recording with Steve, and then immediately having to put on a professional front.
The most memorable was the story of how her most famous single “Stay (I Missed You)” made it onto the soundtrack for the 90s movie Reality Bites. She was a neighbor and friend with Ethan Hawke, the leading man of the film, when they both lived in New York, and were part of a community of artists they socialized with. He liked her song so much that he sent it to the director, Ben Stiller, for consideration. Stiller liked it and it became the signature song of the film, so much so, that it became a number one hit. Lisa made history as the first artist to have the top spot on the charts without being signed to a major label.
She has come a long way since running around an empty apartment, wearing glasses and singing a breakup song. She still has the glasses, but lately she has a lot more uplifting content to use for her songs. She’s married, is a mother, an actress, author, and philanthropist. She made the transition from unplugged jams to children’s music and recently won the Grammy award for Best Children’s Album for Feel What U Feel.
She injected her passion for music and life into her performance, and the audience enjoyed every single moment. Everyone was obviously delighted to hear the fan-favorite “Stay,” but everyone also loved her diverse repertoire. Lisa played old and new songs, children’s songs and adult songs, each one never disappointing in terms of quality, appeal, or entertainment value. Take a tune like “The Disappointing Pancake,” as silly but catchy as the title suggests. The song was equally engaging as all the others on her playlist, no matter the content, or the initial demographic it was targeting.
She closed out the night with a number called “The 90s,” in which she requested audience participation to sing backup vocals with her. Now, whether if it was an ode to a nostalgic trip down memory lane, or a chuckle of perspective done in hindsight of a moment lost, that era represented a time where you didn’t need theatrics and transgressive lyrics to sell your music. Just pouring your heart and soul into a song, mastering the craft of playing an instrument, and not giving up your individuality to what was considered “marketable” was a period of musical honesty and appreciation. That has been a major contributing factor to the longevity of Lisa Loeb’s career. She’s still the same Lisa, and not only is her appearance ever-youthful, but she has the confidence to stick to her own style in an ever-changing musical landscape, and that willingness to stay true to herself is why her music is here to stay.
I interviewed Lisa a few days before her Fresno appearance, and wanted to get her take on the future of female acoustic artists in the industry, the differences between children’s music and adult music, the process of recording with celebrities, and of course, I had to ask about her glasses.
Steven: You came from an era where you were a part of a circle of female singer-songwriter artists from the 90s, such as Alanis Morissette, Liz Phair, Sheryl Crowe, Jewel, Paula Cole, Natalie Imbruglia, Meredith Brooks, etc. Lately, you don’t see a community like that, since most of the artists defining this era of music are mostly pop singers. And if there are women artists, they are few and far between. Do you feel that the singer-songwriter genre among female solo artists will ever come back and if so, will there be a sorority of that magnitude returning to the music industry?
Lisa: I don’t have a crystal ball, so I really don’t know where music is going. I think songwriters are always trying to write the best songs they can with differing emphasis on lyrics, music, melody, rhythm, and theme, [and] with varying emphasis on the song and the production. The musicians from the 90s didn’t necessarily know each other, work together, or really belong to any kind of community per se, although the Lilith Fair concerts were a great way for us to meet each other. I think that experience taught me that there is a lot of power in community and camaraderie, and it’s something that I really enjoy currently with both women and men writers, songwriters, [and] singers in all genres.
Steven: When you released your first and seminal hit single “Stay (I Missed You),” you were an independent artist, you weren’t even signed to a label. Now, even with your Grammy-winning album “Feel What You Feel,” which was released by Furious Rose Productions, you’re still independent. What makes you want to be an independent artist? I’m seeing a lot more artists these days releasing music independently. What are the benefits of not being signed to a major label?
Lisa: I will always be independent when it comes to following my ear and my heart making music, and also continue to look for creative collaborators and business partners: making the music is always an interesting journey, [as is] getting the music out there so that people can hear it and hopefully purchase it, too (we have to make a living.). Working with a major label is a success when everyone works together. Sometimes there is more money on the line with a major label, but oddly, they are often less able to work a record past the first few weeks or months unless it’s a big hit. Independent labels are usually willing to work on a record the way we do independently, which is until the next project comes out, and still keep the prior projects in mind.
Steven: While touring to publicize your Feel What You Feel album, you were doing your children’s songs while playing your classics. Is there a change or shift in mentality or approach when playing certain songs live? With your children’s songs, do you have to put a smile on your face, be more upbeat and enthusiastic, and then when you play your older songs do you become calm, mature, more adult, or is there not really a difference for you?
Lisa: There’s not really a difference. I like to mix up the set with my old and new songs, upbeat and slower tempo songs, varying feels, stories, serious and funny moments. Variety is the key to any show.
Steven: Was doing children’s music always something that you’ve wanted to do in your musical career, or did motherhood inspire you to embark on that musical shift? There are artists like Jewel, Celine Dion, Amy Lee from Evanescence, and others that made the transition into children’s music once they became mothers. So what is it about motherhood that inspired you to want to make music for children, and why do you think others do the same thing?
Lisa: I always loved music and entertainment from the 1970s, and wanted to do that. It’s not just for kids or for grownups. It’s clever, heartfelt, earnest, with a lot of storytelling there. I made a nursery rhyme album and lullaby album after realizing how important some of the classics are after I had kids. Otherwise, I make the “kids/family friendly” music for my own enjoyment.
Steven: You are a woman who wears a lot of hats. You’ve done a lot in your career. You’ve done music, acting in movies, TV shows, voice acting, and you are an author. When you approach each endeavor, is there a different process for each venture, or do you use the same procedure or technique when it comes to all those jobs? If so, is there any line of work that you see as being a little easier or more challenging than the others?
Lisa: Every job needs a different type of skill, but I focus on all of them as I do them.
Steven: I see that you have recorded with celebrities on your albums. You’ve worked with Steve Martin, Craig Robinson, and Ed Helms. What is it about collaborating with celebrities that you like the most, and is there any difference when working with celebrities than it is with professional musicians?
Lisa: The celebrities bring a little more sparkle and interest to the album. I work with these folks because I’m friends with them, and/or huge fans, and their contributions really bring a little something extra. There’s not a lot of difference working with the celebrities I’ve worked with because they are also professionals.
Steven: You’ve channeled your summer camp experiences into an album and a foundation sending kids to camp. What is it about camp you enjoyed the most, and nowadays are you a little sad that most kids are not outdoorsy and are missing out due to video games and social media? What are the benefits you received from going to summer camp?
Lisa: I loved the feeling of being independent and a little rustic at camp. I learned so much about myself, became braver, more confident in myself as an individual, and had so much fun. It was all about being with other people in the backdrop of nature, cabins, and other things that were [a] little out of the ordinary. It was our own unique community. Very magical.
Steven: One of your signatures is your glasses. But from looking back on when you broke into the music business, not a lot of female artists at that time were wearing glasses. Once managers, agents, and executives got involved with you were they telling you to lose the glasses, and did you have to defend your stance on keeping them, or did you not encounter that?
Lisa: No one ever told me to get rid of the glasses. Everyone has always associated me with this look, even in high school. I grew up with family and a best friend who wore glasses, so I’ve always been really comfortable about it! This is one of the reasons I have an eyewear line. I want others not to have to think twice about looking beautiful and cute in their frames. People should never have to be self-conscious about their needs and their own look.
Steven: You’ve switched genres and have tackled different subjects in your music. With everything taking place in the world, more artists are using their musical platforms to speak out politically. Do you see yourself doing the same thing, making music to voice your opinions on what’s going on in the world?
Lisa: I try to voice my opinions through the messages in my songs. I think there is a lot you can tackle politically on the personal level.
Steven: As I’ve mentioned before, you’ve done a lot of things in your career. Is there an endeavor that you haven’t done yet that you would like to do?
Lisa: There is so much! You should see my lists on my computer!