Lisa Loeb is an exceptional songwriter and performer who has been in the music scene since the early ‘90s … a true artist in every sense of the word. Guitar Girl Magazine has interviewed her on previous occasions, but was lucky enough to sit down with her before her performance at Center Stage here in Atlanta, Georgia last month for a few questions.
GG: When you are writing songs, is there a particular method?
LL: I have really been trying to figure that out since I started writing songs when I was a little kid because it’s kind of a whole mystery. The way that works best for me is when I capture ideas that come to me randomly. It’s kind of like for somebody who is not a songwriter — like when you would like to make a certain cake or you need to buy something from the grocery store — an idea comes into my head and I have a whole song full of ideas that I capture little melodies and little phrases.
Sometimes I’ll have a guitar and ideas will come to me and then I will take those ideas when I have time to sit down and do my homework. I sit down and look through all those different ideas and figure out which one resonates with me, because sometimes the lyrics or a phrase don’t necessarily make a lot of sense – they just don’t.
I have to create a whole story around it from that phrase or understand where that phrase came from so I can figure out what story I’m trying to tell and then from there it’s just the crafting of how complex I want the music to be.
While I’m writing, I focus a lot on the melody and how the melody meets the words. If I need to be a little more direct about the meaning of it or I need to simplify some of it so it’s not so complicated, I work on it. Sometimes the more I work on it, the worse the song is, so I have to work backwards a little bit.
Then at a certain point, especially now since I have kids and busy with family, I have smaller pockets of time that I’m free to work. I find myself collaborating than as opposed to writing by myself; you know, getting someone to help me finish the song if I can’t buckle down and get it done.
So that’s my favorite way to work on a song – to just randomly have ideas when I’m driving or when I have a guitar in my hand – and spend time figuring out what that idea is. I also enjoy every once in a while (I learn from when I’m collaborating or when I’m writing for a specific project like a movie), where I actually will sit down and say “hmmm, what do I want to write a song about?” and go from there.
I’d like to write a song about this or that thing that happened to me in my life and it’s making me craz!. I went to sit down with my friend Eric Luminer who is a new collaborator of mine and I was about to go play at a gay pride parade, and I said “You know, I wish I had the perfect song to sing at a gay pride parade” – because I play a lot of them – or certain events that need certain kinds of song that I just don’t have. So we sat down to write a song that would apply to a lot of situations that would work for the gay pride parade as well.
GG: How do you feel about being a role model for younger generations?
LL: It’s funny because it’s been an issue for me ever since I was young. I was brought up to behave and be a good person, and all that good stuff, and then in high school I was President of Student Council. It’s not like I was older than the other kids, but I thought I was supposed to be doing things right, you know, and I wanted to be a good example, too. So it’s sort of in my head.
I think I just naturally want to be the best person I can be, and I am not always the best person I can be and I don’t always say things right – I don’t always do things right. So for me, that’s important to have things that people can learn from my life and from my experiences. That means a lot to me because I feel like that’s one of the most important parts of my job. Not necessarily being a role model, but being able to relate to so many different people and hearing their stories, telling my stories, and sharing my experiences – that makes me feel human and that is what makes life enjoyable to me. So if I can somehow, through my experiences, help somebody else learn or be inspired, then that’s great.
GG: With such huge success with the song ‘Stay (I Missed You)’ in the ‘90s, how do you react when present bands let you know that it really inspired them?
LL: I really appreciate it! I’m happy to take somebody saying, “Oh, I used to listen to you when I was a little girl,” or “You know with my grandma (giggle),” or “I listened to you with my husband,” or, you know, whatever anybody’s experience is with the song, it’s exciting to me.
I get to meet a lot of other up-and-coming musicians, who are already successful with our younger generation and mid-generation like Tegan & Sara type of bands who are not little kids anymore, but are definitely of a younger generation.
I also get to meet people of generations who came before me. I ran into Collin Hayes the other day at an Audio Techtronic’s conference and, you know, I really looked up to him because he was who I listened to growing up. He’s got so much great experience and we kind of do similar things now, but we come from different places. It was great to talk to him as a peer, but also as somebody I really looked up.
I saw Ann Wilson the other day at a function where she was singing. I had opened for her band Heart once in LA and so we know each other. But, again, somebody I look up to so much.
I think when different people can inspire each other and make a connection, it’s really exciting. Sometimes you get caught up in the songs you hear on the radio, or which albums you own, but when you actually get to see a musician perform – like in my head I think, “oh, I know Collin Hayes, I know him,” but when I actually get to see him play, then there is that magic! Then it’s like, “Oh my gosh,” this is why he has been around so long. He’s really great at his job.
And Ann is just like her voice, and her performance is mind blowing, and so there’s that added dimension of the actual magic of what these people do.
GG: What type of advice would you give to up-and-coming bands?
LL: Part of it is practical, and part of it is to stick to your guns. Then, do your thing and play your music. Figure out what that means to you. If that means to develop your sound and changing through the years, then do that. If it means really honing in on one type of sound, then do that. Be the best songwriter you can be.
I also think it’s important for bands and musicians to make sure they themselves, or somebody close to them, have their eye on the business, as well, because it’s harder and harder to make money as a musician – and you have to if you have a family or want to have a way to support your family. I think all of us feel a little bit more secure when we have some type of income that is coming in, so I think it’s important for bands to also think about that. It might mean that they have a day job at some place and then play their music when they can.
It’s important for them to focus on themselves as a human, as well as focusing on themselves as an artist. Part of focusing on yourself as a human is making sure that you can take care of yourself and/or if there are other people in your life to take care, to take care of each other. But I know sometimes that goes by the wayside. People can be so creative but unable to sustain what they’re doing because it might not be generating a lot of income, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be doing it. It just means maybe they should just think about how they can support themselves and continue to do their art or music.
GG: Is there a band that you have wanted to see but have not gotten a chance to see yet?
LL: I haven’t seen Paul McCartney, and I would like to see Paul McCartney live. I’ve seen Prince, but I would love to see him again. Oh, I haven’t seen Sudijon Stevens. I really love him. I have seen him on TV with his band, and I would love to see him live with his ensemble playing. There are probably so many people that I am not even thinking of, but those are some of the people that I would like to see.
Lisa Loeb is a singer/songwriter, mother, wife, fashion eyewear designer, voiceover actress children’s book author and talented musician. She is wonderfully insightful and still has a long successful career ahead of her in the years to come.