It’s not always easy for a musician to make music the way she/he hears it. If there is a record label behind an artist, the label, as well as the artist have an idea of the kind of record they want to make. Those two camps don’t always agree and the label is usually not shy about enforcing their vision with the artist. Lisa Germano has recorded for major record labels and independent ones. She has never compromised her vision. Listening to several of her records reminded me of that. Her most recent is Magic neighbor. I was spoke with her last week about the record, collaborating with other musicians and Oxfam.
Lisa first came to my attention when she performed violin with John Mellencamp. We worked with her at Side One Management on her debut album, On The Way Down From the Moon Palace. The first single was the wonderfully whimsy and droll You Make Me Want To Wear Dresses.
If it is possible to do a valid remake of Valley Of The Dolls (not sure that anyone can top the 1967 epic), Lisa’s music would be the perfect soundtrack. It has a childlike feel of wonderment, yet the lyrical themes are very adult. It’s lilting, haunting, melancholic and upbeat. It’s very cinematic. It’s visual in an audio format. When told that, Lisa acknowledged that “People tell me this often, but I can't say why. I am not influenced by film scores as far as I know. I do love movies and I love when the music fits perfectly. I think my music is more like little stories, maybe fairy tales and those are also visual when you read them.”
Magic neighbor is comprised of fairy tales for the ears. The leadoff track is marypan, a beautiful, yet short musical interlude. Lisa notes that “I've had this little song for awhile and it was even shorter, just one time through …a nice moment, a breath. When recording it, Jamie (Candiloro) suggested playing it through again with the addition of the pedal steel. I'm glad we made it longer. It didn't need to be turned into a song with lyrics, as it felt fine as a melody.”
In another instrumental, the fairy tale-like kitty train, the piano is reminiscent of hearing your music teacher playing piano at a school recital. It’s a song that Lisa often plays on the piano. “Sometimes when I practice, I need a break from my voice. I get tired of hearing it. A simple piano song is helpful for this break.” Lisa loves cats so it’s no surprise that she pays homage to them in this song. “I changed kitty train a bit when recording it since it was reminiscent of my three cats who come rushing into the kitchen all in a row like a train waiting for their breakfast so I made the tempo change like a train: starting and slowing down and starting again.”
While Lisa's music is beautiful, the lyrics and themes do take on mature matter. There is a recurring message in the songs on Magic neighbor of wanting to enjoy the moment and if it’s not working start the relationship over. Women can easily relate to what she’s saying, although may not always heed the advice. Lisa said she doesn’t write with women in mind. She did get some strong male reaction when she released geek the girl several years ago. “I got reviews from men who thought I was a real hard-lined 'I hate men’ woman...which I'm not. At the same time I received more gay fan mail from men who thanked me for this record as they related to it. It was pretty cool.”
a million times is about coming to terms with the fact that maybe the person you’re with is not who your thought (or who you wanted him to be) he was, but living in denial. Unfortunately, too many people have lived this scene at least once.
we fell in love and we were caught
inside this game we call “together”
and it felt good until we found
we had more fun when we were strangers
Besides being lyrically intriguing, a million times also has interesting percussion and guitar. The production is spot on. “I wanted the song to be monotonous as the actions of the lyrics suggest, so it needed to be a bit boring but it also needed a kick to say ‘What? Again? OK’ To emphasize the mundane, Lisa used an everyday item, but it didn’t exactly end up sounding the way she envisioned it. “I did want it to be even weirder, like when the vacuum machine turns on every chorus. I really wanted you to hear that it was a vacuum machine, cleaning the house yet again, but on pro tools since it already had a lot on it, there's only so much space. You can't really tell it's a vacuum. The percussion had to be things in the house to hit, lots of simple things like spoons, glasses, stuff at the home where you keep repeating your actions a million times”
The guitar in simple brings to mind the Kink’s song Lola. Lisa doesn’t have any connection between the two songs, but said “simple just needed to feel heavy because of the self indulgence and the weight that is on your mind and then it needed some irony so the circusy recorders on the chorus could help make fun of this self indulgence. You can look at it easier.”
There doesn’t seem to be another musician out there with such captivating song and album titles ((lullaby for liquid pig, dream glasses off, you make me want to wear dresses, Magic neighbor, on the way down from the moon palace). Many times the titles do not appear in the songs lyrics. “Song titles to me are what the song is about in general. Sometimes it's simple and sometimes it's the same as writing the song, which might need stripping away of a lot of the obvious to get to the heart of the song: what is it actually about. Sometimes the titles don't come until much later for me. Like to the mighty one. It was titled it's a beautiful day, but for me I knew there was some deeper meaning to the song. Do you know how many songs there are in the world called a beautiful day? LOTS. My cat Lou was fighting cancer, as well as people I knew that had cancer... and I was fighting my bad side so I titled it to the mighty one. The song is about fighting your demons and at least trying to take control as much as you can overthings you have little control over except for a huge try. These are the mighty ones and the beautiful day could be just one day.
“Magic” in Magic neighbor is the only capitalized word of Lisa’s song titles. “Every time I see my name or titles of my songs capitalized it just simply feels wrong. It's too big...missing an intimacy for me. But Magic neighbor felt wrong in all lower case. Somehow it needed the Magic to be big because it takes Magic to deal with the horrible unconsciousness that it takes to put two cats to sleep when they aren't even sick, which my neighbor did and how this can lead to blowing up people and fighting stupid wars...boom boom.”
Being a fan of album artwork, she isn’t happy about the digital age making it somewhat a think of the past. “I love a record with artwork to help the whole concept and these days people don’t seem to care about it so much. I want a cd to hold and love. It’s always a gift when people give you their art. Dean (he did the artwork for Magic neighborhood) is a friend of Neil Finn and my friend Tchad Blake. I've known him for years. When I decided to put this record out I contacted him cause his paintings are amazing and make me feel so much. He let me use anything I wanted for free. Check him out : deanbuchanan.co.nz”
Besides John Mellencamp, Lisa has played with a list of amazing musician including Neil Finn, Johnny Marr, eels, Sebastian Steinberg and Latin Playboys. I remember getting chills hearing and seeing her and David Hidalgo face off on stage during one of those all too rare Latin Playboys shows. She considers herself “the luckiest person ever” to be playing with these artists. “They are drawn to me which I struggle to understand but which also gives me confidence that there is something to my music when I feel insecure.”
7 Worlds Collide, The Sun Came Out is a collaborative record spearheaded by Neil Finn. Proceeds from the sale of the record benefit Oxfam. Lisa recorded and wrote Reptile for the album. “I got involved with 7 Worlds Collide back in 2001 when Neil got a bunch of people together to create a band that did some shows before they would break up. It was friends he had met through the years who didn't know each other but knew Neil and it was an amazing experience. We all have been on him to do it again.
Finally he had an idea how to do it but do it differently: get everyone together in New Zealand and in 3 weeks record a record for Oxfam. Everyone on the first 7 Worlds came except for Eddy Vedder, who just had a child. There was the addition of some new friends such as Wilco and KT Tunstall. Everyone came with their families and it was huge and crazy with all the energy around. Since everyone was performing with each other and pretty busy I decided to use Jeff Tweedy's boy Spencer as my main drummer on Reptile. We recorded it with him, Seabstian on bass, Glenn Kotche on percussion and me on guitar and got it in one take. All the kids (Jeff Tweedy and Johnny Marr’s children) were around having fun but rather bored so I decided to have them come in and sing the chorus. It was great fun and I think the songshows this especially with Neil at the end playing a marimba that was in the room. The kids were singing with a big smiles on their faces...good stuff!”
Looks like there be some live performances for Lisa in 2010. “I am planning a 10 or so day tour with Boybrain in Europe at the end of March beginning of April. Philip Selway of Radiohead has made a record under the name Boybrain which should be out early next year. To make the record, he put a band together of people he knew from this last 7 Worlds Collide experience with Sebastian Steinberg from Soul Coughing, Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone from Wilco and me. On tour it'll probably just be me, Sebastian and Philip doing some of his music and some of mine. 7 Worlds may be at SXSW in some form...still being worked on. If Lisa performs anywhere near you, make sure you get to her show. You'll count your Magic stars.