The singer-songwriter turned actress talks about the upside of indie & her foray into reality TV.
[Editor's Note: When we caught up with Lisa Loeb back in early 2006, she had just reeled off a decade-long run of huge successes both in music and her burgeoning career in film and TV. Since then, Lisa’s career has continued to soar as she’s ventured into children’s material as well as the enormously popular eyewear collection she personally designs.]
Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb has a dozen years of musical success under her belt. And, though she was the first artist to score a #1 hit before she was signed to a record label, her success hasn’t come without a lot of hard work and dedication.
From her music theory degree at Brown, through a semester at Berklee, four years of hard gigging with her band Nine Stories, then her surprise monster hit with “Stay” in 1994, four subsequent albums, and a whole lot of touring miles, Loeb has nourished her muse and kept her focus on the music. The result is an impressive catalog of songs covering a wide range of styles. Articulate, friendly, and frank, Loeb spoke with Musician’s Friend about her new album The Very Best of Lisa Loeb, her new TV show, and her creative process.
Musician’s Friend: What was it like to have a huge hit before you even had a record deal?
Lisa Loeb: It’s funny because “Stay” was a song I’d been playing in New York City for at least a year before it got onto the Reality Bites soundtrack. I was living in New York City for a couple years after college playing with a band and trying to get signed. There was a group of us that all supported each other. There were playwrights and actors and other musicians. My band was playing in a club circuit like CBGB’s and the Lone Star Roadhouse—pretty good places. At a certain point Ethan Hawke, who was one of my friends who I had worked with writing music for a theater company, asked me for a copy of the song “Stay” that he was going to pass along to Ben Stiller, the director of the movie Reality Bites. So I gave him a copy of the song that we’d just recorded in a studio in New York City. It was actually an apartment on 52nd Street, Juan Patinio’s home studio. Then Ben and all the other people who were involved in making the decision decided to put the song into the movie.
I didn’t have a record deal at the time. I didn’t sign a deal with the label. I stayed a free agent. And it was a great move because a radio station down in Houston, KRBE, started playing the song off the sound track. At that point, RCA, who put out the soundtrack, got involved and started promoting the song more. And it just started climbing the charts. So I became the first unsigned artist to have a #1 hit, which gave me so much freedom making other records because there was no record label involvement while recording the song or writing the song. When I did get signed later it was with Geffen Records. I think they understood that that was part of what made my process work. They could give me freedom to do what I needed to do.
MF: Without a record deal, how did you get the CDs produced to meet the demand?
LL: The song “Stay” was on the Reality Bites soundtrack. So people bought a bunch of those. Then I think we sold like a million copies of the single. It was really popular in different parts of the world. It took a little while to get the album made because there was so much business to be done. I was managing myself off and on at the time. We were also touring to promote the single, to take advantage of that. We finally made a record. We actually negotiated and signed the deal while the song was #1 on the charts.
MF: [laughs] Good leverage, huh?
LL: Yeah. A little bit of good leverage never hurts, and a great attorney.
When Loeb’s “Stay, (I Missed You)” blew up, she was the first indy artist without a label to enjoy a number-one hit.
MF: All of our readers will want to know what they have to do to be one of the guys on your TV show.
LL: Well, first of all you don’t have to be on the TV show to go on a date. Second of all, you probably have to get in touch with the producer somehow . . .
MF: How did the TV show [Loeb’s reality show Number 1 Single] come about?
LL: I had just gone through a breakup of a six-year relationship with Dweezil Zappa and I just started to really date for the first time in 12 years, because I had another long-term relationship before that.
I’m friendly with a production company my manager works with that does a lot of documentary films and TV shows. And they said, “This would make an interesting topic for a TV show. Where we show you in your real life and what it’s like to be dating for the first time and to be in your 30s and be dealing with your career.” And I said, “You know what, that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s going to interfere with my real life and this is a really important time for me. I don’t want to ruin it by having cameras around.” Then I realized this is a part of my life that I share with people all the time anyway. I share it with fans and friends. People are always asking what’s going on. It’s just a typical part of my life to share with other people.
So I decided to go ahead and try to develop the show. I had to be one of the producers on the show, because I needed it to represent myself properly. Although I watch reality shows, this isn’t one of those game shows. It’s not like The Bachelor or Elimidate. I like to watch those shows, but this is not the same.
MF: Nobody wins Lisa Loeb at the end? [laughs]
LL: No, you just can’t guarantee that kind of thing. It’s more about the process than it is about the ending. We started developing the show and in that process I realized, “This feels OK, I can do this.” I still have my own private life in addition to what you see on camera. I don’t have cameras around me 24 hours a day. I won’t do that. I’m not crazy.
But I do feel like I have a lot to share with other people. I watch other TV shows and movies and listen to other people telling their stories, and when I see other people going through the same things I’m going through, I learn a lot from them. I feel like there’s other people out there . . . There’s sort of this strange community that develops. Between my friends and family who are on the show and people who have agreed to go on dates on the show I feel like other people can really step into this world. I think people like my friends and me aren’t really represented on TV yet in this reality-show format.
It rounds out the channel. I’m on E! Network. It’s perfect because we’re so different from everything else that’s on there. We’re not the same kind of celebrity craziness that you see on their other shows. Probably the reason no people like us do these kind of shows is because we’re all too cynical for that. And we value our private life as well. I think other people will relate to it and probably have fun.
MF: So what are they actually going to show on TV?
LL: It’s kind of like a live version of Sex and the City. You see me going on dates. You see my friends and me talking about things. You see a lot of things in my music career, being in the studio, working on projects. One of the main people in the show is my ex-boyfriend before Dweezil, who I’m really close friends with. We did a lot of albums together. I think it’s interesting for other people to see that friendship.
MF: What happens if you meet somebody and you don’t want to keep dating?
LL: Well, then maybe the show changes a little bit. Or maybe the show is geared toward somebody else’s life who’s in the show and their dating life.
MF: How long is the show supposed to run?
LL: We’re finishing up shooting eight episodes to start. It premieres on January 22, 2006.
MF: When I talked to you in New York you were just looking for an apartment, and now you’ve found one?
LL: I was just waiting for one. Finally one came through and it’s an awesome apartment. It’s fun to live in a different city. I’ve also been working on a bunch of new songs for a new album. I love living in New York City. I’ve lived here before and it feels like I’m home.
MF: What about this album The Very Best of Lisa Loeb?
LL: That album comes out on January 24, 2006. It includes the theme song to the TV show, Single Me Out. To me it’s like the modern day “I Want You To Want Me.” You want somebody to choose you and you want to choose them, and you want to be cool about it. [laughs]
It was a little tough to put the album together, to hone down five or six albums to one clutch of songs that had to include songs that were popular on the radio. I made sure there’s a variety. You get songs with an orchestra. I love having orchestral arrangements on my albums. Some songs are very acoustic, which is what I do a lot live. Some songs are more rock than what most people know me for. And there are some songs that I just like a lot that I wanted people to hear. And some songs were chosen because they’re on movie soundtracks, like the song “All Day,” from the Rugrats soundtrack. “How” is on one of my albums, but it’s also in the Twister soundtrack. “Falling in Love,” is an orchestral song that’s on one of my albums, but it’s also a song that was featured on a Lilith Fair compilation at one point. So people seem really familiar with it. “Sandalwood” is on there. It’s called The Very Best of . . . but who knows what’s really the very best of?
MF: You’re an impressive performer just singing solo with your guitar.
LL: Thank you. I feel like songs should stand alone with just an acoustic guitar and a vocal. Then it’s fun to build around that in the studio.
MF: When you’re writing songs do you have any typical pattern you go through?
LL: There’s no exact pattern. But part of it is capturing ideas when they’re happening, making sure that I have either a telephone or a pad of paper nearby. Because a lot of songs are based on ideas that are just these little melodies or lyric phrases or chord progressions that come to me at random times. Other times I try to create those random times by making sure I sit down with a pad of paper or the guitar as often as possible. Then at some point I do the homework, which is what I call it where you sit down and figure out “What do these little bits and pieces of ideas mean? What am I trying to say with them? Where do I want to go with them?” I sit down and do the work and then keep editing, editing, editing.
Sometimes I co-write with other people. It’s a similar process, but there’s more than one brain at work. Other times, like if I write something for a movie, it’s almost like an assignment. It’s like the brain is replaced by a movie script. I get the core ideas from something somebody needs to make sure that a point of view or a certain character is expressed through the tone or lyrics of a song, or the music or instrumentation. This instead of all the ideas originating from inspiration inside my own head.