Our guest this week on the Art of the Song Mid-Week Coffee Break is UK-based singer/songwriter Lisa Redford, who just came out with this new Christmas single “When Christmas Comes Around”.
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Katie: I’m sitting here with Lisa Redford. Lisa, thank you so much for joining me from the UK, how’s it going?
Lisa: Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it, this is great, I really appreciate the thought.
Katie: Well, I’m so glad. You’ve been part of the Standing ‘O’ too for such a long time so it’s nice to actually see you face-to-face. We’re talking on Skype right now, which is just a pleasure. I haven’t actually done an interview via Skype before. It’s mostly in person or on the phone, so this is a neat way to do it was well. It’s nice to see your face
Lisa: Yeah it’s great. The wonders of technology. We’ve hopefully got it figured out.
Katie: Hopefully, it’s always a trial-and-error process, as we well know. So, just to start out, you just came out with this great Christmas video that you sent over and I thought “Oh my gosh, it’s such perfect timing to do an interview with you right now.” The Christmas song, it’s called “When Christmas Comes Around” and it was put together by a French fan you were saying. Tell me about the process of creating this song and what that means to you.
Lisa: That was lovely actually have something like that because it was quite quick. I’ve had a couple of Christmas tracks out before, one was another single a couple of years ago and I had a friend make a video for me and that was more melancholic.
Katie: Oh, St. Benedict’s Christmas Fair, right? Yeah, I remember that. I remember you putting it up a few years ago and it made me so happy because it was one of the first Christmas songs that we had on the site.
Lisa: Oh that’s wonderful! Thank you! And that is a place here in my hometown and that was one just done literally at home with my guitar and I recorded and mixed myself. This new one, I was just playing with a riff, and its intention was being more positive and more happy about Christmas. It’s just more about spending time with those that you love, not the commercial side of it and the consumer side of it. Just literally saying that’s all you need. Have your friends over or your family together. It came together really quickly. It was literally only two or three weeks ago and I recorded it at home and put the guitars down and the singing and then mixed it myself. I’ve been a little under the weather this week just with a cold and not being able to get out and maybe organize a video and then a fan of mine, I was just resting on Saturday, and he said, “If you take a look, I’ve got something for you” and it was this video. It’s really nice because he’s got Christmas scenes from my hometown, Norwich here in the UK and also New York where I’ve lived as an artist and just combined some lovely scenes and it’s gone really well. It’s been lovely.
Katie: It’s a really beautiful video and I think that speaks a lot to you as an artist that you’re able to inspire that loyalty and that excitement in your fans that they’ll go ahead and do these sort of things where they’ll put together these videos, because it’s not the first fan video that’s been put together for you either, I think that says a lot about you as a performer which is really exciting. It seems like your relationships with your fans in a big part of you as an artist and as a performer, was that always there? Was that part of your inspiration to becoming a professional musician or did it start as a more internal process?
Lisa: It’s interesting that you should say that. Certainly some of the fans have been there since my first album, which was quite a while ago now. 2003 was my first proper album, again, putting it together myself. I’ve even got fans, when we were pre-social media, letters from fans and some of them I recognize their names that are now on my Facebook and Twitter. I just never know really. I didn’t know what to expect when I released my first album because it was a small release, independent, you just never know. Then, when people start coming to your shows and then back again and then still following now, it’s just absolutely wonderful. A lot of my fellow friends that are artists would say the same. It just keeps you sane, keeps you motivated. You do music because you love it and you’re passionate, but having somebody suddenly sharing something or making a video for you, it’s just unbelievable, even if you’re not a big artist or anything.
Katie: It’s really heartwarming. That’s what you really want to inspire is that connection in your fans and that loyalty because there’s a lot of artists that’ll go out there and they’ll kind of hit people to people, but they don’t have that something that brings people back, that connects them heart to heart enough that they want to keep coming back. So I think that’s just beautiful.
Lisa: It really is. And there are a lot of them just all over the place, really. A lot particularly seem to be in France and Germany. When you’re an independent musician, you tour a little bit, but sometimes you can’t always get to every place. Some of them, they might not have even seen me live, but they’ve followed me. One chap, when I played in Paris, he traveled hours in France to come and see me. It’s just unbelievable. You sometimes forget when you’re just writing or just on the laptop doing your social media, you just never know who’s connecting. It’s incredible really. And getting messages. When I had my first website getting post comments and things like that.
Katie: And you’re like “Oh my gosh! How did you even get here?”
Lisa: Absolutely wonderful.
Katie: Wow. So let’s go back: how did you actually start in music? Did you do music as a kid? Was your family musical?
Lisa: Well, my mom and dad are huge music fans. They have a huge music taste, quite eclectic. So I was listening to lots of different styles and my mom has an incredibly strong voice, very powerful, but didn’t do things with it really. It’s a lot of hard work and you’ve got to have that kind of personality or just opportunities. So I started as a teenager just writing little songs and things like that and singing to my friends and then I won a competition to sing a song on the BBC. Then, after that, I had a lot of pop interest as a pop artist at the time, just because I was quite young. Then, going to university, I started to learn the guitar so then you can actually accompany yourself and be more knowing who you are as an artist. Then that got me more into that acoustic direction.
Lisa: Then the Americana sort of sound was a little bit late. With my first album, like I said, had touches of that on it.
Katie: Absolutely, and it’s interesting to me that you came by your voice and you came by the writing before you actually picked up the guitar because there’s a lot of people that pick up the guitar and then a few years later, like 10 years later, they’ll write their first song and it’s interesting that those words and those melodies seem to come to you first. So you have such a great, unique voice, it has such purity to it, but at the same time it’s controlled while also being immensely vulnerable. It’s incredible to me and I was reading reviews of your works too and everyone was echoing this sentiment about your voice.
Lisa: Thank you so much. That’s lovely to say.
Katie: It’s true. I’m wondering, did you come by that voice initially? You were interested in this pop-y sound initially, was that voice something that you cultivated, that you had to come by, or was it your natural voice that you started singing in?
Lisa: When you’re younger, you’re just taking in what you’re hearing around you and at the time I was into that pop sound and then obviously my parents taste they were into people like Neil Young and James Taylor and so then getting into more singer-songwriters. Then they also liked a lot of electronic music, new wave, indie music. So I took in a lot of stuff. I think when I first sang, obviously I had a higher voice. I could very comfortably sing very high, but I think what’s come with more writing your own material is that if it’s something particularly that you’ve gone through, I think I’ve been able to, with later releases, given more emotion really. In the beginning, you sing a song and obviously you hope to deliver it as best you can, but with writing more and more, you listen to certain artists and the ones that touch you, they might not have the biggest range, but it’s being able to convey the story of the song. I do try to add in, not a vibrato, but a sort of resonance. I like people like Shawn Colvin does that really nicely.
Katie: Absolutely that’s a great example. It’s interesting, I was taking a songwriting workshop with Ellis Paul this past July and he had mentioned that when he writes a song and when he gets to a really vulnerable moment he almost forces himself to go into this high vocal range that’s very uncomfortable because it conveys the vulnerability and it seems like you do the same sort of thing, but I’m wondering, it seems like it comes in that vibrato that you just showed us, but does it also come through in the lower notes because you were saying you sing very comfortably very high, do you feel like it’s more vulnerable when you go down lower?
Lisa: Yeah, I think it’s very interesting, because one of the things is when you’re also writing a song you might just be playing it on the guitar and you also have got to figure out before you record it where you’re going to sing it, where you’re going to put the capo to find not necessarily the most comfortable place, but somewhere where you can really resonate. Because yeah I definitely sing a lot lower than I used to and I find that I particularly see, for example, with the newest song “When Christmas Comes Around” when you can really go down in the verses. It’s not all up there, it’s really almost conversational in some ways. You’re just communicating. As I say I like people, they’re not necessarily the big, big singers but they have something in their voice. Even if sometimes in their voice that breaks a little, just something that moves you really, that’s what you ultimately want to convey.
Katie: Yeah, that little something extra human in there.
Lisa: Yeah, when people have a live album out or an unplugged album, and you sometimes hear the real rawness, can’t you?
Katie: Absolutely, I was really enjoying watching your live videos that you have on the site. Speaking of live videos, you did that Under the Apple Tree Sessions with Bob Harris which was very cool by the way.
Lisa: Yeah that was wonderful. I was recently in touch with Bob a lot.
Katie: You’ve done a couple sessions with him haven’t you?
Lisa: Yeah, I’ve done a few, and also done shows where he’s introduced me on stage which was amazing, and just going to his studio and recording. It was one of the early Apple Tree sessions as well. He’s done a lot since then and it’s wonderful because in that setting, with all that music around, he’s obviously so passionate about music and it’s also supporting independent artists which is really amazing, giving people opportunities that are not on the major labels. He’s been supportive since the beginning. He played a track from my first album Slipstream; he played “Be Around”. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to expect because he’s on the biggest station here in the UK and that’s what you’re aiming for: to get his audience.
Katie: How did you get connected with him in the first place?
Lisa: I was getting my music distributed and somebody who supported acoustic music, he had Slipstream and he was saying “You should pass it onto Bob and I’ll put in a good word”, this is going back to 2003 was my album. I just sent the CD and he played the track “Be Around” and then the second album Lost Again he played loads of stuff from that and I went and did a session. I couldn’t believe it.
Katie: It’s the power of random connection. One thing leads to another. That’s so incredible to me.
Lisa: And he’s still doing a lot now, the Under the Apple Tree is part of his production and he’s doing a lot, like he did a documentary in Nashville and he’s done a lot there with the CMAs. He’s just so busy, but he still acknowledges people that he supported and will retweet you and things like that. It’s amazing and he’s doing some more new shows in the new year and we’re still in touch so hopefully I’ll get back to do something else.
Katie: Speaking of inspiring loyalty in fans, that’s so funny. And you were recently on the BBC as well?
Lisa: Yes! Well actually, they have the main BBC stations here and then they have all the smaller ones for the areas and they do one called BBC Introducing which is under the radar, just supporting artists. So I’ve had a lot of airplay on there and also I’ve been writing songs for a young artist and we went to the BBC actually yesterday to record a session which is going to be on television here next week so that’s terrific. As well as my writing, I teach music.
Katie: Are you talking about Breeze Redwine? She won an award at the World Championship Performing Arts in Hollywood, in my neck of the woods here. I was like “Oh wow, that’s cool! I know about that!” which is really cool. So she won with your song, which is “Courage”, right?
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely, that was incredible. She’s had quite a journey. She’s still only fourteen.
Katie: Wow. I mean boy oh boy that’s crazy.
Lisa: I’ve been teaching her since she was 11, because I teach vocals and also guitar. She’s just worked so hard. She just comes regularly to sessions. I could tell immediately she’s got a really powerful voice and a very mature, soulful tone as well. She’s very versatile. She can do all styles. Basically, because I write, she started off doing covers. Then she did two of my songs “New York Song” and “Here Alone”. She did “Here Alone” on a competition as well the year before and won with that, which is like a big television, not necessarily television, but people who’ve been on it have ended up being stars. We have the big talent shows, but it’s like an early one for young talent so it’s really supportive. People like Birdy have won their shows. So she won the preteen award because she’s still so young. Then, you’re right, this year she went to California. Her fans funded her to go. She did like a funding. You know those campaigns. She actually won with my song “Courage”, which is incredible. And now she just did the BBC, we did a Christmas song and just so much is happening for her, which is great.
Katie: So it seems like you get a lot of enjoyment out of that. You also are a blogger? You write articles for Songwriting Magazine and Evening News Newspaper. It seems like you’ve got a real passion for mentorship in addition to writing your own songs, did you have a really strong mentor when you were starting out?
Lisa: Oh that’s interesting, I don’t know really. I had people around that would sort of encourage me like maybe people that would play when I started and I was duo like maybe the guitar–other musicians—but not somebody like a teacher or anything like that. Not necessarily. I think I’ve been just really self-motivated and done a lot on my own back. I think what’s happened is, it’s still obviously my passion doing my songs as it were but it also can be very hard at times as well. So I think what’s happened is because I just have a passion for music, I always liked writing, I did English literature at university, so I thought, “Oh what do I like writing about? Music!” So I’ve done lots of different things really, I think it just keeps life interesting. I write a column and then also the teaching was just an opportunity to share skills that you’ve learned as a performer, so it’s more as a coach and mentor for Breeze and other students that I have, just giving them confidence. Like say if they have a concert coming, and helping them find their style as well. Teaching guitar can be a challenge sometimes to teach guitar. It’s not easy at all, but it’s really rewarding finding different little songs to teach people and finding confidence, using the mic, everything.
Katie: Absolutely, and you have to have a lot of patience to be able to do that too. And I’m sure, as you know, being a musician doesn’t pay that well so it also helps in that regard.
Lisa: That’s right. You’ve got to keep busy. I work as well. I do so many different things. Sometimes it’s tough because you think well, obviously, your dream is just to maybe focus, for example, I had my EP out, ideally you’d love to be able to just focus sometimes just on that or have a tour. But I’ve been lately doing so many different things, I think with anybody, even if you’re on an independent label, it can be challenging. So you just can hopefully find other ways sometimes and obviously if it’s in music it’s a bonus. And it keeps life interesting. Being able to write for Breeze, I’ve written two or three songs for her now, it’s kind of like a nice different approach, freshens up your own writing. “Courage”, it can work with me playing it on the guitar, that’s how I’ve played it for her, I did a demo of me playing it and it does sound like my style, but then when she went to the studio it gave it a bit more of a bigger pop sound and it’s quite exciting because it’s like going back to square one really where I started. Singing, writing pop melodies.
Katie: It’s all coming back around now. What a funny thing. Do you find that writing for someone else–like writing for Breeze, is that a different creative process for you then it is writing your own songs? And is it a different subject matter as well?
Lisa: Sure, well, that’s absolutely right because a lot of the time with my own songs it seems to just come as a personal thing or something that’s inspired me personally. When I was thinking of Breeze for the first song, I was thinking of anything that obviously might relate more to her and her age. Unfortunately, a lot of young people get bullied, so I started with something like that as a foundation but then turning it into something positive about like being strong if people have knocked you down. She’s got people who sometimes can be a bit jealous of her.
Katie: Oh I’m sure. Having success at a young age is not an easy thing to deal with, especially if you’re someone who is defined as an artist at a young age, you’re not going a conventional path and that can be very difficult when you’re at that age and you want to fit in.
Lisa: Yeah, so then what happened is it made me think because when I started I was like thirteen, fourteen, and I won a competition for the BBC and I had some of the kids at school were pretty nasty as well.
Katie: So you can go back and draw on those experiences, which is interesting writing in reflection.
Lisa: Absolutely. Again, I think what happened is most people can be very happy for you and be very nice but obviously sometimes it can hit you when people are not very nice so I use that as a sort of foundation and then the song came really quickly. I was trying to think of something positive–having courage–and then what I was thinking of was how a lot of pop is well-arranged but it’s also very simplistic sometimes. The chords and such are just going back to something really simple rather than putting loads of putting fancy chords in there just for the sake of it. A lot of them will have repeat but they’ll have some extra words. Crop it. I was just looking at how a lot of songs are put together but they’re still very clever in how they get into you and get in your system. But also, they’re emotional, and then when Breeze started to sing it sounded great. Very emotional and stuff like that. So I’ll carry on probably writing a few other songs and things like that.
Katie: I would imagine that would be really emotional too seeing someone, a younger person, sing these words that you also experienced in your life and seeing it come out of someone who is going through it right now. That sounds like a very trippy experience to me.
Lisa: Yeah, and it’s amazing when you think about it. It was only this time last year that she was recording I think, and it all just took on a life of it’s own. When she got the video done, it had even more of an anti-bullying theme. It’s not necessarily just about bullying because sometimes it could just be about sometimes people say something to put you down and knock your confidence. So it’s just all about turning it into something a bit more positive. It can be hard to retaliate. I was very shy. So using the songwriting is something that can be really empowering. Again, some of the kids at school are really proud of her now. They’re like “Wow”. And she’s sung it at schools where they had an anti-bullying week, so it’s really resonated with people, which is amazing. I think it’s like with “Fight Song” sort of had a message and then people put it into their own personal story. I think songs can be powerful like that. Turning the personal into something universal, I remember about reading about songwriting.
Katie: Absolutely and, applying that very briefly to the songs that you sing as an adult coming from your adult self. You sing a lot about heartbreak and a lot about things that are darker, but they feel very universal. I listened to your songs and I was like, “Ok, been there.” It’s a really beautiful thing when you find an artist like that and I can understand why people feel such loyalty to you because of that. Was that a difficult process to come out, when you were first writing and performing your own songs, with these songs that are talking about these very personal things?
Lisa: Sometimes when you’re in a show and you’re having a really good one and you get really into that zone of you’re not distracted by the sound problems or anything like that, you’re really singing it and then you’re actually like, “Yeah, I remember. I can really remember a particular moment or something” and it really does hopefully come across. You’re really in it. I think that’s what has happened. Slipstream, the first album I did, some of the songs were personal, but they were mostly just songs I started to write. I started to find my voice. Then, from the next CD onwards they were really personal. It’s amazing how you can turn something that’s a sorrowful thing or something that hurt at the time into something that will resonate with people. They do say that don’t they? That’s the thing, isn’t it? If everything were easy and perfect it would be quite hard to write. Sometimes through things like heartache or loss you can write. I think that’s why some of the bigger songs are like that really. They touch what people have gone through and that’s what I try to do. I take a personal experience and try to make it so it’s universal as well that people can hopefully relate to.
Katie: It seems like it was a really gradual process then for you to come to this point to be that vulnerable and connect with people. You put a really interesting quote, you put a Neil Young quote on your Standing ‘O’ page, where the quote is talking that you have a responsibility to your muse and to follow the muse. It seems like you have gradually developed this relationship where you can go to the places where your muse is leading you. Talk to me about that. It seems like maybe the muse and the concept of this is really important to you in your writing.
Lisa: Yeah. I definitely love quotes. That’s for sure. I definitely like lyrics. Certain times people say something and you’re like “Yeah, absolutely.”
Katie: Yeah, like, that’s going down in the little journal there.
Lisa: Note it down. Absolutely, I like the idea of when, obviously the album is still going strong but obviously a lot of times people consume music a bit differently now like streaming a certain song or playlists, which is great too, but I love the idea of, like after my second album, Lost Again, they were kind of written very closely together and I had a certain situation I was going through, so it was, not a theme, but just ran with it really. And it was also, even though there was lots of heartache, there were a lot of positive songs as well about when you’re going through something, it is quite life-changing really. It’s quite inspiring even if someone’s had a heartache, in some ways you have to look at some positive parts of it and things like that. You definitely expose your creativity and I like the idea of having a theme on the album. Like my third CD Clouds with Silver is very much also, not to say a story, but they do kind of flow into each other. I knew which one I wanted as the first song and I knew which one I wanted as the last song. I think that’s the nice thing if I get the opportunity hopefully more time to put a proper full album together, I like to do it like that, where they work together really well, in terms of the lyrics.
Katie: Do you find that that’s difficult sometimes? Given that you have this strong feeling for the format of the album and the story that you’re telling through the album, do you think it’s difficult sometimes to work with our kind of ADD culture where it’s single consumption to single consumption?
Lisa: It has been difficult. I would have maybe certainly had enough for another record, but what happened was I was in New York at the time and just again, being an independent artist, doing lots of different things, the next two releases, they’ve been more an EP than an album. But they’ve kind of still kept the thing where they work together kind of thing. Obviously, there’s less time to explore when there’s only a few songs, but yeah it is interesting because if you still love the albums, you obviously still want to continue with that, but as an artist, it can be weird because sometimes people focus on some songs (not that they just ignore the ones at the end) because, nicely, with Clouds of Silver people did like all different tracks. It wasn’t one particular one. So it can be difficult because everything’s so fast these days. Sometimes, with just having the EP, you can quickly put it up everywhere. It’s all about single culture in some ways, isn’t it? You can focus on one song and promote that as the single as it were and then maybe the next one. But I still like to have, as I say, not a theme, but a feel to it so you know which song is going to be the first one, you know which one is going to be the last one.
Katie: I think one of the things that are really apparent for me in your songwriting is that you are, very much, at the heart of it, a storyteller because each of your songs is a story in and of itself. So I can understand where having someone focus on just a single and not the whole part of this entire story that’s going on through the album can be a difficult thing. I’m curious, now, when you structure a show, do you clump those songs that go together that you had in an album, do you play them together or is it more of the song by song?
Lisa: Oh, yeah, that’s interesting. I suppose with a show, obviously it depends on the kind of show. If you’re doing an open for someone, you obviously might have only half an hour, so certainly, there’s always songs that I like to include because either they’re fun to play live, like I have one called “Wildfire” and it’s fun to play and it’s also quite immediate in that it’s upbeat…
Katie:…and it grabs people’s attention right away so you can get them on board.
Lisa: But, then again, when you have more time, like say you headline a show, you can obviously then, like I can play more from the recent release, but it depends really. Also “Music in the Mountains” people seem to like as well. I remember when I played that in New York people kept going “Oh, well, I like that mountains one or whatever it is, you’re in the mountains.” Also, sometimes, if you introduce a song and you give a bit of the backstory, people then like to think “Oh, that sounds interesting.” But, in terms of playing songs for sets, it really depends to be honest. Say you’re playing a festival, sometimes it’s outside and people are wandering around so it’s time to play the upbeat songs to sort of…
Katie: ….go with the environment.
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. “Call Me” is another one that a lot of people like, but that’s kind of more of a gentle song, so that works more in theaters and things like that, where somebody’s really maybe listening. Like a quiet room and things like that. And again, sometimes in terms of time, “Dragonfly” is one that I really like, but it’s nearly five minutes, which is fine, but is something you’d really like to have the time to get into it.
Katie: Also, it’s different playing at a festival versus playing a listening room where you’re having people focused on it and who are in it with you. So that makes a lot of sense to me. So you’ve mentioned New York a lot, I know you lived there for a while, what brought you to New York in the first place? And you still spend a lot of time in New York as well?
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely, I got a publishing deal for my songs, a U.S. deal, the organization is based there. So what happened, it’s interesting, I just went first of all for just a few visits, luckily met a lot of music friends and people like other artists, because it’s obviously a very creative environment. I always imagined it would be really hard to maybe meet people but because it’s very like everybody’s walking around, I met a lot of people, which is great, and I’m still in touch with them. Then, what happened is, I recorded my album Clouds with Silver, a lot of that there, just went for like a month, just for two weeks worth of recording, or a few days really, because obviously I’m financing a lot myself, then, what happened is, I was going through a sort of life-changing time and I wanted a new experience and managed to get an artist visa so you can be there and do music and things like that. So that was great. I mean, it’s tough. Here obviously more than the UK I can do more BBC and things, but it’s great in terms of creativity and things like that. I did my EP Reminders there and “Dreaming in Crowds” is a song about being there and “Summer on the L” is about riding on the L train.
Katie:….and New York song, of course.
Lisa: Of course. So that’s been great and I like the combination because here my town is a city. It’s actually a city Norwich and it’s a nice university city, but it’s a lot quieter than what New York obviously is, compared to probably most places. So it’s nice to have a kind of mix. I did find I was writing songs after there, if you know what I mean. When you’re actually there, you’re just so busy or just the energy is just….
Lisa: Yeah, it’s quite an exhausting place, but very inspiring.
Katie: It’s interesting that came in post for you.
Lisa: Yeah, well I had things like certain words or certain titles that I would have, but maybe not the whole thing because obviously while you’re there you want to make the most of it if you’re not a permanent person. You want to just explore it and enjoy it and just make the most of it and absorb everything. So I would see lots of concerts and lots of culture and then it was maybe like later when you’d have a quiet day that you’d sort of absorb things. Just seeing the quality as well of a lot of the performances there are incredible. Every night the music, going to Rockwood, and The Living Room, the venues and stuff.
Katie: Yeah, I’ve wanted to go to the Rockwood for a while. I see so many of our musicians are posting on Facebook and are like “I was at Rockwood”.
Lisa: Have you been? Do you go?
Katie: No, I haven’t been. Well, I’ve been to New York, but I haven’t been the Rockwood, but that’s on my list. Maybe I’ll see you there next time.
Lisa: I think there’s another room now, because I’ve been back and forth, there’s another space as well.
Katie: Yeah, I think there’s three stages or something like that. But I’m curious how you found performing for audiences in New York versus audiences in the UK or different places in Europe that you’ve performed.
Lisa: It’s interesting I think because people they’d hear me speak. English bands do very well. There’s a really nice relationship between US and UK music. But people would be quite surprised when they’d hear me sing with a bit more of an American sound….
Katie: “I just heard you speak in an English accent!”
Lisa: I know, I guess that’s just my style and things like that. Just sounds nice. Certain words will definitely sound nicer with an American accent. Oh, but I think people enjoyed it because they’re like “Oh, you’re doing a kind of Americana music?” And that’s not just my style, some of it’s folk, some of it’s pop. I think it’s quite English in some ways, but I think it’s the instrumentation on the albums. They’ve got a country thing. Obviously if you’re going to have a pedal steel or a dobro on your release, it does suddenly make it a little more country, but I think people like that. The combination of the styles and things like that. It was very supportive. We’d all go to each others’ shows and things like that. I’d like to go to Nashville definitely at some point. That’d be great. I’ve been to visit, but not to play.
Katie: Yeah, I had seen on the site too that you were wanting to play the U.S. and I hope you get to tour here very soon. Are you planning on that in the near future?
Lisa: I would love to. I mean, you mentioned something about songwriting workshops, I think what I’d like to get more involved in is things like that. Maybe just going along to things, not necessarily tour-tour, but maybe just going to more workshop-type things and meeting other writers and getting to collaborate with people. Something like that. I mean I know Nashville does a lot of things like that. Or all over obviously. Where was the one you went to?
Katie: It was at Woodyfest this year. It was in Okemah, Oklahoma. Some of our artists, Jen and Scott Smith, they do one on the east coast as well, a songwriting workshop. It’s called the Wood and Stone Retreat. You should check it out. I just interviewed a guy the other week who was talking about having gone to that. He was like, “Oh this song came from there! And, come to think of it, this song came from there!” So it’s been an immensely positive experience it seems for a lot of people. And, for someone like you, who has such experience with teaching as well, I would imagine that it would be a great place just to connect and get that inspiration.
Lisa: I would love to do stuff like that because you know when you go to things like music conferences and festivals, it’s inspiring, because sometimes, as a solo artist, you’re in your own little world sometimes. You’re writing, and then you’re on social media. You don’t see people sometimes. Sometimes it’s quite solitary, so getting to go to things like that is really nice because you can meet like-minded people. So something like that would be another inspiration. Not necessarily running any workshop. Maybe going to get some ideas and things like that. I know some in Nashville they do some things like there’s a songwriting festival in the spring. So doing stuff like that. And there’s obviously the Americana Awards in September in Nashville. Because I’d also like the experience of maybe writing with somebody else as well because a lot of the time it’s just been myself. I was just fine with that because, again, if you have stuff to say and you know what you want, but if you’ve been doing it for a while it’d be nice to have some fresh ideas, somebody else’s ideas sometimes. See what happens.
Katie: Absolutely, but you actually have worked with some pretty cool people—you were saying you worked with Teddy Thompson and Jeff Buckley.
Lisa: Well, people that have worked with him, absolutely. Their musicians. Like when I did my album Clouds of Silver and Reminder, they were produced by people who produced him and also his band. Actually the track “Dreaming in Crowds” has his drummer on there.
Katie: So cool.
Lisa: Yeah, he just actually played in Norwich actually. I really like his stuff. Because I liked his second album Separate Ways, I recorded with his producer there. I think other musicians, absolutely, not necessarily just the songwriting, because they can give a fresh idea of your song yourself as well. Absolutely. Like an arrangement. Definitely. It’s exciting when it’s just you and the guitar and then suddenly has some other stuff on it. They’ve always been pretty acoustic. They’ve been quite acoustic recording still. There’s not always loads of instrumentation necessarily. Maybe one album. But it’s nice to just give little textures really. Bring it to life.
Katie: Get little personalities and extra little pieces in there to feather it out.
Lisa: I think I would prefer the recording to the gigging sometimes because you’re creating something. I used to be the other way around maybe. I used to record and think “Oh, I’ve got to get it right”. And again, when you’re independent, you’re sort of financing everything yourself, do you know what I mean? Obviously now, you record a lot on your computer so you have the time, but when I started I would go to studios. There’s obviously fewer times. I’m quite good at takes, I just get on with it, but it’d be nice to, when you’re recording, like people I did in New York, we all worked quite quickly still, but you know what I mean? I like the process of just layering and listening back. It’s really interesting. Mixing and things like that.
Katie: It seems like that process is also stimulating your creativity and you find new things about your song through the recording process, which is really cool that you’re open to that as well.
Lisa: Yeah, it can be quite interesting. It can be quite tough though, because you’re sort of having to decide which one you like best and everything. It can be really exhausting because you’re like “Oh that’s fine” or “Should we try it this way?” A lot of mine, the vocals have been either the second take or the first. So they’ve always been quite spontaneous as well like that. Even the “Music and the Mountains” and that EP a lot of them is vocals I’ve just done them once really. So probably you could experiment and things like that, but I think if you feel like there’s something good as come across already….some people can spend too long maybe, but it’s difficult, there’s no right or wrong, it’s very subjective.
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. At some point you just have to send it off into the ether and let it go.
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. You could always be like, “Oh, could have done that”, “Could have changed that”.
Katie: So we’re actually just about to run out of time, but before we do I just have one more question. One of the things that I really admire about you through this conversation is that you have this pervasive sense of optimism in your music and also the way that you approach music and that you approach teaching and I know that there are a lot of artists out there who struggle to keep up that positivity and movement, especially when they’re writing about a difficult, vulnerable subject. Do you have any advice for inspiring that in people?
Lisa: Do you mean with the whole career as well?
Katie: Yeah, absolutely, just through the whole process. Not just writing songs, but just keeping that positivity in your career, because it goes through a lot of ups and downs and especially putting yourself out there and then you get shot down and it’s like “Oh gosh!”
Lisa: I know, and sometimes it is interesting because, I mean, I’ve been lucky there’s people like Bob Harris, some people that have just supported you straight away and then other times things don’t happen or you don’t get a certain response. You’ve got to have a lot of tenacity, a lot of belief in yourself. I’ve had times where you think, “This is really hard, is it worth it?” But I think, as I say, with doing other things as well, like the whole writing about music, sometimes getting inspired by other songs that you like, other artists, teaching, seeing the joy of students when they discover a new artist. Or like one of them, she wants to know loads of good artists from the Brit-pop and the eighties so I’m telling her loads of good people and she’s like “Oh god, I can’t wait to discover them!” You’ve got to just have that passion for music really. I don’t know what you expect really. You’ve got to love it really. If you always think that something massive is going to come, do you know what I mean? You’ve got to enjoy the process, the learning. As I say, I just enjoy recording even if I did it myself. Even if it might not be the most top production. The Christmas song. I’ve learned to do it myself and that’s just really rewarding. I think you just have to enjoy every little part of the process. Not just be like, “Why have I not got more likes” or something like that.
Katie: It seems like you’re saying two things here: one being that you have to just enjoy doing it for yourself and being part of that creative process without relying too much on the feedback to say, “Ok, I can do this because I’m worthy of doing this because I’m loved through likes”, but it also seems like you’re saying that part of keeping that level-headedness is going outside yourself through exploring other musicians and figuring out “How can I relate this to the bigger picture where it’s not just me” because sometimes if you put all that pressure on you I think it can be just drowning.
Lisa: Absolutely, and I think especially with everything being so fast and instant these days with Facebook and twitter, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, some people are very good with the whole thing, and I do a lot of that as well, but you’ve also got to step back and actually go back to maybe what you first did, like why you loved it. Like writing songs. You’re kind of getting a balance really. Sometimes, obviously, when you have a new release, you’re going to spend some time with promotion if you’re going to do it yourself but it all goes back to you’ve got to have the songs and the story and the passion. Even if it’s difficult at times because then that will come through and sometimes you’ll step back out of the internet for a while and just concentrate on the writing. Because then, when you have it to share with people, your passion will come through. It’s still wonderful, the social media, because people sometimes discover older songs and someone like me it’s great because it’s just constant discovery. Like years ago you might not have known who was listening. But I think it’s also just coming back to why you do it. Just that passion and then that will come across. If you have a new song that means a lot to you. And just don’t worry about the time like “Oh I’ve got to post something now”.
Katie: Enjoy it for it and it will draw people in naturally. Well, hey, Lisa thank you so much for talking with me today, I really appreciate it.
Lisa: Thank you so much, Katie, this has been wonderful.