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Lisa Germano

The Full Interview

Mar 01, 2003 Spring 2003 - Elliott Smith Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

On page 94 of Under the Radar, Issue 4, there is an interview with Lisa Germano, accompanied by reviews of her new album Lullaby for Liquid Pig and her two self-released collections. Due to space constraints, we could only offer you the best excerpts of the interview we did with Germano at her West Hollywood apartment. Below is the full interview with Germano, as well as more pictures of her and her late cat. Miamo Tutti – R.I.P.

Nick Hyman (N): Describe if you will, the transition from 4AD to your new label Ineffable.

Lisa Germano (L): 4AD had to drop me a few years ago and that was difficult but I knew it was coming because I didn’t sell records. With each record we put out I sold less and less and less so it was kind of obvious. So I was working full time at a book store (Book Soup) not really thinking I was going to make another record, but I’d come home and I’d write and that’s what I’d do. Whether or not if I’d turn it into a record or not remained to be seen. It’s been three or four years, actually it’s been five years now that I was working on this music at the time and Tony Berg would come into the bookstore sometimes and say ‘how are you doing, what are you up to?’ I’d say ‘nothing’, I was writing but I wasn’t going to do anything with it, you know? Then also, Robin Hurley, who used to run 4AD in L.A. here and in England has now become my manager because I had so many questions about what do I do if I need this and what if I need that. I don’t need a lot of help, I’m not a high maintenance artist so he said ‘why don’t I be your manager’. So he’s got a full time job but he manages me, and Ivo talks to me all the time. I don’t really feel that 4AD, it’s just a thing of the past like going to college and now I’m in graduate school. Tony would say that one day he was going to start a label that what I do would be the kind of thing he would want on it. I never took it seriously because I didn’t think I was making a record. But when I started to realize that this was becoming a record one of the first persons I sent it to out of seven people was Tony and he responded within a day and it was wonderful. The same day I got a call from someone else who said, ‘do not put this record out it is not good.’

N: Really!

L: Which is fine. What I liked about that, is that I realized that I’m some people’s cup of tea and others not. I really like getting bad criticism because it makes me wonder if I faith in this piece of work. When someone really, really doesn’t like it and you think it has something to it that I want to put out to the world then I love that kind of criticism. I just thought it was weird that I got them within the same hour. I’m glad that Mark Geiger and Tony had the courage to put out a record like this. A lot of people aren’t going to like it. They really took a risk although I’m not expensive. It’s not like their going to make millions of dollars. I think that my music works best when you listen to it by yourself. If you reflect on your own feelings it becomes this thing that you relate with. A lot of people are really busy and don’t have time to do that and I understand that. It can be therapeutic at times and that’s why I put it out because if these songs helped me see something, maybe they’ll help other people and there’s so many millions of people in therapy that need to know that other people feel this way. I think that there would be lots of people that would like it but I don’t know how to get it out to them. Because you don’t want to say, it’s really depressing like you are!

N: So 4AD were good to you.

L: Yes, it was wonderful. They never made me do anything I didn’t want to do.

N: No royalty problems…

L: I don’t even know about money. I’m the stupidest money person in the world.

N: Could you talk about your experiences in other bands such as John Mellencamp and Simple Minds?

L: I played with a bunch of people back then, mostly John and Simple Minds who were the main bands I toured with. Other people were more like studio jobs.

N: Do you have fond memories of that time in your life?

L: Oh yeah, I felt like I was a child, well because I was. But it was really fun and it was horrifying too because it was so scary at first this idea of playing in front of twenty-thousand people. I had to get a lot of therapy to deal with that. Once I started doing that, it wasn’t all that hard. Then it became just learning about what’s the next step. Each fear you conquer becomes less exciting. I always knew that I wanted to write my music but I never had the faith to do it. Playing with John and these people for one, gave me faith to try, but two, I started not liking that anymore. Nothing wrong with them, no bad feelings because it was amazing, but I wasn’t getting called that often and I was getting older and I was like, what am I going to do? This is time to shit or get off the pot. I had twelve-thousand dollars saved. So I said okay, this year I’m gonna write my own music, period. I’m gonna do it and see it through. So I made my first record and spent all of my money on it and just went from there.

N: Are you still working at Book Soup?

L: Well I’m a sub, now. Last year I was working full-time and was assistant manager but now I’m a sub because I want to concentrate on the music. If I want to go back then I’d have to take sub shifts and work my way back in. They’re really nice there to let me do that.

N: How did you balance work with writing music?

L: All I did for a year and a half was work at the bookstore and then come home and get dinner ready, drink wine and get ready to have the evening. The day is the day, and the evening is my place. I would just write, experiment and change things and sometimes I’d wake up at six in the morning and do a vocal over and have to be at work at eight. People at work would say ‘do you want to go out tonight?’, and I’d say ‘no, no, I’m recording.’ It got to be like a joke really because all I’d do is work and record, work and record. Finally I was just done because I did it for almost two years and I couldn’t take those songs anywhere else. I’ve got to either, go and record them properly, and I didn’t have any money. This was after Neil Finn’s tour and I had some money saved. Okay, go in and get proper musicians and pay studio time and record them all over or put them to Pro-Tools and see if you can nick away at them and maybe it’s there and you don’t know it. So that’s what I did. I took them to Pro-Tools and then Joey Waronker and Jamie Candiloro started working on it with me. They helped me realize that the tracks I did here should be the ones I use and not track them over. I thought, ‘really’; I was so sick of them after two years that I needed new ears. Then people would put their parts on them, like Sebastian came in and put some bass on some songs. We sent Pro-Tools to Johnny Maar, to Neil Finn and it was so exciting to get these Pro-Tools back and put up what they did, it was so cool!

N: Did you use an actual studio at all to record Lullaby For Liquid Pig?

L: Never, oh no. All of the basic tracks were recorded here except for two songs that were recorded at my friend Craig Ross’ house in Austin. We did those songs two and a half years ago. Everything else was done when we went to Joey’s studio, which is his house and we added people there. Sometimes I would work with Jamie who was more of a mixer of sounds. You would never believe where the song “Liquid Pig” came from but it’s the exact same track. It’s just that we’d put stuff on it and we’d decide to take this off of it. The piano used during the initial recordings was changed here and there with other pianos and was eventually taken off and when you do that, you’re making a commitment. You can never get the time back because you’ve just erased what you tracked it to. It’s really fun and challenging and sometimes you ruin songs by doing that and other times you wonder where to go from here and it’s exciting.

N: The press materials for the album seem to frequently mention red wine. Does that help fuel your creativity?

L: No, I just love wine. The reason that has to do with this record is that some of the stuff I was writing about started to have a sarcastic view of myself or pissed off view that I drink too much. I’m not sure that I do or if this person thinks I do, what the fuck’s your problem let me do what I want. I just noticed that alcohol was sort of becoming this thing and so I started writing some songs about it, then when I would do other songs during these two years I would realize that they were actually love songs. “Lullaby For Liquid Pig” is a love song I wrote about a man, I need a fix, I need your energy, the world sucks without you. Then I realized, wow if I had to give up wine I’d feel the same way. So all of these songs were fitting into this thing where they could all be about people whose behavior could have to do with addiction to people or alcohol or drugs. So the record became about this other thing about songs that keep you up at night because you are thinking about all of these things that you do in your life that make you thirsty for needing too much. I need this person too much, I need alcohol, I need, need, need. That’s what the problem is. You don’t write them on purpose because of that but they suddenly become this thing.

N: What is “liquid pig”?

L: When I first came up with it, I was being sarcastic to myself about drinking too much. Years ago I used to make these phone calls to people when I would get too drunk. (Lisa begins pouting) It would be pathetic. Finally, one time my ex-husband called me the next morning and asked how I was doing and I said ‘pretty good, why?’ he said, “you don’t remember calling me do you?” I said ‘no’ and he played me a tape of my own voice that was so pathetic and we laughed about it so hard. I’ve always called that my “liquid pig” phone call. I don’t do it anymore ever since I wrote the song about it, ‘who did you call, what did you say’, it isn’t funny. So that song is about that.

N: Would you ever consider putting that tape on record?

L :It’s too pathetic. It’s too personal. People think my music’s personal, but I don’t think it is after I’m done, but that would have been too personal. It wouldn’t have helped anyone to put it on the album. The song “All The Pretty Lies” is about when you say I’m so sorry I was so fucked up last night and you keep apologizing to your friends all of the time about your behavior and all of the sudden they just leave and you’re sitting around wondering where your friends are and where the parties at. You realize that you’ve sucked out all of their energy so I don’t do that anymore. So it’s about learning behavior and changing behavior.

N: You’ve played with eels in the past, how did you meet E?

L: It’s a really sweet story. He sent me a fan letter back before he did Broken Toy Shop before his first record called A Man Called E. I don’t know how he got my address but he said he saw me play with John and that he was a fan. I was really surprised. Then I met him about a year later maybe at some party at South By Southwest. We just kinda became friends off and on. Then a few years ago he asked me to play on his record, which I did, then he asked me to open up for him. We’re very much like brother and sister in the relationship. It’s a great one because there’s enough love and respect in that we can actually get mad at each other and it’s all forgiven because your family. I love his music. I think his Electro-Shock Blues is one of the best records ever written. I used to listen to that on headphones everyday and wonder how this person could write this record. And I love his other record after it too, but that one in particular.

N: Are you going to play with them again this time around?

L: He asked me and I wanted to but I have to do my tour. Our record companies already have us on different schedules already, so that’s too bad.

N: Are you already writing new material?

L: Yeah, I have a bunch of new stuff but it’s in that phase where I don’t even know if I like it yet. You know I didn’t play anyone this Lullaby stuff for a year and a half. It takes me a long time before I decide if I think a song is too personal or is it not. You know how people think my songs are too personal sometimes? See, I just don’t, because they don’t know what I’ve edited out. This I probably won’t play for a long time and I don’t know I’d make it into a record or not anyway.

N: You are going to be in France for about a month. Do you like to tour?

L: I love to tour. It’s only hard when I have a cat that has cancer. [One of Lisa’s cats, Miamo Tutti, who made an appearance and was sung about on Excerpts From A Love Circus has unfortunately diagnosed with cancer.] I always feel bad when I leave, but now that this cat is dying it’s going to devastate me if I’m gone. So I’m gonna make sure that I have everything set up for people to go ahead and do it if he gets really that sick but not to tell me. I had to cancel a show about a month or so ago when he got sick because I couldn’t even breathe and my music only works when I’ve got a sense of humor. I’m actually feeling quite strong but I couldn’t do one of my own shows when I start crying because that’s like ewww.

N: You played on Yann Tiersen’s new live double CD, C’Etait Ici? His Amelie score is brilliant. How did that come about?

L: I wish I could do more with him. I met him at an eels show in Paris and he told his record company that he really liked me and would like to do something with me someday. There were no plans of what. We met and they gave me his two CD’s and I really liked them. Basically we met and he hardly speaks any English and I speak very little French so basically we just sort of kept smiling at each other. The record company guy kept talking. So I said when he had something for him to send it to me and about a year and half later he sent me something that he wanted me to sing on. They flew me to France to do it and it was really wonderful, but it was hard because I don’t sing on other people’s music very well. I don’t see myself as a singer but I’m trying to because it’s actually fun when it works but I don’t seem to do it very well. So when they sent me the track without a vocal I thought they’d want this repetitive thing, but there were all of these words and he had a totally different melody than what I was thinking. It worked out but it was really, really hard. I’m glad it worked out because at first I was really embarrassed because there were so many people in the studio and one person said ‘I’m such a fan, I can’t wait to see how you do’. Oh God! But it ended up working out and I did two songs then and then this live show was an amazing show.

Random Lisa G. thought on 24 Hour Party People:

L: It wasn’t funny enough to be Spinal Tap but it wasn’t documentary enough to tell you that this is really true.

N: How did you choose songs for your greatest hits compilation Concentrated?

L: Robin Hurley did that. We put a couple of things that are not out on anything and a couple of demos from Lullaby For Liquid Pig which I wish I could change now because they sound so much better, “Lullaby For Liquid Pig” and “Paper Doll”. “Lullaby” distorts because I had a really bad mix of it. It’s really long that record. He chose stuff that was more on the poppy side because when he first became my manager we wanted to take things to TV and give some things to film and so this is what he put together for that. We’ve talked since and some of my slower songs are my favorite songs, but I enjoyed listening to this because I never listen to the poppy songs so it was kinda fun.

N: What are some of your favorite songs?

L: I don’t know. I like “Darkest Night Of All”. I think that’s a song that I can always relate to. I mean, I don’t sit and think about it that much but I like the atmospheric songs, “The Earth” I don’t think that’s on there. I kinda like the weirder things actually.

N: Do you get sick of certain songs live?

L: No, if I don’t feel it, I don’t do it. It’s not like John Mellencamp or Simple Minds, I don’t have to do my hits because it’s just a joke that those are hits. I have not had a hit. I usually just play what I want to play live. If I keep playing at Largo all of the time I try to do different songs then what I’ve done.

Marcus Kagler (M): How do you like playing at Largo?

L: I love playing at Largo. When I was writing this record I was kinda too shy to see if these songs were working so I went and played them at Largo a long time ago to see how that feels. I also wanted to see how I felt about it. Was it okay? I found out that it was okay.

M: How did you choose what songs to play for the Auckland Seven Worlds Collide shows?

L: I played “Paper Doll” because it was one of my newest songs that I had been writing and I thought it would be an easy song too. I think when a lot of other people play on my music that it doesn’t work because it gets too big. This thing in Auckland was so, we all learned like forty to fifty songs and our heads were like exploding. Johnny Marr was the funniest. Two days before the first show, Neil asked him to do something on this one song and we promised each other not to be too picky, but he asked him to change a bit that sounded offbeat and Johnny said ‘Neil, man I just can’t take it anymore”. He wasn’t mean or anything but he said ‘one more idea and I’m gonna blow up’. We all started applauding and then Neil realized that we were done.

M: How long did you guys rehearse?

L: We only had four or five days. Sebastian and I came first so by the time Johnny was there, he only had three days. Ed from Radiohead came the same day as Johnny, but the drummer came only two days before. It was intense but it was amazing and wonderful. We all learned a bunch of songs, he sent us all tapes and said ‘maybe you’ll play on this one, or you might not’. You should see my notes. I hadn’t done anything in almost two years except for a couple of studio jobs then he just calls out of the blue and I started to get panic attacks. I had to get therapy again real quick. I didn’t understand why I was included. I mean it had Johnny Maar, Eddie Veder, Radiohead and me! I learned a lot when I was there. There’s something about having a woman around as kind of a grounding thing. It was beyond what you actually play or do, it was just about being you. Then I realized that’s how we chose everybody. He didn’t chose Eddie because he’s in Pearl Jam or Radiohead because their huge or Sebastian because that was a cool band, Soul Coughing; he chose us all because he knew us all and liked our spirits, our energy and thought we’d all get along.

M: What other songs did you play?

L: Just “Cry Wolf” and “Paper Doll”. I did “Lullaby For Liquid Pig” actually. Just those three.

M: Have you carried on friendships with that group?

L: I feel really close to them. Ed and Phil both said that they would play on my record when I got to it, but by the time I got to it I didn’t really know what I needed them to do and they were starting on their next record so I didn’t send it to those two. But it would have been really cool to use them as well. They’re really creative people.

N: Are you going to play by yourself or have a band on this tour?

L: I will play by myself on this new tour. I love having a band, in the past Craig Ross and this guy Thor played with me a lot, but I can’t afford it and I couldn’t even afford it then. It was worth it but 4AD kept needing me to pay my band less, but I will not pay people for being on the road. My tours were really expensive because I insisted on giving people their own rooms. When I went to Pro-Tools and got people to play on them, nobody did me any favors even though they all said they would. I wanted everybody to be paid but Johnny would not take any money for it, so I made him a scarf. I wanted people to be paid the way that they should be paid. I’m glad I did that.

N: What’s it like to play with Butch from eels?

L: Butch is great and so funny. He’s so talented, when he came he brought boxes of symbols, boxes of whistles, gongs and I felt I should have paid him more because he brought so much stuff. He’s in Europe now with Tracy Chapman.

N: You’ve worked with so many people, including Stevie Nicks; what was that like?

L: It was great, I mean I haven’t worked with anyone that wasn’t really wonderful except Smashing Pumpkins and I never recorded with them.

N: So what’s the story there?

L: Nothing much except that I was hired to go on tour with them. It’s a long story. I had a whole month of rehearsals with them and I quit the book store, I sublet my apartment, moved the cats to Indiana and then they fired me, which is fine, but they didn’t give me a reason. They called me the night before the first show and sent me home. I didn’t even care because the tension between the band was huge, but that was so unbelievably rude and with all of the people I’ve played with you’d think that you’d learn how to be treated and how to respect each other and that was so disrespectful. All they had to say was that it wasn’t working and give me two weeks pay and send me home sorry. I tried to find out why, rumors why and never heard why and it kind of fucked me up. Working with everyone else has been great, the more creative the better. David Bowie was just so creative. He had fun.

N: That was for the Heathen album?

L: I actually did a lot of stuff on that, but then they turned it into a different record. David’s producer turned him on to me and gave him the Geek The Girl record and David loved and brought me out. I just played on Jewel’s new record.

(Seeing Sheryl Crow’s name on my notepad) Sheryl Crow, I saw her name there, I know her from Chad who made Slide with me. It’s this small, small world. I love it when really famous people are gracious and not assholes.

N: Could we talk about Wendy Melvoin real fast? Prince and the Revolution are one of the best bands ever.

L: I met Wendy through Chad and I’ve been really good friends with her for about five years. When she found out that I was making my record she called me to insist that she be on the record. I’ve got so many friends that I’ve played with that I’d love to put on records, but I also don’t like to put too much on records and that’s why I didn’t send it to Ed and Phil. I didn’t know what to put her on but I wasn’t done with the “Party Time” song and she came and played drums on it. It was so cool because Wendy can do anything. She’s just music out the wahoo. She usually plays guitar, but she played drums on that one.

M: You’ve had issues with depression and agoraphobia. Would you say that this record has been an outlet for you?

L: Definitely. Most of it is about me trying to figure out what’s wrong. Once you figure out what’s wrong, then the song isn’t about me, it’s about what’s wrong. I think it can be about what’s wrong with anybody. Does that make sense? Because it’s not about me. I’ve written songs about me like I did this, I ate this and threw up. That’s about me. I think I try to make sure that the songs when you say ‘you’ in a song that it could be about you maybe. It helps me. I’m still an agoraphobia, I can’t drive on the highway and I don’t know how to get over it.

N: Any relationship advise?

L: I obviously don’t have one. I wouldn’t even have a clue about that. To me, what I’m trying to do is really get strong on my own so that when I’m in a relationship again that I don’t suck the energy out of the other person and that I don’t let them abuse me. “Paper Doll” is about letting this man, who didn’t do anything to me but treat me like absolute shit and I’ll be there and be his best friend. That kind of behavior is the same kind that you could let a drug take advantage of you. If you’re going to let people take advantage of you then you could let a lot of things take advantage of you. I think it’s important to be aware of when people are taking advantage of you. If I fell in love today, I’d probably do exactly what I’ve already done.

N: What artists are making an impact in your world?

L: Those questions are almost too personal for me. It’s just depending on my mood, what I like. I really do like Beck’s record. I listen to KCRW to see what’s out there that I like and I make lists of what’s out there and what to buy. I just haven’t been buying things because I’ve been broke for five years. Right now, I got my advance so I’m doing things like fixing my piano and amp and making sure that the things I have work; then I’ll go out and buy records. I almost bought the new Cat Power. I was gonna buy Joseph Arthur. I like a lot of different music. Someone sent a record to my P.O. Box called Trespassers William and I really, really like it. Sounds so 4AD, really atmospheric. It’s a plant. I’m gonna get out and see a lot more music. I’ve spent these last five years in, now I want to go out.

The End


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January 10th 2011

Already praised by the like of Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, and Neil Finn, Lisa Germano should be one of the many artists whose career should be in full bloom. Unfortunately though, the musical ability of most traditional singer-songwriters doesn’t determine the career path. “Rolex Submariner

January 10th 2011

Lullaby for Liquid Pig is deceptively potent; in just thirty minutes it divines your most closely held memories, guiding you farther farther back with endless, heartbreaking choruses “Rolex Prices
Lisa Germano pushes confessional intimacy to unsettling extremes …Unashamed candor often spells dreary self-indulgence. In Germano’s insightful hands, it’s fascinating and strangely exhilarating

Antonio D'Alfonso
October 25th 2011

thank you for this great and personal interview