Lisa Loeb - Texas Folk Hero of the New Intelligentsia
"The best thing to do is just listen to the album and stare at the artwork."
In 1995 Lisa Loeb's first single, a melodious and simple tune called "Stay", climbed to #1 on the Billboard Singles chart in just two months. This feat is incredible, considering that Texan Loeb and her band Nine Stories didn't even have an album or a label. The single, which came at the collapse of the grunge movement, opened up a new direction of pop music. From playing small folk venues Lisa Loeb became nationally recognized, and has recorded for a hand-picked labels that have given her the freedom to produce albums of artistic merit.
Lisa Loeb was born March 11, 1968 to a classical music dad and a rock-and-roll mom. Accordingly her brother Benjamin Loeb would become a classical composer while Lisa had early interest in Queen, the Cure, Brian Eno, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix.
Originally Lisa was trained to be a classical musician, until her older brother began to show more promise. Classical music's loss was rock and roll's gain. Within a year Lisa would be training on the guitar and writing her first songs.
As a teenager she played an acoustic, wrote ballads, and sang in a plaintive straightforward style that impressed her peers. Always a good student, she was accepted to Brown University, an ivy-league college that has educated few Texans. Brown majored and obtained her degree in Comparative Literature, along the way performing as "Liz & Lisa" with roommate Elizabeth Mitchell, who would later form the popular indie band Ida. During their final year Duncan Sheik, who didn't even own a guitar case at the time, would play guitar with the pair. Sheik later scored a number one song in 1994 with "Barely Breathing".
After college Lisa attended Boston's Berkley School of Music for one semester before forming the band Nine Stories in 1990 (the name is a tribute to author J.D. Salinger) with Tim Bright on guitar, Jonathan Feinberg on drums, and Joe Quigley on bass.
For three years, starting in 1990, Lisa and the Nine Stories toured the mid-west and played Austin's South by Southwest. As a direct result of the show the Nine Stories began to receive label interest. During this time Lisa started working with producer Juan Patiņo.
In 1992, Lisa Loeb and the Nine Stories released a cassette-only album called, "Purple Acoustic Tape" available only at the band's live shows. The little purple cassette was praised by fans and label reps, one of whom was actor Ethan Hawke - who was working on the film Reality Bites. Hawke passed the tape on to Director Ben Stiller. Stiller was drawn enough to the album to take the song "Stay (I Missed You)" and include it in the soundtrack. Stiller and Hawke also recorded a video for the song, which was released with the film.
In May 1994, the single was released and within two months "Stay" rocketed to #1, selling over 750,000 copies and securing a Grammy nomination.
Although the Geffin Label had expressed interest in signing the band before the success of "Stay", Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories would wait another year for the release of "Tails", an album of moving acoustic passages with strongly orchestrated classical movements. Female voices in the 90's stood strongly in the same vein, but the lyrics and vocals of this album were moving, honest, and quietly covert. This fresh approach differentiated her from others of the era.
In 1997, after two years of relentless touring, Lisa released "Firecracker", which contained the hit, "I Do", after which she toured with the Wallflowers, Chris Isaak, and briefly with Lilith Fair. From the release of Firecracker to her next release would be five years. During this time Lisa would return home, signing with Texas based A&M.
In 2002 "Cake and Pie" was released by A&M briefly before Lisa left the label and signed with indie label Artemis. There she released a differing version of Cake and Pie titled, "Hello Lisa". Cake and Pie, reflecting collaborations with Glen Ballard, Dweezil Zappa, Randy Scruggs, and Peter Collins, showed a more progressive style. Neither of the albums contained a hit sing, except for the moderate college radio hit, "The Way It Is" and "We Could Still Belong Together" which was included on the soundtrack to Legally Blonde. That year Lisa also reunited with Elizibeth Mitchell and recorded a children's album of traditional music called "Catch The Moon".
Early this year (2004) she released "The Way It Is" (Rounder Records). While it is an album filled with great tunes, the most potent tracks are "I Control The Sun" and "Try". It has been characteristically overlooked by mainstream media and radio, even though it is the most reflective, honest, and potent album she has ever recorded.
Lisa has won gold records and critical acclaim. Disdaining the accolades, she quit the two most powerful labels of the 90s when they tried to force her to conform. Lisa Loeb committed herself to excellence in her art. She has remained strong in her belief of artistic integrity, whether it cost her labels, fans, anything.
In closing I quote Lisa, from the song Hurricane: "There's this woman, she's a hurricane". These words sum up Texas artist and musician Lisa Loeb.
J. Charles Miller