Lisa Loeb’s Reality of Music, Motherhood Doesn’t Bite
Seeing Lisa Loeb can be an instant trip back in time, but where she takes you depends on when in the past 20 years your path crossed with the singer-songwriter headlining the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival on March 16.
“The ’90s were the ’90s. I’m not one for going back and redoing time. I guess I’m too much of a realist,” Loeb said during a half-hour phone interview Feb. 26. “But I am a really nostalgic person too.”
You might share that nostalgia for “Stay (I Missed You),” which in 1994 made her the first singer without a recording contract to have a No. 1 song and was probably the only redeeming element of the Gen X whine-fest “Reality Bites” (despite featuring Winona Ryder and Ben Stiller).
Perhaps you remember her as a reality TV star from Food Network’s culinary road show “Dweezil and Lisa” in 2004 or E!’s looking-for-love “Number 1 Single” in 2006 or caught her as a guest-star on TV shows from “The Nanny” to “Gossip Girl” or on the big screen in the “Fright Night” remake.
If you have a child in college or high school, you might recognize her voice from the soundtrack of 1998’s “The Rugrats Movie.”
If you have a child under age 10, you might find Loeb alongside the Wiggles in your music collection or next to Maurice Sendak on the bookshelf.
Or maybe you get a reminder of Loeb every time you look in the mirror and see frames from her eyewear collection on your face.
“People have always come up and asked me about my glasses and where I get them and where they can get some, and I’m so excited to finally be able to have glasses — some that are exactly like mine but some that are inspired by mine which look better on a variety of different faces,” Loeb said.
Since releasing her seventh grown-up album, “No Fairy Tale,” in late January, Loeb has been making the media rounds. Night owls could have seen her singing “Stay” for Conan O’Brien or “No Fairy Tale” for Jay Leno. Stay-at-home types could have heard both on Marie Osmond’s show or watched an eyewear makeover on Rachael Ray’s show.
Then there was the March 1 appearance in prime time on Piers Morgan’s CNN show, when Loeb joined Madeleine Stowe and Cyndi Lauper to talk with Dr. Oz about staying healthy and, in Loeb’s case, becoming a mother after age 40.
Whenever you first saw Loeb, you should still recognize her; she looks as if she hasn’t aged in 20 years. Perhaps that has something to do with putting off motherhood.
“Having had a song that was really popular in 1994 is awesome. It’s given me so many opportunities; I really appreciate everything that’s come from that,” Loeb said. “But at the same time, yes, it’s fun to continue to move forward and to have fresh ideas and new ideas also. It’s not an either/or, but it’s nice to move forward also.”
Loeb, who grew up in a Reform congregation in Dallas, Texas, and now attends a more Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles, captures a mix of old and new on “No Fairy Tale.”
Some songs, including the title track and the playful “The ’90s,” sound as if they would have fit on her early CDs. Others, such as “A Hot Minute” and “Married,” reflect more of the “poppy-punky” sound Loeb said producer Chad Gilbert wanted to bring her.
Scattered throughout are pop-culture references that work especially well for Loeb’s fellow forty-somethings, from Stephen King and “Newsies” on “Married” to designer Betsey Johnson and the popular alternative music of “The ’90s.”
Still, this is a different Lisa Loeb, if only because this is her first album as a married woman (she wed TV music production supervisor Roey Hershkovitz four years ago) with children (daughter Lyla, 3, and son Emet, who’ll be 9 months old when Loeb arrives for the music festival).
“It’s making me even more try to pay more attention to my schedule, pay more attention to my family. I’ve always been really interested in a balance of all the different elements in my life,” she said. “Artistically, I think it just, it makes me feel like I need to experiment more. Because also when you have kids, you realize time is going by so quickly, and something is here today and gone tomorrow.”
Loeb is doing two shows as part of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival.
She will perform children’s music, including songs from her two children’s albums, at a free show at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, with local musician Michael Levine opening.
“I love playing kids shows. It’s definitely a different energy from playing grown-up shows. Kids are usually a little bit less focused, but it depends. A lot of times they’re great listeners too,” Loeb said. “It’s a little more interactive, the kids shows are, than the grown-up shows; it’s more of a sing-along.”
She and her band, Nine Stories, are headlining the main festival event that night at Variety Playhouse in the Little Five Points area. Israeli rock band Electra (read more about them Tuesday at Atlanta Jewish News) and bluesman Saul Kaye are opening for Loeb. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door.
Loeb said you can expect a show that’s one-third new music and two-thirds older stuff, including any requests from the audience.
“I connect with the audience wherever I am, so I’ll have to see when I get there what the show will be like,” she said.
“I like connecting to other people who are Jewish and seeing where they’re coming from. The only issue is that I hope people don’t feel excluded from it. Sometimes religion and religious labels can exclude people from situations, and I don’t want people to feel excluded.”
“Also, go out and buy the record,” she said. “A lot of people like to listen to it for free on the Internet, which is really supportive in one way, but musicians lately have been talking about how we have to encourage people to go out and actually buy the record too.”
Below is an edited transcript of our conversation, ranging from her growing Jewish spirituality to her life with kids, her music, her eyewear line and her history with Atlanta (“I associate Atlanta with food, basically”).
Q: What was your Jewish life like when you were growing up? (Click to hear Lisa answer in her own words!)
A: I was raised in a Reform synagogue in Dallas, and I went to religious school every week, and I was confirmed, and I was bat mitzvahed, and so that was what it was. And as I got older, I would go to synagogue on High Holidays and stuff like. … But further along the line, I started getting more interested in Judaism and ended up joining a more Conservative synagogue, and I sort of became more interested in, I don't know, in not just the Hallmark holidays, but just a little bit more deep meaning of Judaism, which is important to me. Sometimes I think the way kids are taught Judaism, and other religions, kind of can be a little bit general. I just think when you get into the philosophy of Judaism and how the holidays are connected and the lifestyle, it makes a little bit more sense, at least it did to me.
Q: What pulled you in to it more?
A: Specifically, the person who did was my rabbi, Rabbi Mordecai Finley in Los Angeles. He was just really able to show you how a lot of the teachings are kind of like cognitive therapy, where you’re supposed to really take a look at your life and the way you’re living and the way you treat other people and the way you live yourself and sort of examine your life and use the stories in the Torah. …
I particularly like the philosophical side of counting the Omer, which happens after Passover. It’s a very interesting way to look at life and how different elements are working in your life. I guess that’s sort of a Kabbalah thing, but not like a hippie-dippy Kabbalah thing, a more traditional version of that.
Q: How is the Jewish element playing out now that you have your own kids and your own family?
A: It’s interesting because in some ways I feel like I’m able to feel the real meaning of some of the High Holidays and the main holidays. Even though we celebrated them growing up, we did them sort of because we were supposed to, and I didn’t feel really a spiritual connection with them. But I feel like even just Chanukah, for me it was like “Oh, we get to light lights and say prayers and eat gelt and potato pancakes and get presents.” And now I feel like there’s this whole other dimension of hope and light. I probably try to ignore some of the historical stuff because the war part freaks me out. Although I understand that the Jews didn’t want to be assimilated, I try to be picky and choosy. I try to pick and choose, which unfortunately I think when you follow religion sometimes you have to focus more on certain things and focus less on other things. But anyway, I felt like I had more of a spiritual connection to pass along to my daughter and my son — my son’s a little young, he’s barely 8 months old — but I felt excited to celebrate the holidays with them because they had a deeper spiritual meaning. That being said, my daughter is at a school, at a Jewish school right now, … and it’s sort of back at Square One again. They teach kids about the holidays with all the basic symbols, and there’s not really a way to specifically impart the philosophical side of things when the kids are so little, other than it being in the household. But it’s sort of back to that Hallmark holiday feeling a little bit. It’s like “These are nice holidays, and these are the main symbols,” but I guess you have to start somewhere.
Q: When do you think you’ll be able to get into deeper stuff with her?
A: I have my kids ask questions, and I still explain to them, even though I don’t know if they’re totally getting it, I explain to them when we’re lighting the lights, the concept that, you know, they thought there was only enough oil for one night, but there’s actually enough oil for many nights. And it’s kind of like hope: Even though you think you don’t have any hope left, there’s always that hope. That’s something maybe they can grasp onto. … There is some philosophy I guess if I just tell them what my connection is to the holidays and the symbols. But I always try to avoid “Because I say so, we have to go to synagogue.” Plus right now for my daughter, it’s just something that seems fun; it doesn’t seem like something they should be forced to do.
Q: Has Judaism had an effect on your music at all? (Click to hear Lisa answer in her own words!)
A: I just think being Jewish is part of me, and I think part of being Jewish, at least in my culture and my Judaism, which I think is similar to a lot of people’s, is we tend to think about things and overthink things, and I think that really contributed to my songwriting, both in the topics of my writing and like how I try to write a song, as well as like the process of editing a song, you know, trying to make it right. I’m always trying to do it right, trying to do it for the right reasons. I think some of the values are found in Judaism, like being hardworking and looking at something from a lot of different angles, and that helps me when I’m writing.
Q: Do you play a lot of Jewish festivals?
A: I’ve played a handful of them. I think especially since I’ve connected more to Judaism and what it means to me and I understand more how I feel about it. I don’t feel like it’s just a label that I was born into; it’s something I actually connect to. I feel comfortable doing it. I like it. I like connecting to other people who are Jewish and seeing where they’re coming from. The only issue is that I hope people don’t feel excluded from it. Sometimes religion and religious labels can exclude people from situations, and I don’t want people to feel excluded.
Q: Does the show you do at a Jewish music festival differ from your regular show?
A: You know, I connect with the audience wherever I am, so I’ll have to see when I get there what the show will be like. You know, if I’m playing in a golf tournament, I might end up talking about golf a little bit more than I would at a regular show or another show where there’s not a lot of golfers there. So it’s that kind of thing. If it looks like there’s a lot of young women there, I might talk about things, I might feel comfortable to have conversations with the audience that are geared more toward young women, or if there’s children, or if there’s a ton of Jewish people, there might be something more Jewish about the show. We’ll see.
Q: Do you get to do many family shows?
A: Yeah, I do, I love doing kids shows. They’re different from my grown-up shows. I play different music. They’re also usually shorter shows. I play a lot of kids music, my own kids music that I’ve written or collaborated on, as well as some classic songs, and then kids will tell me songs they want to sing. Every once in a while I’ll probably play a grown-up song if there’s a specific request for one of my grown-up songs. But, yeah, I love playing kids shows. It’s definitely a different energy from playing grown-up shows. Kids are usually a little bit less focused, but it depends. A lot of times they’re great listeners too. It’s a little more interactive, the kids shows are, than the grown-up shows; it’s more of a sing-along.
Q: Do you bring your own kids with you on the road?
A: Usually I don’t. Usually it’s better for the kids to stay in their normal routines. Usually my husband is here. When I’m gone, my husband is still here, and we’ve got a great nanny. And often we’ll have one of the grandparents come in as well and have family time. It’s funny: I think a week of schlepping to a different city every day and a different bed every day doesn’t really work for a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old, but at home they get to go back to bed in their own bed, they get to go to their schools. … I think that’s better for them. It makes it hard to tour because I don’t like to leave them, but that’s the balance we’re trying to figure out right now.
Q: Is it tougher touring with young kids or getting back into the studio to record once you had kids?
A: I think that it’s all hard, you know. It seemed difficult to get into the studio, but now, in retrospect, I was like “Oh, at least I was able to come home, wake up with my kids, put my kids down for their bedtime,” which are two big times of day anyway. And that seemed really hard at the time, but then to be away completely is really, really tough for me too just because I like to be there. I’m sort of like a stay-at-home mom, only I work, you know. I have a flexible schedule, but I do a lot of things stay-at-home moms do, you know. I get to wake up with my kids. I get to put them to bed. I get to feed them and read to them and, you know, all the stuff, take them to school, all kinds of things. So not being here is just a little bit frustrating. … I’m just trying to find that balance.
Q: How did you start doing kids music before you had kids?
A: Barnes & Noble offered me an opportunity to make a record. They wanted me to make a record that was different from the records I’d already made, which were grown-up records. One of the ideas that I had that they loved was making a kids record. There were a couple of kids records that I really loved listening to growing up, like Carole King’s record “Really Rosie.” She had put Maurice Sendak’s lyrics to music, and it’s really just kind of like a singer-songwriter album for the ’70s, kind of groovy band recordings, and I always wanted to do something like that. I thought that it seemed like a fun way to write a different type of lyrics, but to give kids something to listen to with appropriate lyrics for kids but that really had the feeling of a grown-up record, so that they felt like they were listening to something really real, which is what I liked when I was little. So I was able to make my first kids record, “Pinch the Moon,” with my friend Elizabeth Mitchell, who had already started making kids music. … So I started with that record with Liz, and then went from there. I made a summer camp songs record called “Camp Lisa” with original and classic summer camp songs. And then I just started a kids book with music, and at that point I did have kids. … I think now I have sort of additional information on what kind of kid CDs I’d like to make as I move forward, but I’m excited that I got to make those inspired by the music I listened to when I was a kid. … Also, “Free to Be You and Me,” the Marlo Thomas record, that more inspired my “Camp Lisa” record because it’s kind of like a variety show, and there were some serious topics, and there were some fun topics.
Q: Do your kids listen to your kids music a lot?
A: My daughter does. My son, I don’t think my son does yet. … I used to not play her my music, and that felt weird. But then I realized other people were listening to it, so I thought, “Well, I shouldn’t not play it for her just because it’s mine.” I mix it among other music, which has been strange for me because I don’t usually listen to my own music when I’m driving around, only if I’m working on that music.
A: I feel like it’s actually made me more apt to do things that are even more different and artistic than I would have in the past. I feel like if I’m going to be a musician and a songwriter, I really need to explore things more, like that’s my job. As opposed to feeling like I need to shut down more because I don’t want to kind of represent my family. I still want to do a good job, but I feel like it’s important to really express feelings and really be myself. That, I think, is a good role model for my kids. … Chad Gilbert from New Found Glory wanted to make this really poppy-punky record with me, and that sounded really fun. It also sounded fun to me because … when you have kids, you get really busy, and your daily life is very routine, and it took me out of that routine. I got out of the city every day. I drove 45 minutes every day to go record with them. We wrote some songs together that were different than songs I normally would write. I even recorded songs by another artist, Tegan, who I love; Tegan and Sara’s one of my favorite current bands. So I got to do a lot of things a little bit differently, and just like a lot of other punk records that are recorded, we recorded pretty quickly. So that was good for my family life, you know, not being in the studio too long. I think having kids, it’s making me even more try to pay more attention to my schedule, pay more attention to my family. I’ve always been really interested in a balance of all the different elements in my life. This definitely, it’s also making me try to be more efficient. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it. But anyway, artistically, I think it just, it makes me feel like I need to experiment more. Because also when you have kids, you realize time is going by so quickly, and something is here today and gone tomorrow. … Things are just so ephemeral.
Q: Was this a faster process?
A: Yeah, in the past we’ve taken months and months and months to record things, and that’s because of my touring schedule and my work schedule and sometimes just because we’re so detail-oriented, and at those points in my life, that’s how we got to finishing records. It was just spending more and more and more time, but with this record, we actually recorded it pretty quickly. There was a little bit of break there in the middle when I got pregnant and had my son. That sort of held up the process a little bit, which is totally fine. But the actual making of the record was a quicker thing than normal.
Q: What was it like to record somebody else’s music for a change?
A: It was like acting. It was like using somebody else’s words and finding meaning in them that I connected with. Even when I sang that song “Married” that I wrote with Chuck Wolverton, that was something that he brought to me. It was something so different than I would normally write. It was very interesting just having that challenge of doing something that I wouldn’t normally do. It was also freeing in a way because I think as a writer, you might understand, you want to do everything yourself. You want to be the writer. You want to be the person who does the thing that you were supposed to be doing. But to have somebody else come in and write music, on the one hand, it was kind of freeing. It was like “Oh, wait, I can still be a singer and not necessarily write the music. I can still interpret it,” which was enlightening. It was something I hadn’t thought about before.
A: It’s a lot less structured. It usually takes a lot more time to write by myself than with somebody else. I think that happens probably with a lot of people in their work. If you’re working with someone else, you’re working toward getting it done, whereas if you’re working by yourself, you’re just working on getting it right, which might take a day, and it might take years. So for me, it’s good to do both, especially with having kids because I can still get easily sidetracked with really mundane things instead of finishing songwriting. Songwriting is the hardest thing to do, but having somebody else collaborate means somebody looking and saying, “OK, are we done? What else do we want to say? Let’s finish this up.” So I enjoy collaboration a lot at this point in my life.
A: It’s just so funny after all the labeling that people are so obsessed with in the music business, which partially was necessary because people had to know where to file your records at the record store or which radio station to promote you to, but it was really frustrating to be categorized, it would never feel very good to be categorized. But when all was said and done, there was such a big deal about like “alternative” bands vs. “mainstream” bands, and when you look back, and even at the time, all the alternative bands just was popular music basically in the end, and people who really prided themselves in being really alternative or people who associated themselves with alternative people prided themselves in being so alternative. You look back and you realize there was a lot of people who were listening to that. I remember that even about the ’80s. I felt unique in the ’80s in Dallas listening to new wave music. It was like nobody else did it except for my cool friends, and then I look back on the charts, and some of those things we were listening to were actually, you know, in the top 20. Everybody was listening to them. … It wasn’t just our little group of friends.
Q: You sing that you don’t want to go back. Is that because of where you are in your life, or because the ’90s were the ’90s?
A: More just the ’90s were the ’90s. I’m not one for going back and redoing time. I guess I’m too much of a realist. … But I am a really nostalgic person too. You know, when I was telling you about Carole King, I remember being there. I remember listening to it. I love remembering what it was like to be a kid and what it was like being in different places in my life. I like remembering the sights and the smells and the sounds. I freak out like when I’m in Los Angeles driving around and all of a sudden I see like an old Jack in the Box sign, … the sun is shining in just a certain way, and it just reminds me exactly of, you know, 1972 all of a sudden or 1974 or whatever. I love that. I love being able to remember things so well. But I’m also really into moving forward. … Having had a song that was really popular in 1994 is awesome. It’s given me so many opportunities. I really appreciate everything that’s come from that, but at the same time, yes, it’s fun to continue to move forward and to have fresh ideas and new ideas also. It’s not an either/or, but it’s nice to move forward also.
A: No, it’s like the kind of thing that reminds me that I have a job, you know? It’s like, “Remember you have a job?” … “Oh, my gosh, that’s right; I’m a professional musician.” … I also know as a fan, I get offended when I want a musician to play something that I love, even if it’s from 20 years ago or 10 years ago or five years ago, when they have an attitude about it. I think that really stinks.
Q: So when you play here, it will be a mix of old and new stuff?
A: Exactly. It will be a mix of old and new. … About a third of it is new, and about two-thirds of it is old, and out of that two-thirds part of it is requests. I try to leave some space for people who have requests. There might be some people who really, really are fans who really, really want to hear something that the band doesn’t know, and I’ll just play it by myself.
Q: Do you see the same fans year after year, or are you able to bring new fans in with the new music?
A: It’s both. It’s funny. I see fans — I talk to a lot of fans, too, and a lot people who have been following me since they were little kids or they were in high school, or people our age who after college started listening to me, maybe they bring their kids to the kid shows that I do, and then there’s people who started listening to me through different phases in my career, whether it’s reality TV or my Food Network show or kids records, grown-up records. Whatever it is, people come to shows. So it’s always growing. I definitely have a soft spot for people … like a group of people coming in and they’re like “We all listened to you when we were in high school” or “We work together, and we love singing your song at karaoke” or whatever it is. That’s really fun for me, and it’s also exciting to see new people who have heard the new music and want to listen to that.
A: Well, it’s a strange time. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so there’s DJs I just talk to on the radio who might be playing like really, really pop music, like robot pop music or something, and I can still go on and have a conversation with those folks on the radio and let people know I have a new record. Or I was lucky to be on NPR, which is sort of a little more what I listen to, and talk about my record in a different way. I’m lucky that naturally there’s a lot of different facets of my personality where I feel comfortable. I have a good time joking around with some of the rock DJs who are trying to be Howard Stern. I have fun talking to those people. And I also really enjoy talking to people on NPR. I like talking to people on independent radio and community-run radio. I used to be a DJ, right, so I totally get that. And I guess we have been getting played on the radio with the new music. I think it’s funny because in some cases instead of being played on rock radio, they’re playing me on soft pop radio because they associate me and my name with that because I had a song that was basically just a guitar and my soft voice. But you know I’m happy for them to play the music anywhere, really.
A: When I shot my Food Network show with Dweezil Zappa, we did a whole episode in Atlanta, so I got very familiar with a lot of the richer foods there, like Watershed when Scott Peacock was there. … We went to a bunch of restaurants there. And my first A&R man from the record company was from Atlanta, so I went down there a lot and ate and played. Buckhead Diner, oy oy oy. I associate Atlanta with food, basically.
A: The eyewear line has been great. It’s been developing over the years. We really have connected with fantastic eyewear designers I work with to make glasses that, from what I can tell, have been in demand for a long time. People have always come up and asked me about my glasses and where I get them and where they can get some. And I’m so excited to finally be able to have glasses, some that are exactly like mine but some that are inspired by mine which look better on a variety of different faces. You know, a lot of people get nervous about wearing their glasses, and I’m glad that, it’s not just me, people are wearing their glasses and they can see and they feel comfortable and they look cute in them. And we’re always looking for new stores to sell them in also because we sell them primarily in optician’s and ophthalmologist’s office stores and mom-and-pop stores, so, you know, we’re always open to hearing about great stores if somebody has a suggestion for us.
Q: If there isn’t a store nearby?
A: They’ll have to go online and buy them
A: Let people know to follow on Twitter and Facebook, like me on Facebook. … If they have any requests, let me know. I really look forward to coming to Atlanta, and I do hope I have time to eat something while I’m there, or at least three to six meals a day while I’m there. And also, go out and buy the record. A lot of people like to listen to it for free on the Internet, which is really supportive in one way, but musicians lately have been talking about how we have to encourage people to go out and actually buy the record too.