Lisa Germano Interview
By Alexander Laurence
Lisa Germano is an American songwriter. She grew up in Indiana, but now
lives in Los Angeles. She has done a load of collaborations and numerous solo
records including Geek The Girl (1994), Excerpts From A Love Circus (1996),
Lullaby for Liquid Pig (2003), and In the Maybe World (2006). Her latest
record is called Magic Neighbor (2009). She also contributed a track to the
compilation Seven Worlds Collide.
AL: You haven’t been doing many interviews lately?
Lisa: Yeah. I didn’t do many interviews for this record. It’s not like I
don’t really care, but I don’t care. I got a bunch of reviews. I am just
glad to put out a record that has artwork that you can touch and feel. I still
believe in that. People need that. It’s fun. We can show each other our CDs
instead of going into this world where we don’t relate to each other. Don’t
AL: Do you reject this computer based world?
Lisa: I don’t reject it. It’s over my head. I am trying to learn more
about the computer. I don’t want to be out of the loop completely. I don’t like
how it seems to make everyone numb. I don’t like how it treats music
AL: You spent a lot of time learning how to read music and learning an
instrument. There are people today who make competent music using a computer.
Lisa: I don’t reject that. I reject it when it becomes uncreative. With all
the computer stuff I am sure there are ways to be creative on it. Since
that is the way things seem to be going. When kids get excited on the computer
and blog about something, they are sharing music. It’s different from
touching it. If you can do both it’s better. I don’t think that the computer
stuff is horrible. It just makes people unfocused. People’s attention span is
gone. They don’t sit down and actually listen to a record. They go to track to
AL: It is like people seem to know about authors like Bukowski and Rimbaud,
but they don’t seem to have read anything, and actually been engaged in
reading a book.
Lisa: They know what they are. They have information. But they don’t
experience it. That is what I am saying about the music. They will know the new
bands, but they don’t spend a lot of time with them, when you do when you have
the actual CD in your hands. You can feel it and see it. It’s different
when it’s on the computer.
AL: What happened with that 7 World’s Collide CD?
Lisa: It should have been very well received. It was something we all did
for OXFAM. It was all for free. We all gave up our publishing. It was me, and
Neil Finn, Tim Finn, two guys from Radiohead, Johnny Marr, Sebastian
Steinberg, and Wilco. We all gave up our time and wrote a record last February. It
came out in September and nobody seems to know that it’s out. It’s
unbelievable. KCRW was nice to do a little show, but they haven’t really followed
up, and continued to play the record. At Christmas time that record should be
in the displays. This is the only place where you heard these songs. It’s
called 7 World’s Collide “The Sun Came Out.”
AL: Many great records are no promoted. The media doesn’t really write
about new music. The radio stations don’t really play exciting new records. So
the internet and blogs are maybe one of the only places to hear about what is
Lisa: It’s really bad right now. The music business has always been based
on money because you have to sell records. One of the problems now is there
is too much music. It’s pretty cool that you can make music on your computer.
It’s great that you can make your own CDs. It’s cool. You want people to
be creative. But I think it’s made people lazy rather than creative. People
just are like “I made a CD” rather than really working on it, and making
something that you have really seen through, and lived with it. So you go “Oh,
that song is not happening, I am going to change it.” That was when good
record companies were great, because they wouldn’t let you put out a record
just because you finished it. Sometimes they wanted you to have a hit, but
still, there was less music coming out.
AL: A record company would sign a band and not put out the record also.
Lisa: Yeah. There’s that. Sometimes there’s a good piece of work and then
they don’t put it out.
AL: Things are backwards now. You release a CD and it’s a blueprint of what
the live show is going to be like. Then, people who go see a live show will
buy a CD as a souvenir.
Lisa: I see what you mean. You make money on tour with the merchandise. I
think it’s cool when the CD sounds quite different from the live show. Why do
you copy it? I just saw that.
AL: Do you think in the 1980s and 1990s there was more pressure on the
artist to have a hit?
Lisa: Yeah. I preferred not to have that pressure. When I was on Capitol,
we fought for months, because I wanted my sequence: because it told the story
of my record. They wanted the song that was radio friendly to be the second
song. To them, the hit was the whole idea of the record. To me, it ruined
my whole record. If that song wasn’t a radio hit, I have to live with this
record the rest of my life. You’ll just drop me. It’s more important to have
artist integrity. So we fought. They just put it out after I had to
compromise a bunch of stuff. Then they fired everybody. I took that record over to
AL: Sheryl Crow did “All I Wanna Do” as an afterthought and it became a
Lisa: That was at the same time as my record, Happiness. They worked that
record. It was more of a pop record than mine. I was jealous at the time.
They kept releasing singles from it until they got attention. They released
mine and fired everyone. My record got lost. Working with Michael Gira and
Young God Records is really different. He still puts out records. It’s not easy
for him to do that, financially. He works with me. He will tell me what he
likes and doesn't like. So did Ivo at 4AD. It doesn’t mean that I can’t do
it. But I have enough respect for them that I will listen to their ideas. If
I agree with them that’s fine, but if I don’t, I have to be stronger about
my own opinion. You are working together.
AL: How do you get from Capitol to 4AD, then to Michael Gira, who seems to
come from another world?
Lisa: It sounds cocky, but I think he was a fan. It still blows me away
that he likes my music. I tell him this all the time. I sort of understand what
he likes about it.
AL: When I think of your music, there is this sense of beauty going on.
What do you think about that?
Lisa: There is a sense of beauty in my music. But what I am saying in my
songs is sort of dark, but you use beauty to hide it. People talk about my
songs as fairy tales. I like when they do that. I didn’t used to think that,
but now I know what they meant. Where fairy tales are really pretty “Long ago
there was a really bad king….” They can tell stories that are really dark
with a nice lilt, and it’s easy to understand. That is what my music is
AL: It’s music that you listen to late at night?
Lisa: Yes. It’s bedtime music. I hardly ever listen to it during the day.
Although this new record is the most upbeat one. It’s a daylight record.
AL: Did you take a break before making this record?
Lisa: I am always doing music. I work on music when I can. I have to make a
living. I used to make a living just doing music, but it’s a long story.
People think I quit. There was all this drama. I will tell people that I am
not playing music anymore. If I am writing, I will write a record. I don’t
want to feel like it’s my job. It’s like a gift. When it comes. When I can
express things, and make sense, and things come together. And it’s like wow, I
like that enough to want to share it with people. People might like it.
AL: How many songs did you write for Magic Neighbor?
Lisa: I only wrote four new songs. They were all old songs. I looked at
them and reworked them. I changed the lyrics and recorded it differently.
AL: Did you play everything on the record?
Lisa: I played everything, except my boyfriend Sebastian Steinberg, played
the bass guitar. Greg Leisz played the pedal steel guitar on three songs. He
plays on everyone’s records. He’s played with me for years. It’s just us
three. Jamie Candiloro recorded it at his house. That what was different from
my other records. I used to record them full on, and take them to Pro Tools
at Jamie’s or Joey Waronker’s. Then work on them. This one was all fresh,
and worked on them at Jamie’s. I didn’t even practice things sometimes.
AL: You do this thing in your songs where you change the tempo. It’s more
like classical music, where it’s more about the tempo of the emotion.
Lisa: I like to do that. I think that I have always done that, but I do
that more now. It’s not on purpose. I want to do what I want. I don’t want to
be stuck with the drumbeat. I like silences and pauses. It gives you time to
think. What did you just say? Instead of an in your face song all the way
through. I get bored with that.
AL: There is a lot of noises and tapping going on in the record. What is
going on there?
Lisa: We did lots of things. We had things that we rattled. We had a thing
that goes “Boom.”
AL: What is the cover?
Lisa: It’s a painting by a friend in New Zealand. He’s a great painter.
AL: Do you have a website?
Lisa: Yes. I should get more involved. There is a Myspace page that someone
else runs. I was thinking maybe I should have one of my own. I can’t
decide. I don’t know if it helps or not. I don’t know if I want to put myself out
there or not. I was stalked before by a psychopath. Yeah. It was years ago.
The more they know about you, the more they can get into your life. I don’t
AL: I know that they are bringing back the Lilith Fair. Did you ever do
Lisa: They never asked me. I would have done it if they asked me. It’s
weird. I am like this strange artist, but I am not THAT strange. There is
something strange about it where people think the music is too dark or too pretty.
I have a following of people who get it, but it is mostly in Europe.
AL: What is the song “The Mighty One” about, and is that related top
Lisa: I didn’t call it “The Mighty One” for a long time. We call our cat
“The Mighty One” because he had cancer. That song is basically about
fighting with your demon. When you are a depressed person you got this demon. You
can be having a great day, and this thing will come back from your childhood.
Sometimes you know what it is or not. It fucks you up. That is what that
song is about. It’s about fighting that demon, and finally winning. You are
saying “fuck you, man.” I am in control and can send you on your way.
AL: Did you grow up with religion?
Lisa: I was raised Catholic, so I was afraid of God most of my life. I
thought God was going to hurt me. Once I moved away from home, I got away from
that sort of thinking. I still feel guilt about things I shouldn’t feel guilt
about. I think there are hidden forces. I think there are demons and angels
out there fighting with your spirit. An angel can be a beautiful thought
that can get you out of a terrible situation. So you don’t kill yourself.
AL: What do you think of all this talk about 2012?
Lisa: I hate that. We have always thought the world was ending. It’s harder
to be happy, than to be full of doom. I find that stuff really boring.
AL: You played with Smashing Pumpkins for a few weeks about ten years ago.
What happened there?
Lisa: That was just a bunch of young kids being powerful and not being
respectful of anything. They asked me to join the tour. I quit my job here in
Los Angeles. I moved my cats to Indiana. The tour was supposed to be four
months long. I had to sublet my apartment. We went through rehearsals. Billy
Corgan, D’Arcy, and James Iha didn’t talk to each other. So for one, it was a
fucked situation. They wouldn’t talk to each other. Billy would say “D’Arcy,
would you sing backup on this?” And if she didn’t say anything, Billy would
say “Lisa. Why don’t you sing backup on this?” So I was doing stuff that
nobody would do. Billy would tell James Iha to play mandolin on a song. And
James would say “I am playing guitar on this man.” So I would play the
mandolin. I was playing on a shitload of stuff. So they were fighting at that
time. What then happened was the weekend before our first show, they wanted me
to sign a contract out of the blue. The contract listed all this stuff I
couldn’t do while I was on tour with them. They knew I wouldn’t sign that.
They knew I had a record coming out. The contract said I couldn’t release
anything while I was in Smashing Pumpkins. So I didn’t sign it. They sent me home
without discussing it.
AL: What were some of the other conditions on the contract?
Lisa: That I couldn’t talk about Smashing Pumpkins during those four
months. I couldn’t talk about them in interviews. I touched Billy on the knee. I
said “You can’t do this! It’s not fair. You put all this money into me being
here. It’s silly sending me home.” He said: “Don’t worry. We’ll work it
out.” And that night I was sent home. He’s such a lame ass. He wouldn’t talk
to me. He wouldn’t explain anything. I wrote him letters. I wanted to sue
them for two weeks, because they didn’t pay me. They were complete assholes and
it fucked me up. They were irresponsible. Billy is very egocentric. His
karma will come back to him.
AL: You have done some other more successful collaborations?
Lisa: I just recorded some stuff with Phil from Radiohead in England. It’s
his first solo record. It’s beautiful. It’s awesome. It was me, and
Sebastian, and the drummer and keyboard from Wilco. Phil sings and plays guitar.
AL: I saw Thom Yorke play with Flea and Joey Waronker.
Lisa: Phil’s record is coming out soon. Thom Yorke’s solo stuff is beat
driven. Phil’s music is the opposite: it’s songwriter driven. Even though
he’s a drummer.
AL: Have you played any shows for this record Magic Neighbor?
Lisa: I haven’t done anything. It came out and there have been a bunch of
reviews. I am just starting now thinking about touring Europe. Phil and I
might do something together. My last few tours have been me by myself, or me
and Sebastian. I haven’t been able to afford a band. I am just glad there are
reviews. I am shocked that people like it.