Over the past 10 years Lisa has been singing live & recording in NYC, collaborating with producers such as Dave Warrin, Jay Denes, Miguel Migs, Q Burns Abstract Message, DJ Smash & DJ Swingsett.
Over the years, dating back from 1994, she has released music with many respected electronic &dance labels such as Ubiquity, RCA, New Breed, East West, Grand Central UK, Sirkus UK, & Astralwerks.
Currently, she’s receiving the most exposure and acclaim for her material with Naked Music Recordings, the label to which she signed in 2001. Founded by Dave Boonshoft, Jay Denes and Bruno Ybarra in 1999, the label has quickly established its name & artists’ music as one of the premier dance labels in the world. A big part of amazing exposure came to her for her single release called ‘Always.’
Prior to ‘Always’, was Lisa’s first release on Naked Music: Lovetronic ‘You are Love’, which actually gained underground chart & dance radio airplay globally- in its own right as well. Jay Denes & Dave Warrin produced both ‘hits’. She has written & performed vocals on dozens of songs via different collaborations with other producers working with the label on projects/artists such as Central Living, Petalpusher, Lovetronic, Aquanote & Blue 6.
DHN Interview from 2002.
DHN – When did you decide that you wanted to be a professional singer? Was there one moment that you can remember?
LS – When I was 15, I made it into Art school. That was the turning point; I began to have confidence in my talent. My sister said that I had a good voice, & my mom always said I was a good singer too. But way younger than that, I used to match my singing with Diana Ross & others on the radio. So I dreamt about it from an early age, but it evolved when I was 15. I thought that it was something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know if I was good enough.
Otherwise, I’d just be a “legend in the shower” haha. There was no one time that I wanted to go professional, but it drove me through school, and singing just seemed what I wanted to do. I also took dance & performance at a really young age. It was a natural thing. I used to audition for a lot of musicals. I always choked when my solo came along though haha, I used to get all quivery. I was never one of those annoying extrovert show kids though. My mom never did that “sing a song for your aunty” kind of stuff to me!
DHN – What would you see as your “big break”, and how did that come about?
LS – Well, I guess my first record; well, there were a couple of records really. “Makin Love, Makin Music” on Nubreed/ Peace Records (Jazz Massive). It was one of those 1,000 copy things, you know, we just put it out there, to see how it would do. I suppose the BIG break was the record on Circus. It got some really good reviews in some European magazines. I did it with my husband [David Winset] & Jay Denes, with a remix by Phil Asher (Restless Soul).
It was the first time people recognised what I was doing. We kept doing pieces here & there. It was cool, creating music ourselves, and we were getting props from magazines. So people started to hear bits and pieces, & people began to know our stuff. There were no big sales, but it did well for what it was.
DHN – How important do you think it was for you to move to New York City to further your career, and do you return to visit your native Toronto very much?
LS – Nowadays, I visit Toronto quite often. Before, it was always down to money. New York was a fluke, really. I was originally going to move to London. People thought my sound would do well in Europe, particularly London. So I finished school, & took a year off before Art school. It was a toss-up between school & music, or learning something else. I performed on a ship for the first three months, but I had to leave that because I kept getting seasick! My cousin then invited me to come to New York. He was a producer with Smash & DJ Romaine. Two weeks later, I decide to go for a couple of weeks. I got a coat check job, & thought, “I’ll stick around for six weeks”.
Six weeks became six months, became eleven years! I fought it, because I didn’t like New York at first – it was a real culture shock. It was pretty rough in Brooklyn back then, & I was getting pneumonia also. I was back & forth in the beginning, but music is what kept me in New York. I was creating with my mentor Tinchi (Smash) & my cousin.
I started getting a little depressed every time I went home though, as my Mom said, “Every time you come back, something in your career happens”. Working on my album kept in New York also. But now I’m planning to go somewhere else for a few months. New York is my home, but I think it’s time for a change now.
DHN – Did you think your talent would appeal to such a wide variety of music fans, or did you originally plan to sing in one particular style? LS – I never wanted to just stick to one genre. I always looked to doing something that was a bit different. I started singing over some instrumental stuff, and from there I went on to jazz, soul, funk, rn’b & rock. There’s a lot of influences in my voice. When I wrote, I tended to think of funky soul, funkier beats.
It’s just what I heard, it seemed like what I wanted to do; & the time I wasn’t sure what genre of music it was. I sing in a rock band, and we just finished a CD. That project evolved with the different bands. Chris Smyk & I played together, just with my husband DJing, with drums & guitar, kinda hip-hop with soulful vocals. Also with Dave Lorn, I sang some house tracks. We wrote well together, & I thought, “Let’s do a really classic soul album, & try to get a deal”. We did some tracks, and then Bruno in Naked Music got hold of it and wanted it.
It still took some time, we re-re-wrote the songs, & the longer we’d take, the more particular we got. Dave was really particular – he’s a genius, real perfectionist (in a nice, weird kinda way). I kept working with Dave after I signed to Naked. I was also singing with Pushin Trio, a real stripped-down soul group, just vocals, bass & drums. That was cool, & I started doing what I wanted to do writing-wise. I’ve done Avant-garde, hip-hop, drum n bass … loads of stuff.
DHN – Which of these forms of music do you feel the most comfortable with now?
LS – The stuff I’m doing now- soulful, modern rn’b, jazzy stuff is where I feel I’m strongest. I never really liked the wailing diva approach; it just doesn’t do anything for me. I’m into the more subtle approach of people like Sade, Billie Holiday, Stevie Knicks , Roberta Fleck - Kate Bush has been a big influence. I do appreciate divas, part of me wants to grow into that, and maybe before I was thinking I couldn’t do it.
But a lot of that stuff is unnecessary, unless the emotion is part of what you’re doing in the song. I remember in New York there was an open mic gig in Mell’s, & people sang s much around the melody that I had no idea what the song was! It was like, “Was that ‘Over The Rainbow’?” haha!
I loved the old disco stuff. It was cool growing up, I’m the youngest of six, so I was going to clubs at 14 with my big sisters ID, & my cousin owned two clubs in Toronto. I did the whole New Wave thing – everything my sister did, I did. It influenced me, but I was always protected. I was around club music for an early age – Chic, Sister Sledge, Kool & the Gang.
There were free concerts in Ontario, where I saw the S.O.S Band. It was natural to be in clubs. My father was a DJ, so you see how things were moulded- your environment influences you in certain ways. As for the gospel stuff, I wasn’t really feelin’ it. I prefer the contrast of soft vocals with heavy beats. Like drum n’ bass – the contrast of hard and soft makes sense to me.
DHN – Would you agree that at this point in your career, you’re probably best recognised as a deep house artist?
LS – For sure, all the stuff I’m doing now is deep house. The album will have down, mid, & up-tempo stuff. The beats are laid down for soulful, melodic, r n’ b-ish kind of tunes, made for the dancefloor.
DHN – Where do you get the inspiration for your songwriting? Does it vary from genre to genre?
LS – Oh yes, it defiantly varies. The lyrics, they just come. I’m writing stuff all the time, I think of something, & write it. The lyrics either come by themselves, or the music triggers it. I get a feeling from the music, then write – sometimes songs just come like that. If I do a song with a certain topic, I would write it differently if it were a rock song as opposed to, say, an acoustic song. If I hear the music first, then the music is the inspiration.
If not, then it can be the other way around. At times, I can write a song in two hours, and other times you’ve got a hook, and that’s it. With Dave and I, it’s always a case of “it could be better”. At this point, I just want to write pretty songs. Sometimes a cool song can work in a lot of formats, but not always. Sometimes all you need is a hook for a minimal vocal, but I have a hard time editing. I write either a little or a lot. Miguel [Migs] is like, “FIVE verses?!? You got knock some of that out”!
DHN – What different considerations do you take into account when singing live, as opposed to when you’re in the studio?
LS – When it comes to singing live, there’s an adrenaline factor. With me in the studio, none of the songs are belters - everything is subtle. Singing live, I’m more … free! Within the format of what I’m doing, I can go different places. Certain notes come out that might be hard t do in the studio, & I’m like, “I can’t believe I hit that note”! A friend of mine once said, “You know, you play it too safe”.
I said “Whaaaat?” but then I thought maybe she was right. But live is another thing. When you’re live, there’s no producer there haha! There’s no rewind, there’s no stop, no “let’s do that one again”. I’m in control.
DHN – What do you get out of singing in general, and what do you think you would be doing now if you weren’t a successful vocalist?
LS – Probably still trying! I can’t imagine doing anything else. Singing is therapy; it makes me happy to sing. If I weren’t singing, I’d be waiting tables trying, stuck on that vision. I always wanted to be a part of a band, that family unit. Before, all the work I did was in theatre, but it really wasn’t me, it was too rigid.
Every time, I got a theatre job, I just wanted to get out. I hated auditions; I’d choke, I’d suck, but sometimes I’d get it. But I received the training, with all the work I got. So maybe I’d still be doing theatre. I’d be involved in music in some way, maybe I’d be better at production haha. I have an MT88 Pad, a K2000 and a shitty mixing board, which was good for shoppin’ myself to people.
DHN – Do you enjoy touring? Does it ever get too tiring?
LS – Yeah, I enjoy touring, although I can get a little irritable sometimes. I need some downtime before a show. I need time to chill, to meditate, in my own way, and choose what to wear. Maybe some yoga and stretching. Sometimes I don’t get that chance, but it’s OK & I just roll with the punches. Like those eight hour drives. I’m glad we’ve got the next three days off…
DHN – Is it a good feeling to have people like Madonna admire your music, & how much importance do you place on respect from fellow artists & journalists?
LS – I was in total shock about that! It was like “Wow, that’s cool! Mad likes my song”! I heard about it two weeks before, but I didn’t know if it would be in the article [Madonna stated that Lisa’s “Always” was “So Cool” in Rolling Stone Magazine - KR]. Especially her, the queen of pop.
Jason at Maverick is a big fan of Naked Music. Madonna does Yoga to “Always” too! I have total respect for people’s opinions, depending who they are. Famous or not, I take opinions to heart. Not everyone likes you, but it’s great when someone gives you props.
DHN – Have you ever had any really negative reviews?
LS – There was a project I did with Q-Bert, it was an 80’s electro thing – it was out there, a bit different. The reviews were mostly great, but some were reviews were mostly great, but some were pretty negative. I don’t think about that stuff too much. I don’t read everything, you know? I’ll be freaked out when the album comes out – it’s nice to get good reviews.
DHN – What can we expect from that album, & when is it due to be released?
LS – Valentine’s Day, next year. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t have a clue, & I’d like to keep it that way. There’s nothing worse than expecting something & it doesn’t happen. Until something is in your hands, it doesn’t mean anything. I’m excited & happy though, it’s in post-production, and I’m curious about it’s comin along.
Naked are happy, & the producer is happy, which is important. I’m looking forward to touring with a band. Over the next six months, I’m going to work on putting a band together, as well as touring with Miguel.
DHN – Will Dave Warrin (Central Living) be the only producer on the album, & what led to the decision to get him to produce it?
LS – He’s producing it, & there’s also going to be some added production & arrangement by guys like Jay Denes, Jimster & Mark Ray. There’s 14 tracks so far, but Dave is still writing, he’s a freak like that. He says, “Let’s write another”, and I say, “We can’t do more, it’s only one CD”! I really wanted Dave to do the album – he’s talented, we work well together, and has a good ear for music.
DHN – What are your plans for the future?
LS – To keep makin’ music, until I can’t. Maybe start my own label; I’m thinking of that, it would be really cool. It’s a lot of work though. My husband has a label, & he works really hard. I don’t know if I’ll ever produce though, I might bring a laptop around touring. I might focus on writing music with other people. I need discipline, I need to apply myself. I’d like to learn it from writing function, just for my own self. But I’m keeping my brain busy, my tape machine at home is full.