Twenty years after her debut,
number-one single, “Stay (I Missed You),”
singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb is still Movin’ & Shakin’
Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb launched into the spotlight in 1994 with her platinum-selling, number one hit song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the Ben Stiller-directed film Reality Bites. Since then, she has enjoyed a successful career encompassing music, film, television, voice-over work, and children’s recordings.
In addition to raising two children, Loeb spent much of 2013 working on several near-simultaneous releases: a new eyewear line in partnership with Classique Eyewear, called Lisa Loeb Eyewear, her second children’s book, Lisa Loeb’s Songs for Movin’ and Shakin’: The Air Band Song and Other Toe-Tapping Tunes (Sterling Children’s Books, April 2013), and a adult studio album, No Fairy Tale (429 Records, January 2013).
Born in Bethesda, Maryland, March 11, 1968, Lisa Loeb was raised in Dallas, Texas, with her three siblings, all of whom became involved with music: conductor Benjamin Loeb, musician Debbie Loeb, and mixing engineer Philip Loeb. She says that music was prevalent throughout her youth. “My dad played piano and we had tons of records and listened to a large variety of music, from classical to jazz standards to what was popular on the radio in the ’70s,” she recalls. “Music was also an important part of the curriculum at all of the schools I went to. I played piano since I was a little kid. Music was always an important extracurricular activity.”
Today, Loeb has two children of her own. Balancing her career as a musician with the responsibilities of being a mother is something she’s constantly working on. “I think for each person it boils down to individual choice,” she says. “My family and my kids are most important. At the same time, it is important for me as an individual to continue as a creative person and perform and write music.”
Ultimately, she admits that it’s really an issue of how to minimize the traveling associated with being a touring artist. “If I’m gone, I try to find other family members, like in-laws and grandparents, who can help take care of the kids, along with my husband, and spend quality time with them. I tried going on a tour that was 10 days and it turned into a 14-day trip, and that was just too long for me. The kids were fine when I came home, but for me, it was too long to be away.”
She says that, from a financial perspective, it is more efficient to be out on the road for longer periods of time; but if spending time with her family means making less money, that’s a trade-off she’s willing to accept. “It’s hard,” she admits. “I talk to working parents about it all the time.”
Movin’ & Shakin’
Loeb’s foray into kids’ music started about 10 years ago. In 2007, she made her first record of children’s music called Catch the Moon (Sheridan Square) with singer-songwriter Elizabeth Mitchell. “Barnes & Noble wanted to give me an opportunity to make a record that was different from the regular rock, singer-songwriter records I was making,” recalls Loeb. “And I always wanted to make a kids’ record—so I did.”
Response to Catch the Moon was stellar, from both kids and parents, so in 2008, Loeb made Camp Lisa (Furious Rose Productions), a record of children’s songs based on her childhood summer camp experiences. “I collaborated on that with my friends Michelle Lewis and Dan Petty,” she says. “It was fun to remember a bunch of songs I sang in summer camp—it’s where I first started playing guitar.”
Camp Lisa features silly songs, sing-alongs, gross-out songs, heartfelt songs, and even popular songs. It is the record that led her to making the children’s books. “When Sterling Publishing heard Camp Lisa, they felt the music would be a great thing to convey visually.” Loeb has two collections of songs through Sterling thus far: the first was Lisa Loeb’s Silly Sing-Along: The Disappointing Pancake and Other Zany Songs (2011) and the other is the more recent Songs for Movin’ and Shakin’.
Loeb says that the production on the kids’ records lends itself to much more simplicity. “I really wanted it to feel like summer camp—people in a room with one guitar and a vocal. No Fairy Tale is a much more punky, poppy, rock record than what I’ve done in the past, so the instrumentation is more complex and the energy level is very high.”
Lyrically, the focal points shift as well. “In the kids’ music the lyrics are more positive and imaginative and more literal, but not necessarily factual,” she clarifies, “whereas the grown up lyrics tend to be more emotional and less about storytelling.”
Loeb’s breakthrough single, “Stay (I Missed You),” may have been the first number one single in the US without a major record deal, but the idea that it happened “independently” is somewhat of a myth according to the songstress. “Even if I wasn’t signed to a label there was still a machine surrounding the song,” she clarifies. “The song was on a movie soundtrack and there was a radio marketing and promotion team. And there were a lot of little steps that happened, whether it was Ethan Hawke passing my song along to Ben Stiller, or a radio station in Houston deciding to play the song before it was marketed as a single—there was a lot going on. You need a team to get your music out to as many people as possible and then get them to buy it.”
The biggest difference Loeb sees in the industry since then is that artists can share music more easily via the Internet. “But you still have to find it somehow and know that it’s there,” she says. “And once people do find it, how do you get them to actually purchase it so that you can support making records? When I was a kid you either had to sit around and wait for a song or band to be played on the radio or you had to go buy the record. Nowadays there’s a bunch of different ways to get music for free, so why buy it when you can just listen to it instantly? There wasn’t a purchasing mechanism put in place for YouTube and other free ways to get music. It’s just something that fell through the cracks.”
Just Do It
When it comes to songwriting, Loeb says that the best way to conjure the muse is to simply write. “You just have to sit down and write and make a realistic schedule for yourself,” she attests. “It might not be every day for five hours; it might be three days a week for an hour at a time. I’m just like a lot of other people, I get busy with my life and I don’t have time to work out and I don’t have time to write songs. I do find time to Tweet though, so there’s something there,” she says with a laugh. “I should follow my own advice when it comes to songwriting.”
While talking to another songwriter recently, Loeb says he reminded her that writing regularly allows you to have ideas floating around in your brain. “So when you are stuck in traffic or making eggs or changing your child’s diaper those ideas can be ruminating in your head,” she says. “A lot of songwriting is that—it’s just this tune playing in your head, so it’s great to have something in there.”
Another one of her beliefs, when it comes to songwriting, is to always capture inspired ideas. “Whether you’re in your car or wake up in the middle of the night and a little phrase or a concept or a melody comes to you—always capture those. Then, when you do finally sit down to do your homework and write, you’ll have a great starting point.”
Another way of honing your songwriting chops is to bounce ideas off of other songwriters. “When I was in college, I was lucky that I had a lot of other songwriters around me who challenged and inspired me,” she recalls. “It was a great sounding board for ideas. They weren’t collaborators, but people who would play songs for each other and comment on them—just knowing that another songwriter was listening would raise the bar.” She says it’s also important to create a supportive community. And it doesn’t necessarily have to consist of other songwriters; it can be a friend who likes to listen to your music or just somebody who has a good ear.
Loeb admits that she only recently got back to setting some time aside to write regularly. “Instead of taking that extra 30 minutes to check out the New York Times crossword puzzle (again), or make a phone call, I actually made myself sit down while the kids were napping, even if it was just for 30 or 45 minutes,” she confesses. She started out by bouncing back and forth between writing lyrics with pen and paper and grabbing a guitar—just to start writing and playing and singing. “I have all of the typical fears that everybody else does when sitting down to write, like what am I going to make? What if it’s no good? You just have to play and write through that. You have to put one foot in front of the other and just do it.”