Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lisa Germano

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lisa Germano

 

LISA GERMANO

At the Hollywood Farmers' Market

1600 Ivar Ave., Los Angeles (Hollywood)


I really enjoy it when the location an artist selects as their favorite place in Los Angeles so perfectly matches their personality that I can immediately see why they love to be there. Within the first few minutes of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lisa Germano leading me through the Hollywood Farmers' Market, it's crystal clear that she truly loves spending time here.

"I really do try to come here every Sunday. I work at a Whole Foods, and I could, of course, shop there, but I really like supporting local farms by coming here," she says. "I love people-watching, too. I often bring a diary, get a cappuccino, watch everyone walk by and write in my diary."

The Hollywood Farmers' Market runs every Sunday on Ivar Avenue between Hollywood Boulevard and Selma Avenue, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. It can get quite crowded, but Lisa knows exactly where her favorite booths are and easily leads the way through the aisles. We navigate towards the South Central Farmers' Cooperative booth where Lisa would like to pick out some beets for borscht, and she tells me about the soup and its particular meaning to her.

"This borscht is pretty amazing. We had a neighbor growing up who brought borscht over, and it was so unbelievably good. He gave me the recipe; I had it for maybe 10-12 years, but it looked complicated," she confesses. "He just died last year, so I got out the recipe, called my mom and said, 'Tell Lucille that I'm making borscht today in honor of Bill!' I made it, and it was so good. This is my third time making it."

As we move on to a root vegetable stand where Lisa buys some ginger and the Flora Bella Farm  booth for some arugula, she shares some other dishes that she likes to prepare at home.

"I cook lots of soups, pastas – I love red sauce – roasted chicken and roasted vegetables. I made a lasagne with kabocha squash, which sounds weird, but it was out of this world. It's a normal lasagne with red sauce, but in between you put a layer of steamed squash and a little nutmeg. I like experimenting with flavors and learning about different spices. I need to expand because I tend to make the same things all the time. I would like to be better at Thai food and Indian food."

We come across the Silver Lake Farms stand that sells 100-percent natural loofah sponges, and the owner explains how they grow the scouring pads on long vines that get to be about 20 feet. On one corner, there are a few kittens and a dog up for adoption, who just about break our hearts since we have both adopted pets in the past.

Lisa and Silver Lake Farms' natural loofahs
"Thank god for adoptions. All my kitties are rescue kitties," says Lisa. "I would never not have a pet. I can't even imagine it."

We go through about half of the market before sitting down at Caffe Etc. to talk about Lisa's upcoming album (her 13th release), No Elephants, that will be available on Feb. 12, 2013.

"The name No Elephants came from a few different ideas," she says. "I had it floating in my head for many years, and I wanted it to mean there are no elephants in the room, meaning that, you're not lying, there's nothing that hasn't been said, there's nothing that you're not talking about. But then it turned into, some of the songs are about cell phones and how people aren't connected and aren't communicating anymore. They're plugged in, and they're tuned out. There's no elephant in the room because nobody is talking. And then the third one is actually no elephants – when the poachers who poach these lovely beings for ivory. It's devastating that it still goes on. These animals that communicate in the most magical way: They know when one of their tribe that is miles and miles away is ill or lost. They're family oriented, they're not just things. For poachers to just kill them, I can't fathom it. So, the name is about all three of those things."

When it came time to record No Elephants, Lisa turned to producer Jamie Candiloro, who worked on her three previous albums: 2003's Lullaby for Liquid Pig, 2006's In the Maybe World and 2009's Magic Neighbor.

"He's worked on my last three records, more and more on each one. This one I gave him production credit totally because he inspired me to not be afraid to record my songs. I'm always afraid of my songs until they become what they are, it's ridiculous. He gives me the support that I need to move forward, and he recorded and mixed everything," Lisa says about Candiloro. "Sometimes he'll already kind of know what I'm going to say when he's starting to work on something. He knows as he's doing it that I might change my mind in the middle and say stop it, and he never gets mad or goes make up your mind. He's awesome."

For No Elephants' artwork, Lisa enlisted the skills of artist Lizzy Waronker.

"She does these collages that almost look like junk, but they're not. They're absolutely gorgeous, every little thing in there is in there for a reason. That was my original idea, for her to do something like that. She ended up coming up with some ideas, and the one I ended up using – a doll with her eyes closed lying on fur – when I first saw it, I thought, 'there's no way I can use fur because this is about not doing that," Lisa recalls. "Lizzy didn't push it on me, but she said, 'That's the whole thing, look how beautiful and comforting that fur is. The doll is so comforted laying there and has no idea what blood and horrible shit that the animal went through,' so it is kind of about what the record is about, to have the fur. Then on the back, the doll has her eyes open, so she's awake. I just love what Lizzy did. She's such a creative woman. She's married to Joey [Waronker], and I met Jamie originally through Joey."

Throughout her career, Lisa has worked with a veritable who's who of musical artists. From becoming a member of John Mellencamp's band in the 1980s to stints with Simple Minds and the Indigo Girls, she has collaborated with Giant Sand, written with Yann Tiersen, David Bowie and Neil Finn, and recorded with Iggy Pop, Linda Perry, Sheryl Crow and Jewel among many others. Our discussion about working with Joey Waronker leads to the mention of one artist whom Waronker has toured with that Lisa has yet to work with but would love to collaborate with in the future.

"Beck is another one of those very creative people. I've never met him, but it's unbelievable the stuff he comes up with. I would love to work with him," she says.

Besides the Hollywood Farmers' Market, there a few other aspects of Los Angeles that Lisa has come to love in the almost 15 years since she moved here from Indiana.

"I do love the weather here, but honestly, I really love the spas," she admits. "I go to Olympic Spa,  where it's only $15 to get in. They have a 'mugwort' bath, a really hot bath with mugwort tea in it. They have a plunge pool, a Himalayan salt sauna, an oxygen steam sauna and an oxygen infrared sauna – all for $15! If you want, you can get a massage. Sometimes I just go and use the sauna and it's completely and utterly rejuvenating. I think about moving back to Indiana sometimes, but I don't know how they live without the spa there."

Although Lisa also loves the diverse spectrum of cuisines offered by L.A. culture, working at Whole Foods has raised her awareness about only eating meat that has been humanely raised.

"I used to have a lot of favorite restaurants, but now I feel like I can't go to them because I can't support the meat and the eggs they serve. The eggs and chicken have to be cage-free or free-range, and the meat has to be local. I would love to go out more – I can go online and search or find out about places through word-of-mouth, but I usually end up cooking. I did take my nephew to Matsuhisa, an amazing Japanese restaurant where I am sure that they get fresh fish. I felt good about going there, and my nephew's dad was treating, so we had a ball," she says with a smile.

When her family visits from the Midwest, there are few places Lisa usually takes them.

"We almost always walk up in Runyon Canyon. My sister and brother have come twice, and they love it there. They can't believe I live just five minutes from that place," she says. "We often go to the beach, walk from Venice to Santa Monica along the beach. If it's a girl visiting, we go to the spa. I do miss stuff from the Midwest. We had farmers' markets, beautiful forests, mushroom hunting and fruit picking. I miss that stuff, but this is a good place for now."

One thing that has been a mainstay in Lisa's life since birth is music. Her father Rocco and mother Betty were musicians who taught lessons, and Lisa and her five siblings formed bands and would giver performances in their yard. By age 7, Lisa had already taught herself the piano and had written a 15-minute opera on her own. It was during this time that she began to play the violin.

Lisa admires South Central Farmers' Coop's beets
 "Our parents took us into a room and said, 'Pick an instrument yourself, because you're going to play this until you're 18.' They wanted us all to learn discipline and eye-hand coordination," she fondly remembers. "I bet you I picked the violin because my dad played viola and violin. I was my dad's pet. He was a really tough guy, so I probably wanted to be like my dad."

While songwriting came naturally to Lisa, coming up with lyrics was something that took a little more time to develop.

"I wouldn't ever have thought I could write. I'm not very good with words, to be honest, which in a strange way is what makes it work. People tell me that my music is very simple, and that's because I write then I strip away. You say too much at first, and then you strip away. That's the most exciting part;" she tells. "The beginning part is more struggle because you know you want to say something, like I had that line 'no elephants' for three or four years before I knew where I was going to put it. I wrote a song [sings a line from 'From a Shell,' which appears on the 2003 Underworld film soundtrack], 'It's the buzz, It's the buzz,' and I thought it was going to be a funny, weird song about being drunk. It ended up being about 9/11."

For Lisa, writing is a puzzle, and sometimes she's not really sure where some ideas spring from. Recently she watched a video of Elizabeth Gilbert's (Eat, Pray, Love) TED talk and found comfort in the author's stories of her own struggles with the writing process.

"She talks about how, now that she's had a hit book, everybody's saying that she's going to be a failure. She goes into that in the past that geniuses were called geniuses because they had a genie in them. It was cool because she talked about that it's not just you, that [ideas] come from somewhere, and it really relieves your pressure. You can say, 'Well they're not coming through for me today,' blame it on them. She had this story about Tom Waits driving. He was in the car and got this great idea. He says, 'Why did you do that when I was driving? Can't you see that I can't write this down right now,'" Lisa describes. "I never thought of that, that there's a genie and you're a catalyst for their ideas. I can't stand that whole process that people go through [forcing creativity], there is so much bad music out there because of it. You should wait until an idea has matured, and has become what it can become. Sometimes you still don't know if you've waited long enough because you'll start playing a song differently than when you recorded it. Performing songs helps them become what they really are."

Lisa released her first solo album, On the Way Down From the Moon Palace, in 1991, which led to a record deal with Capitol and the release of Happiness in 1993.

"It's always been important to me that my records tell a story. I don't feel like I'm being honest, giving the genuine article, if they don't tell a story. That's why the sequencing is very important to me," she shares. "When I was on Capitol, they would not let me have my sequence. We fought about it for months; that was the reason that the record didn't come out on time. They finally got their sequence and it probably didn't really make any difference, but to me, I was devastated. It was my first major-label record, and it didn't even say what I wanted it to say."

She parted ways with the label and found a champion in 4AD's Ivo Watts-Russell. His label re-released Happiness with the sequencing that Lisa desired, as well as her Inconsiderate Bitch EP, 1994's Geek the Girl, 1996 Excerpts from a Love Circus and 1998's Slide. Although Geek the Girl and its subsequent follow-ups garnered Lisa much critical praise, she was eventually dropped by 4AD. Lisa packed up her things and moved to Los Angeles for a fresh start. She worked at West Hollywood's Book Soup for a while, but songwriting remained a part of her life.

In 2002, Lisa put forth two efforts on her own, Concentrated and Rare, Unusual or Just Bad Songs, and hooked up with Ineffable/ARTISTdirect for Lullaby for Liquid Pig the following year. No Elephants is going to be released by Badman Recording, and Lisa remains hopeful and positive as she looks to the future. When I ask her what words of advice she would whisper into the ear of younger Lisa, she replies:

"My mom's a huge inspiration, so I would say listen to Betty's words instead of Rocco's words. Betty's positive, Rocco's not. I would say, 'Do what Betty would do.' I don't know how you would tell a kid who is depressed to not be depressed because you kind of have to go though it yourself or you can try to be an inspiration that isn't irritating. Some people that are happy are just too happy, and you don't trust them. Unless you can do both – be sad and happy – I don't think you can be truly happy. I would also say, 'Always look to the earth for answers when you're depressed because everything dies and everything grows back, it's all OK.' It's sad to think of it that way ,but that's how it really is because that's how the earth is and we are the earth. It makes sense. It's taken a long time to think that, but I really do believe that."

No Elephants will be available Feb. 12, 2013. For more information, visit lisagermano.com.

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