In 2004 she toured the nation sampling regional dishes with her then-boyfriend, Dweezil Zappa, for a Food Network series; this past year she showed off her talents in the kitchen to charming effect on the Epicurious website. A week ago she got married, to Late Night with Conan O’Brien music supervisor Roey Hershkovitz (whom she met after the aforementioned reality series, #1 Single, had wrapped), and the wedding announcement in the New York Times read as a history of their relationship from the food’s point of view – from the brunch where they met to the “sad shrimp quesadilla” over which they briefly broke up, and on to the black pasta and champagne over which he proposed last November.
Thus, a discussion of her marriage and impending move to Los Angeles (when Conan trades coasts next fall) quickly turned into a trade-off of restaurant recommendations and a discussion of our mutual love for Ethiopian food. It all seemed very far removed from the mac-and-cheese and salisbury-steak vibe of Reality Bites and Loeb’s biggest pop moment, the #1 single “Stay (I Missed You)” in 1994.
During this decade she has made as many albums of children’s music as she has proper studio albums (two apiece); last year she released Camp Lisa, a delightful set of camp-related songs that run the gamut from campfire sing-alongs like “Home on the Range” to original tunes about meeting new friends, rainy days and saying goodbye. (She even begins the set with “Ready for the Summer,” the theme from Meatballs.) Proceeds from the album are going to the Camp Lisa Foundation, which is helping to provide underprivileged children nationwide with access to summer-camp experiences.
Loeb currently has a number of irons in the fire for 2009, from a line of fashion eyewear (her cat glasses have always been a key element of her style) to several more kid-oriented projects, and even an album of music for grown-ups. Still, considering recent events, only one question seemed appropriate as an opener.
Popdose: Congratulations on your wedding. But what are you doing talking to me? Shouldn’t you be on your honeymoon?
Lisa Loeb: We’re not going ‘til April! We both had to work this week, so it didn’t make sense to try to plan anything immediate. We pulled this whole wedding together in the space of about two months, so we still have some planning to do for the honeymoon. We don’t even know for sure where we’re going yet.
That Times announcement was like nothing I’ve seen before. Was the emphasis on food a reporter’s idea?
No, we actually put that together ourselves. It’s, like, the classic thing to do if you’re in New York — to try to get your announcement into the Times. It’s one of those iconic things, and you just hope they’ll accept you. So we did what we could to make it interesting for them. We did it really quickly, but they were nice to us.
You made the Camp Lisa CD with [singer/songwriter/producer] Michelle Lewis and other members of the Ladyapples collective [of L.A.-based female musicians]. What do you get out of your association with them?
It reinforces my belief that musicians can do whatever they want. When I started out my career, like with most artists the biggest goal was to have a hit song, and the record-business machinery is all geared toward achieving hit albums and singles. It’s almost inevitable to get caught up in that, and in the process you can leave your heart by the wayside, and get away from doing all the different kinds of projects you’d want to do if you weren’t so tied into selling records.
Living in L.A., especially, a lot of us are exploring the freedom of being able to do different kinds of music, and even other projects like acting. It’s more acceptable there, because all over the place there are people trying to make a living in the entertainment business doing whatever they can. I just think you get a better career when you’re following what you want to do, rather than staying in that box of trying to be successful in the record business. I’ve been able to do TV, cooking shows, kids’ music, all kinds of things – it’s made for a much more interesting career than I thought I was going to have.
How is making a record aimed at a children’s audience different from what you were used to? Is there a different songwriting process?
Well, for the summer camp record I knew I wanted to work with Michelle and [guitarist/co-producer] Dan Petty, and simply knowing I was going to be collaborating with other musicians made it a different kind of project. I find that collaborating opens up my writing, and gets me out of my usual process, which I like.
We knew we wanted to incorporate certain themes. We wanted to outline a day in the life of a summer camp, and we also wanted to structure the album as a continuum from a kid leaving to go to camp, all the way to the day you come home. It was like putting a puzzle together. So we wrote a bunch of songs that are summer-camp specific, but which also hopefully work outside that context.
The other thing was, we were inspired by kids’ music from the 1970s, like Free to Be, You and Me and particularly Really Rosie. Those albums were great because they mixed songs and spoken pieces – and because they were real music. So we went into it with the idea that it had to be family friendly, of course, but at the same time we wanted to give the songs the same feeling of the bands we loved in the ’70s – the Eagles, America, bands that had great harmonies and catchy acoustic tunes.
Do you find yourself trying to keep the lyrics or the melodies simpler when you’re writing for kids?
Actually, we try not to keep it simpler! We want it to be singable and fun, but kids are capable of getting more than adults sometimes give them credit for. I mean, yeah, like with any folk songs we thought it would be nice to write songs that would be easy for other people to play, like a kid who’s just learning to play the guitar. So we would make sure to write some songs that went from a C chord to a G, trying not to make them too complex. But at the same time we wanted the songs to transcend their context.
I was interested to read on your website that you like to go through writing exercises to get yourself ready to create. Not too many songwriters cop to needing help to get their muses going.
It’s just part of my regular life, it’s something I find myself doing all the time to get myself going. A lot of people do it, actually – I know a number of writers who are fans of [writing instructor] Natalie Goldberg. I grew up in a school where there were a lot of rules and regulations about what to say and how to say it, and adhering to all those rules meant that, for me as a kid, allowing ideas to flow freely was not a natural thing. I think that sort of freedom to create is something that’s lacking in our education system in general. I learned a lot about editing and structure in school, but not enough about how to get into a creative frame of mind. I’ve had to pick that stuff up as an adult.
You’ve found a lot of interesting ways to promote the Camp Lisa CD, from the Fox Business Channel to the Epicurious website. Does a lot of that spring from the connections you’ve made doing reality TV?
At this point in my career, it’s all about following whatever opportunities I have to put my work in front of people. I look for opportunities to do projects with people I like, whether it’s music or TV or cooking or whatever I’m interested in at the time, and I assume that other people who share my interests will tune in or show up, and that out of that we’ll grow a community.
You know, in pop music you tend to throw things out there into the record stores or onto the radio, and you’re sending your music out kind of blindly, to people who might or might not be interested in what you’re doing. I’ve found that it’s more productive and more satisfying to find a community of people who share my enthusiasm for something. I love sharing information, whether it’s about cooking or about how to give yourself a facial, or whatever. And if I can share my music as well, in the middle of all that, then I feel really fortunate.