Getting In Tune With Lisa Loeb

By Michael Berick

Family Fun - Lisa Loeb

Lisa Loeb will be playing in The Getty Center’s garden Aug. 8-9. PHOTO BY JUSTINE UNGARO

Music fans first became familiar with Lisa Loeb through her hit song, “Stay (I Missed You),” which premiered on the Reality Bites soundtrack. That tune marked the first time an unsigned act scored a number-one single, and its success helped Loeb garner a deal with a major label. Her Geffen Records debut, Tails, went gold, and her third album earned her a Grammy nomination.

Besides music-making, Loeb has been involved in a wide range of creative endeavors and family fun. The Brown University graduate has acted in films and TV shows, done voice-over work (that’s her as Princess Winger on Jake and the Never Land Pirates), written books, and designed eyewear (not surprising considering her own distinctive glasses).

Most kids met Loeb through her books Lisa Loeb’s Songs for Movin’ and Shakin’ and Lisa Loeb’s Silly Sing-Along: The Disappointing Pancake and Other Zany Songs, and albums Camp Lisa and Catch The Moon. The Camp Lisa album reflects Loeb’s love for camp and served as inspiration for her family-friendly musical, Camp Kappawanna, which recently debuted in New York.

Closer to home, Loeb will be performing at the Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Dr., L.A.; www.getty.edu) at 4 p.m. Aug. 8-9.

Loeb shared thoughts on children’s music, her love of camps and current projects.

Your first album of family music, Catch The Moon, was a duet with your friend Elizabeth Mitchell. How did that collaboration come about? Were you interested in doing children’s music before that?

I’ve been interested in doing children’s music ever since I heard the Really Rosie album by Carole King when I was a kid. That album and Free to Be You and Me by Marlo Thomas were always favorites of mine. I felt really cool and grown up listening to them when I was young. It must have been the emotional melodies and sense of humor in both projects, coupled with the amazing cast of actors, musicians and writers involved. I wanted to make something like those albums – something real, with real instruments, filled with melodies and stories for all ages.

When Barnes & Noble asked me to do an exclusive record for them, that was different from my previous work up to that point. I thought it was the perfect time to finally make a kids’ record.  My old friend and bandmate, Elizabeth Mitchell, had made so many great kids’ records that I asked her to produce the record for me, and it was our first collaboration in years.

One of the things I really like about your Camp Lisa album is how your songs work equally for adults and kids. Are there specific challenges in writing songs that appeal to kids and their parents?

The main challenge in making kids’ records is to keep the bar high with the lyrics and music and to keep ourselves from talking down to our listeners. I collaborated with my friends Michelle Lewis and Dan Petty on that record, and we just wrote songs that entertained us, with some melodies and lyrics that tugged at our heartstrings – like the songs from 1970s soft pop radio, and others that made us laugh.  We had amazing musicians play on the record so that we could all play together and keep the feeling intimate and not over-produced.

What have you found to be especially gratifying when you perform for children?

Playing any live show is pretty amazing. Each show is different from the next, and I find the connection with the people in the audiences unique each time – something that can only be experienced when you’re there.  With kids, it’s that times 100. To see the kids so engaged and singing along – laughing, but also listening – I can feel that the connection is especially strong.  There are even parts of the show where the kids add their ideas that get integrated into the performance. It’s really cool when I can get kids up and moving but not wandering off or getting distracted, which is possible especially when their parents are also participating.

It’s also really cool because I get to do family shows, like my upcoming free shows at the Getty, where I play some grown-up songs and some kids’ songs. It works really well combining the two types of music I do, and families can enjoy the shows together.

How did the musical Camp Kappawanna come about? How was the experience for you?

The musical was initially commissioned by a theater in Miami as a short play inspired by the song “Best Friend” from my Camp Lisa album. It grew into a full musical, which debuted in its current form at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York City, with music written with my collaborators, Michelle Lewis and Dan Petty, and book by Cusi Cram and Peter Hirsch.  It’s a story of kids going to overnight camp for the first time and how they all come into their own and also come together as a community through their time at Camp Kappawanna. It’s really fun to watch, especially as they get into their rivalry with the camp across the lake.

I’ve loved watching the show with different audiences to see how grownups and kids connect with the story and are drawn in emotionally by the music. The plan is to get the show on the road so that people all over can share in a camp experience on stage.

Camp, obviously, is an important thing for you. You also have a charity, Camp Lisa. What work does the charity do?

When we made the Camp Lisa album, I was excited to share the summer camp experience with everyone through the classic summer camp songs and the original songs inspired by camp, but then quickly realized that I should share the actual experience of going to camp, not just singing along to the music.  Through the sales of the album and donations people make online on LisaLoeb.com, as well as through the sales of the “Wake Up!” coffee bean blend sold by Coffeefool.com, we raise funds.  I work with S.C.O.P.E., an organization based in New York, to find kids and camps that make a good match.

It’s been shown that when kids are engaged in activity over the summer, they actually do better in school, too, not to mention all of the new things they get to try which bolster their self confidence, learning to be a part of the community, how to be a leader, and have fun too.

What other projects are you working on now?

I’m working on the Lisa Loeb Eyewear line, which you can find online at LisaLoebEyewear.com, opticians’ and ophthalmologists’ office stores, boutiques, as well as at Costco. I’m also working on a new grown-up album and really excited to participate in Renee Stahl’s new album Simpatico (coming in late August).

Michael Berick is Calendar Editor of L.A. Parent.

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