Interview: Lisa Loeb
Lisa Loeb achieved fame in an unusual way. After her song Stay was used in the rolling credits of Reality Bites, the Generation X period movie starring Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder, Loeb became the first unsigned artist to have a single reach number one on the charts. In recent years the song and Loeb herself have become a cultural touchstone for nineties nostalgia and have been featured on numerous TV shows from The Colbert Report to New Girl. The 90’s were great, but the Grammy-nominated Loeb, still rocking her signature cats-eye glasses, is anything but stuck in the past: Producing eight studio albums, publishing two children’s books, starring in a reality dating show and a cooking show and even starting her own line of eyewear, the mother of two tells Moment about how her religion impacts her music, her Camp Lisa foundation and her 100 pairs of eyeglasses.
Has Judaism influenced your music?
Absolutely. The whole tradition of Torah study is to look at things from a lot of different angles. The attention to words and attention to how they sound and the melodies that are ingrained in all of us from religious ceremonies have had a huge impact on how I create music.
Who are some Jewish musicians who have influenced you and your music?
The band KISS was a big influence. They were very theatrical. Great songwriters like Carole King, Barry Manilow, countless other Jewish songwriters. And of course the many, many Jewish musical theater writers.
Why do you think Stay has remained so popular?
It’s funny how it has become this iconic song for a specific time. When a song is popular and people connect to it, they don’t ever stop connecting, it brings back memories while still being timeless. Everyone has had that experience. There are songs that were super popular when I was little and it just brings me back to hear them. And that’s what Stay is for so many people.
What do you think of Stay being featured in so many TV shows?
I’m generally flattered and have a pretty good sense of humor. Recently the hilarious show Workaholics had a pretty great usage—it’s pretty extreme and one that I would definitely not have my mom watch but it’s great. Also recently it was on the Zooey Deschanel show, New Girl. I’m a big fan of hers and so being involved in her show was really great.
Your iconic glasses pre-dated the hipster glasses trend. Why did you start an eyewear line?
I always loved wearing glasses ever since I was young. I’ve always looked for ones that fit me, ones that were a little more unique—when you are young the ones that are the most unique are not necessarily the most flattering. People are always stopping to ask where I got my glasses and how can I get them, so I finally started a line.
How many pairs of glasses do you own?
I used to buy a new pair every two or three years but now that I have my own line I own more than 100 pairs. But I rotate between three or four of my favorites.
You wrote and performed children’s music even before you had children. What drew you to that genre?
There were two records I really liked as a child that didn’t sound like kid music: Carole King’s “Really Rosy” album and “Free to Be…You and Me” from Marlo Thomas. I thought it was such a cool thing to do to make music that was lyrically appropriate for kids, that told great stories and had great things for kids to learn about, but also sounded like regular normal music.
Why did you start your Camp Lisa foundation?
I went to summer camp for years and years and later sleep-away camp. At camp, music was really in the center of everything we did— morning, noon and night we were singing. It was the place where I started playing guitar; it’s the place where I connected to music both as a performer and part of a community. My album of summer camp songs, Camp Lisa, was to remind listeners of their summer camp experiences and also make summer camp music for people who had never been there. The album actually led to the creation of my foundation, Camp Lisa, that sends underserved kids to summer camp. Summer camp can be an important part of growing up—it gives kids new experiences, challenges in life that they normally wouldn’t get to have. When I sell the Camp Lisa record all the proceeds go to send kids to summer camp.
Did you always think you would have such a varied career?
Even though I was a shy kid, I was always kind of a performer. I liked being employed/involved in musicals, ballets and took multiple dance classes a week. When I was younger I loved listening to music, playing music, writing music. When I got a little older, I was interested in the world of professional music. I used to be a DJ. I bought every album. I’ve been interested in the business side of music.
What music are you listening to these days?
Let me check my phone—I have Tegan and Sara, Goyte and I recently downloaded a lot of soft pop from the 1970s. In the car I listen to a lot of NPR.
Is there any Jewish or Israeli music you enjoy listening to?
My husband’s parents are Israeli and they have given us tons of DVDs and CDs of classic Israeli songs. We listen to them all the time. We are learning Hebrew through some of the songs. I don’t speak Hebrew yet, but my in-laws speak Hebrew to my daughter so hopefully she will learn.