Biography of Lisa GermanoI wrote an entire opera when I was seven January 2003
Lullaby for Liquid Pig
It would be so easy to say that lullaby for liquid pig is a record about alcohol, but as Germano herself is learning as she discusses the CD, it’s just not that simple. “It’s about all these thoughts rushing through your head in the middle of the night, keeping you from sleep as you try to figure out why you’re so alone. It explores behavior in relationships, one being with alcohol.
In all of her music Germano conveys her search for something that’s just out of reach. This restless irresolution informs the beauty of her lyrics – a beauty too painful to be confined to words, it spills into her music, bringing sound and substance into an uncanny accord. As Rolling Stone put it, “her songs take a harrowing swan dive into the depths of her soul, baring all and sparing nothing.”
Born in Mishawaka, Indiana, both of Germano's parents were teachers and musicians. They brought six kids up in an atmosphere surrounded by music, passion, and Italians as her father was born there. “My dad’s mom and dad never spoke English,” she says, “so whenever we went to their house, which was pretty much everyday, we’d sit at the table and they would speak Italian. Drinking wine became a ritual in our family – when I was twelve, my grandparents would me a little glass of wine. My grandfather made his own wine, even smashing the grapes in a big wooden vat in the basement.
“I wrote an entire opera when I was seven,” she laughs. “It was maybe fifteen minutes long, with a princess and prince and a lot of torture, loss and happy ending stuff going on…strangely, not too unlike what I do now.
“All six of us kids had to choose an instrument to study when we were seven years old until we turned eighteen, as a form of discipline and appreciation for music. I chose the violin as I already was writing my tragic operas on the piano." It turns out, however, that studying the violin was also a good excuse not to write her own music. Germano explains, “When I got into therapy years later, my therapist wanted me to really look at the reasons why I quit writing songs. She felt there was an identity there that was now missing and actually a good part of why I was stuck in my life and not doing well. That's one reason why sometimes I don't like the violin at all.”
The violin did buy her a ticket out of Mishawaka , with her first stop playing in John Mellencamp's band. She found herself in territory stranger than she had ever imagined. “I didn't learn a lot about music with John, but the 'big rock experience' taught me invaluable lessons about life, attitude and survival. The best part was recording. I would get so excited with so many ideas, hook lines and arrangement ideas, that John would use. But, I guess I'd get a little too excited, because he would have one of the guys put masking tape over my mouth with lips drawn on it. Even though we all had a good laugh at this, it did create desire in me to put all these ideas and excitement about recording into my own music.”
Germano agrees that playing in other bands can be rewarding, having recently recorded or performed with Giant Sand, Neil Finn, eels, and David Bowie. “In the late 80's, at the end of the Simple Minds tour,” she says, “ I was thirty years old, and I had done this big rock thing , but I wasn't happy. So I took all the money I had saved and made a record. Released in 1991 on her own Major Bill label, On the Way Down From The Moon Palace was a package of startling songs wrapped in ribbons of lo-fi sound. It set the pattern for most of her later releases in being a one-person project, from conception through recording to final design. Though she has welcomed guest musicians on occasion, she has chosen them carefully, for their ability to complement rather than distract from the essence of her work.
These albums function as snapshots taken on a long, sometimes spooky, yet always compelling journey. "'Palace' is about coming down from living off of other people's successes to the place where you have to be," Lisa explains. “Happiness (1993 – Capitol Records and then 4AD) is about realizing that it's your responsibility to find happiness in this place where you're very uncomfortable; it's not a particularly happy record. Geek The Girl (1994, 4AD) goes to more sexual things. I wanted to make a pop record about the silly situations girls get into and what came out were songs about date-rape, forced blow jobs and psychopathic stalkers who LOVE me. Excerpts from a Love Circus (1996 4AD), she continues, “is about feeling strong because you stood up to all that stuff; now you can be in love again, of course then you get dumped. And slide (1998 4AD) was about sliding back and forth between positive and negative, like you can finally see the bright side over there but you can't quite get to it yet.”
All of these albums began as improvised explorations. For Germano, writing involves surrender to instincts that are either beyond understanding or not worth the effort of analysis. Through this process the substance of each song, the chords and melodies, the lyric stream, takes shape at the same time as the vagaries of sound and productions. She acknowledges a certain lack of control in this method, but with that comes a thrill of unexpected discovery and the emergence of a kind of courage in being willing to confront whatever the muse delivers.
“That's one reason why I work during the day at a bookstore,” she says. “In a bookstore, there are always answers: This one goes here, that one goes there. In music, the way I write, there are no answers; it’s all about not knowing where you're going, or whether it'll be good when you get there. Since I don't know how to record properly, nothing stops me from trying anything and this is so much fun. I'll plug things into amps that don't work or play instruments that I don't know how to play and get sounds that are very fucked up and nobody's stopping me. I just let these songs go where they go, try to stay open to changes as I create them, no masking tape here.”
As she began work on lullaby for liquid pig, the spirits guided Lisa toward an especially disquieting corner of her soul. As she would record songs on the Adat, a kind of mist settled over them, warm and blurry and familiar, yet ominous as well, as if her slurring, whispered vocals, the hesitating tempos, and muffled noises and echoes were hiding something seductive and dangerous from view. As Lisa pushed through the fog, her destination on this path slowly clarified: this would be a record about being too needy, isolated, and thirsty for help and how friends don’t really want to stick around for the show. It became about so many things beyond alcohol, her intention all along. Lullaby fro liquid pig is really more concerned with the behavior of a type of person who allows himself to be taken advantage of by his friends or by alcohol, or anything that he’s addicted to and have trouble letting go of. It's also about feeling alienated from these friends as he's trying to figure everything out.
In their final form, the lullaby for liquid pig songs are broadened and deepened through contributions from the musicians whom Lisa recruited, and the co-production help of Joey Waronker and Jamie Candiloro. “After we transferred the tracks to Pro-Tools, it was like adding vitamins to a rather sick garden and the end result stands up much stronger than without their input.” Guests include Neil Finn (Crowded House), bassist Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing), Wendy Melvoin (Prince), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Joey Waronker (Beck), and Butch (eels). But in every respect these works are unsparingly personal documents, lit by the same dark flames that have guided Germano on all her wanderings.
“I overheard these girls talking in the bathroom of a club after one of my sets. Of course, they didn't know I was in the stall next door. One of them said ‘Jesus, are we supposed to slit our wrists or what?’ It made me laugh. I don't find my music depressing; a bit sad maybe. But even if the subject makes one sad, I try to make the music interesting; at least for my ears; no matter what the song is about.”
“I don't want people to feel depressed when listening to lullaby for liquid pig… I don't.”