Lisa Germano | Interview

The Phoenix, Providence Rhode Island | MARY K. ZAJAC

Connecting with Lisa Germano

Definitely Maybe
10/3/2006 5:30:54 PM

PROCESSING: "I know when the song is done because it isn't about me." Lisa Germano wants to know my cat's name. Said cat has just yowled as she walked through the kitchen, where I'm talking to Germano long-distance, so I oblige. "Tell Sylvie, Lisa says hello," Germano urges and, with a somewhat sheepish grin, I do. I'm not totally unprepared for Germano's interest in my cat (I know she's a cat person, that her late cat, Miamo-Tutti, inspired "golden cities," a song on her latest album, in the maybe world), but I'm pleasantly surprised at Germano's immediate warmth and her easy ability to connect. After all, this is a musician known as much for her trips into the dark world of sexual abuse, depression, and alcohol on the albums Geek the Girl1994) and Lullaby for Liquid Pig (2003) as she is for touring as the fiddle player in John Mellencamp's band. But, as I soon find out, this is also a musician who realizes that her angst isn't everyone's, who even laughs sympathetically as she recalls one young woman's negative reaction to a performance. 

"I was in the bathroom after the show," Germano says. "I felt really good. There were two girls in the other stalls and one said to the other, 'Just what are we supposed to do? Slit our wrists?'" Germano laughs: "I thought, You absolutely don't need this [meaning the girls]. I'm not offended." With contributions by ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, in the maybe world, Germano's seventh album, is a brooding soundscape of pregnant silences and her own tinkling keyboards. The album's first cut, "the day," enters with a shimmering chord that fades into an extended pause before Germano¹s soft, nearly deadpan voice wearily announces, "It's a sunrise/It's a sunset/It's the memory of the onset." Between repeated notes and the lurching, tipsy, dance hall piano that animate "into the land of fairies," Germano warns "every little soul has a side you've never seen."   

That these songs smack of the personal is no accident for a songwriter who claims as influences a diverse group of musicians that includes the Smiths, Jackson Browne, and Kate Bush. "Kate Bush gave me the confidence to not be afraid of being emotional. I was always afraid of my own voice. Then I heard that Hounds of Love record and who believes that she never would have finished a song without therapy because it's a place of safety, so you can go where you need to go."  

Take "the red thread," for example. The song, she explains, is "basically a phone conversation, where you say "go to hell," "fuck you," and then hang up, but you know, he's going, "I love you." This was our whole relationship < an ex-boyfriend, a closed door, and I wanted to open it," she continues. She sings me a bit of the lyric with emphasis on the sing-song melody, adding, "It's like a carnival." And it is. 

In contrast, Germano explains that the wistful "golden cities" is an example of how "intensity and death can take you to another place." She wrote the song while her cat was dying of cancer: "One day I was just holding him and the melody came. I swear that he gave me that song to comfort me in this loss. He was saying, "I'm gonna come visit you. We're going to hang out. It's just going to be different." 

Though Germano's songs often begin from personal experience, where they end, she says, is completely different: "Some people think my music is so personal, but it becomes a process. All of a sudden, it just means something else . . . when it's put on the record. I know when the song is done because it isn't about me. If Germano's spare, quirky performances seem light years away from her stint in John Mellencamp's band, call it a conscious effort. "With John," she recalls, "I learned about politics and power and notes. I really didn't like that world, but I learned that I didn't like it. And so, in 1996, with several albums under her belt, but realizing that the music business was rapidly changing around her, Germano took a job wrapping Christmas presents at Book Soup, a Hollywood bookstore. During the 10 years she worked there as a clerk (she still substitutes from time to time), she kept her hand in music through collaborations with David Bowie and Neil Finn. 

Of Finn, she has only the highest praise. "When someone like Neil calls," she gushes," it's all about the word. With Neil I learned about energy and how amazing music is. [Playing with him] really felt like you're on drugs and in the highest spirit. It's about love and acceptance and, of course, knowing your instrument. It's about vibration and energy." 

On Germano's tour in support of in the maybe world, which hits AS 220 on Monday, she'll be accompanied by Austin-based guitarist Craig Ross. "He's got great guitar color," Germano explains. "It's very spare." Is she looking forward to touring, I ask? She pauses. "I like it when it works," she says slowly. "And I seem to be getting more comfortable because I'm getting more confident. I like connecting with people."