kindly, lisa papineau took the time to spend a few delightful hours discussing the magic of living in a foreign city and creating music. over the years inside her own projects pet and big sir, and found collaborating within the backing vocals of artists like m83 and air, lisa beautifully designs her own captivating vocal harmonies and experiments with special different uses of sounds. a fellow opera performer and vastly respected for her own film and media projects, she shares a prominent energy that remains memorable and feels personal while listening. recently, lisa released an elegant solo debut *night moves* and her collaboration project big sir with mars volta bassist juan alderete’s third album *und die scheibe andert sich immer*.
MIA: is your day in paris as beautiful as it is here in new england?
LP: hmm. well, i like it cold and rainy or snowy.. and today is semi-sunny…. but it’s just starting to get ..crisp. i like that. wish i could be in vermont right now… missing it in a hardcore kind of way
MIA: the fall is such an amazing time in vermont, all the colors…
LP: yes… the smell too
MIA: how has living in paris impacted you differently than living in the usa?
LP: wow… i’m not sure if it’s paris per se…. but being in a foreign city trying to speak another language and fit into another culture… i’m always on my toes… certainly never taking anything for granted… so… a bit pulled out of a comfort zone than perhaps i was feeling the last few years before i came here. one always tries to not get too stuck in a pattern, but i really can’t slack even if i want to here. does that make sense?
MIA: of course it does, i had noticed in yr interview on everyotherwoman that you felt almost like a hermit here in the usa… i can completely understand that…
LP: though now that i come to think of it… i always seem to be in a place where the bottom is shifting… i always long for the feeling of really being home, but haven’t found that anywhere yet.
MIA: being in a foreign city, while yr walking down the street, sitting at a cafe or even inside yr own home staring out the window, are there any special tiny details in paris that make you smile and specifically keep you comfortable?
LP: yes… in fact… that’s what i love about being here… every day i look out the window, every time i walk down the street… i have a smile on my face…. so many things to look at that are often awe inspiring… and not just the big monuments or lines of site as they’ve been set up here… details… old.. gorgeous… lost details… but also the juxtaposition of ancient things with modern and back to living in a city… i’ve always been more of a country person… but the wonderful thing about a city being endless varieties of people… the way they talk move dress… i love it.
i guess that was kind of vague.. sorry. i’ll look out the window…it’s the things everyone loves….the orange roof tiles against the grey sky. the pots of geraniums that manage to stay vivid red through the cold humid long-ass winter. theres always something new and that’s the feeling i love even in such an old dirty place. hmm. i love that the guys who clean the streets here have very fancy bright green outfits and they all smoke while working. they have these brooms that would seem to be made by a country witch… from the straw in her yard… except they are bright green plastic. again… that old meets new thing.. blows my mind. there is a city near paris… it looks like the city of the future from a 1971 perspective…. but after the wwIII has come and gone, futuristic but in ruins, see alot of that in europe and of course i always love to be on beret watch. the french insist the beret is not french…but they are fooling themselves
that thing you mentioned about feeling like a hermit… that definitely contributed… and also the feeling of being lost in language… hearing communication happening and getting a gut feeling about what it’s about… but not really knowing what’s being said…. it’s the same feeling one has in a dream… someone is conveying an important message or trying to show you something… but you …just …can’t …quite …get… it… hear… it… turn.. your head in the right direction. i tried to bring that into this album…. it’s the way i was really feeling the first year here….like a dream. and sort of being conscious to what’s going on… but not enough to move or act or contribute. in the end, i went with the imagery of the night and this dream sense for the general theme of the album… but again… it is really tied into these experiences of being a stranger and a timid stranger at that… i guess someone more brazen would have a very different experience living here
MIA: yr viewing paris the way i believe i would. taking in the details, the images of what stands out to you. theres only a very select few that see things the way we do. yr debut *night moves* feels like a dream… theres all these lil tiny details inside it that i love like the mandolin, the way yr voice sometimes trembles… i sense alot of intensity inside simplicity. how long did the process take to complete your album and finally feel that it was apart of you?
LP: wow… that is very kind…all of that. thank you.
LP: some songs were started before… but writing… a few months… and then we worked on arrangements for a week or so… then recorded in two weeks… like we were on fire… throwing everything down that we could. then i took a month…and listened to our roughs and realized that it all was just too busy… too far away from the initial intent of simplicity that i hoped for when i was writing so we spent another two months taking it all apart… getting rid of things… redoing things simpler. i love it when i can hear things ring out… decay… i wanted to have enough space on the arrangements so that would be possible
MIA: i love that too. “the tiny details” so to speak are so important.
LP: so the short answer is… about 6 months spread over 9 months. yes… some reviewers have given me a hard time for it…. or say things like… oh it’s been done… oh well. everything has, so all one can do is be true to what the songs tell you or ask for when they are popping themselves out of your head
MIA: excuse my language, but the hell with those that just dont get it… ive been listening to night moves continuously for the past month and last night, i felt really proud of you. it takes alot to give yrself out and be vulnerable, and its magical. it really means alot to have artists like you out there because you understand why you create and have feeling. and the fact that you share it, just means so much to the people who listen… its important.
LP: gosh. thank you kindly for taking that time. for letting it come into your world… that’s all any artist can hope for the best. not to get all girly… but when you make something… the greatest thing is to watch it change and become itself once you’ve let go of it… watch it inhabit other worlds and heads than your own
“r.i.p. speedy lot”
MIA: how old were you when you became drawn to the performing arts and music?
LP: i always loved.. like…wicked…LOVED…music as far back as i can remember… i loved singing at church… that feeling of voices and sounds all mixing together. sitting for hours listening to my parents records..
MIA: what did your parents listen to? were they creative too?
LP: my parents were very creative, maybe without even realizing it…well..of course they did…they ran an arts and crafts store, that had classes. my mother could do any craft she set her mind to. my dad was always really musical, but it’s only been in the last 10 years that he’s become a performer.. he is now a hardcore barbershop quartet singer. so albums….the first i remember…herb alperts brazil 66, simon and garfunkel
MIA: was there something that changed emotionally or someone that inspired you, making it feel very important to create?
LP: my parents were always pushing and encouraging us to create… to make things. there was always scraps of cloth and glue and glitter and pipe cleaners and paint etc. but… i was always shy about performing… my parents especially my mom was shy too. so maybe not so much of a push there… but always encouragement. i guess my first performance was with the flute in 4th grade
MIA: if you could give any type of advice to someone shy but with all of their heart wants more than anything to perform, what would you say? how did you overcome it?
LP: good lord… it took me until i was 19 before i really could perform as a singer… i really never believed i could do it… music was the thing i loved the most, but i never really felt i had a talent for it… more of a talent for …energy? so i thought i had to do other stuff… not the subtler stuff but when i was in college little by little i would try things, in the guise of performance art…. and more and more people would encourage me writing and performing the music. so what would i advise… i would say what anyone on star search would say i guess …believe in yourself… but even more than that… work your ass off… pay attention… to what really is the thing that moves you because i feel like i spent alot of time doing things i wasn’t very good at because i didn’t know what was available, so…be educated, push yourself to listen and watch 10 million things
MIA: i had read that you had a type of mentor kitty rowe to guide with you training… would you say that she was the start of confidence building for you?
LP: kitty was the first big shot vocally who took notice of me….. if others were saying hey that seems cool… i probably brushed off what they said …but when someone like kitty tells you you have something. that is that. she had no time to waste, so for her to seek out a stranger and say that. wow. i was blown away but i didn’t follow her path… and she didn’t expect me to… she was opera….. i didn’t have that kind of presence or voice… but she wanted me to learn to protect and work what i had. going back to what i’d advise anyone…. don’t be lazy… keep pushing to find what is special in you…. that takes a lot of time and discipline… but it’s worth it and something you can never stop doing. i guess that’s the way life should be anyway and what an artist puts out is where he or she is at in that discovery process
MIA: that must of been so mind blowing… and such a compliment to have someone from the “otherside” believe in you. its so hard when yr friends and family are complimentary… but to actually believe in yrself that’s such a struggle
LP: for sure… and in a way you have to go beyond believing or not believing after a certain point….just doing and that’s the hardest thing….getting out of that “i’m looking at you” mindset. the judge especially in this day and age when everything is a soundbyte
MIA: im still curious before 19… did you know that you had a voice?.. did anyone else hear it or was it something you kept to yrself… inside dreams?
LP: no… i did…but i thought i was fooling myself… and was too shy to show others. i had enough of a voice that i got picked to do summer stock… and again like i said… some kind of energy… but i figured that was the best i could do… this kind of jazz hands music… that wasn’t really my thing. i loved punk as a teen…. and i was even sure i wasn’t good enough for that but when i started trying to write songs…that’s when i got some confidence because the song tells your voice what to do. when i finally discovered people like brian eno… i realized that the voice was just a small tool and the song is the thing that changed everything for me, showed me how i could let out what i felt inside
MIA: this may sound a lil strange but when you sing, does it feel like an out of body experience? is it like therapy?
LP: i don’t know…when it’s right..it feels like i am a container for the music, a vessel. wow it’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding like a self-help book by dr phil or something or a hallmark card ut when it’s right…. being inside the music is perfection or…rather…it feels like…connection with everything
MIA: one of the hardest things for myself is getting over that fear of letting go, of stage fright and to perform musically. but i dream about so much and feel music so incredibly that it sometimes scares me. but as you said its all about when its right and working hard and believing.
LP: you know… the big thing is… Realizing there are 50 million ways to do it too… and finding the one that’s right for you, the one that rings true. that’s what took me so long when i was young to cut through, thinking a performer did this or that. when i started studying about all kinds of art and performance… i realized …the sky is the limit. you may only find one other person in the world who can make the connection… but…so what
MIA: i know thats what excites me and keeps me going, because there is so much out there.
LP: yes! me too! trying not to get dragged under by the nonsense that can surround the job of doing music and remember the freedom to try anything.
MIA: hehe and if yr comfortable with writing about feeling, please feel free to go as deep or as “self-help” as you like. thats what i enjoy and appreciate about learning about people, to see who they are.
LP: what have you found that works for you in your fear?
MIA: oh gosh. my biggest problem is when ive tried collaborating… and when i sing my own words, i cry.
LP: crying is good! not good for singing because it makes it physically impossible…but a great step
MIA: im stuck inside the fear tho which is not good… but i keep on having this bright hope that ill get out of it.
LP: no i don’t agree. fear is what brings us all to that tender compassionate connected place… that’s where you need to be to express music. the trick is being brave enough to hang in with the fear until you push past the emotion. we all feel fear and for frig sake… there is no stability in anything… and when you are in an uncertain place…that is truth, for goodness sakes and the only place to be to create or give to others
MIA: completely… thats my object to overcome… to keep pushing… i can write all the words but when it comes to the point of sharing myself, thats when my fear comes in.
LP: you are already sharing when you write… maybe try doing a song with 5 peeps singing that always feels good!
MIA: of course! sorry this is becoming like my self-help book. but i have a feeling you somehow understand : )
LP: no way! i feel like i should be smoking a pipe and stroking my beard thoughtfully
MIA: hehe yes and im laying on a black leather lounge chair
LP: me…understand fear…oh yes…i am the biggest sissy dork that ever lived. i’d love to be sassy like mary j. or mick jagger but it wasn’t in my deck of cards. so…i play what i got
MIA: it must of been really amazing for you to eventually start collaborating with musicians who you felt comfortable with…now you and juan are releasing yr new release for big sir… has it been tricky collaborating back in forth overseas?
LP: YES! yes, yes, yes it’s the greatest joy… sharing the process with someone else… damned i sound like a gaylord… but it can be so fun…and lord knows there’s sometimes not enough fun for a starving artist. but… just as tricky as both of us being in LA and being too busy in a way being separated started the fire under our asses. this album has songs created over a very drawn out period of time…. definitely some old school and some new school for us… we were afraid that maybe it wouldn’t all marry together but… i really think it does, finally now that i have a bit of perspective… it’s a strange album for sure… but warm… oddly nonetheless. it is very sweet and brutally chaotic at the same time. anyway, that’s what i feel. i find myself shaking my head and smiling when listening.. oh, and shaking my derriere too
MIA: hmmm… im reminded of california sunshine and the image of sitting near the pacific ocean everytime i listen to the big sir albums. maybe its the covers… but it does always seem to project warmth!
LP: wow, thanks! especially since i am so not that! i love it. i am the snow hat with the pompom on top to juan’s sombrero. i just like the idea of doing fucked up music that isn’t arghghg satan..arghgh sad in my heart…arghghg. this is more sweet grooves..arghghg life is weird arhghgg
MIA: i had read you recently played acoustically in paris… will you be able to do any touring? do you like to perform live?
LP: i am terrified performing… but i love it once the music starts…. just right up to the moment it begins is the hardest. i am going to try and tour in the us starting in dec… it’s just hard financially to do… o we are going to do it with just me and another peep (matthieu)… so i guess that’s sort of acoustic… but i have an organ and another synth… and we sometimes rock an mpc beatbox… so semi-acoustic. i just don’t want to do the “all the tracks on a computer thing”… we’ll see..it’s hard to book shows! my plan was to do the west us for dec/jan and then try to do the east coast and midwest in march/april. we’ll just have to see what falls into place, probably will do a few shows with big sir in december too depends on juan’s schedule. that will be big rock… probably 6 or 7 people onstage. these days it’s so expensive to be on the road… so i think this is the best solution for me especially since it’s been a while since i toured the usa
MIA: what qualities do you see in yrself? :) what qualities do you hope listeners may take from listening to yr music?
LP: what qualities do i see in myself? a lot i would like to change… i want people to move. i really mean that. move to these songs… move in your life, move to let yourself be heard. i guess when you talk about qualities… in myself… the things i don’t like are when i feel defeated… and sometimes things that seem like good qualities… like hope set you up for disappointment but to move beyond an emotive state…. or where one emotion holds reign over another for more than a minute. to be in motion…. to feel it around you. that is everything i want to be a part of… and want to share with others. ….i think i’m getting too pot-heady. let me just put my crystal away
MIA: its beautiful… i know how you feel thats the most important part, its what fuels
LP: that’s what i love in music or other forms of art…. not the “this or that of it” its the energy that shakes the form and then remolds and then shakes back into pure energy again. it’s funny, i love to dance more than anything… but i’m not a “dancer” and strangely, right now in my life i am faced with a sickness that has left it difficult for me to walk sometimes and i wonder… how am i going to dance around the room if i can’t walk. i guess that is what it’s all about…finding the way to dance with whatever you have to shake. literally for me… and certainly figuratively for all of us in anything we set ourselves to. it seems so easy but it’s the hardest thing… to each day lift out of fear or anxiety or gloom and shake it… i know it is for me. why is it so hard for us? even when we think we are smarty pants?
MIA: it does seem so easy but we always take everything so for granted
LP: so true.. the good and the bad we take for granted or take the idea of good and bad for granted… so hard to step beyond. i just wonder why it’s hard even when we have the answers?
MIA: it is, but thats why we have things like music, art, films to keep us going creatively… we spend too much time thinking about the answers than actually giving into them, we need to. its time
LP: word up
::lisa’s favorite songs::
only loved at night :: the raincoats
benway :: tortoise
into white :: cat stevens
cup of dreams :: thinking fellers union local 282
i want your love :: chic
prarie monk :: meredith monk
river :: killdozer
area codes :: ludacris
create and melt :: dali’s car
caring is creepy :: the shins
femiliarize :: keziah jones
the well :: tarnation
any major dude will tell you :: steely dan
don’t take your guns to town :: johnny cash
bobby james :: n.e.r.d.
watching you without me :: kate bush