Named 2010’s Artist To Watch out for in this column a few weeks ago, an artist by the name of Lisa Brigantino is taking the indie music scene by storm with the release of her new album “Wonder Wheel”.
Lisa is no first timer to this music world, having many years experience as both a solo artist and former founding member of Lez Zeppelin ( the all girl Led Zeppelin tribute band), Lisa’s new solo album “Wonder Wheel” has this amazing and unique musicality about it; a music journey worth taking with this artist over and over again.
Great, talented musicians are truly hard to come by and getting to interview that kind of musician is so rare that sometimes you might have a better chance at winning lotto. Luck was on our side when I was able to catch up with Lisa to bring you a truly wonderful conversation of music, learning and great plans for the future.
Lisa Marie: Thank you so much for meeting with me. You ‘re so talented when it comes to music I am curious as to how did you get your start and why music?
Lisa Brigantino: I've been singing and playing music since I was a kid. I come from a very musical family and there was always ukulele, mandolin, piano playing and 4-part harmony singing at family get-togethers. I played music through elementary, Jr. high and high school, was involved in all kinds of orchestras, vocal groups, jazz bands, rock bands, etc. I went to college at the School of Music at SUNY Fredonia and stayed on there to complete a Master of Music degree in music composition and theory. After graduating, I came to NYC to continue writing and performing and also worked in the business end of the industry in music supervision and licensing. Except for a brief period of time when I thought I might want to be a doctor, I always knew I wanted to pursue music in some way, shape or form. It's simply who I am and what I do - I can't imagine any other life.
LM: That’s amazing. The family get together’s sound like a old school TV show, I love that! I noticed you went from being a solo artist to being a member of band and now you’re a solo artist again. Why did you decided to go solo again?
LB: I was a founding member of Lez Zeppelin (played bass, keys and mandolin) and toured internationally with the band for a number of years playing A list venues and festivals including Bonnaroo. Our debut CD that was released in 2007 was produced and recorded by the legendary Eddie Kramer. It was a great ride, but I left the band in early 2009, to get back to doing my own original material. I spent the past year recording my new CD “Wonder Wheel which will be released June 7th.
LM: I can understand that. Sometimes people need something fresh and different to work on. Which makes wonder do you prefer being a solo artist versus being in band or do you like both the same?
LB: I enjoy both for different reasons. I like being a solo artist because it allows me to do my original music. I enjoy being part of a band because I like being on stage and making music with other people. Now with the CD coming out, I’ll have a little bit of the best of both worlds because I’ll be bringing in people to play with me here and there. I’ll be doing a CD release show in the new room at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC on June 18th and I’ll have a band with me. In addition to me on electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin and keys, I’ll have my husband Tomi Millioto on electric guitar, Helen Destroy (former drummer of Lez Zeppelin) on drums and Jeremy Chatzky on bass, who has played with a number of artists including Bruce Springsteen and Ronnie Spector. Other special musical guests include Lori Brigantino, Susan Haefner and Jerry Snee.
LM: The best of both is always a huge plus! I wish things worked out like that all the time. For this album “Wonder Wheel” where did you draw the inspiration to create the songs?
LB: The songs on “Wonder Wheel” are songs I’ve written over a number of years. Some are very recent and some are older songs that I just hadn’t recorded before. I draw my lyrical inspiration from a number of things including my relationships, my family, all kinds of experiences I’ve had whether they be comical or sentimental as well as topical things I feel strongly about.
LM: That’s truly amazing you can be so opened about all of that. For this album would you be able to explain some of the underlying meanings behind a few of the songs on this album?
LB: “This Town” is about gentrification. “Those Days” was written for my sister, Lori. “The Light of Your Face” was written for my Nana and Grandma. “Motel Room In The Dangerous Part Of Town” is about a particularly poor motel experience I had on my first trip to Nashville. So, it’s a really mixed bag and style-wise, the songs range from Rock to Folk, Pop, Americana, Old-Time and more. I had compiled most of the songs for the album and didn’t have an album title – then I remembered this great photo of the Coney Island “Wonder Wheel” ferris wheel that my sister had taken and thought it would make a cool CD cover. “Wonder Wheel” also seemed to me to be a good metaphor for life and I ended up writing a song called “Wonder Wheel” which became the title track for the CD.
LM: That is a lot of different styles and meanings, which is why I absolutely love how when you listen to the CD it all comes together and flows. Every artist/band usually has a favorite song they loved creating for an album; what’s yours?
LB: That’s a hard question to answer, because the arrangements are so different. I enjoyed putting the rockers together and “Wonder Wheel” was fun because there’s so much counterpoint going on in it. I also enjoyed writing the string arrangement for “The Light Of Your Face”. It was great to have my sister Lori and friend Susan Haefner in the studio to do the vocal trio tunes, too, which include “Sarah”, “I Gotta Find Me Somethin’” and “Motel Room”. The three of us have been singing together since going to college at SUNY Fredonia.
LM: Speaking of having family make appearances on your album how was it working with your husband; all the women out there are dying to know (I know I am!); on your album “Wonder Wheel” did it go smoothly?
LB: It was great getting to work with my husband, Tomi Millioto. We’ve been collaborating for years and he often performs with me when I play live. This is the second album we’ve produced together. Tomi is a wonderful musician, producer, arranger and engineer. It’s a real joy to be able to work with him. He is someone I trust with my tunes and we can spend hours in the studio together and get along. That’s because it’s not about ego or either of us being right or wrong, it’s about making the final product the best that it can be.
LM: All the readers out there (women at least) hearts just fluttered! That’s wonderful to hear it works out so smoothly. On this album I noticed you play a lot of the different instruments. How long did it take and when did you decided to learn how to play them all from piano, guitar, percussion etc.
LB: The first instrument I learned to play was ukulele at 4 (my Grandma taught my sister and I), then piano at 5, then violin and guitar at 7, upright bass at 13, electric bass at 14th, then mandolin, accordion, percussion, cello, harp, etc. The last time I counted I think I was up to 14 instruments. I’ve had training on piano, violin, upright bass, harp and voice. With the exception of ukulele, all the other instruments are self-taught. I’m lucky in that I have a good ear and I can mathematically translate what has to happen from one instrument to the other in terms of tuning, positions, transpositions, etc.
LM: That is an awesome gift to have! Your more than multi-talented you are a Music God and I hope people reading this article really take a step back and see that as well. More of an overall general question what is the worst and best thing about writing songs for an album?
LB: Because a handful of songs on the album are older songs that I had just never recorded before, it wasn’t about writing all the songs at one time to go on the album, which I know can freak some people out. Yes, some of the songs are more recent – “Wonder Wheel” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams” were written toward the end of 2009, but the songs do span a number of years, so it was more about compiling the right collection of tunes. However, I also come from the school of thought that writing music is not about waiting for the lightning bolt of inspiration to hit. Writing music is a craft and as someone who is a trained composer and also writes for film and TV, I have to be able to write music when I need to. If I have a client that needs a: 60 TV commercial in 5 days, I can’t sit around, starry-eyed waiting to be inspired. I have to be able to say, “I’ve got an hour to write something. Let’s get to it.”
LM: And this is why I named you as an artist to watch out for in 2010! I love the go-getter attitude that you have. Currently, I know you are trying to tour to promote your solo album but has touring now or ever affected your daily life in anyway?
LB: I will be doing some touring to promote the album, but it may be more like doing one off shows or going out for a week at a time here and there to keep it manageable. I did lengthier touring with Lez Zeppelin and honestly, I enjoyed it, but it does take its toll on you, especially when you’re touring in a van, not a bus and you are doing the driving. And I was literally doing the driving, along with our tech, Eric Loux. He and I would switch off on driving duties. It gets to be a lot when you’re driving 6 hours, then load in, sound check, play the show, tear down, go to the hotel, sleep a few hours, then get up a do it all over again and again. However, we were never out on the road for more than about 3 ½ weeks at a time and those longer tours were spread out. Of course, there are plenty of stories like the time that the air conditioning broke in the van during our summer tour of the deep South – that wasn’t fun. All in all, I seem to be able to manage the dichotomy of touring and being home well. I think it’s the Gemini in me.
LM: I agree with about Touring. I have some experience in that area and I agree some days where worse than others just because how long the day becomes. I am also a Gemini that’s awesome! Ok sorry but getting to talk with such a talented well-known artist is truly an honor. There are so many artists trying to break into the music world right now; is there any advice or tips that you could give to those people?
LB: I think in addition to being passionate, tenacious and not giving up, you need to surround yourself with people that love and support you and are not dream-killers. If you do get discouraged, you just need to focus more on the things that can propel you forward. You need to practice and study and be the best musician/writer that you can be. You will always have more to learn - not only about the craft of music but also about the business, itself. The more you can educate yourself about how the business of music works, the better off you'll be and the less chance you'll have of someone taking advantage of you. You also need to network like crazy and be confident about who you are and how you present yourself. Also, keep your ego in check. No one likes working with a diva. You may get that first job, but if you're difficult, you'll never be asked back and word spreads quickly in the industry about how easy or hard it is to work with someone. It sounds so simple, but be kind and say "please" and "thank you". Remember, kindness is not a sign of weakness. Most of the music opportunities and jobs that I've gotten through the years have come through referrals because people know my abilities, that I have a good sense of humor, I'm easy to work with and I'm a professional. That goes a very long way.
So what does the future hold for this talented veteran musician? Lisa will be off doing performances in order to support the release of her new album “Wonder Wheel” while trying to get film and TV placement for her musical works. But that is only the start of things. She also will be working with her sister Lori on their musical-comedy sister act “Vickie & Nickie” as they premier their brand new show “Inside Vickie & Nickie” in NYC this summer and also with some out of town dates too. While all that is going on Lisa will be running her own company Hidden Pond Productions that handles music/talent supervision, original custom music and so much more.
It seems like the future is full of good times to come and busy days for this artist. I asked her one last question before I departed from the interview; what does the future hold for you in terms of another album and songwriting? Her response came as no surprise because she truly is a talented and well-rounded musician; “I’m already in the process of assembling songs for the next CD. I’m always writing new material, but I already have enough finished material right now for another three albums without having to write anything new.”
Pick up “Wonder Wheel” when it drops on June 7th, 2010.