“I was just in the middle of voting for the Grammys.”
Lisa Loeb sounds a bit overwhelmed when we answer the phone, and she later confirmed as much. As a Grammy voter, she must listen to scores (excuse the phrase) of songs to decide on the most worthy of recognition. Given the number of categories at the Grammys, that’s a huge time investment.
Loeb knows a thing or two about investing time in music. As an almost 30-year veteran of the recording industry, Loeb enjoys iconic status as one of the most distinctive of the singer-songwriter women of the 1990s. Her song “Stay,” originally featured on the Reality Bites soundtrack became an unexpected smash and helped Loeb land her first recording contract. She followed up with hits like “I Do” and “Do You Sleep?,” working steadily through giving birth to two children and launching her own line of eyewear.
Always one to play to a queer audience, Loeb is about to release her new single–obtained exclusively by Queerty–“Sing Out,” a Pride anthem for National Coming Out Day. Queerty also usurped a few minutes with Loeb to talk about the song, her queer audience and the changing music scene.
So the song is “Sing Out.” What made you want to write a coming-out anthem?
It’s funny. I wrote it with Eric Lumiere, who is a songwriter. His mother actually shared his CD with me, which at first, I was like oh great. Another songwriter CD.
Although I was hesitant to accept it, I made myself listen to it right away. It was so beautiful. It’s so funny; his last name means “light” and he just has so much love and light and power and passion in his music. I wanted to write something like that, something huge and vast. Another thing I wanted to write was songs that work in situations that I sing in all the time.
I was headed in to sing at Nashville Pride a few years ago. I normally sing songs of my own that people are really familiar with, which, I’m really grateful that people really connect with them. But as a performer, it can feel a bit off sometime if you’re singing sad love songs and you want to sing something that’s very political, or that celebrates people, which was something specific that I personally hadn’t written before. So I had that on my mind when I got together. So we didn’t end up writing something that Marshmello was going to remix. But we did write a song together that is really about celebrating who you are, who I am, who we are individually, and that touches on feelings of feeling insecure to be yourself, and realizing how important it is to celebrate yourself. That was really inspired by Nashville Pride.
I think that it’s so important to support the LGBTQ community. I know when I was growing up, most of the people I knew who were gay—mostly gay men, but some gay women too—you weren’t allowed to come out. It was very hidden and closeted. It was surprising when you’d find out that your friend was gay. Like, wait, what?! But it was actually very common. So, unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of people aren’t able to be themselves have to deal with layers and layers and layers of issues just coming from a simple thing like not being able to be themselves.
So for me to be able to write a song that’s sung in a way that feels very universal—to me it feels universal. It should be a universal right to be yourself and respect others. So that’s really what the song is about, and it was specifically inspired by Nashville Pride.
Beautiful. So how did you begin to find the song itself? What’s your process like, especially when working with a collaborator like Eric?
Every songwriting situation is different. Some flow more easily that others, just like when you sit down to write creatively. Sometimes the ideas just come out, and sometimes you’re like what am I doing here? And you start thinking about everything but what you’re there to be doing.
I do know what that’s like.
So for us, especially when I collaborate with people, what’s really helpful, especially when you’re with another person, you have to have a conversation about what kind of song you want to write. When you’re working alone, it’s actually really easy to forget this. So, what are you thinking? Are there elements you want to include in the song? I specifically did say “I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing” [a folk anthem that began as a Coca-Cola jingle] is an example. At the time, when I was a kid, that didn’t feel corny. It felt like we were all singing together. So we ended up writing a song that has lots of “la la la”-s that people can sing together.
And when I perform it live, people do sing it. It’s a great way to bring people together. So we had that element. For us, when we wrote the chord progression, it should feel like a group of people singing together. So that might imply a bit more folksy-sounding chords. Maybe its something simpler, not too jazzy, where you can just pick up a guitar and easily play. Also, we talked about being able to tell a story in a way that’s so straightforward that you’ll understand it right when you hear it. That was an important piece of the puzzle.
Then when it came to the chorus, it was important to have some kind of metaphor. So, “life is a parade.” And literally I was going to sing at a parade, so it was good to have that sort of Venn Diagram of things both literal and metaphorical. Usually, when I write, it’s an idea of other songs that can inspire us, is there a certain topic to write about. Sometimes when I come to a session I’ll have certain phrases already written out, or certain chord progressions. Other people do the same. It’s really like a puzzle that starts coming together. Sometimes it takes a turn and goes in a direction you wouldn’t expect.
That makes sense.
When I first started out I wanted everything to be as complex as possible. Lyrics that were written in a way where you couldn’t quite figure out what they were about—secret lyrics. Complicated chords. But as I listen to more music—and as I’ve listened to a lot of different kind of music with my kids. They listen to indie music, but my son specifically listens to Marshmello and 21 Pilots. But then there will be a song that is more straightforward that gets you right away. I started to realize that sometimes it’s more the melody that gets you than the lyrics. Often, as a songwriter, you can become too wordy and too clever. Music is more about how it makes you feel. A lot of times, less is more. Sometimes, just a clever rhythm can make it really connect with people, more than saying things a million different ways. Sometimes, it’s hard to do less, so that’s something I’ve been working on a lot especially on my new record that’s coming out.
So you mention that growing up you had queer friends. Obviously you’ve always had queer fans. And family as well-Alexis Michelle is your cousin, which is awesome.
What role have queer people played in your career, both within the business and within your fandom?
It’s just people who I connect with. They’re my community: people who, like I said, unfortunately up to this point, those people have had to go through so much. I think people in the queer community really identify with the struggles and issues and things I sing about. It’s about people having to deal with what’s going on inside of them, and how that relates to being in a relationship or being in a community, even being kind to yourself. I’m a little bit embarrassed that there were so many people—really, really good friends of mine—that I didn’t know what they were going through. But they also didn’t feel comfortable sharing that. I just feel like people in the queer community have had to look deep inside themselves and fight so hard just to be who they are. That can cause lots of different emotions, and lots of different situations to get out of, or to learn to feel comfortable in. There’s a lot of struggle. As a songwriter, I like to write about those kinds of things. Also, I feel like, just as a community, if you come to one of my shows, I want everyone to feel welcome.
I just hope people feel welcome. There are no set roles for people. I’m super into people just being themselves. That’s what makes the world so interesting.
That’s wonderful. We hear quite a bit about how the music industry harbors a lot of homophobia. You’ve been in the business almost 30 years. What’s your impression? Has that changed over the years?
It’s hard to say. A couple things come to mind. I think people are still learning about each other. Just like when I was a kid, I didn’t know about a lot of religions. I’m Jewish, so I would go to somebody’s house and they might hold hands and pray to Jesus. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do!
Now, as a grown-up, if someone has a different religion or culture, I don’t have to shrink away. I can ask questions. I want other people around me to be themselves. And maybe, with religion, they can tell me a bit about it. Maybe some of the essences of their religion will overlap with my background. It’s not something that needs to be shielded or walled-off.
So I think people are still learning. If you go into any songwriting session, it’s not about your sexuality or your gender, it’s just about the stories you have to tell. Maybe those things play into them, but maybe I’m just in an open world. I just think its great that musicians are able to come out and be themselves and be celebrated for their work.
What about as a woman? Do you feel like you were treated differently than your male contemporaries?
Definitely. I think women continue to have to fight for their credit. I know you have to check yourself as well. I’ve been in meetings—especially way in the past—where people weren’t treating me in a strange way because I was a woman, but I felt like if I wore a shorter skirt they might pay more attention to me.
Which is terrible! You think about, in the entertainment industry, how you want all these jobs. You want all the funds to make the things you want to make, how you’re going to appeal to your audience or your business people. How are you going to appeal to them in a way they will find appealing and like what you do? I feel like the trend is more towards what you are making. Yes, it is all about your appearance as well. It’s part of the package—how you look, and how you dress, and how you act. It’s part of the fun. But I feel like it should all be with intent. It should be that you decide to do that to express yourself. It should be in the artists’ hands.
Now I feel like I’m appealing to people and as an artist. It’s not like I could do that thing where I wear a shorter skirt. Now I think of it more as my ideas, and when I walk into a room, I feel like myself, I look like myself. It doesn’t have anything to do with them. Strength comes from being yourself, and from being respectful and aware of your surroundings. But at the same time, be yourself. That’s what life is about.
Being yourself and being respectful, sure. That’s something that I think, particularly pop music in the 90s had going for it. Women in the 90s were allowed to be more intelligent and introspective. By the early 2000s, women had undergone a heavy sexualization, and, I would argue, a dumbing down. Even women who had been big in the 90s had become hypersexualized.
They had to dance, they had to show more skin. Everyone seemed forced into a mold.
Why did that happen the way it did?
I think it was just that thing taken out of control. There’s always the idea that women who are more sexy are going to be more successful. If you have a “sexier body,” if you’re a man or a woman, you’re going to be more successful. I just think it got out of hand. Then there’s the gray area. You have someone like Madonna who plays with sexuality, and who is being sexy and taking it for herself. And even then, sometimes it’s like she’s just wearing a bra in front of a bunch of people.
So how does that work? I think it comes back to the intention of the artist or the music. You see someone like Lady Gaga out there wearing what she wants and letting it all hang out, or she’s wearing a button-up suit. One day she’s wearing no make-up, another day she’s wearing glamour make-up. She’s doing her thing, and you can react however you want to react. It’s also clear from her performance style and what she has to say that she’s an intelligent person. She’s a grounded person trying to figure out life and how to express herself.
How do you keep your voice in shape? What’s your regimen?
I’m very strict about it. Sleep is a top priority for me. Drinking a lot of water. I don’t drink much alcohol, especially in situations where I might be singing. I pay attention to things that can affect my voice. Like, eating sugar before I perform is bad. I can eat pizza, but I can’t eat chocolate or grapes before I sing because it doesn’t work with my throat.
If I feel myself getting sick, I know what to take over the counter to get rid of symptoms. I have high-quality doctors I can go to quickly. I have voice teachers, and I do vocal warm-ups on days when I’m going to be using my voice a lot, whether it’s voice-over work or in the studio, or even parent/teacher conferences. Even sometimes when I do a lot of singing, I have a vocal warm-down that I do. And I pay attention to things like not speaking a lot in loud restaurants. I don’t like to commit to going to places where I have to talk over a lot of noise. I pay a lot of attention to my physical health, and I do a lot to take care of myself.
I stay away from fans.
Not fans, like nice people. But like fans…wind blowing fans.
Oh, air fans. I was going to say…
Yes, air fans. Air conditioning.
I’m so excited to share my music. I love meeting people on the road, fans and friends.
Lisa Loeb’s new single “Sing Out” is available exclusively on Queerty October 11.