'Lapping Up The Attention, One Musical Drop at a Time'
Lisa B merges singing, songwriting, and poetry-rap in a way that’s unique in today’s jazz and pop. While reaching a broad range of listeners, Lisa B sidesteps the predictable and melts the boundaries of genre.
On her third CD, 'What’s New, Pussycat?: Tunes & Tales about Cool Cats' (street date July 25, 2006), Lisa B explores the magical contrasts embodied by the cat (and personified by humans): “both wild and cozy, passionate and independent, playful and fierce,” in her words.
The new CD combines original compositions with Lisa B’s refreshing take on familiar songs by Burt Bacharach/Hal David, Graham Nash, and Cole Porter. The new album again features the Bay Area's best jazz musicians: Frank Martin and Ben Flint (keyboards), Danny Caron (guitar), Chris Amberger, Troy Lampkins, and John Shifflett (bass), Paul van Wageningen and Alan Hall (drums), and John Santos (percussion).
Chatting recently with Lisa, and I first wondered why she had decided to be mysterious about her last name and if she could indeed reveal it here today?! "My last name is Bernstein. Actually, I’m not mysterious about it – it’s all over my CD – but it is in smaller letters. As more and more Lisa B’s have sprung up, I’ve started using it more prominently. When I started singing, and pioneering what I call poetry-rap, ‘Lisa B’ seemed natural, because that’s what my friends call me. Also, a university press and literary magazines had published a lot of my poems using my full name, and I wanted to set a different energy in my singing persona – lighter, more playful, and echoing the names rappers were using. But now I’m enjoying being both: Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein).”
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your new 'What's New, Pussycat? CD, how would you yourself describe your sound? "Jazz and soul-jazz with pop and cabaret flavors. Playful, passionate, inventive, expressive, and full of stories. I sing about joy, romance, seduction, loss, and strength. Plus, it has a very female quality, and women are really responding to it – along with men who really like women! Also, this CD is a perfect gift for a cat person.”
Your album title 'What's New, Pussycat?' is an interesting choice, but perhaps it originates from a more personal standpoint for you then just a love for Tom Jones?! "Well, it’s a great title for a CD with the theme of cats, don’t you think? And it invites the listener in. I DO want listeners to connect to what’s new in themselves, what’s growing. Also, it never hurts to reference something familiar. At the same time, it’s a tiny bit daring for those who get it, with the double meaning of the word ‘pussy.’ But most of all, I loved singing the song – it was a nice switch for a female to sing something so clearly feminine, with all that talk of makeup and flowers and romance, that was once identified with the Tom Jones ‘60s swagger. It’s a sexy song but also very innocent, almost like a children’s song, with the first verse referring to the nose, the second verse the eyes, and the last verse the lips. Finally, I do a poignant and jazzy musical arrangement of it, very personal and lyrical yet swinging, and I’m proud of it!”
And how many hoops did you have to jump through to acquire the rights to not only record the Tom Jones song but to name your album after it also?! "None. Titles aren’t copyrightable, and all you have to do to record covers of existing songs is to buy a mechanical license from the Harry Fox Agency.”
If there was one track on 'What's New, Pussycat?' that truly encapsulated Lisa B at her musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "That’s a challenge. They reflect different sides of me. One candidate is ‘Slay Me (My Young Cat),’ which I wrote with former Isaac Hayes keyboardist Ben Flint. It’s very funky, and a bit of an antidote to ‘Pussycat,’ as it’s in the voice of a strong and challenging woman addressing a younger man. A completely different vibration is ‘When Malika Sleeps,’ a lullaby to my old cat who was about to die. But to introduce listeners to my core self, I’d point them to ‘Night and Day / The Cat Goddess.’ It takes Cole Porter’s gorgeous song of erotic and romantic longing and adds spoken sections about the magic of the goddess. Romantic love IS one of the main ways we connect to the divine, don’t you think? I hope this version reminds listeners of the deepest magic we still know within ourselves.”
I'm pretty sure that back in the '80s that there was another Lisa B! Did you ever research this prior to naming yourself Lisa B and if I am right, did it ever cross you mind to change you last name to another initial? "I was clueless about her. We probably started singing at about the same time. By the time I found out about her through the magic of Google, it was too late.”
And just why, on this your third CD, did you decide to explore all the magical contrasts embodied by the cat ... and personified by humans?! "I love cats, and I wanted to do a theme record that would allow me to dig into lots of different emotions and different kinds of knowledge through a single theme. Contrasts tell a lot. Because cats are so full of contrasts, yet so integrated, they teach us about ourselves. Wild and independent, yet cozy and domestic. Fiercely strong, yet tender. Amazingly skilled and insightful, yet still vulnerable animals. Having 9 lives, and then really just having this one life. Finally, very cool, and very hot. Who could resist? I’m surprised no one else has done it. And I know there’s a big audience out there for it.”
Do you indeed have any cats and if so what are their names? "My one remaining cat is Teenycat. She was a feral cat who was kind of a special-needs kitty due to early starvation. I tamed her when she was about 3 months old. It took her about nine years to purr, and about 13 to talk – I mean, in the way cats talk. She was always alternately feisty and shy. Now she’s feisty and TOTALLY affectionate. My nearly 19-year-old cats Malika and Camille died while I was making this record. Malika gets the last purr on the CD.”
It seems that your many public poetry readings in the San Francisco Bay Area evolved into performances at bigger clubs and events. In your eyes what led to this? "The thrill of live performance as opposed to the privacy of writing at home, and the recognition that being a poet – for me – IS being a singer. The two roles used to be one role in ancient culture. I felt that when I was reading poetry in bookstores. Also, it was a natural outgrowth – I played and studied piano as a kid, I grew up around jazz musicians, I danced around the house singing to all kinds of music, from jazz to Broadway to soul. But the key thing was that I got the courage to do it even if I thought I would never be any good. Then I worked my ass off with a vocal coach to get good. Still do. But make no mistake, gigs didn’t come to me. Generally, I find, you have to go out and get what you want.”
If you could sing any song from the '80s at a worldwide Karaoke charity event, which song would you choose ... and why?! "Actually, it would be a song I already perform and one I recorded on my last CD ‘Center of the Rhyme’ – the great Bobby Caldwell song ‘What You Won’t Do for Love.’ I do a version of it with some new poetry-rap verses. I also love to perform Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me,’ – that kind of qualifies, as it was written in 1991.”
I have a cat named 'Pussycat' ... was that just plain lazy of me?! "Of course not! ‘Pussycat’ is a great word. It feels good in the mouth – the first part of it puts your mouth in the shape of a kiss with a word that even sounds like ‘kiss,’ and the second part opens it up in a satisfying way after a nice strong ‘k’ sound. These are the things that singers think about, as we play with vowels and consonants. Anyway, cats are teachers of how to give and receive pleasure, so if that means being lazy (sometimes), go for it!”
Lastly, aside from cats I also like Penguins ... do you?! "Yes! They’re adorable. In San Francisco, we have a great zoo staff member who is relatively famous for her care and description of the penguins there. She says they’re a lot like us socially, sexually, and emotionally.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Lisa B's new CD, just answer this easy question: In the interview, Lisa mentions her admiration for Bobby Caldwell. But in which group did Caldwell begin his professional musical career, releasing two singles in 1967?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new and AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before August 1st with your answer and the subject title 'LISA B SIGNED CDs' to: email@example.com
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