Interview with Blues singer Lisa Biales. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?
Lisa Biales: I grew up in a musical family. My mother was a singer / actress and I listened to her singing around the house as a child. I loved the records she played, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horn, Billie Holiday. My father was an upright bassist in his own Dixieland Jazz band, which my mother and I used to sing with on special occasions. Music has always been a part of my life, when I was about 12 years old, I begged my brother, who played drums, bass and guitar, to teach me how to play a song on the acoustic guitar. I was hooked! And that started me on the journey of writing my own songs. I realized early on that I loved singing and wanted to make a career of it.
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When my two sons were young, I played music in schools for the Artist-in-Schools program in Ohio and taught singing and songwriting to elementary age children. This was the perfect job for a working mom because I was home in the evenings. On weekends I performed with my band and also did studio work, jingles, and back-up singing. I also held down a part-time job at Ohio University (OU) while I was taking classes part-time. I was busy and yes, music is my passion, and I wasn’t ever going to give that up. I used to sit at my desk at OU at think, well, if I could just put this much time into my music, I could get so much more done. That dream came true in 2002 when I met my future husband and gave up the day job.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
LB: – My sound has evolved along with my song writing and guitar playing, they seem to go hand in hand. I learned to write a song that was perfect for my voice and the rhythm of my acoustic guitar helps define that sound.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
LB: – Simply singing and playing every day. I feel like I have a super-power in the ability to sing harmony, unfortunately, being a lead singer, I don’t get to do it as often as I would like.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
LB: – I don’t push myself as hard as I once did. I am an independent singer, recording artist, and songwriter. That means that I do it all, and it takes a tremendous amount of energy to book, promote, practice, write, record, organize, lead a band, keep up with ever changing technology and the music industry. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night and spend hours in my office any longer. I have evolved into a more peaceful person. I take time for myself, and it’s a luxury to spend timr reading. The musician lifestyle is lonely, it’s hard on the body, mind, spirit, and family and I am grateful that I woke up to this fact.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
LB: – That is a great question. I go to the gym, swim, practice yoga and Qi Gong. I also teach yoga and we always start with a long meditation and end by sending love and peace into the world and around the planet. The opposite of love is fear, and there is so much fear in the world. Sending love around the globe is the best work we can do. Walking helps maintain both physical and spiritual stamina.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2023: Lisa Biales – At Christmas, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
LB: – I love how fun it is, and I love how it all came together. The writing process can be arduous however, this project was so easy because I had writing partners in Tony Braunagel, Jeff Paris and Johnny Lee Schell. When I got stuck, I’d send my song ideas to Tony and he would help me with more ideas. I love writing this way. My favorite was when Tony sent me a singing voice message; “Oh the boy, I met, the boy I met, the boy I met for Christmas.” I loved it!! And had so much fun with this song. I am currently working on promoting “At Christmas,” with music videos, interviews and shows.
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
LB: – Having a producer like Tony Braunagel, who everyone loves working with, is a real treat and a fantastic experience. This is my second album with Tony, I knew I wanted Johnny Lee Schell on guitar, Tony on drums, Jeff Paris on piano and Hammond organ and Chuck Berghofer on bass, after that, Tony selected the various musicians who appear on the album. Tony lives in LA, so when fabulous players are available, he gets the best!
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
LB: – Many years ago, I played a songwriter’s open mic. In the middle of my first song, the host came up on stage and stopped me, then said; “I’m sorry, you must play original music.” I said, I AM playing original music, this is my song! I started over and considered the interruption a compliment.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
LB: – Music is one expression of the soul. Intellect is the ability to understand this expression and capture it. Sometimes a great idea will get away, the balance lies in letting it go.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
LB: – Absolutely, it’s why I do this work. We don’t know how our music or a lyric will touch someone. It may be exactly what is needed. One time a woman come up to me after a show, she said; “That song you wrote about the father and daughter, it made me realize that I have been holding on too tightly to my children, your words changed me, they made me see things differently, I am changed.”
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
LB: – I’d like to think that by playing and recording these tunes in our own unique and creative way, that young people will want to search the origins of these tunes. However, I have found that when an old tune comes out that is done by a popular artist, some younger folks think the tune was written by that artist.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
LB: – I believe that spirit is the spark of divine energy that resides in all if us. All the answers can be found within. The meaning of life is realizing that we can have a positive impact on someone’s life, through creativity and self-expression, or by simply accepting people for who they are.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
LB: – That young people love music so much that they want to learn multiple instruments and attend shows.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
LB: – When I am in the car, I listen to classical music. At home it’s been Thornetta Davis, EG Kight, Phantom Blues Band, and Noah Wotherspoon. I also really like keeping an eye on the “Pinetoppers” these are the kids that have come up through the Pinetop Perkins Workshop Experience and whom I have had the great pleasure of working with at the Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi for the last four years.
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JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
LB: – Has there ever a time of peace on earth?
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
LB: – It’s funny, the best songs are the ones that live close to the bone, the topics we can’t talk about get worked into a song. These are the songs that resonate with people the most. Music is energy and it evokes feelings and emotions and I like to think my message is peace, hope, happiness, love, resilience and acceptance.
Interview by Elléa Beauchêne