After two tours with John Mellencamp as his star fiddler and studio sessions with everyone from the dB’s to U2, Lisa Germano finally returned home to Bloomington, Ind. – only to find no messages on her answering machine.
Perhaps the music world thought she was too busy. The calls stopped coming. Germano got depressed, but her black cat, Miamo-Tutti, loved having the company for a change.
“After all that, I thought to myself, ‘You better figure out what you want to do,’ ” the personable singer-songwriter said in a recent interview.
“I didn’t have any jobs, so I had to wait tables, and I was doing all that while I was making my first record. Waiting tables was fine – sure, I wasn’t making enough money to do only music, but I knew I was on the right path and I knew I was working as hard as I could.”
She used some of her savings to produce, record and press her first LP, “On the Way Down From Moon Palace.” Though it saw only limited release in Indianapolis in early 1992, the album put Germano on the road to “Happiness,” her dark, humorous debut album on Capitol.
“I had all the ‘Moon Palace’ tracks on demo and sent them out to everyone and got rejected by everyone, including Capitol,” Germano said, with a perky laugh. “Then I pressed it and still didn’t get signed by anyone. I got some good reviews. … You see, record companies can’t sign you unless they feel they have something they can try to take to radio.”
Which puts Capitol in a dilemma. Do they market her as “the new Suzanne Vega or Kate Bush” for her eclectic mix of folk, country and Middle Eastern influences? Or do they sit back and let it sell by word of mouth?
Germano admits she was pretty stubborn in the beginning.
“I mean, I don’t want to be put into a niche,” she said. “Like the song ‘You Make Me Wanto Wear Dresses.’ I really like the version that’s on the album. To me, it’s kinda off, like the bass and the guitar and the violin are all completely out of tune, but when it’s all mixed together, it’s got a nice feel.
“They really wanted me to do that more pop-like. It’s nothing’s bad that they’re trying to do, so I went ahead and recorded it and they decided to release it as the single, but I told them it was important to me to have the original version on the record. So that’s a compromise.”
For the most part, Germano has been greeted with glowing reviews. One Billboard writer, though, said her songs were borderline pretentious, too cute for comfort.
“I always wondered when someone was going to say I’m being pretentious and self-indulgent, because I think I am,” she said. “I’m not pretentious at all, but I am self-indulgent. Everything I write about is about me. If I’m going to truly share something with somebody, it’s got to be something I feel. Not all artists are like that. I’m not much of a storyteller, telling other people’s stories.”
Her stories are filled with melancholy, sarcasm and sentimentality. It’s her life and welcome to it. Much like Mellencamp, who first spotted her playing bluegrass fiddle at the Little Nashville Opry in Nashville, Ind., and recruited her for his “Scarecrow” album and tour.
“I think we get along so well because we’re both kind of depressed people,” she said, again laughing. “We write about that to uplift us from it. And that’s what I want to share with people, trying to get to people who have similar problems, and I try to have a sense of humor about it. You have to laugh at yourself when you’re depressed.”
Being signed to a major label and playing with a popular rock singer aren’t the keys to happiness. Figuring yourself out, Germano said, is what’s important.
“My theory is, never count on anything – even if you get a break, like having a record deal. … I mean, John can’t take care of me his whole life. I had to do this for me.”
ON THE WEB: www.lisagermano.com.