In 1994 when Lisa Loeb’s breakout song, “Stay (I Missed You),” landed at No. 1 on the charts it was a remarkable and unparalleled feat for an unsigned artist. Though perhaps not a surprising one for the recent Brown grad, the girl with the cat-eye glasses, who at the time was already making her mark in New York’s burgeoning singer-songwriter scene. For anyone who knew her back then, or who saw her perform at various clubs around town including the Cottonwood Café, The Bitter End, the Bottom Line and CB’s Gallery, it wasn’t a question of if, but when Loeb would hit it big.
Independent, determined and savvy, Loeb already had years of practical experience under her guitar strap, writing and performing solo acoustic, with her band Nine Stories, and as half of the duo Liz And Lisa, (with Brown pal Elizabeth Mitchell), when her friend and neighbor in New York, actor Ethan Hawke, starred in “Reality Bites,” and helped put “Stay” on the soundtrack to the now iconic film. That fortuitous placement and the much played, daring, one-take video that Hawke directed for the song catapulted Loeb from the heart of New York’s vibrant club scene into the national consciousness.
But, before the breakout success, the ensuing record deal, Grammy nominations, gold records and extended tours, there was the Purple Tape, the aptly titled cassette that Loeb used as a sonic calling card to industry gatekeepers and that fans could buy at her local gigs. The Purple Tape, produced by Juan Patiño and recorded at his apartment on 52nd Street, is a colorful snapshot of a gifted, emerging artist on the brink, of a time, a place, and a sense that these songs represented something enduring and special.
The Purple Tape, will be available on CD for the first time when it is released January 22, 2008 on Loeb’s own Furious Rose Productions, with national distribution through Redeye. The collection includes the earliest recordings of several Loeb favorites including “Do You Sleep,” “Snow Day,” “Train Songs,” and “It’s Over.” In addition to the original tracks from the Purple Tape, the CD version includes a full second disc with live, acoustic performances of “Snow Day,” and “Stay (I Missed You),” along with an in-depth interview with Lisa, where she ruminates on that heady time, talks about the songs and the songwriting process and offers up sage advice to the next generation of emerging artists. The package also includes rarely seen photos and extensive liner notes.
That “Stay” became a No. 1 single and still resonates with people today is a testament to Loeb’s gift as a songwriter and storyteller. “I think part of it is the style of the writing and the production, which is very intimate,” Loeb says.” I was in the middle of an argument with a boyfriend, it was a common situation told in a very direct way and because the song structure is really atypical—there’s no chorus—it holds your attention through the entire song to find out what happens. What people think is just guitar and a voice—is actually a whole band. But the way it was produced really focuses the listener on the story and I think that resonates with people. The timing and the story made an impression.”
A decade later, the story of Loeb’s early success is well known. What is less apparent though, except to those who watched it all unfold, is how involved, proactive and in control Loeb was in guiding her own career.
“In the public’s eye, Reality Bites was the first thing that happened in my career,” she explains. “For another songwriter to hear that story, they should know it was years of work leading up to that point, years of networking, learning about the business, going to new music festivals, opening for other bands, building a fan base. I had already been talking to record labels. There was a career in motion and things were going well. The film and the soundtrack just shot me into a whole other level of success. I understand more now that it was a very unique situation.”
Loeb deftly parlayed that early success into a multi-dimensional career encompassing music, film, television, voice-over work and children’s recordings. Her five acclaimed studio CDs, include her major label debut, the Gold-selling Tails (Geffen, 1995) and its follow-up, the Grammy-nominated, Gold-selling Firecracker (Geffen, 1997). In 2002, Loeb issued a pair of CDs, Cake And Pie and Hello Lisa. She released The Way It Really Is on Zoë/Rounder in 2004 and starred in the first of two television series, “Dweezil and Lisa,” a weekly culinary adventure for Food Network. Later that year Loeb reunited with her college music partner, Elizabeth Mitchell on the award-winning children’s CD and companion book Catch The Moon. The Very Best of Lisa Loeb was released through Universal in 2006, shortly before Loeb returned to television with an inspired look at finding love on her show No. 1 Single for E! Entertainment. While the series didn’t lead to a long-term romance, she did captivate the hearts of a younger audience with three stellar videos in heavy rotation on Noggin, “Catch The Moon” and “Stop and Go” from Catch The Moon, and the most recent clip, “Jenny Jenkins.”
Loeb’s other television and film credits include appearances on The Chris Isaak Show, and The Drew Carey Show. She starred in her first feature film role, opposite Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush in the movie House On Haunted Hill in 1999. In 2003 Loeb gave voice to Spiderman’s gal pal Mary Jane in MTV’s animated series Spider-Man.
Loeb continues to grow as an artist and to push herself and her career forward with a creative zeal and an inner drive not often seen.
It all started in Dallas, where Loeb, one of four equally talented siblings, spent her childhood immersed in the arts. She studied piano and music theory, hitting her stride later on guitar. She had classical and jazz training, dance lessons, acting lessons and an appreciation for various forms of artistic expression as well as exploring new ways to express herself. While her parents thought their daughter might enter a more traditional profession, Loeb clearly had other aspirations.
“I think that’s one of the things that helped me live up to a certain level of professionalism,” Loeb comments. “Trying to show them that for me music was the real thing. It was a challenge to rise to the occasion to make it a real career.”
Loeb earned her degree in comparative literature from Brown University, where she experienced her first taste of real musical success with the duo, Liz and Lisa. The pair built a substantial following on campus and often booked shows in New York on the weekends. When Loeb moved to the City after graduation, she continued to develop her vision and hone her artistic talents while carefully managing the business side of her career. All the while, there was a palpable feeling among New York’s tight-knit creative community that something big was just on the horizon.
“That’s what it felt like as an audience member and that’s what it felt like on stage.” Loeb recalls of the time. “Something special was going on and we could see it in a small place. This was the real deal and it was exciting.”
And it proved the perfect environment for bringing the songs on the Purple Tape to life.
“I always think about this in retrospect,” Loeb says, “we recorded it in an apt on 52nd street with a band that I had put together, with a song I wrote the way I wanted to write it, it was a homegrown project that sounded professional, it gave us all the confidence to know we could do things the way we wanted. It reinforced the trust I had in my own creative process. I didn’t have to compromise to make a commercially successful song. Following that, I was fortunate that the record label gave me more leeway to work with people I wanted to work with and make the songs I wanted to make the way I wanted to make them, because that was the secret to the original success.”
And what’s next for the prolific, driven Loeb? Her second collection of children’s tunes, Camp Songs and her next studio CD are both expected in 2008. After that Loeb says, “I’d like to write for a voice other than my own. Maybe write a book, produce more tv shows, more acting, explore other ways of telling stories, family. It’s an ongoing process. Things are always changing.”