Singer Lisa Fischer to take the spotlight at Strings Music Pavilion
July 31, 2014
Steamboat Springs — When Steve Chambers worked with the Rolling Stones, he remembers stopping in his tracks at the distinct sound of Lisa Fischer's brilliant gusto.
"She just nailed it every time she had a solo," he said, reminiscing about the memory of hearing her sing songs such as "Gimme Shelter" or "You Can't Always Get What You Want."
Although she may be known as a backup singer for the Rolling Stones, Sting, Chris Botti, Nine Inch Nails, Tina Turner and even Dolly Parton, among others, Fischer now is taking on the spotlight.
This weekend, she will be in Steamboat for the second time to perform at the Strings Music Pavilion. For Chambers, it will be surreal to see her perform again and introduce her as the headlining act.
In addition to her career as a backup singer, she also has won a Grammy Award for her hit single "How Can I Ease the Pain." Many also know her from the Oscar-winning documentary film "20 Feet from Stardom," which highlights female backup singers such as Darlene Love and Merry Clayton to archive their experience of stardom.
Traveling on her way to Denver, she spoke to Explore Steamboat to answer a few questions before the busy weekend of performances.
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Explore Steamboat: What did you learn as a backup musician that you took with you when creating your own album and performing as the main performer?
Lisa Fischer: I think what I took with me as a backup musician doing my own album was just the pure joy of singing background and creating them from my own space and time. It was a blank canvas to work on while trying to find myself as the recording artist out front.
ES: Was it easy to transition from a backup singer to a frontman of your own band?
LF: Yes and no. Musically in the studio, all I had to do was be myself, whoever that was. And I never really got a chance to have my own band till now, so the transition is new for me.
ES: Can you think of the most memorable show you have performed as a backup singer and what made it so memorable for you?
LF: That’s a hard one because each artist I’ve been blessed to work with is so memorable. But if I had to narrow it down, I would say Luther Vandross Live at Royal Albert Hall would be it. I was touring with the Stones in Chicago, and then Luther had a private plane waiting for me to make it to London in time to do sound check, makeup and dress for the performance. … I was so exhausted, but his music and teachings were so a part of everything I had become that doing the show was real and surreal all at the same time. His voice, his melodies, my fellow background singers (Kevin, Ava, Tawatha and Pat) and the choreography that I’d been doing for years was so joyous. … It was like a public family reunion.
ES: What is it about music that makes you fall in love with it each time you sing or perform onstage?
LF: Music for me is like a home without walls, but still cocoons my spirit as though I’m sheltered from the cold in a big, billowy down blanket. It’s the ying and yang of freedom and structure circling itself for me.
ES: In a New York Times article about you, you told this great story about your first audition with the Stones and how you were caught off guard when Mick Jagger started dancing around you, but you didn't let it faze you. What else has surprised you about working with the Stones?
LF: I think what surprises me most is how beautifully normal they are.They are unique individuals who come together as one voice when they play together — the sweet sense of balance between life and music and all it has to offer.
ES: Where did you develop this honest and true mentality for music? Because you seem completely comfortable with who you are as a person, and it's a commendable trait; a lot of musicians succumb to the pressures of stardom. Did you have some really great role models or influences growing up?
LF: I think within the music itself, but I always feel like it’s teaching me … and the lesson is never over. Music is the friend that never judges you while you pour your heart and soul out to it. It just allows you to mirror your emotions so that you can see yourself more clearly and calibrate what you feel with what you release.
Luther was a huge influence on me. I would watch him focus and get lost in that special place every show night. He would say, “I’m singing for my life,” and he meant that on such a deep level.
ES: It's obvious to anyone who listens or sees you onstage that you are internally in love with the act of singing and performing. Do you think that's hard to come by these days when the music industry is so competitive?
LF: I don’t think so. If each person stays true to the music and themselves, the music will hopefully reach to the people that want to be involved in the experience.
ES: When you were younger, at what point did you realize that singing was your vocation and that music was something you felt a strong need to pursue?
LF: In kindergarten after singing for the class to the point where my teacher had to stop me.
ES: At what point did you have that moment of realization that you made it in the music industry? Because you really have, and have done it with grace and ease.
LF: I never feel like I’ve “made it” according to what the masses believe is “it.” I don’t live in a big house and have 24-hour staff or get chauffeured everywhere on my wee dime. I think making it is something more calm and more about the long haul at least for me. To be able to love what I do and be able to pay the bills is “making it.” And in some of those early days, it has been by the skin of my teeth.
ES: How do you think this show will be different from the last one you were here in Steamboat for?
LF: I can say that it will be different. More intimate and feeling free to experiment and explore.