Recently I had the opportunity to ask Grammy award-wining singer, Lisa Fischer, a few questions about her music, career, and what to expect at her upcoming show at the Kahilu Theatre on May 31.
I first saw Ms. Fischer perform with The Rolling Stones at the Oakland Coliseum in 1997. Producer Narada Michael Walden, who had worked with the R&B singer on her debut hit album, How Can I Ease The Pain, invited me to join him at the show. I’ve been a fan ever since.
In addition to touring with The Stones (as backup-singer for 26 years), Fischer has had an extraordinary career, singing with such artists as Luther Vandross, Sting, and Tina Turner. Fischer is also one of the main artists featured in the Oscar-winning documentary film 20 Feet from Stardom – you may have seen the free screening at the Kahilu last Friday. The film follows the behind-the-scenes of backup singers like Fischer and others.
Fischer currently leads her own band, Grand Baton, which interprets an array of hits in concert, from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” to The Police’s “Message in a Bottle.” I caught up with Ms. Fischer (via phone) at her home in New York.
When did you decide to make music a career?
You know, I’ve always sung, but I didn’t realize that you can actually get paid for it. [laughs]I just enjoyed singing so I think it sort of became a career once I actually started working and people paid me for it in my teens. I was probably 17, somewhere in there. I am of the thought that I would sing no matter what or whether it’s a career. It just feels like it’s more lifestyle than it is a career. It makes me feel good and it makes me feel useful.
What has been your most pivotal career experience?
It’s a culmination of all of the wonderful people I got to work with. I’d have to say 20 Feet From Stardom was pivotal for me because they gave me the opportunity to use everything that I am, like doing sessions in basements, and doing sessions in New York, and touring with The Crystals when I was young, and sharing a room and working with Chaka Khan and The Rolling Stones. It makes me really grateful that people reacted to it because I kind of feel like, no matter what it is you do, if you are supporting someone, it’s from a loving place, usually from a really loving place. And I love to be in service. So, that really works for me. And once the film came out the only way that I could sort of start to do my own shows was to have the mindset that the music is in charge and I need to serve the music. I need to serve the music properly so that it serves its purpose.
How do you balance personal life and work life?
I don’t know if I’m good at that yet. I feel like the world is spinning so fast that we almost feel guilty when we take time and take a breath to do something that you might actually enjoy. You know as far as like being with family, you’re going out to dinner, or sharing thoughts, or seeing a movie, or taking a nap, letting your body rest, and rejuvenate. It’s like everybody’s kind of running on E and staying up late trying to play catch up, and you feel like you never catch up, and the laundry is still piled up in the corner. I have to constantly really focus on making time to balance my life because otherwise it really goes out of control.
What excites you most about music?
The opportunity to bring people together and to make time not feel like it’s really passing, but that you’re really present in it.
Tell me about your band Grand Baton.
I first met Jean-Cristophe Maillard (JC), my artist from Guadeloupe. My manager introduced me to him because I needed a musical director because I didn’t have a band five, or six years ago. When I met him, I just absolutely fell in love with him. He plays something called a saz bass (aka Turkish bağlama). It’s like a cross between like a lute and a bass. He sings, he writes, and he’s done all the beautiful arrangements for the music that we do. Terry Martino is the drummer and percussionist, and they played together for a really long time. Then we added the bassist and his name is Aiden Carroll, he’s from south of Oklahoma. And he is so lovely. He plays upright-bass electric bass, and keyboards… it’s like a little family. It’s just beautiful, really lovely.
What can fans expect at your upcoming show at the Kahilu Theatre?
We’ll be doing songs from my history with the Rolling Stones. Songs that I’ve done with Tina Turner. A classical piece, perhaps blues, but the sound that JC kind of puts on it, just kind of brings together all the genres of music that I like. So, you have a combination of things sort of swimming and boiling and stewing in different styles but sort of melding together. I’ll be doing stuff on my own record, but none of the things that we do sound like what you would think they should sound like.
Do you have any upcoming studio projects you’re working on this year?
Not yet, but we are talking about doing a live record. I’ve been really wanting to capture the essence of what we do live, and just finding the right space and time and song list has been what we’re talking about now. So, we’ll see what happens.
Well, thank you so much for your time. We are really looking forward to your upcoming show later this month.
Aloha, thank you so much! I can’t wait to get there! Everybody is looking forward to coming.
If You Go…
Ms. Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton will perform at the Kahilu Theatre on Friday, May 31, 2019, at 7 pm. Tickets are $65/$45/$25, and can be purchased at kahilutheatre.org, (808) 885-6868 or at the Kahilu Theatre Box Office located at 67-1186 Lindsey Road, Kamuela.
This interview was edited for space and continuity. You can hear the full interview by clicking on the play button.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Djenba Aduayom/courtesy