Gen-X Icon Lisa Loeb Writes Kids' Music That Grownups Can Enjoy
Lisa Loeb plays Denver on Thursday, April 20, at the Soiled Dove Underground.
Juan Patino Photography
Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb has worn a number of different masks over the course of what has been a fascinating career. She had already been on the circuit for a while when, in 1994, she had a smash hit with “Stay (I Missed You),” featured on the Reality Bites soundtrack. A number of much-loved solo albums followed, though that intertwined with a bunch of children’s music releases, starting with 2003’s Catch the Moon (alongside Elizabeth Mitchell, her musical partner from her college days).
Outside of music, she’s written and published children's books, and she had a show called Dweezil & Lisa on the Food Network, with then-boyfriend Dweezil Zappa. The Lisa Loeb Eyewear Collection is her own line of eyeglasses, plus she does voiceover work for cartoons and occasionally acts. The woman never stops.
Feel What U Feel, Loeb’s fourth children’s album, came out in November of last year, so the release and praise that followed is still very fresh in her mind.
“People have really enjoyed it,” Loeb says. “My favorite is when people say it doesn’t sound like a kids' record. It just sounds like a record that the whole family enjoys.”
That’s the secret to Loeb’s success as a writer of music for children; there’s not a huge amount of difference between that and her regular “grown-up” music. The subject matter shifts, sure. But Loeb writes children’s music that adults can enjoy, and vice-versa. This isn’t unique to Loeb; there’s been a movement of late to create music that doesn’t talk down to children, hence artists like Rocknocerous, Recess Monkey and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. Loeb has been writing kids' music for fifteen years, and for most of that time, she wasn’t a parent.
“A little bit more than halfway through, I became a parent,” she says. “I think that’s why I decided to do a nursery rhymes record (2015’s Nursery Rhyme Parade). I never would have imagined doing such traditional, classic songs like that, but after doing so many kids' shows and also having kids of my own, I realized that I’d probably have fun with a lot of the original song lyrics. They’re also the songs that we read at night, and that they have in their classrooms at school. I felt like we needed more nursery rhymes that were not clever or anything. They were just really traditionally approached.”
It might seem a little strange to some — the desire to create children’s music before becoming a parent. But for Loeb, the drive didn’t come from having kids, but rather from recapturing her own sentimental connection to being a child, and the warmth that comes with the nostalgic memories of Sesame Street and similar shows.
“I watched the early Sesame Street in the 1970s, with Steve Martin and Carol Burnett, and it was a lot less kid-centric,” she says. “It was unusual to have something so focused on kids, but the grown-up entertainment had a lot of silliness, cleverness, heart and storytelling. It was very colorful and imaginative, and that’s what I wanted to make, and it turns out that’s kids' music. But it’s more about my sentimental attachment to that freedom and that style than actually making music for kids.”
That said, one would imagine that actually having children would affect Loeb’s career as a writer of children’s music. According to the artist, that’s not the case. Her kids inspire her, but they don’t affect the way that she writes and performs.
“They do love a good funny song, like an Alvin & the Chipmunks song, or “What Does the Fox Say,” but they really like grown-up music,” she says. “They like music with passion and melody, and so I’m reminded that it just needs to be music that’s top quality, written as well as I can write. Continue not to talk down to kids. Just trying to continue to approach it like real music, I think is the key. My kids don’t like everything — they’re discerning, they have their own tastes. Just like any other listener, if there’s something I’m playing and I feel like I’m cringing a little while I’m playing it for them, then I know that I haven’t done what makes me proud. But just because they don’t like it doesn’t mean I don’t put it out.”
On April 20, Loeb will play the Soiled Dove in Denver. The day before, she’ll be at the Rialto in Loveland. The shows are essentially for grownups, but Loeb has found that, with so many of her fans from the ’90s now parents, her audience wants to hear music from all of her records.
“I have a really strong connection with all of my records, dating back to the early 1990s, and I love playing the hit songs that people know,” Loeb says. “I think that’s exciting for me and the audience, to get to play songs they know, that I have made, but I also play some of the kids' songs. It’s really refreshing, and I can tell from the stage that people enjoy hearing something different. It’s usually in a seated atmosphere where people are really listening, and I feel like they respond best when there’s a variety — different types of music and storytelling.”
That’s likely to be the case in Colorado, and Loeb is audibly excited to be back. A big fan of our scenery and nature (if not of the skiing), Loeb claims to adore Denver, Boulder and the surrounding area. With two shows in successive nights, Loeb says that they’ll be different, if anyone is considering attending them both.
“There’s a good core of probably five or six songs that I like to play at every show, just because it’s fun for me and fun for the audience, but there’s a big chunk of it that’s based on people’s requests, and then other songs that I switch out, different stories that I tell,” she says. “It’s mostly grown-up songs, but I do like to throw a few kids' songs in there because it’s what I’m working on right now, and again, I think a lot of the grownups like hearing them. It’s funny. I sell my kids' books and CDs at the shows, and I sell so many more of the kids' books than CDs.”
For fans of Loeb, it all sounds perfect. And with more albums (for kids and for grownups) on the way, as well as more kids' books, and an animated series on Amazon called If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Loeb continues to be the ideal artist for 1990s alt-rock parents.
Lisa Loeb, 8 p.m. Thursday, April 20, Soiled Dove Underground, 7401 East 1st Avenue, 303-830-9214, and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, Rialto Theater, 228 East 4th Street, Loveland, 970-962-2120.
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