Interview with Lisa Bouchelle: Expect The Unexpected

Lisa Bouchelle is climbing the music industry ladder the old fashioned way—one rung at a time, with hard work and perseverance. When her 2007 album, Paint Your Dreams, came out, she hit the road as the opening act for Blues Traveler. She played her set solo acoustic, stayed to the end of the night to sell her CDs, and then drove herself to the next city, grabbing sleep and food whenever she could.

“When I got the first show at the House of Blues in New Orleans, John Popper couldn’t believe I was out there by myself,” she recalls. “He said I’d probably be dead by the side of the road by the end of the tour!” Not only did she survive the tour, she became friends with John and the rest of the band, often joining them on stage during their set. John even contributed vocals and harmonica on her new CD, as did drummer Brendan Hill.

The new album, Bleu Room With A Red Vase, is just out on Varese Sarabande/Universal Records and is off to a good start at Triple A radio in various cities around the US. The CD contains not only the Blues Traveler boys, but a veritable who’s who of the Jersey shore music scene. John Eddie co-wrote a song, as did Glen Burtnik, who also contributed keyboards. Bobby Bandiera took time from his touring with Bon Jovi to add some guitar parts, as did Jimmy Leahey and Guy Peterson. Bob Burger not only played on the CD, but did some co-production as well. Lorenza Ponce, who played violin on the last Bon Jovi tour, did the string parts, and Shawn Pelton, from Saturday Night Live, did much of the drums, with former Juke Joe Bellia contributing as well.

“I picked the musicians with my heart,” Lisa relates. “They are all wonderful. I worked so many of my friends and co-writers and musicians I have toured with. I was really fortunate to have them play on my record.” A few other very accomplished musicians guested as well, including Rob Hyman of The Hooters, and the legendary David Bromberg.

Lisa’s current tour should garner her extensive exposure. She is the opening act on Meat Loaf’s summer tour, which hits venues up to 17,000 seats, such as the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ, and the Jones Beach Amphitheater in New York. And this time she will have a band with her, so she can reproduce the music on the CD. She’ll also be making a number of radio appearances, such as one she just did on the legendary Pete Fornatale’s Mixed Bag radio show.

Songs on the album range from the tongue-in-cheek “Only The Tequila Talkin’,” a funny story of a younger girl who meets an older man in a bar, to “Where You Are,” a heartfelt tribute to her mother, who she lost at a young age to alcoholism. While she did have loving parents, her childhood was less than ideal, but it led her to the career path she is on. “When I was growing up, my parents fought a lot,” she explains. “When I was four, I started singing, and when I realized the only time everyone would stop arguing and be happy was when I would sing, I started singing all the time.”

This CD also added a new role for her, that of producer. “In self-producing, I was able to maintain a constant thread that tied the song together from the moment I wrote it,” says Lisa. “It allowed me to truly bring the original vision I had for the songs to life. The vision I had was to capture the organic feel of the songs that I naturally create when playing them live. I didn’t use a lot of effects. It is more natural and bare that way. Sometimes it is a delicate process to keep things sounding natural.”

But she also eschewed current trends to do what she wanted. “I mixed some of the songs with Ed Stasium at his studio in Colorado,” Lisa says. “I wanted to try some radical panning, like having the drums off to one side, like they did in the ‘60s. I was inspired by Cream’s ‘SWLABR’ on the Disraeli Gears album. Ed said, ‘You can’t do that,’ but I forced him to try it on the song ‘Kitchen,’ and when we did it, he loved it! I went by a rule when I made this record. I asked as I worked on every song: ’If I heard this come on the radio, would I want to turn this up, or turn it off.’ I wanted this CD to be what I’d truly want to hear. I mean, if it’s got soul I can usually groove on it, so I didn’t let anything go out unless I felt like it had soul, and enough polish to be pleasing to the ear. Best to achieve soul and polish, I think, but if there’s a choice, in my book, soul always takes precedence.”

And where did the name, Bleu Room With A Red Vase, emanate from? “My mind… scary place!” she laughs. “On the cover I pose as a red vase, so I am the red vase, the unique one, for better or for worse, as we all are at times. To not fit into our surroundings can be both disconcerting or it could be exciting, as it means we are special and stand out. I never was able to blend, even when I tried. I embrace it now. Also, there are many songs on the CD that are basically an organic vibe, but then will introduce a string section or synth solo or something that is unexpected and dichotomous to the rest of the track. Thus, the unexpected instrument is the ‘red vase’ in the bleu room. Life is full of unexpected things, and sometimes the things that don’t seem to fit at first are the very things that make the greatest and most wonderful impact in the end.”

While working her way up, from doing local shows, to a solo tour as an opening act, to now touring with a full band opening for a legendary artist, Lisa has experienced a great many exciting things, from playing in Japan to singing backup for Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi at Bobby Bandiera’s Christmas benefit concerts. But there have been some scary ones as well. “When I was on tour with Blues Traveler, I played a show in Alabama with them and had to split a little earlier than usual because I had to get to Nashville for the show the next day,” she remembers. “I started out and soon my GPS let me down. It was confused and so was I. I was out in the middle of nowhere in Alabama, with very bad cell reception. It was about 1 AM at that point, and the GPS put me on an old road that was no longer functional and was running parallel to the road I should have been on!! Finally, the road just turned into gravel and ended. And at the end was a little shack. There was nowhere for me to go, the fog was thick, there was a full moon, and all a sudden two dogs came running up from the shack to my car! They got on either side of the car and were barking and foaming at the mouth and jumping and going crazy, and their eyes looked like they were shining yellow in the moonlight! I was freaking out as my car was stopped. Finally I skidded out backwards and found my way to a road, a lonely road with one blinking yellow light. Silent and desolate, but at least it had a stripe down the middle of it… good sign! I drove up and down until my GPS kicked in. I made it to Tupelo. Aahhhh! 3 a.m., I checked in. Woke up the next morning and grabbed a fried catfish sandwich for breakfast at the local convenience store and headed on toward Nashville. The next night I found myself safely on stage and was surprised when John Popper walked out at the end of my set and started crooning a sexy version of ‘Happy Birthday’ to me while the band brought out a birthday cake for me. It all turned out great in the end!”

Lisa will be appearing with Meat Loaf at Nikon At Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY, on July 14, and at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ, on July 16.