Juan Patino

The Lisa Loeb Time Machine

Everyone from Dave Grohl to Sarah Silverman to New Found Glory has covered the beautiful work of this songstress – and rightfully so. Her work exudes, as she herself explains, both realism and optimism.

When Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb returns to New York City to perform at City Winery on July 23, she says it will be something of a homecoming for her. “It really is one of the main cities I that got my start in, so it’s always really amazing to come back.”

She first began playing in New York during the mid-1980s when she was still in college at Brown University in Rhode Island. At the time, she was in a duo – Liz and Lisa – and she and her bandmate Elizabeth Mitchell regularly made the three-hour drive here so they could play at notable venues such as The Bitter End, CBGB, and Lone Star Roadhouse.

Post-college, Loeb moved to New York City and continued working up her way up the ranks in the local club circuit. She got her big break when her neighbor, actor Ethan Hawke, helped her get her song, “Stay (I Missed You),” placed in the 1994 film Reality Bites, which went on to become a box office hit. That song of hers became the lead single for the soundtrack and it instantly made her famous around the world. It reached No. 1 on the charts in the U.S. – the first time an artist without a recording contract ever achieved this feat.

She went on to sign a record deal and has released several other hits, including “Do You Sleep?” and “I Do.” To date, she has released 15 studio albums – most recently, 2020’s A Simple Trick to Happiness.

With her career so well-established, she says she’s happy to return to New York and perform at City Winery, which she describes to us (on a call from her current home in L.A.) as “a place where the audience can be comfortable and quietly eat their food while I get to play.”

“My favorite places to play are small theaters, performing arts centers, and also places like City Winery where they’re really set up for the audience to be comfortable and for the performers to have what they need, as well,” she continues. “Good sound, good equipment. It makes the experience much more fun for everybody, I think.”

As for what fans can expect when they come to her show, Loeb promises that she’ll play her hits as well as songs from her most recent albums – including at least a little material from some of the nearly half dozen children’s albums she has released (her latest one, 2016’s Feel What U Feel, won the Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album). “I do like playing some of the kids’ songs – they tell stories and they’re really fun and it’s a really nice break from songs about love and broken hearts,” she admits.

But even Loeb can’t say with absolute certainty what the evening will have in store. “I play different songs at every show, depending on what I feel like at that moment. I have so many songs to choose from. I have a plan once I go onstage, but often that plan changes, [and] it varies from city to city.” She says she also welcomes fan requests, which they can also always make in advance via her social media pages.

For this particular show, she looks forward to telling the audience more about her pivotal years living here. “I wrote a lot of songs in New York City, and there’s a lot of stories to tell behind a lot of [those] songs,” she says.

She adds that whatever she plays, she’ll enjoy it, simply because every song is still meaningful to her… even the hits that she’s performed thousands of times. “It’s like a time machine for me,” she explains, “Like when I play my song ‘Stay (I Missed You),’ or my song ‘I Do,’ I have so many memories going through my head. I connect with all of my songs now when I’m singing the words – kind of like being an actor. But at the same time, I remember recording the vocal in the recording studio. I remember making the video. There’s so many different memories associated with everything.”

Photo by Frances Iacuzzi

She also wants to play what she knows fans want to hear, simply because she understands their perspective. “I know what it feels like to be somebody in an audience hearing a song that brings me to a certain place in my life, whether it’s from the past or a new connection I have with the song,” she shares.

Loeb first began dreaming of becoming a professional musician when she was growing up in Dallas, absorbing influences from a wide array of artists, including Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Cure, Elvis Costello, and Rickie Lee Jones. As a shy kid, though, she quickly realized that the acoustic guitar suited her especially well – and even though she went on to become an experienced and confident performer, she still has a particular fondness for that instrument. “As a singer-songwriter, songs have to be able to be played with just one instrument – they have to be played in its simplest form or they’re not a strong song.”

Now, nearly 30 years since she had her first hit, Loeb is still crafting material that resonates strongly with her listeners. “From talking to fans and reading fan letters and things like that, I think people connect to the stories in [my] songs,” she says, “and there’s optimism, and realism, in songs that people connect to. The messages and the melody, the feeling of the songs.”

Soon, Loeb’s fans will have even more of her work to appreciate: she tells us that she’s currently mastering a new album, though she doesn’t want to give away too much about that just yet. She says, “I try not to talk about projects too much until they’re already out.”

For now, Lisa Loeb has a message for the people who are coming to see her perform (whether it’s in New York City or at any of her other upcoming shows): “I want to make sure that people definitely communicate with me through social media if they want me to know anything about them or [tell me] any songs that they think I should play. And I look forward to seeing them there!”