She may not readily admit it but the title of Lisa Crawley’s just-released EP, ‘Up In The Air’, provides a fair indication of where things are at for the Auckland singer/songwriter. 2015 also saw her travelling from her new Melbourne base to sound out the North American market, attending music showcase events in LA and Canada. Laura Dooney caught up her during a whirlwind recent NZ EP-release tour.
Lisa Crawley is a busy woman. In the middle of her tour of NZ – sharing her latest EP offering with her homeland – she’s been doing what she can do to get the word out. Radio in the morning followed by an afternoon photo shoot, and an interview with NZ Musician to round out her day. Despite that she’s still chirpy and upbeat, happy to talk about her new EP ‘Up In The Air’, and what else she’s been up to since 2013’s ‘All In My Head’.
This new release adds to a back catalogue of two albums and two EPs, plus a heap of collaborations with some of this country’s finest musicians. Based in Melbourne since the start of last year, it was there Crawley was introduced to producer Ryan Ritchie, who worked with her on ‘Up In The Air’.
“I wasn’t ready to record when we first met up but got in touch again a year later and we got to work!”
Ritchie has previously recorded fellow Kiwi Kimbra, who Crawley recalls gigging with when she was younger. They used his own studio.
“He was pretty good to work with. A lot of my songs weren’t really at the stage where I wanted them, and he helped me figure out what I wanted,” she says. “I’d just moved to Melbourne and was still settling in, and didn’t have the songs quite ready to go, so we worked on them together a bit, just chipped away until they were ready to record. Ryan was great in the sense that he helped me cut out a lot of ‘filler’ – little words that weren’t needing to be there, and weakened what the song was trying to say. He helped me realise that musically I felt the need to resolve chords, which isn’t always the most effective option.
“We both have quite similar strengths in terms of arranging strings and melodies, but he’s also got a background in hip hop, so it was cool to talk about beats and stuff. It worked recording at his place as we weren’t doing a rehearsed band recording all at once type of thing. It was lot of demos, then redoing takes, and from there bringing in musicians one at a time to add their parts.”
The result is a neatly tight bunch of songs.
“We did an EP rather than a whole album – just to have something fresh and new to get out there, and get more established in Australia. Opening track Up In The Air sounds almost dark to begin, but soon begins to soar, Crawley’s yearning lyrics complemented by sumptuous strings.
“Up In The Air began with me experimenting with ideas on my laptop. I think I’d just updated Logic Audio and was playing around with chords and came up with the verse chords, and from there needed an opening lyric. I think I was either about to fly or had just flown to Los Angeles, so I used that as a starter and went from there.’”
Is There Something Wrong? the next track, is comparatively pared back, Crawley’s beautiful, miffed voice paired with a piano. Her voice is sweet at times, soaring at others, with a hint of melancholy sprinkled in. She says there’s a little more honesty from her this time round.
“I don’t feel like I have to compensate for lyrics that might not be overly happy, by matching it with happy music, just because I was trying to cover up the lyrics.”
In the past she says, she figured if the melodies at least were happy then audiences wouldn’t notice the sadness in her lyrical content, but with this EP it’s different. “I’m like, ‘Yip, that’s the mood I’m feeling’, and I’ll just match it.”
She’s also been more daring, perhaps a result of growing older and becoming more comfortable in her own skin. “It’s not overly controversial at all, but for me having the word ‘mistress’ in a song for example is like, ‘Oooh, that’s a bit crazy’.’ But it’s not, it’s challenging yourself and being open to not caring so much what other people think.”
Crawley explains her move to Australia nearly two years ago as coming as the lease on her home in Auckland, plus a few other things, were finishing up. “I didn’t tell that many people I was leaving, I just thought, ‘Well, it’s time to do it now.'”’
She already had a few NZ gigs booked back, so returned every couple of months, gradually moving her life across the Tasman, and admits it has taken a while to settle in.
“Moving to a new country and not knowing that many people in the music industry I’ve kind of had to start over…… I knew that would be the case, but it kind of reminded me how awesome the scene is in NZ, and what a great community of musicians I ended up being a part of. I still miss that. I’m not quite there in Australia, but I’m getting there more and more. I still think it’s good for me overall. A little bit challenging, but good. I am enjoying it, [but] I don’t have the same level of work I had in NZ.”
She is enjoying having a much greater variety of venues and gigs to play, and that there are people going out to watch music every night of the week. “There’s quite a few [venues] that have residencies, and will just have a band on, say, every Wednesday. You do two sets and you know you have a guarantee. As long as I don’t have to do too many weddings, because that will kill me,” she laughs.
It’s an admission that she has been performing at wedding parties in order to help pay the bills. “I have a pretty healthy outlook on it. I think I’m just going to work, and just doing it, and it’s enabling me to get work for my original stuff, and session work with other artists as well. I shouldn’t knock it too much, it’s hilarious people watching”.
Amongst all this Crawley keeps looking ahead, planning the next move. She says she’ll continue live in Australia – but would like to do some shows in Europe next year as well. She used to live in London, and is keen to get back there to visit old haunts.
“I’d love to go again and play some gigs – but do you wait until you’ve got more of a reason to go or do you just go?” she ponders. “I don’t really know what the best way is – I’ll just keep writing, and see where that takes me.”