Decades later, amazing vocals are back in the lead spotlight
By Stephanie Harris
If you’ve never heard Lisa Fischer’s lead vocals on the 1991 R&B Grammy Award-winning ballad “How Can I Ease the Pain,” chances are you’ve heard her vocals gracing the tracks of another song you know. Sometimes mellow and sultry as part of a soft jazz tune, other times dynamically rough, creating exciting accents for a rock anthem, Fischer’s versatile voice has been adding the perfect je ne sais quoi to popular songs across an array of genres for decades.
After years of touring with artists such as The Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross, Tina Turner and Nine Inch Nails, in addition to offering studio backup vocals for numerous artists, Fischer is bringing her spirited solo vocals to the Queen City’s McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square on September 16 along with the world jam band, Grand Baton. You can count on a wonderful combination from this magical musical partnership as Fischer allows the music flow with and through her to guide the direction of the show.
Though she stands center stage offering her lead solo vocals on her current tour, much of Fischer’s career has been spent blending sounds with other backup vocalists and bringing songs to life by highlighting the star power of other artists. Her career as a backup singer, and the careers of others whose names may be unknown but whose talent is easily recognizable, is the subject of the 2014 Academy Award-winning documentary, “20 Feet From Stardom.” In the film, personal stories of triumph and defeat come together to spotlight the experiences of prominent twenty-first century backup singers.
As we follow Fischer through the film, we get a close-up view of what it takes to be successful downstage, insight to the journey from backup to lead vocalist, and a glimpse of the tight-knit singing community built upon common goals and experiences. Her breadth of range, immense passion and contagious sense of humor are all apparent during her moments on the screen.
Fischer took some time out of her touring schedule to answer a few questions for CLTure and prepare the Charlotte audience for her upcoming show.
CLTure: What was the first song you ever performed on a stage and what are your feelings about that song now?
Lisa Fischer: I’m not exactly sure, but I do remember trying to sing an Al Green song called “Let’s Stay Together” … very poorly I might add. My mom wore the grooves off that record, to my delight!
CLTure: Who or what was your biggest inspiration to sing initially? Is that inspiration the same today?
Lisa Fischer: My parents and the music in and around the house, blaring out of windows or cars. I’m still very much a sponge. Inspiration is all around.
CLTure: How have your vocal skills grown and developed over the years? What factor played the biggest role in that development?
Lisa Fischer: The connection between the action and the purpose has taken the longest for me. Trying to please my inner self along with trying to please others is finally balancing out. Time has been the most important gift and factor.
CLTure: Can you describe the feeling you get when you settle into the perfect zone while you sing alone on stage? Does that feeling differ from when you sing around the house and in the shower? If so, how?
Lisa Fischer: The zone feels like an endless eternal familiar timeless still point. It differs only a bit when I’m singing in the shower or around the house. It is healing for myself when I’m alone at those times. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it.
CLTure: You have such a diverse background of music genres that you’ve performed, from traditional rock to jazz. If you had to choose one style of music to sing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Lisa Fischer: If I had to choose, I think I would die inside. I would have to invent some new genre that would give me freedom.
CLTure: On your first solo album, did you find yourself longing for that blend and camaraderie that comes with working as a background singer? What was the most difficult aspect of that transition? What was the most exciting?
Lisa Fischer: The CD took so long to make because of touring, I never felt that kind of longing. Coupled with using the session singing community on the CD, I felt surrounded by love.
The most difficult part of making the CD was finding the right music. At the same time it was also the most exciting part when I felt at home with a song.
CLTure: How did you and Grand Baton sync up for your current tour, and how does their world music sound complement your voice and vice versa?
Lisa Fischer: I met JC Maillard through my manager, Linda Goldstein, and then met Thierry Arpino and Aidan Carroll through JC.
Collectively, they bring their amazing musicianship, their hearts and souls but most importantly their sense of playfulness. I’ve always dreamed of being surrounded sonically with this kind of sensitivity and care.
CLTure: You mentioned in the Academy Award-winning film, “20 Feet from Stardom,” that some people want to be famous and others want to sing, and that you just want to sing. Was there an event or instant when you realized that just wanting to sing, with or without of fame, is your truth?
Lisa Fischer: I’ve always felt this way. The joy is truly in the music for me. The rest is just the path put before me.
CLTure: Those who know your work know that you’re an amazingly versatile vocalist. Which side of Lisa Fischer should the audience expect to see when they come to your show in Charlotte?
Lisa Fischer: I think I’ll let that be a surprise because it leaves me the freedom to be myself in the moment, but I can tell you that I plan to get lost in the melodies, moods and stories of the music.