Brainy Lisa Loeb embraces `Hello Kitty'

April 03, 2003|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

On the phone, Lisa Loeb isn't very chatty. But she is polite, her words softly spoken. Since her ascent up the pop charts in '94, she has been the antithesis of what's hot: a brainy singer-songwriter in dark-frame glasses with a flippy That Girl-like do, strumming a guitar and crooning lyrics of love lost and found. Her style is never obtrusive or overdone; there's an openness.

"The songs are inspired by different experiences," she says, "but they aren't too autobiographical."

On Saturday night, the Dallas native will perform at Temple Oheb Shalom, 7310 Park Heights Ave., in a concert open to the community (age 10 and up). Loeb will front the Haddonfield Symphony, conducted by her brother, Benjamin. Show starts at 8.

"Ben and I have been working on this project for a while," says Loeb, 35. "With the concert, we're bringing together people who would go see a singer-songwriter rock concert and people who would go see a classical concert."

Basically, the show will be Lisa Loeb's greatest hits performed with strings, woodwinds and percussion. She says, "The majority of the songs were [originally] recorded with an orchestra or small string ensemble, anyway. But it's fun to do this live."

Her latest album Hello Lisa - which is actually a re-release of Cake and Pie - doesn't stray too far from the quirky, mellow pop territory she covered in the mid-'90s. Modern rock embellishments and progressive folk touches swirl in the mix.

The L.A. resident made history in '94 when she became the first unsigned artist to score a No. 1 pop hit. "Stay (I Missed You)," Loeb's biggest single to date, was part of the Reality Bites soundtrack. It sold more than 700,000 copies, and she inked a deal with Geffen Records.

Although a year passed before the release of her debut album, Tails, record buyers were still interested in the introverted singer with the tentative, girlish voice, pushing the disc to gold. Firecracker appeared in 1997 and it too sold more than 500,000 copies. Loeb toured with the Wallflowers, Chris Isaak, and she was one of the inaugural performers on Lilith Fair.

But five years (and several trends in pop) passed before another Lisa Loeb album dropped in stores. She took time off to breathe, regroup, live a little. Cake and Pie (a title Loeb says was "philosophical," meaning "you can have your cake and pie in life, whatever you want") quietly appeared in the spring of 2002. Frustrated by the lack of promotion from A&M, Loeb got out of her contract and took the master tapes of her last album with her. Artemis Records, an independent New York label, signed her and re-released the record with bold, girly Hello Kitty artwork. "I love Hello Kitty," Loeb says, and you just know she's blushing on the other end of the line. "She's like a childhood icon. The people who own the image let me use it for the album. If you don't know about Hello Kitty, then the cover, I guess, would look weird to you."

Loeb is tight-lipped about her next project. She says only that she's "working on a few things," collaborating on some tunes with her boyfriend Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank.

About the Saturday concert, Loeb says, "People will be surprised by the combination of rock and classical and how it works out."

If the outcome is anything like her manner on the phone, then a gentle energy - despite the slight bitterness or forlornness in the lyrics - will fill the room.

For tickets or information, call 410-358-0105 or go online to

Rashod D. Ollison, The Sun's new pop music critic, can be reached at rashod.ollison His weekly column will appear beginning April 10 in the redesigned entertainment section Live.

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