Whether performing solo or as backup to such musical greats as the Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross and Tina Turner, Lisa Fischer is a voice to be reckoned with.
Born in Brooklyn NY, Fischer rose to fame with the Grammy award–winning hit single How Can I Ease the Pain from her album So Intense, which reached number one on the R&B charts in 1991, after she spent nearly a decade supporting others. But life as a solo artist didn’t sit well with her and she returned to touring as a backing vocalist.
She was featured in the 2013 Oscar-winning documentary film 20 Feet from Stardom which highlighted backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century.
We caught up with her a few days before she joined the Rolling Stones Zip Code Tour in California.
Laura Lavin: What is your first musical memory?
Lisa Fischer: I don’t know if I truly have a first musical memory because I feel like music has been with me throughout my life. … Maybe through the music my parents listened to perhaps. Music feels like an endless circle to me.
LL: Who were your biggest musical influences?
LF: Luther Vandross would be the biggest. Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and the Supremes, all of the Motown music.
LL: When did you know you could make a career out of music?
LF: It’s not so much of a knowing as much as doing what felt joyous, and praying for the best outcome. I would sing whether I could make a living from it or not.
LL: You had a successful solo career, but are happy to perform in a supporting role. Tell me a bit about that choice.
LF: My solo career was truly a gift, though I don’t know what to think about the word successful. That means different things to so many people. It was successful on many beautiful levels, but I was also emotionally transitioning to a place that I wasn’t sure I wanted to inhabit, given the music business at the time.
I just enjoyed the freedom and the joy that supporting others gave me. And when the business side of my solo career ended, I went back to what felt good to me. With no regrets and a fuller understanding of the people I worked in tandem with, and just a general feeling of thankfulness for the gift that I was given.
LL: What do you learn from touring with legends like Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones?
LF: I’ve witnessed from them that fearlessness and playfulness live well together if you let them.
LL: You perform regularly with others as diverse as Nine Inch Nails and Chris Botti, tell me about those two sides of your musical personality.
LF: I think we as human beings are so many things. Though it’s much easier for us to identify each other in one dimension, I like to see us more as a rose with many petals or like wet clay. In time we unfold and mould and life is so beautiful. Even through challenges we unfold and mould. We even get to learn more about ourselves through the sharing of this process, and I’m just thankful for the gifts that both Chris and Trent (Reznor) have given me.
LL: Your performances with the Rolling Stones are legendary and your appearances with them have been constant over the years. Tell me a bit about how it felt to perform with them the first time and what’s it like now?
LF: The thing that I find so amazing is that from the first time to now, it’s always been a magical journey. I believe that comes from the boys themselves, and how they live and breathe the music instead of just solely reliving it. They are so present in every performance that you can’t help but be in that same space with them.
LL: Your Victoria fans were upset at the thought you might have to cancel your show here to be on the Stones tour, and were thrilled when they announced you rearranged your schedule so you would be able to be at the TD Victoria International Jazz Fest. How does it feel to have that loyal following?
LF: It’s a gift that you never look for but when it’s presented, it takes your breath away! I’m so humbled, and thankful. … I look forward to seeing everyone in the music.
LL: What kind of show can people here expect?
LF: Expect to be lost and hopefully found in things that are familiar, but not.
LL: Thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
LF: My pleasure!
Fischer performs with Grand Baton