Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ Laser (Lisa Lobsinger)

Lisa Lobsinger
is one of my favourite vocalists, and has remained a secret weapon in the Canadian music industry for years. Her soothing timbre has left fairy dust on some of our favourite records – from Broken Social Scene, to Reverie Sound Revue, to Shad. At last, her dreamy tones are gracing our ears once more in the form of her new solo project, Laser. We reached her by phone to talk about her new work.

AMBY: When did Laser begin (if you can pinpoint the time)?

L: Well, I guess a couple years ago. I basically started dating this guy Paul – who’s my partner now – and he’s a musician who had all this great gear! So he taught me how to record some stuff just on my own, and I was simply doing vocals and very simple key lines at first… But then I started to get some songs together, and Paul started helping me out, and then we brought all the stuff to Marty because I’d always wanted to work with him again on a larger level… so I’d say about two years ago is when we started the actual recording.

AMBY: That’s awesome. This is Marty?

L: Marty Kinack – I met him through the Broken camp, because he did sound for them.

AMBY: Right!

L: He’s one of my best buds now, but that’s how I met him. He’s had a long career of playing and recording lots of bands. He did all the Apostle of Hustle stuff, he did the Beauties, Sarah Harmer… he did that Amy Milan record which is like, one of the nicest sounding records ever. It sounds like she’s whispering into your ear while she’s singing to you.

AMBY: And he mixed the songs, didn’t he?

L: The three of us produced and mixed the record together, but Marty mastered it.

AMBY: That’s so nice. So, who is everyone in the band and how did you guys meet?

L: The actual band is myself, Paul Pfisterer who’s my partner, and Marty Kinack. So there’s the three of us. We got Blake Manning to play drums on three of the tunes, and our friend Judd to play guitar on one of the tunes, and this guy Conrad Blumenthal to play cello on [the song] Linda. But other than that, it was just the three of us. We sort of did everything, and then filled in the missing pieces, like if we just needed drums on a couple tunes, we didn’t actually know for sure if we needed real drums at first, but Blake was a good friend of mine and just said, “Let’s see what happens,” and he actually made one of the songs that was a little boring at the start into an amazing tune.

AMBY: It’s amazing what live drums can do sometimes.

L: Yes. I’m so excited to play with a drummer! But basically it’s the three of us. When we play live, we’re going to have a synth/vocalist and also a drummer. So we’re trying out a couple people, but those people may be sort of in and out, or we might find somebody who wants to spend some time with us. We’ll see.

AMBY: Can we expect to see any Laser shows in the near 2016 then?

L: We have a few really exciting shows this December that we are waiting to announce, and we will surely be doing some more shows in 2016 around the release of the record. The record comes out January 29, 2016.

AMBY: Do you know when the next single is due out? You’ve given us two so quickly already, lucky for us.

L: The next single will be released in January around the record release. My plan is to continue to release records. This upcoming record is seven songs, so it is a record. I love the idea of an EP, but I also love the idea of “Yep, it’s only seven songs, but it’s a record.”

AMBY: That’s the way it seems to be going now anyway – it’s a good length for everybody.

L: I think the other thing, too, is yeah, I could write three other tunes in a hurry, and hopefully they make sense with all the other ones. Or I could just put out the seven tunes that are awesome together, because those ones make sense as a record. That’s the thing with this Laser record. It’s called Night Driver. It’s seven tunes and they were all written in the same place, and then brought to the same place with the same people involved in it. So it definitely has a cohesive sound. The content is a little bit same-ish so it all just makes sense together.   Whenever we finish recording and writing the next record, I think it’ll be the same thing. Hopefully I’ll be like, I have like, seventeen amazing songs, and they’re all perfect! They all belong together. But we’ll see.

AMBY: Where were these songs made and recorded together?

L: I started writing in a little home studio. There were maybe nine or ten tunes that I was working on, and we all felt really good about seven of them. So we brought a setup to Marty’s home studio and basically tore apart his living room and had it set up for longer than I’d like to admit, and we just worked there. It was very fun. His home is super cozy, and he lives in a forest, so there was a lot of, “Should we go for a walk first…? Or after.” We’d go up during the days we all had free to work on stuff together.

It was the combination of a solo writing room for myself, and then a band writing/recording room. We would write as we were recording, as well. A lot of the tracks on the record were from first takes, which was exactly the thing we were looking for. It was actually pretty fun figuring out how we’re going to do it live, because there’re three people, and a lot more tracks than just three. Especially with vocals, man! And sometimes you’re just like why did I record so many!

AMBY: I was wondering how you feel about collaboration now compared to previous bands. When you’re writing your own stuff it feels really special to you, and at times you feel proud of it maybe. But do you also enjoy the collaboration process equally?

L: I do.  What’s so nice about Laser is that we all agree the way that I work best is me in a room late at night just messing around with ideas. I’m not the greatest player in the world, so it’s very nice to have some space where no one can really hear you, and you’re not afraid of making mistakes. So the initial idea at this point is pretty important to me to come from a solo place. But I definitely leave a lot of space for both Paul and Marty to come in and work their magic, because I know I need them.

That being said, we’ve had some amazing jams just the three of us as well, where’s it’s like yeah, maybe the next record is a total collaboration record. We’ll see. It’s just been this way so far.

And now the three of us live fifteen minutes away from each other. Before it was, “Okay we’re going up for three days, and we have to plan out the three days,” whereas now it’s, “What are you doing on, like … right now? Let’s jam!”

AMBY: You obviously have such a strong instrument, and we all know you as having this voice like honey – total dreamstress vibes – so did the initial songs revolve around your voice? Did the melodies and lyrics come first, or did everything come together gradually as the band progressed?

L: It’s not always the same, but typically for myself, I have hundreds of voice recordings of me on my phone of me just walking around town and hearing a bass line, or something, and I’ll go back to it later and I’m thinking, … what? Where was I going with that? But then sometimes you’re lucky enough to be by your computer or instrument and work it out as you’re going. So sometimes it’s a vocal line or a phrase, sometimes it’s like a couple of chords and then I’ll sing whatever lyrics overtop of it. Typically, the lyrics come way later.

AMBY: Oh cool.

L: Lyrics weren’t always that important to me before. To me, it was more about the rhythm of the words. But with this project, I oddly had a little more direction with the lyrics. For Linda for instance, it’s the only time in my life that I’ve sat down and written a song in it’s entirety. It came so quickly and the lyrics were all right there.   It was funny, because the song is about my Mom Linda, so I wrote the tune and was feeling really good about it. I thought, That’s the first time I’ve ever done that! I feel like it’s done here. And I went outside feeling all proud of myself. And then I was like, It’s my mom’s birthday today! And had completely forgotten it was her birthday. So there was this total visceral, subconscious do something nice for your mom today feeling. So I called her and was like, “Happy birthday! That’s your birthday present forever… Take that, brothers.”

It’s funny especially with lyrics – you just get to a point where you think is that the stupidest thing I’ve ever said? I should just stop rhyming maybe. But then sometimes you think, well, that’s what I meant. I think that’s the one thing I realized, as long as it’s what I meant, then it’s okay if it’s a little cheesy, or really dark, or whatever.

AMBY: The lyrics in Laser songs sound very intimate and personal, maybe more so in comparison to previous works.   All your lyrics are beautiful in my opinion, but was that a conscious decision that you wanted to be a bit more emotionally exposed?

L: I just was more emotionally exposed because it was my own stuff. With Broken … with Reverie… they were collaborations. It wasn’t all my voice, it wasn’t all my ideas. I was so lucky to work with these incredible people. Like Marc from Reverie has this totally odd way of phrasing things – really beautiful, very dreamy ideas. It was so nice to sing a lot of his lyrics, and it was a challenge sometimes to sort of figure out how I’m going to fit what into a phrase. But we jammed them out and worked with the lyrics, and it was the same thing with Broken, too. Whereas with Laser it’s just me, and of course it’s coming from a bit more personal place, and that’s what I meant.

AMBY: You’ve done extensive touring with other bands – namely Broken Social Scene. Was there anything you took away from that era that you think may have contributed to the music you’re making now? Has it impacted your new work or is this a fresh start completely?

L: I think just like every experience in your life where you’re… I mean, I feel like I got thrown into this really beautiful musical movement that was happening with Broken. I literally got thrown into it. I was at work one day, and they called me and said, “Do you wanna come to Toronto and … dot dot dot?” And I was like, “Yeah, totally.” And then it was, “Oh, we’re going on tour in two weeks.”   I thought I was going in for an audition, and then my entire life changed. So it was a pretty easy decision to say, “Yes, I’ll learn and play with you guys.” I think I learned so much just from being around people who were better than me. Just better musicians, more skilled. I was a young kid. It was this amazing opportunity, and still to this day it was one of the best times in my life. So they made me better, for sure they made me better. I went from being just a scared kid to being a part of something.

That being said, playing my own tunes in front of people is a totally different thing. I think it’ll be really nice to know that all of the words that I’m saying came from me. I think that’ll be a really powerful thing. But yeah. I forget the question now. What am I talking about?

AMBY: No, you’re totally on point! And I’m sure they would agree they were lucky to have you.

L: Aw you’re sweet, thank you.

AMBY: Was there any music that you were listening to at the time of recording the new Laser tracks that may have influenced the sound in some way?

L: You know what’s funny about that period, the initial writing stuff. It was right after Broken had just finished a year and a bit of heavy touring. And I was listening to Hawaiian music at dinner but not … I was just like not listening to music. I was, “musiced–out.” That’s happened to me before, too. I used to work in record stores for seven years, and when I left the record stores it was like, I don’t want to listen to any music, so it was a big break for my ears.

But the biggest influence musically for me for the Laser stuff was learning Logic and getting to play with all these really fun synths that I’d never played with before. So it was the sounds of the synths that were inspiring me. And just playing around with the drum machines, and new sounds that you’re creating sort of dictated how things went. And of course, sounds that I’m naturally attracted to are sort of warm ones. I think one of the reasons why we called ourselves Laser was because these synths reminded me of being a kid in the 80s. That sort of warm, summer fullness sound. So honestly, I think it was just the sounds influenced me rather than any actual tunes.

AMBY: Do you find you’re more creative at night messing around in the depths of Logic?

L: I do for sure. Because you’ll get inspired by one thing. I’ve never felt so much focus in my life either, working on a tune. I’ve never found myself to be a super focused person, but then five hours have gone by and I’ve just been working on editing one sound, or editing a vocal thing, and playing with that or re-doing it, and it was like, a wanted focus, you know what I mean?

Because computers I find exhausting. I want to sleep after looking at a computer for more than fifteen minutes. But somehow Logic and just messing around with that and analog synths, it’s fun. In a way it’s like playing a video game where you’re like, “I have to get this!” Like getting the synth sound perfect is like winning a level or something.

AMBY: That’s so true! Nice. So, a lot of us know you for your stunning voice of course, and all your great work… but a lot of us also know you because of your classic hair. I apologize for the following question, but I have to ask if you have any hair secrets you’re willing to share with us.

L: Just back comb, and hair spray. And then, just like, shape it! Simple. It’s very easy, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.

AMBY: Lastly then, where would you suggest listeners hear your new music? In what setting would it best be heard in your opinion. The title might give it away.

L: The title does give it away. Driving at night, that’s my favourite way of listening to music. I love listening to vinyl, laying on a couch, or headphones. But for Laser I would say headphones, or driving in a car, just the way it was mixed.

But I’m very excited about our vinyl mixes as well. We’ll have vinyl in January when the record’s released. Something about the vinyl mixes just sound so warm and so nice. Really excited about it.

AMBY: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, and we’re looking forward to the record.

L: Thank you.


Thank you Laser, for giving us your answers!

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Interview by Rosemary Fairweather

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