Lisa Fischer: ‘I always come with an open mind and heart’

You know Lisa Fischer – even if you don’t know her name, you definitely know her voice; you’ve heard her sing alongside legends like Luther Vandross, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Beyonce and Nine Inch Nails. When you hear the Rolling Stones playing ‘Gimme Shelter’, it’s her backing vocals that make the song the haunting anthem that it is. You have also heard her Grammy-winning hit ‘How Can I Ease the Pain‘ from 1991, her first foray to claim the spotlight. Probably the most successful backup singer of our times, Lisa Fischer knows she has nothing to prove – which is evident in her shows as a lead singer; she is relaxed, fearless, warm and captivating. Her band, The Grand Baton, are burdened with the impossible task of keeping up with her, as she performs an eclectic mix of songs, delivered in an equally eclectic mix of styles, from jazz to soul, to R’n’B to Rock’n’Roll, to Gospel. They do it with remarkable ease, as anyone who’s seen them live can confirm. As she sets out for a tour around Australia, the incredible Ms Fischer shared her insight and reaffirmed her core objective:to serve and support and honor The Song.

What are you going to present at the Melbourne Jazz Festival?

We hope to present our journey through heart, soul, dreams and intuition wrapped in the familiar and unfamiliar.

What should the audience expect?

To be connected with us and each other.

What do you expect from the audience?

I have no expectations… I always come with an open mind and heart.

How would you describe your rapport with Grand Baton?

It’s sacred to me. The way that they listen and respond feels like the ebb and flow of an endless body of water. And they do it with such joy. It’s nourishing for me. I’m so grateful for each of them.

What are the group dynamics like?

Amazing… JC Maillard is our musical director and arranger. He plays guitar, Saz bass, keys and sings. I love his sense of freedom.Aidan Carroll plays electric and upright bass and sings. He is my anchor. I love his sensitivity.Thierry Arpino plays drums and Cajon. He is my heartbeat. I love his many colors of playfulness.

Between them, I get to play like a kid at Christmas time.

How do you choose your set list?

We play what we love and what means something to me. The narrative at its core is love, joy, pain, life and healing.

You are one of the most acclaimed and in-demand backup singers in the world; how has this experience been?

It feels like a gift from heaven. Truly. I get to share and vibrate sound with amazing people, amazing minds, hearts and souls… it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

How do you relate to the frontmen/women in the bands that you are playing?

Any time I’ve been with either, my hope is always to serve their purpose musically and emotionally. The music becomes an unspoken realm that creates the space to relate.

How different is your mindset when you are performing backing vocals, to when you are fronting your own band?

For background, it’s a supportive mindset according to what’s needed and should never overshadow but fully support on all levels. For lead singing, the mindset for me is to serve and support and honor the song and the musicians I play with. But mostly to follow the purpose of the song. To be fully present in every word and every breath.

How would you describe your stage persona in each case?

For background, it becomes the vision of each artiste. For me, it becomes the act of not seeing myself but feeling everything around me.

How do you feel when you’re on stage?

At peace, playful, joyful… and grateful.

Lisa Fischer | Photo: Djeneba Aduayom

What has your journey in music been like?

Pretty amazing. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. It’s been work but the fruit of that labor has been pure joy for me. Going to a music high school, then on to college, meeting my voice teachers who would give me foundations that I still use today was truly a blessing.

What do you consider to be the highlight?

To be able to witness greatness and hard work close up from people like Luther Vandross, The Rolling Stones, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Sting and Trent Reznor to name a few has been amazing highlights for me. Winning two Grammys, one for vocal performance and the other for being in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom has also been an amazing highlight for me as well.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?

The voices in my head.

What is the most important thing that you discovered about yourself, throughout your career?

Finding my voice… that inner voice deep inside, that grows, and changes and hurts and feels and searches for answers and tries to connect. It’s become my teacher, companion and connection to the soul and spirit.

When did you realise the power of your voice?

I’m still on that journey so it’s hard to say, but I’ve been aware of the power of the vibration of the human voice for as long as I can remember… Either mine or the voices around me.

If you could go back in time and meet your teenage self, what would you tell her?

Not a thing… she wouldn’t listen anyway!

No, actually, I think I would tell her to be kind to herself with her thoughts doubts and fears.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

‘Treasure’ by Sampha.

Lisa Fischer is touring Australia: