Born in Mishawaka, IN; both parents were music teachers. Addresses: Artist--P.O. Box 93595, Los Angeles, CA 90093. Record company--4AD, 8533 Melrose Ave., Suite B., Los Angeles, CA 90069.
Although Lisa Germano once attracted attention as the violinist for John Mellencamp on his Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy albums, she has since carved out her own place in the music world as the creator of a series of harrowing albums of a stunningly personal nature. Talking online about the strongly autobiographical character of her songs with interviewer Patrick Brennan, Germano observed that "some people who don't get my music or don't like it just say 'It's just so personal. What am I supposed to do? Feel sorry for her?' But, no, that's not it at all. I think that when you write really, really personal things--not always--but your hope is that it reaches a certain thing that everybody feels, becomes a universal thing."
Growing up in a large Italian family in Mishawaka, Indiana, Germano was surrounded by music. Both her parents were musicians as well as music teachers, and an eclectic range of music could often be heard through the rooms and hallways of the Germano home. When Germano was still a youngster, her parents took her to a room filled with instruments and told her to pick one. But choose carefully, they said, for they expected her to study the instrument that she chose until she was 18 years old. Germano later explained that her parents saw musical study not only as a way to give their children an appreciation for music, but also as a path to self-discipline and being comfortable with being alone.
Germano chose the violin, and while she studied and learned to play many classical compositions over the next several years, popular music of the day had a big impact on her as well. "In high school I was still in the beauty-mushy stage," she told Muse magazine. "I loved James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg. I liked the Beatles. My brother would bring stuff like Janis Joplin or Steppenwolf home and we thought that was really cool but I would never go play that by myself." By age sixteen, Germano was playing the fiddle in local bluegrass and rock and roll bands.
Around age 20, Germano was struck by a debilitating bout with depression and quit performing. She spent much of the next few years grappling with the condition, which was based in large measure on "a pretty good self-hatred," she told Brennan. According to Germano, sbsequent therapy sessions helped her enormously. Shortly after returning to performing at local bars, she received a call that dramatically changed her life. "I was just very lucky," she told Muse. "I was playing violin at a country bar and I knew John [Mellencamp]'s drummer, Kenny [Aronoff]. John wanted to put some violin on a song, and I was the only violin player that Kenny knew, so they called me to come and do it. John really liked what I did, I guess, so the next week he asked me to go on tour with him. It was pretty amazing."
Germano's experiences as a member of Mellencamp's band gave her much greater confidence in her musical abilities, but not until she heard the 1985 Kate Bush album Hounds of Love did she decide to take the plunge and embark on a solo recording career. "Hounds of Love I thought was an amazing record," she told Brennan. "It totally inspired me to make my own records. I always had these songs but I never finished them 'cause I thought they were too emotional." But after being bowled over by Bush's passionate album, Germano decided that she had to make a greater effort to present her own material to the world.
Germano's first album, On the Way Down from the Moon Palace (1991) was a self-produced, self-financed album of spectral country-folk that garnered a number of positive reviews. However, it was not until the release of Happiness in 1993 that the music world really began to take notice of Germano's talent. (Displeased with the final version of Happiness that Capitol released, Germano left the label and re-recorded portions of it for 4AD, which released its own version of the album a number of months later.)
Many critics commented on the breathtakingly honest--if darkly mordant--quality of her lyrics. Melody Maker's Dave Simpson, for instance, called Happiness "a voyage into Lisa Germano's psyche, a bleak domain where psychological traumas hang heavy and the artist slowly pulls herself apart."
In 1994 4AD released Germano's third solo album, the harrowing Geek the Girl. The critical consensus was that once again Germano had compiled a string of songs of sometimes unnerving honesty and darkness. Citing such grim songs of human frailty and vulnerability as the title track, "Cancer of Everything," and the chilling "Psychopath," Rolling Stone reviewer Paul Evans called it a "beautiful, wrenching album," and compared Germano's lyrical insights to those of Kurt Cobain and P. J. Harvey. Sarra Manning commented in Melody Maker that "Geek the Girl is a difficult album that pushes the listener away with its truculent tone just as it pulls them closer with whispered secrets. You may think it says nothing about the clear glass of your life but beware! Geek the girl lives in us all."
In the fall of 1996 Germano released Excerpts from a Love Circus. Like its predecessors, this album featured a plethora of songs of self-doubt and hurt, all gliding languidly through a surreal mix of guitar, violin, percussion, and odd sound effects. Some reviewers expressed a desire to see Germano explore new territory in the future, but most felt that Love Circus was a strong work. Writing in Rolling Stone, critic Lorraine Ali said that "Germano makes music so beautifully tragic and depressing that it seems nearly fatal," while the New York Times's Jon Pareles observed that the songs"seem to come from some drafty, echoey place, a sickroom or a haunted attic."
Germano makes her home in Bloomington, Indiana, where she has recorded much of her music of the last few years. Two of her closest companions are her cats, Dorothy and Miamo-Tutti, both of whom contribute the odd snarl and purr to Excerpts from a Love Circus.
by Kevin Hillstrom
Lisa Germano's Career
Began playing violin at age seven, and performing in bands by mid- teens; joined John Mellencamp's touring band and played on his Big Daddy and Lonesome Jubilee albums; released first album, On the Way Down from the Moon Palace, 1991; left Capitol Records for 4AD label, 1993; released Excerpts from a Love Circus--her third 4AD album--in September of 1996.
- Selective Works
- On the Way Down from the Moon Palace, independently released, 1991.
- Happiness, Capitol, 1993 (different version of the album later released on 4AD).
- Geek the Girl, 4AD, 1994.
- Excerpts from a Love Circus, 4AD, 1996.
- Advocate, May 17, 1994, p. 78.
- Audio, April 1995, p. 76.
- Entertainment Weekly, August 6, 1993, p. 58; October 28, 1994, p.
- 88; September 20, 1996, p. 83.
- Guitar Player, July 1994, p. 121.
- Melody Maker, May 21, 1994; October 29, 1994.
- New York Times, October 1, 1996, p. C16.
- Playboy, July 1993, p. 21.
- Rolling Stone, November 3, 1994, p. 98; September 5, 1996, p.64.
- Stereo Review, August 1993, p. 83; May 1994, p. 91.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from a 1995 Muse magazine interview and Patrick Brennan's "No Straitjacket Required" interview (both available online via the Lisa Germano Home Page), as well as 4AD promotional materials.