Lisa Crawley's journey on a long and winding road

By Lydia Jenkin

Lisa Crawley's path to her debut album has been less than straightforward. But her natural charm and heartfelt songs could see her becoming yet another local singer-songwriter household name. She talks to Lydia Jenkin.

Lisa Crawley is a multi-instrumentalist who has a knack for writing heartfelt songs with an upbeat twist. Photo / Supplied
Lisa Crawley is a multi-instrumentalist who has a knack for writing heartfelt songs with an upbeat twist. Photo / Supplied

She's a 25-year-old songstress with golden hair.

Not dissimilar to Gin Wigmore perhaps, though with a rather more honeyed voice. She's a multi-instrumentalist who has a knack for writing heartfelt songs with an upbeat twist. Which might perhaps win her comparisons to Brooke Fraser. Yet she's really nothing like either of those fellow solo females.

She's Lisa Crawley and she's already had an intriguing musical life - her experiences echoed in the 10 songs and title of her debut album Everything That I Have Seen.

Charmingly frank on stage and in person, Crawley has been involved in music all her whole life. Recorder lessons extended to clarinet and piano and she eventually joined a band at Avondale High School. But it wasn't until the band broke up that she began writing songs of her own.

She attended jazz school in Auckland but was offered a job as a singer/entertainer in a town called Atami in Japan.

"I left uni to go and do that for four months. It was like a full-on dinner show, with people all sitting down, watching. Seven days a week we'd do two shows each night, and then I'd go and play piano in the lounge later in the evening. It was really cheesy material, like Japanese pop songs. Then the two of us would have to come out in green fluoro outfits and dance to this Japanese version of Livin' La Vida Loca, and then shake hands with all these people and try to get tips. It was quite bizarre. I didn't know what I was getting into really. It was quite isolated and lonely at times, but a good experience."

She moved to London, crashed with friends, managed to play a few gigs, and worked long hours in a night club.

"The work was kind of horrible, but it was the only way to do it, because I didn't have a working visa. It was fun though, the guys from The Checks were living there as well at the time, so I could hang out with them, and the betchadupa guys, I remember meeting them for the first time. It was all quite new because I'd had quite a sheltered upbringing. I never knew what a bong was until I went to their house."

Leaving and returning to London with a valid visa a year or so later, she got gigs as a lounge pianist in hotels like The Ritz.

"I'd made a few connections the first time I went to London that I wanted to keep up, and when I met Richard, my first boyfriend, he was also going [to London] at the same time so it worked out really well."

Richard fell ill, and though Crawley initially intended to stay for two years, after a year she returned home with Richard before he passed away in 2008.

Still, while she was there she made the most of it, joining the band of former goodshirt frontman Rodney Fisher, building herself a reputation and playing shows with artists like Holly Throsby and Little Boots.

Her time in London helped spark a determination to pursue her music no matter what. And she's done it all off her own back, with her own record label. The release of Everything That I Have Seen follows a 2009 EP and the album's songs distill her experiences and emotions of the past few years.

"Because it's my first album I've had those songs for a while. I've only had three proper boyfriends in my life, but they all take their little turn in terms of influence. Obviously Richard's sickness and passing away affected me and that probably comes across on a few songs, like Always, and Close Your Eyes.

"And then Wish You Well sort of stemmed from the end of my second relationship, I guess. We've managed to become good friends again now."

She also explains how she's struggled with anxiety and depression on and off over the past four or five years, which she thinks occasionally filters into the tracks, though the album is not a downer by any means. "A lot of the songs seem to have the word 'lonely' in them" she laughs. "Not that I consider myself to be an unhappy person, but I think travelling and living by myself a lot in Japan and London and having all these weird experiences have had an impact."

The track Birds has a quirky way of addressing that funny feeling of not really fitting anywhere, an idea that stemmed from teenage years.

"I had this whole thing in my head that my brother was a sort of indie king [Matthew Crawley is a well-known Auckland promoter and musician], and everyone would go 'oh, you're Matthew's sister' and I'd go and see gigs with him every now and again and be really intimidated by these girls with their floral indie dresses and this twee thing."

She didn't feel cool enough, or that her own pop songs really measured up.

Even now she's not quite sure how her music fits into the spectrum, though she's one of the most well-liked musicians in Auckland and has a wide group of friends.

"I'm totally content with that now. In fact, it's probably a good thing."

She's hoping to head back overseas next year, possibly to try her hand in Australia, or head back to New York, where she filmed a music video earlier this year.

"I don't have any gut feeling about where to go, which is annoying because I rely quite a lot on that sort of intuition," she laughs. "Maybe after the album tour it will become clear. But in some ways it will be hard to go. I'm incredibly grateful to all the friends and the community here who've helped me to get this far."

LOWDOWN

Who: Lisa Crawley, solo songstress
What: Debut album Everything That I Have Seen, out now
Where and when: National tour beginning at the Montecristo Room in Auckland on November 17, and returning to Leigh Sawmill on December 9

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