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Ditching the 'Love Circus'

On her album, Lisa Germano deals with self-doubt that plagued her romantic life.

September 22, 1996|Elysa Gardner | Elysa Gardner is a regular contributor to Calendar from New York

NEW YORK — Lisa Germano is mad as hell, and she's not gonna take it anymore.

Arriving at her hotel after a five-hour photo shoot, the 37-year-old singer appears calm enough at first. Though clearly worn out--her casual white shirt is rumpled, her slight shoulders droop slightly, her long dark hair is gathered above her pretty face in a careless bun--she smiles like a trouper. Sitting in the hotel lounge, she politely orders a glass of champagne, then settles back for a languid puff on her cigarette.

But when Germano begins to talk about her relationships with men, a subtle transformation occurs. Her expression becomes focused and intense, and her language becomes . . . well, a little more colorful.

"If I fall in love with somebody again," she begins, her voice ominously low and steady, "and he says, 'Oh, Lisa, I really wish you would wear that other dress tonight,' I will just go, '[Expletive] you! I am wearing this dress. And if you don't like it. . . .' "

Germano suddenly smiles again. "All I mean is, I've been that passive person who gave too much love, and it just hasn't worked. I have to be different now."

On her new album, "Excerpts From a Love Circus," Germano--who played violin in John Mellencamp's band before embarking on a solo career as singer-songwriter five years ago--comes to terms with the self-doubt that has plagued her romantic life (see review, Page 65).

"This record is really about three relationships I had that were all very similar," Germano says. "I was just repeating this pattern, and I finally said to myself: Isn't it stupid to love someone that makes you feel irritated all the time? Like you have bad breath and your breasts aren't nice, you know?

"This isn't a feminist statement," she adds. "I find a lot of men fall in love with women who are bitches. [OK?] The question I'm asking on this record is simply, 'Why do we choose people who make us feel bad? Why do we fall in love thinking, 'Oh, I found another person who doesn't think that much of me, but I can save this person?' "

One man who influenced both the lyrics and the music on "Excerpts" is producer Malcolm Burn, a Daniel Lanois protege whom Germano dated a few years ago. Burn helped shape the starkly atmospheric sound on Germano's last album, 1994's "Geek the Girl." "Excerpts," produced by Paul Mahern, has a similar feel, with Germano's tremulous voice hovering over quirky postmodern arrangements.

But whereas "Geek" employed a gloomy, haunted tone to address the ways that lovers and other strangers betray each other, Germano took pains to ensure that her new songs had a bit more sass.

"I think it's easier for anybody to be unhappy," she muses. "The songs on 'Geek the Girl' just flowed right out of me. But I didn't want this new record to sound that . . . abused. On this record, it's more like, 'Hey, I know I've been abused.' . . . And the insight I've developed is that I can't be with anyone who makes me feel bad, just because I'm more comfortable feeling that way."

Germano traces her insecurity and her need to please others back to her childhood in rural Indiana, where she was the fourth of six children. Her parents were both musicians and teachers; her father had played in the Chicago Symphony prior to starting a family.

"They always did the best they could," Germano says. "But with six kids, you're gonna get competition. And I was the pet in my family--I gave more, so I got more back."

Germano began playing violin when she was 7 and was performing in local orchestras within a few years. After high school, Germano sought out gigs for a while. When she got married at the age of 20, she decided to stop playing entirely. A deep depression followed.

"I was suicidal," she says. "I worked at a bakery, and I didn't know it at the time, but my husband would follow me to work at 6 in the morning, just to make sure I didn't do anything self-destructive." (Though she has been divorced for nearly a decade, Germano is still good friends with her former spouse and doesn't count him among the cads in her past.)

Germano stumbled onto the path to recovery when, to earn some extra money, she took a job playing violin in a country band at an Indiana club. There she met Kenny Aronoff, the drummer in Mellencamp's band, who was playing at the club between tours just for fun. Through Aronoff, she got the job playing fiddle on the B-side of a single from Mellencamp's 1985 "Scarecrow" album. Impressed, Mellencamp invited her to join his band on the road.

She felt emotionally unprepared for this major opportunity, but with a therapist's help, she was able to overcome her depression and continued touring and recording with Mellencamp into the early '90s. By 1991, Germano had summoned the courage to release her own album, "On the Way Down From the Moon Palace," on her own label, Major Bill Records. She then landed a deal with Capitol Records and put out "Happiness" in 1993.

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