Interview by Scott Preston
Music’s best kept secret, Lori Lieberman has remained in the shadows of the spotlight since the early seventies, quietly gleaning the respect of an industry and a devoted base of fans. As the one responsible for such hits as “Killing Me Softly With His Song” she consistently recorded album after album for Capitol Records, RCA, EMI, Pope Music, and currently, Drive On Records.
Throughout the years of ever-changing styles and fads, one thing has remained constant in Lieberman’s music– her honest and heartfelt lyrics, coupled with her haunting, and beautiful melodies, always cutting right through to the heart of the listener.
Lori Lieberman’s latest release, “Gun Metal Sky”, is the definitive Lori Lieberman recording. Four years in the making, this CD reflects Lieberman’s growth as a vocalist, writer, producer and arranger. With eight songs penned by Lieberman, it also includes four songs by some of our most beloved songwriters and interpreted by her unique sensitivity and style.
Cincy Groove: Tell me about your new album “Gun Metal Sky”
Lori Lieberman: Well, I have been working on it for about 4 years and I’m kind of glad it took me that long. I was able to revisit some of the songs and the arrangements. I started out with about 20 songs and weeded them down from there. So I ended up with 7 that I wrote and 4 that are cover songs. One of the covers is one by Emmy Lou Harris, one by The Gibb Brothers (Bee Gees), and one by Paul Simon. I stretched my brain over the last 4 years and I also orchestrated all the strings and woodwinds on the album. Having done all of that, this was a real labor of love for me. I hope its received as strongly as I feel about it. For me I have never worked so hard and been so excited about a project. The people that know my music will connect with it and the people who don’t know my music I hope will connect.
Cincy Groove: So I understand you also contributed to School House Rock back in the late 70’s / early 80’s.
Lori Lieberman: My song was “The Great American Melting Pot”. I have kids and when they were younger they watched it, and I didn’t even know they were still playing it. It wasn’t until they were much older that I said that The Melting Pot song was me, they couldn’t believe it. Its just so interesting that it keeps getting played and played. It must be a staple for school kids.
Cincy Groove: When you took a break from performing to have your family early in your career, what brought you back after such a long break?
Lori Lieberman: When your a singer and going through the 70’s, the 80’s, with music changing. Then it gets to be the 90’s and you wonder if your music is still relevant, then it sort of made it easier to hide in the kitchen and become something else. If you don’t have a real strong connection with yourself and with what defines you, you kind of let it go by the wayside. I can’t say I was perfectly happy not performing, but the distractions certainly kept me busy enough that I thought I could live without it, until it backfired. I could make a hell of a cake but who I really am is something I’m not paying attention to. So secretly I was writing a lot, then a neighbor saw an old poster of me and remembered he had some of my old albums and got me singing again. So it was Joe Cali who really got me going again. I was just ready for the smallest amount of encouragement to get going again.
Cincy Groove: What was behind your decision to go with an independent label as opposed to a major one?
Lori Lieberman: With most independent artists now you are able to have that hands on contact with the people who listen to your music. I wouldn’t give that up for the world. Having that one to one contact is not only validating but also makes me feel like I have much more control. The major record company machine doesn’t really exist the way it used to anymore. The idea of having of a product that would get lost in the shuffle just doesn’t appeal to me.
Cincy Groove: How do you feel about the internet as it relates to the music world?
Lori Lieberman: I love it. I think its fantastic, I really do. Being able to get my music to more people, the accessibility, being able to hear from the fans more directly really amazes me. Being a fairly shy person who doesn’t like to pick up the phone, its incredible how brave I can feel in a email and contact people who I normally wouldn’t contact.
Cincy Groove: Your song Killing Me Softly has had more mileage than almost any other song I can think of, based on the number of people who have covered it. What did you think of the Fugee’s version?
Lori Lieberman: I thought it was great. I loved it. When I did it, my version was this very, very simple folk song. It was just an acoustic guitar, some strings and a back beat. It was really a pretty song. What I liked about it was that it was my story. Roberta Flack really made it into this huge arrangement with this heavy 2 feel , a chorus, and all of this stuff. She really made it into something way, way bigger than I could have ever imagined it. When the Fugees came out and Lauren Hill did what she did with it, it gave it a whole new spin that was completely fresh. I just feel if your going to do a cover you might as well do something totally new and different with it.
Cincy Groove: Was there a definitive moment when you decided that music was going to be your path in life?
Lori Lieberman: Yes, I grew up in Switzerland and I was kind of on my own there. At nine years old I’m thrust into this foreign country, new language, I was the only person who spoke English in my school. I got this guitar when I was 13, got a book, and it completely became my friend. My sister went to college in the U.S. so when she would come back to visit she would bring me new music, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen. That was about when I decided music was what I wanted to do more than anything.
Lori Lieberman will be appearing on Woodsongs Radio Hour on Monday 2/16/2009 in Lexington, KY. Be part of the studio audience by getting your tickets HERE.
Also visit Lori’s website – http://www.lorilieberman.com