Q&A with roots/blues singer-songwriter Lisa Biales, Ohio-based musician move easily through various musical styles

"The Christmas season brings up so many emotions and memories of childhood and family, happiness and sadness, excitement and despair, and Christmas music is the soundtrack for these experiences. I like to think that everyone has a favorite Christmas song or record that brings them joy."

Lisa Biales: The Soundtrack of Christmas

Big Song Music will be released the new album of roots/blues singer-songwriter Lisa Biales, titled “AT CHRISTMAS”, on NOVEMBER 10, 2023, her eleventh album and first holiday album. At Christmas contains nine newly written songs for the season plus a remake of Louis Prima’s swing classic “Shake Hands with Santa Claus.” The Ohio-based Biales’ and her band of ace Los Angeles musicians move easily through various musical styles, filling the album with blues, big band swing, classic rock, Southern rock, country-soul and mid-20th century pop. Recorded at Johnny Lee Schell's Ultratone Studios in Los Angeles and produced by Tony Braunagel (who earned his stripes playing for Bonnie Raitt; Taj Mahal and The Phantom Blues Band; and Robert Cray.), At Christmas features Braunagel (drums/jingle bells/percussion/BGVs), Jeff Paris (piano/Hammond organ/BGVs/glockenspiel), Johnny Lee Schell (guitar/BGVs), Chuck Berghofer and David J. Carpenter (bass), Mark Pender (trumpet), Jerry Vivino (sax), Joe Sublett (tenor sax), Garrett Smith (trombone), Doug Hamilton (violin), Michael G. Ronstadt (cello), Maxayn Lewis (BGVs).                                         (Photo: Lisa Biales)

A native of Fairfield, Ohio, Lisa Biales comes from a musical family. Her father led and played upright bass in a Dixieland jazz band. Her mother sang in community theater productions, church choir and constantly at the family’s home. Biales was 12 years old when her brother gave her a few guitar lessons, after which she taught herself with the help of a Beatles songbook. Biales began writing songs at 13 -- the same year she performed in public for the first time, playing at an amusement park during the breaks between her father’s jazz band sets. Her first full-length album was released in 1999, since that time, Biales has released critically-acclaimed albums.

Interview by Michael Limnios           Archive: Lisa Biales, 2017 Interview @ blues.gr

Special Thanks: Lisa Biales & Karen Leipziger/KL Productions

How has the American Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Music has taken me on a lifelong journey of learning. The banjo came from Africa as a gourd. Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit" exposes the brutality of racism, the protest songs of the sixties were a vehicle for social change. Music has taken me around the world, and I came to realize early on that we are all the same.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I first started making music as a teen and wrote about the world around me. That hasn't changed, I still write about the simple things in life, however my worldview has expanded as I continue to experience the ever-changing landscape of life. I have grown as an artist by surrounding myself with talented musicians, learning from and inspired by the best, soaking it all in.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Go with the flow, everything changes, enjoy the moment, life is unpredictable, music is the universal language.

Currently you’ve one release with Christmas music. When did the idea of “At Christmas” come about?                                               (Photo: Lisa Biales)

I called Tony Braunagel to catch up on life, and in the middle of our conversation I said, "I've been thinking about a Christmas record" and Tony immediately jumped on board, he got so excited and said that he too was interested in making a Christmas album. At first, I thought I was going to record my favorite Christmas songs, then I realized that I needed to write a couple of tunes for the project. I got one song written and then I got stuck. I called Tony and said I was having second thoughts, he said that he had a couple of song ideas, and he would send them to me. The next morning, I got a text with Tony singing "oh the boy I met for Christmas" I loved it and finished the song. We went back and forth with more song ideas and recruited Jeff Paris to help write and we ended up with 9 originals and one cover. This was the most joyful writing experience I've ever had, and these songs are so fun to sing.

Why do you think that the Christmas music and songs continues to generate such a devoted following?

The Christmas season brings up so many emotions and memories of childhood and family, happiness and sadness, excitement and despair, and Christmas music is the soundtrack for these experiences. I like to think that everyone has a favorite Christmas song or record that brings them joy. My favorite is "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

Are there any specific memories from your holiday/Christmas concerts in Ohio that you would like to tell us about?

During the pandemic shut down, I made an effort to contact my musician friends to see how they were doing. It was tough to hear about the hardships that people were having. I wanted to do something to help out, so I came up with the idea to record Christmas duets using the iPhone. I recorded each song on the iPhone and sent it to the musicians who recorded their parts on their phones, then Michael Ronstadt edited everything together for me. I called it The 12 Days of Christmas Project, which turned into 14 songs that you can find on YouTube. Since my husband's business is doing well, I was able to pay everyone for the beautiful music they made and for helping me spread joy.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

When I met EG Kight we became fast friends and she took me under her wing and produced two albums, "Just Like Honey" and "Belle of the Blues" for me in Macon, Georgia at Paul Hornsby's Muscadine Studio. Then Jack Sullivan of Blues Music Magazine suggested that I contact Tony Braunagel about producing my next record. When I contacted Tony we hit it off right away and he produced "The Beat of My Heart" and "At Christmas" at Johnny Lee Schell's UltraTone Studio. The best piece of advice I have received and taken to heart if from the wisdom of Maya Angelou, "When people show you who they are, believe them."

"Music has taken me on a lifelong journey of learning. The banjo came from Africa as a gourd. Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit" exposes the brutality of racism, the protest songs of the sixties were a vehicle for social change. Music has taken me around the world, and I came to realize early on that we are all the same."

(Photo: Lisa Biales)

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Having children and writing music for them set me on the path of music education. I worked as an artist-in-schools educator when my kids were young, going into schools to present folk songs and teaching singing and songwriting. I worked during the day when my kids were in school and was home with them in the evenings. I realized that I needed to "graduate" myself from bars and late-night gigs in order to survive. I joined the Ohio Arts Professionals Network where presenters and artists come together to support touring in Ohio, and booked shows in Performing Artist series all over the state. I also applied to the Ohio Arts Council to become a fee supported artist. The highlight of my life and career was in 2002 when I met my husband and became a full-time artist.

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