She’s played the world’s biggest stages accompanying John Mellancamp on violin,
but Lisa Germano’s musical heart belongs on a smaller platform, far from rousing
choruses and heartland rock.
The 53-year-old multi-instrumentalist is
perhaps best known for providing the distinctive violin and fiddle flourishes
which characterized Mellencamp’s Lonesome Jubilee Americana era in the 1980s and
However, since her seven-year stint in the Mellancamp fold, she’s
become an established presence on the indie rock landscape with her quirky,
low-fi sound and raw, emotive approach.
“I have very fond memories from
working with Mellencamp, and also many horrible ones, as I learned more about a
world I never knew existed,” said Germano last week in an email to The Jerusalem
Germano said she didn’t learn much about the real world growing up
in Mishawaka, Indiana, with a large family in which everyone, including her
parents, played instruments.
“It was a very colorful childhood, with lots
of music, practicing, dancing around, fighting and passion, and great Italian
food. There was always lots of kids around to entertain and educate, but we were
rather sheltered,” she said.
Skilled in piano as well as violin by the
time she was 18, Germano was introduced in her 20s to Mellencamp via a mutual
friend, Mellencamp’s drummer Kenny Aronoff. Mellencamp, also an Indiana native
who had hit it big under the name John Cougar, was in the midst of reverting to
his given name and losing his pop star luster for an earthier sound, and he
asked Germano to join the band ahead of his 1987 album Lonesome
“I was never a fan until I started working in the band,” said
Germano. “Through the years, I contributed music, hook lines, opinions... they’d
get me going and then put tape over my mouth as a joke to say ‘that’s enough.’”
In the downtime, Germano recorded and toured with other artists like Simple
Minds and the Indigo Girls. By the early 1990s, she had developed her own
persona and released an unassuming album in 1991, On the Way Down from the Moon
Palace, followed by Happiness two years later. The process gave her the
confidence to leave Mellencamp for a full-time solo career.
with indie favorite 4AD and released Geek the Girl in 1994, a provocative and
personal album of sexual conflicts which created a buzz in the college radio
world. But according to Germano, her level of fame was nothing like the
arena-rock trappings she had left behind.
“I’ve never been, to my
knowledge, any kind of star or even particularly popular. I just keep trying to
be expressive and true in any song I‘m writing,” she said.
releases in the ‘90s saw diminished returns and by the decade’s end, she had
been dropped by 4AD and temporarily stopped making music, moving to Los Angeles
and working in a book shop.
“I’ve often stopped and chosen another
career, which I’ll do for a while. But as I write something, I feel that I
should share it with people and music becomes my focus again, and then I’m off
to another record,” said Germano, adding that she wasn’t bitter about being
dropped by the record company.
“I understand the business of music. It
doesn’t really go together, music and business – music being magical and
healing, and business being practical and calculated. The bottom line is that
you have to sell records and make money, so I already know that I’m a bit of a
product when working with a company.
But I’ve been very lucky to have
worked with creative people at those companies. It’s frustrating when it comes
to an end, but no more than anything else in life. It’s about keeping
And that’s what Germano did, writing songs for other artists and
joining heavyweights like David Bowie. In 2002, she returned with her own album,
Lullaby for Liquid Pig, followed in 2006 with Maybe World and 2009 with Magic
Neighbor, both on the Young God label. They didn’t hit the Top 40, but they did
reestablish Germano as a gifted, dedicated singer/songwriter and solidified a
support base among both fans and artists.
When Crowded House founder Neil
Finn gathered artists in 2001 to make a benefit album and tour – 7 Worlds
Collide – to raise money for Oxfam, he invited Germano to join him, his brother
Tim and illustrious contemporaries like Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Radiohead’s
Phil Selway and Ed O’Brien, and Johnny Marr of the Smiths.
In 2009, Finn
convened many of the same crowd (as well as members of Wilco and KT Tunstall) to
record an equally successful followup – The Sun Came Out – as well as a new film
called The Sun Came Out: The Making of the Album 7 Worlds Collide.
have been so honored to have worked with some of the best musicians and artists
there are,” she said.
“And I often wonder ‘why me with them?’ But with 7
Worlds Collide, I became a part of this amazing family and I often remember
their faith in my music when I falter. It keeps me going. I wish we could do
more projects together, but everyone is so busy... honestly it’s
unbelievable we ever all got together for the two projects we
Germano’s business includes a steady focus on her own career and
regular touring, including two shows this week in Tel Aviv – on Wednesday and
Thursday (May 2 and 3) at the Ozenbar.
It will be Germano’s first visit
to Israel, a location she’s been told she has a following in, something she is
“I don’t know about my popularity in Israel, but I have
received a few emails to please not cancel,” she said. “I have heard that
Israelis love music and eat it up... so that’s why I’m coming. My show is just
me, and I hope to create a mood and atmosphere where you can really take the
songs to yourself and have your own experience with it.”
It sounds like
Lisa Germano has discovered her own jubilee, which isn’t lonesome at all.