Lisa Crawley has followed music around the world, from on-stage performances in her native New Zealand to songwriting in Melbourne, London, and the Banff Centre songwriter residency in Canada. Most recently, she made her way to Los Angeles in 2020, just before the pandemic incited global lockdowns. Through a year of songwriting in a virtual environment, Crawley has released her latest EP — Looking For Love (In A Major) — on July 23.
Read on for our interview with Lisa Crawley, where we break down the latest record and her musical journey.
What drew you to music, and songwriting, in particular?
Lisa Crawley: At the beginning, I grew up playing at school. I was always a little shy when it came to my own music. One afternoon, three of my friends were rehearsing in their high school band and I started playing along. They invited me to join the band. I started writing my own songs and from there, kind of kept going. At first, I was worried about fitting into a box — slowly, got more confidence and really started playing my songs more seriously. I wanted to do musical theater growing up and that changed over time. Went to Jazz school for a year and then got offered a job in Japan playing piano in this hotel there, which was pretty strange. And then that affirmed to me that I really did want to do my own thing. From there, went to London; just started playing open mics and getting small gigs.
You were in a production of Once in New Zealand — how did that experience shape you as a songwriter or performer?
Crawley: That for me was a nice meeting of the songwriting and theater world. That was great. I was living in Australia at the time. I sent in a video audition which got lost in the mix. It wasn’t until two months later I was doing this writing retreat in Canada and the director got in touch. I guess it did inspire me to keep going with my own music as well. For me, it was a nice reminder to keep going with my own music.
You’ve chased music really around the world, from New Zealand to Australia, to Japan, London, Canada, and now the United States — do you have a favorite location or musical environment that you’ve been a part of?
Crawley: I suppose where I’m at now, I would say. I’ve loved all the different aspects of the different places. As a songwriter, L.A. has been a really great place to move to. I like how L.A., you’ve got the different aspects of the studio work — writing songs, writing songs for other people. I really like the collaborative nature of being in L.A.
What does it look like when you sit down to write a song? How do you find an idea and nurture that into a finished product?
Crawley: I would say, most of the time, it’s me at the piano. I’ve tried different ways to be proactive with writing even if you’re not really in the mood. Just to get the songs that aren’t so good out of the way so you can land a good one. In the last two years, I’ve tried to write on other instruments as well, like guitars and bass. I have enjoyed the different ways of writing and getting out of my head a bit, and the challenges that can bring.
This new EP, what is that bit in parentheses (In A Major) specifically referring to? The kind of mentality behind the record, the key it’s written in?
Crawley: The songs are written in the key of A major, so that was where that came from. When I went to put the songs together, I wasn’t that happy with them as a unit. I realized I had five or six songs that were all in the key of A. I didn’t really realize that I did that. And they’re all love songs or about the journey of love. That was how that came about. I grew up playing a lot of orchestral music, and they often specify the key. For me, everything is in notes. It made sense in my brain. It’s kind of a hint of that classical world. Just songs that work; love songs or anti-love songs. The third song “Clear History” starts on the relative minor, for you music nerds, which is A sharp minor, but it’s still in the key of A. Just kind of made sense to me.
Is there a reason that you might have subconsciously gravitated toward that specific key?
Crawley: Yeah, that group of songs were just all in that key. I feel like the lazy musician in me puts a lot of things in C Major. For me, different keys emote really differently. If I hear a song in D Flat, that gives a whole new feeling. And that’s just a part of my world. I run this piano karaoke thing, and I have to be able to transpose on the spot, listen to what note they’re singing. For me, different keys bring a whole different feeling. That’s just how my brain works. I figured I’m going to be singing it the most, so it makes sense to me.
You mentioned earlier that this EP began with the intention of being a full-length record — your last full-length was in 2013. Is there a reason you’ve gravitated more toward the smaller collections, rather than full-length records?
Crawley: It’s been really circumstantial. It’s been a more fathomable thing to do. And I think it’s in style with what’s happening with a lot of artists as well. The romantic artist in me wants to put out a full-length record all the time. But I’m completely DIY. To put out an album is not a cheap experience. I hope to put out a full-length record at some point again. I think with the way that streaming works, it’s totally fine. I think I’m going to do another EP at the end of this year. To be still in L.A. and releasing music, I’m trying to see that as a good enough achievement.
The first track off the EP, “Looking For Love” has a happy musical vibe to it, but the lyrics are not super joyful — how did this song come together? Did lyrics come first, or was it simultaneous?
Crawley: I wrote that with my good friends, we were just sitting around and came up with the concept of someone that thinks they know what they want and when they get it, they’re never happy. We made up this character and then Rob came up with the bass part and I just put a vocal melody over the top. It was cool, it was fun. I have a tendency to go ‘is that too happy? Let’s balance it out with some miserable lyrics.’ There is that balance of upbeat melody and lyrics that aren’t joyful which seems to be a pattern of mine, which I’m trying to do as a choice.
“Lazy Love” feels a bit different, sonically; it’s a little slower, a bit more piano-prominent. It sounds lyrically connected to “Looking for Love” — is there a connection between the tracks?
Crawley: “Lazy Love” is related to “Looking For Love” in the sense of someone that wants love but doesn’t want to work at it. Musically, there was a line in Once where he talks about ‘how’d you get so lazy, love’ or something. That song in particular always stuck in my head. I love the chord structure. It’s loosely based on that, and also 70s songwriters like Carole King, Neil Young. We worked on that remotely. That was fun, yeah. It allowed me to get my clarinet out.
“Clear History” has this super funky guitar part. Going off of your love of musical and lyrical juxtaposition, is the musical vibe of this song juxtaposing the lyrics, or complementing them?
Crawley: It wasn’t intentional at all. I don’t think “Clear History” is a downer song. It’s a moving-on song. Trying to make better decisions. I feel like that one has got the most ‘90s vibe out of any of them. I grew up listening to ‘90s pop and rock, so the guitar part sort of leans to that world, which brings me to my world of Windows 95 — “Clear History” was lyrically, clearing your history. Being a metaphor for making room for new memories.
Now that the EP is out and the lockdowns are lifting, what do you have coming up on your musical horizon?
Crawley: Well, shows, hopefully, first and foremost. I did move here right before the pandemic. I did a couple gigs there. Now that everything’s open, I’m really keen to see more of America, as well. I want to go to the funny little, cliche American towns. There’s so much I want to see. And obviously, doing as much music as I can, when possible. When I can, hopefully in a few months, start booking shows to actually perform the songs on the EP. Lots of things. I can actually do those music jobs now, which is great.
You can listen to Lisa Crawley’s EP, Looking For Love (In A Major) here.