Lisa Ronson, formerly of New York band, The Secret History, is set to launch her debut solo album, ‘Emperors of Medieval Japan’, on November 6. The daughter of legendary multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mick Ronson, Lisa relocated to London a few years back. She received critcal acclaim for her single, ‘Shopping & F’, released in 2014.
We caught up with Lisa last night at London’s Borderline, before her solo show.
EP: Emperors of Medieval Japan – WHAT is that title all about? Because when you look it up, you get Wikipedia pages about Emperors of Medieval Japan…but not you yet!
LR: Right! Not me yet! It’s just a fantasy kind of title. It’s a fantasy of what was imagined when the song kind of pinged out, it’s a kind of vision.
EP: You’re very visual?
LR: Yeah! It could have been anything, but you kind of want to draw on experiences that you’ve had, and if that’s what you’re kinda watching…
EP: So what experiences were you having to come up with that?
LR: I was just watching some old Kung Fu movies, listening to bits of the Wu Tang Clan recently, and reconnecting with that.
EP: How does this album – your debut solo album – differ from your work with The Secret History?
LR: It’s a different band, it brings back all sorts of different feelings. When I started working with these guys, Tom and Paul, and we talked about what we wanted to do with this album, it was different. We had to start from scratch and create something new. And we talked, and we kind of had the same sort of vision.
EP: Is it the same style of music? What’s your style?
LR: It’s pretty different! This style is more of an electro-pop, a lot of synthesiser, a lot of electronic sounds, whereas The Secret History was different. Plus there’s less members in this band, The Secret History had seven members.
EP: You’ve not long ago toured with Holy Holy – how cool was that? These are people you’ve grown up with essentially, aren’t they?
LR: Well some of them! I got to meet Woody (Woodmansey) through it – I’d met him very briefly when I was about 14 years old, but not really. so it was a good chance to spend time with them, and talk about my Dad and trade stories. That was really great. And to listen to the Bowie catalogue, there were songs I’d not really heard before, or not paid a lot of attention to.
EP: And you did ‘Lady Stardust’, didn’t you….that song….
LR: I know…it’s a brilliant song…
EP: Do you find you do it as you, or do you go into a David Bowie voice?
LR: No….it’s hard to do. I love his version, but as a guy, he’s higher, he can kind of bend a little more, something like that, there’s a certain quality in the vocal that’s a bit heart wrenching and sort of crying almost – but my sort of range it’s not the same. It was good – it’s more of a girly version – it has a more country feel to it.
EP: So you caught up lots…remember this…lots of stories…
LR: Yeah with Tony (Visconti) and Woody and all the rest of the guys…Paul Cuddeford was on that tour, and he’s part of our creative team. And Steve Norman came and played with us and he’s a lovely guy – and James Stevenson was on the tour, and we had Berenice Scott and Glenn Gregory this time…and of course my Aunt Maggie and cousin Hannah singing backup. So that was really nice.
EP: So basically you Ronsons dominated…
EP: And that’s how it should be! Did you feel doing this was some sort of homage to your Dad?
LR: No? It just felt like it was a nice opportunity to be there, and it’s really fun to sing the songs, and I think some people saw it as that, but for me, it was just me doing a gig. And yeah – there were some personal songs…
EP: I listened to the double album of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and it was pretty incredible that you could take away Bowie from that, and you still had the songs – you don’t realise when you’re listening to the Bowie albums that – his voice is only a tiny part – it’s really the music that makes the songs – I feel really bad saying that because I LOVE him – but he’s just the voice!
LR: Well and the songwriter too…
EP: But the music played such an important part of it! And to hear pretty much the same guitarists and instrumentalists doing the sames stuff…I really enjoyed it!
LR: Yeah it was really a great thing to be a part of! And to work with such great musicians on such great songs – it was a real learning experience. It taught me a lot about songs, about structure – and about musicianship.
EP: So you’re going on tour, with Reeves Gabrels? Was he part of the Holy Holy thing, or did you just find him along the line?
LR: No, we just found him! It was pretty fortuitious.
EP: So – do you feel that you could have done anything else other than make music? You’re a creative anyway aren’t you?
LR: Yeah! Well, I tried not to for a while! I tried accounting…
EP: That’s completely the opposite…
EP: You’re not the first person we’ve come across who’s grown up in a musical family and instead gone into accounting…
LR: Yeah! I tried that, didn’t like it as much, I still do it here and there, but it just seems that this is more fun.
EP: And you know, training in accountancy, you know if someone’s ripping you off! You can get all your money back! So what advice do you have for anyone wanting to get into the music industry? Don’t?
LR: No no no! Definitely do! I’d say, don’t do it for money, there’s not a lot of money in it anymore. Don’t overthink it, you’ve got to go out there and do it. You can think about it and have ideas, but it doesn’t matter, as long as you actually go out and do it. And don’t be afraid to make some mistakes and to try something – and not let it define you – and then do something else. Have some fun with it. A lot of people take it very very seriously. And you need to play out – you need to play live,
EP: Because otherwise no-one knows. I mean, there’s the occasional person who’s discovered on YouTube, they’re very few and far between.
LR: It took me years to get comfortable on the stage – you’ve got to go out there and really do it…
EP: And do a few gigs to two people…or no people…or someone wiping the bar…
LR: If you want to do it – don’t wait. Just do it.
EP: And it also helps to have a lot of money behind you – or parents with the money to support you – I was told not long ago, it’s the middle-class kids getting into these days, it’s not like the punks of old or whatever, going, “let’s start a band”…
LR: Well now it is. But yeah, I’m still doing it myself, and I don’t have a load of money behind me – my band in New York, we all did it ourselves…
EP: And worked day jobs…
LR: Exactly! And worked day jobs! That’s all part of it, you’ve got to do it.
EP: What is it they say, it takes 15 years to be an overnight success?
LR: It’s true! It does! And yeah! Just have fun! And don’t wait for it to be perfect! Just do it!
EP: Perfection will come. What’s your impression of the state of the music industry these days?
LR: I think it’s exciting! I don’t know how other people find new music, but it used to be I’d find it on the radio, or I’d watch MTV, and I’d find new music. And I guess some of that remains true, but there’s so much music out there now, it’s hard to really find. And a lot of it is word of mouth. And because everything is downloadable, I think that it’s a shame in that musicians don’t get paid for their work. At the same time, I think it’s weeding out a lot of those who are trying to make it an industry. So I think there’s a lot of stuff that’s coming out that’s really exciting, and really interesting. And I think there is *space* for new and interesting, where there wasn’t, maybe ten years ago, if people are looking or wanting something that’s different to what’s being farmed out to them.
EP: What’s your top three songs/albums/artists you couldn’t live on a desert island without?
LR: Oh this is my ‘Desert Island Discs’ question!
LR: It changes often for me I’m afraid. I would say, at the moment, ‘Bloom‘ by Beach House; I mentioned it before, Wu Tang Clan, ‘Liquid Swords‘ by Genius/GZA; it’s a really good album, and last but not least, I’d probably have to go with T-Rex.
EP: All of T-Rex!
LR: Yeah! All the T-Rexes! It’s a little something for whatever mood I’m in…
EP: Well pretty much! They covered the whole gamut didn’t they – from psychedelia to full on rock…
EP: My last question is…and this is my magic question. What one thing do you always wish someone would ask you an interview, but nobody ever does?
LR: I don’t know how to answer that! But…when I was younger, I wanted to be a professional lip-syncer, before I found out I could sort of sing…I thought that could be a career. I was a huge fan of George Michael, and I just wanted to lip-sync to his songs.
‘Emperors Of Medieval Japan’ will be out on November 6. Lisa and Reeves Gabrels are touring throughout October at the following:
1 October – Waterfront Studios, Norwich
2 October – The Boileroom, Guildford
3 October – Studio 2 Parr Street, Liverpool
5 October – Fibbers, York
7 October – The Horn, St Albans
8 October – The Black Heart, London
9 October – Cafe Indipendent, Scunthorpe
10 October – The Hug and Pint, Glasgow
11 October – The Cluny, Newcastle
13 October – The Cookie, Leicester
14 October – Night & Day, Manchester
15 October – The Forum, Tunbridge Wells