Lisa LaRue

Interview by Jim Corcoran

Fast and Blue is the new release from Lisa LaRue 2KX, and sees the Oklahoma-based keyboardist joined on the seven track, 57-minute release by a stellar array of musicians including ARZ members Steve Adams and Merrill Hale, guest cellist Michael Alvarez, and vocalist and bassist John Payne (Asia Featuring John Payne, many more)

DPRP recently reviewed the special limited edition of Fast and Blue, which came with a DVD and magazine, and assigned a respectable rating of 7.5 out of 10. Lisa has courteously agreed to field some questions about Fast and Blue and her career, and the transcript of our correspondence follows.

Jim:  Thank you Lisa for taking the time to answer my questions.  First I would like to ask you to discuss how you first became a professional musician, and how your career has proceeded since then.

Lisa: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to your readers, and let them know more about my career as a musician!  I first started playing as a young girl, about three years of age, and after playing department stores and shopping malls, I became familiar with prog when I was first exposed to Emerson, Lake and Palmer at age 13 by the late Mike Cole, whom I dedicate this interview to.  I was fortunate enough to do a demo ‘cassette’ back in the early ’90s, which included help from people such as Gilli Smyth of Gong, and in 1995 I decided I wanted to obtain a record contract so I approached a Native American record label here in the States, since I am a tribal member of a Federally recognized tribe.  That led to my first album, “Beloved Tribal Women” which was produced by Will Alexander who at the time was working with the likes of Keith Emerson and Herbie Hancock.  I just kept moving forward, until I felt confident enough to enter the prog genre with the help of people such as my good friends Tommy Zvoncheck (former Blue Oyster Cult) and John Payne (Asia ft. John Payne).

Jim:  How did you first meet John Payne?  What skills has he brought to Lisa LaRue 2KX?

Lisa: I first met John Payne at the Aqua CD Release Party in Florida, as I was doing some work for Asia, and Geoff Downes at the time.  He has worked on several albums with me, always adding a touch of class, professionalism and a sound that’s unmistakable.  On Fast and Blue, he became more involved – co-producing, mixing, mastering, in addition to his wonderful vocals and some bass parts, as well.  He truly listened with a professional ear and added ideas and icing to the cake.  I appreciate all he has done for me, for 2KX, and for just being an outstanding person and friend.

Jim:  How does the Royal Bloodline relate to the concept of Fast and Blue?

Lisa: The concept of Fast and Blue includes the alleged Holy Bloodline (which theoretically includes the Royal Bloodline), the connections with the Knight’s Templar, Cherokee mythology and actually all legends and stories of indigenous cultures.  They all tie in together as one story at their beginnings.  The songs go through a chronology of this ‘mystery’ and how we have all lived one long ‘soul life’ that has lived many earthly incarnations, thus ending with the song Recurring Dream as my concept is that all of these earthly lives are like recurring dreams of that greater soul life.  There is a souvenir ‘magazine’ that can be ordered separately from the CD which explains the background of each song.

Jim:  How was the process of recording Fast and Blue? Did it proceed smoothly or was it more of a challenge?  Also, please discuss the origins of the early stages of the track Prometheus and how it came about to be a song.

Lisa: As the permanent spin-off of Lisa LaRue Project 2K9 (meaning 2KX is the permanent band name; there will be no 2K11 etc…), Steve Adams and I were the main songwriters, throwing ideas back and forth through e-mail and adding tracks to build the songs.  Although I do want to point out, one of the two epics on the album, Prometheus, was written first by Merrill Hale as a drum track, which is brilliant!!  On that particular song, Steve then added the guitar parts and then when I got a hold of it, I contacted Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard, K2, GPS) to do some of the keyboard duties.  I always had a dream of two or more prog keyboard players on one song.  So, we decided I would take the first half of the song that was more symphonic and orchestrated, and Ryo would take the second half.  Then we brought in at the same time, Don Schiff (Rocket Scientists) who added an incredible NS Stick part.  Then we took all of the tracks out to LA and worked with John Payne on the mix.  That’s a good example of how it worked, and it worked very well – I am more than pleased.

Jim:  How did you conceive the Prometheus film on the DVD?

Lisa: That was a bit of a challenge, as it is such a long song, nearly 18 minutes, and as independent artists, we are working with a small budget.  Prometheus was not only the ‘Bringer of Fire’ in Greek Mythology, but also the subtitle of  Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein (The Modern Day Prometheus)’.  I went to bed one night thinking about it, and suddenly the thought came to my mind to search out the very first film rendition of Frankenstein, which I discovered within minutes, was made by Thomas Edison himself.  It is in the public domain, and with a very small amount of editing, it fit the last half of the song perfectly.  As far as the ‘bringer of fire’ portion, I found also that night, a public domain educational film about the origin of fire, which I used for the beginning, which tells visually the story of man discovering and using fire, which ended with Thomas Edison’s lightbulb. . .this transitioned perfectly into ‘Frankenstein’.  Synchronicity working in our favor once again, it fit the first portion perfectly timewise, as well.

Jim:  Please comment on Ryo Okumoto as a keyboardist.  Do you think he approaches the keyboards with a different sense of style than you?

Lisa: Ryo is a keyboard madman!  Virtuosity, creativity, a wonderful soloist, and uses great synths – analog as well as great patches on digital synths.  His style is definitely different than mine on Prometheus, whereas mine is more orchestrated and his is pure flash genius.  And what a fun guy to be around!

Jim:  Tryptych is a unique piece and sounds almost religious in tone.  What are your thoughts on this song?

Lisa: Tryptych, meaning a piece of art made up of three different pieces, was conceived totally by Steve Adams as a three-piece – guitar, cello and piano.  Mike Alvarez, who does all of the cello on the album, played wonderfully on this and I just added a sparse piano to the mix to give it a three-piece chamber kind of a feel.  It brings you down from Prometheus and ready for Jam Jehan Nima!

Jim:  Discuss how your Native American culture has influenced you in your creative process.

Lisa: My culture has taught me to look at things very spiritually, holistically, and to honor and respect all.  So I always look at the synchronicity of the situation, the players, spiritual aspects as themes, make all the songs gel together at least in concept, and at least one song on each album that honors my people, and to respect each player/songwriter and their contributions.  I always include everyone in all of the credits, not just in the liner notes but in any mention of the work.  2KX wouldn’t be what we are without each contributor.  I wouldn’t dare record under my own name, without a band name, unless it was me solo on the work.  The sound of the songs, the individual instrumentations, all of this is because of each musician involved.  We are family, successful in achieving our music because of each one of us in the circle, not just ‘one’ – a teaching from my culture.

Jim:  How did Michael Sadler become involved as a guest musician with the project?  What was it like to work with him?

Lisa: Michael is a very good friend of one of my own close friends, Ric Levine of, who introduced us.  Michael was more than happy to work on the project and may possibly do some more work with us in the future.  He was a blast in the studio, a gentleman, and always smiling!  I am proud to call him a real friend.  As you know, he recently rejoined Saga and is touring with them presently.

Jim:  More and more female musicians are pursuing careers in progressive rock nowadays.  Please discuss how the rising prominence of women in progressive rock is making an impact on the scene.

Lisa: Up until now, most women involved in progressive rock were vocalists.  I am proud to say I was one of the ‘first’ female ‘musicians’, although now we are seeing women join the prog genre as instrumentalists such as playing the flute, violin, etc.  Prog has always seemed to have more male followers than female, but I think the fact that more and more women are becoming involved as artists, there are beginning to be more female fans, as well.

Jim:  As a follow-up question, do you want to be known as a female recording artist, or simply as a recording artist who happens to be a woman?

Lisa: I would definitely have to answer with, ‘a recording artist who happens to be a woman.’  You don’t see other artists identified as a ‘male prog recording artist’ so I don’t feel that being female should be the identifier.  It’s all about the music, first and foremost.

Jim:  Do you prefer composing shorter, song-based tunes over the longer epics?

Lisa: The shorter pieces are obviously, faster to compose, orchestrate and record, but I enjoy the longer more epic pieces as the canvas is broader and allows more room for changes in mood, time signature, chord progression, etc.  It’s like comparing a movie to a television show, really.  A shorter show leaves you wanting to see the whole movie. . .and with the movie, you are able to tell the story in more detail.

Jim:  What challenges do you think face an independent musician nowadays?

Lisa: I would say competition.  Because of computer aided recording, distribution through the internet and other changes in technology, it has become easier for any musician to make a ‘product’ and market it to the world.  Every day, there are more and more musicians and bands peddling their wares and although it makes it easier for us as musicians to get the product out to the fans in a timely manner, it makes for more and more competition.  But I say, the more the merrier!!  I wish each and every independent musician out there luck in pursuing their dreams, and want to remind them that success is not in dollars anymore in this business, the success is in fulfilling your passion for writing and recording music and getting it out to true and appreciative listeners.

Jim:  If there was a television show called “Progressive Idol”, would you audition for an appearance on it?

Lisa: LOL.  No, I would probably watch an episode or two, though!  I don’t aspire to be an idol of any sort, but just want to enjoy making music, collaborating with other musicians, and keeping our fans supplied with quality tunes.  That is success enough for me.

Jim:  Please describe the support you have from other people in your life such as family and friends for your music career.

Lisa: My grandmother who raised me, Maye LaRue, supported me in every way possible, exposing me to all forms of music from Broadway musicals, movie soundtracks, pop, classical and even music from the 1920’s and 30’s.  She was my biggest fan and supporter.  Friends made in later life, such as John Payne, have inspired me and encouraged me to keep going even when it gets frustrating.  I have several people in my life presently who continually remind me I have been blessed with a musical gift for playing by ear, orchestrating and composing, and am blessed that my partner is a musician as well, and completely understands the drive and the frustrations, and we support each other 110 percent in our respective work and careers.

Jim:  What are some of your favorite music artists? What have you been listening to lately?

Lisa: Of course, my favorite artists include the standard prog heroes such as Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, but also include artists such as Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra!  There are so many on my list, it’s hard to name them all.  Lately, some of the newer music I’ve been listening to include Mars Hollow, Days Before Tomorrow, and a child prodigy named Emily Bear – a wonderful pianist and composer.

Jim:  Please discuss what led to Don Schiff becoming a permanent member of Lisa LaRue 2KX.

Lisa: Don did such a smash-up job on Prometheus, and seemed to fit perfectly with the thought patterns of myself, Steve and Merrill.  He supported our efforts in every way possible, and is a joy to be around.  Always happy, always encouraging, and always willing to give a tune a shot.  We all agreed, including Don, that we gelled both musically and personally, so after Steve and Merrill and I discussed it (for a brief two minutes!), I posed the question to Don.  We were excited and thrilled when he said “Yes!”  We look forward to working on new tunes with Don, and are currently throwing some ideas around for future releases.

Jim:  Do you think that with the rising popularity of music downloads CDs will become obsolete? Would you welcome this trend?

Lisa: I don’t feel they will become totally obsolete; many appreciators of good music want the higher resolution of the tracks which are on CDs, and like to collect the various packages that are released. It’s also easier to sell actual CDs at festivals, etc.  I do foresee that it will become less popular to have mass quantities produced, and more and more of publish-on-demand services for actual, physical CDs.

Jim: Do you have any plans to tour?

Lisa: As a band, 2KX has discussed this, but we don’t have immediate plans.  With all of the various bands that our members and guests are part of, we could be a festival in and of ourselves!

Jim:  What do you see next for your musical endeavors in the near future?

Lisa: Lisa LaRue 2KX is currently working on a charity EP, titled Beautiful Life, which will benefit some prog fans who are currently experiencing life challenges, and will also include a couple of guests, including John Baker of Mars Hollow. ARZ (Steve Adams and Merrill Hale) will be releasing a CD late this summer or early fall.  As for myself, I am looking at doing some independent collaborations with Ryo Okumoto and also Don Schiff.  Lisa LaRue 2KX will begin working on a new project later this year, with an expected release date of 2012.

Lisa LaRue Official website: