Talking with Lisa Heller All About "Red Flags", Songwriting, Finding Collaborators, and Her Musical Journey
I've been listening to "Red Flags" for a couple weeks now, and every time it comes up on my playlist, I get totally drawn into it again. Lisa's honesty in the song instantly made me want to chat with her. I love that "Red Flags" is willing to admit that most of life is about shared blame. So many songs are either about blaming someone or assuming the entirety of the blame, and I love the realism of "Red Flags". I also really appreciate the production on the track. It's simple and never tries to overshadow the lyrics, but the silence and then swell into the chorus grabs my attention every time.
What or who inspired you to start songwriting at 13? And beyond just writing song, what pushed you to send them off to contests?
I always loved music, and I decided to take some piano lessons, but I was mostly self taught. In the piano lesson, one of the goals was the write a song. And I started writing this song, and I realized that after spending hours working on it just how much I loved the process. I kept working on that one song for a very long time- like six months. I kept going back to it. I wanted to figure out 'why do I love certain songs'. What would make someone connect with what I'm writing.
The same piano teacher had this local songwriting contest, and it was pretty much just for people who took lessons with him. And I remember I was so excited that I placed in the top three. After that, I decided I was going to look into some other contents. Then I found this other one called the American Songwriting awards, which is a much much bigger contest. I never thought I would place in that, but I did. Once I realized that songwriting was a passion, I just didn't stop.
Did wanting to be an artist lead you to start writing songs or was it songwriting that lead you to be an artist?
It was kind of at the same time. I remember when I was in 3rd grade, pacing around the living room telling my mom I wanted to change the world. I really wanted to make an impact on the world, and it's just so hard to do that. I didn't know that I wanted to be a performer or anything then, but finding songwriting made me realize that was the outlet I wanted to use in order to help the world in some way. And then I realized I love public speaking and performing after that.
It seems like your local community was a major early supporter of your music. Did having that early support and recognition help shape your relationship to your artist career?
Definitely. I feel like a lot of people are super focused on online streamings and views and all the numbers and stuff, but I think just the fact that getting support from local newspapers and family and friends made me realize that fans are real people, they're not just numbers. That made me want to write music that would effect real people and not just for the numbers. That has really effected my songwriting. I want to be able to connect with them. Starting from my town I learned early on how important it was to write songs people could relate to.
Mental Health seems to be at the center of all of your work. You’ve talked about anxiety being a coping mechanism and on your website, one of the main tabs is called Mental Health full of resources. Mental health has become central to my own work too. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you!
It’s so often hinted about in music, and you center it so directly and without the euphemisms. What lead you to that decision, or was it even a choice?
I think it's kind of developed over time. The first song I put out a few years ago ended up getting a lot of traction with people who were dealing with really scary things like cancer. That really effected me as I was just starting to release music at the time. That shaped what I wanted to do moving forward.
Over time, I've really dived into my personal experiences. The first TikTok that really blew up for me was the first line of "Red Flags". The first line is "Last pill from the bottom of the bottle". For me, that was about sleep medication, but I didn't specify. I got so many comments from people who also deal with all of these mental health things, and I realized just writing about things that were true to my own experiences seemed to really connect with people. Since then, I've continued to post on TikTok about all these other mental health things that I also deal with and I think a lot of people deal with.
I decided it would be smart to put together some resources. When I was in high school, I didn't have any resources. I didn't know where to turn when I was really anxious or when I had an eating issue. I didn't have anyone to turn to. It's really important to have these resources available and to be talking about these things that a lot of teenagers and young adults and preteens experience. A lot of people were commenting about their own struggles, and I wanted people to know that there was help out there.
You’ve candidly talked about losing your artistic identity after moving to LA in 2018 and going down a more electro-pop road. It must be hard to realize that projects you put effort into were simply wrong for you. How did you come to that realization, and was it difficult to course correct?
Red flags is a really refreshingly even-handed look at the flaws that all humans posses. I love the production of the chorus, but I also love the way that you’re so openly like “hey, we both have our issues” and being upfront about that. What inspired that point of view for the song because so often it’s either about blaming yourself or blaming others exclusively? I like that it’s a mutual thing.
Can you tell me more about the process of producing the song? It’s really well done and serves the lyrics. How involved in that process are you?
As an artist and as a songwriter, do you have a main goal for all of your songs or something you want them to do for the listener?
My big goal is for people listening to feel listened to. I know that's kind of backwards because they're listening to my music. But I want them to feel like the song is about them or similar to an experience the listener personally had. That connectivity and unity really can help people going through a hard time. Even though I'm talking about hard issues, it's important for people to know they're not alone in those situations, and they hopefully will seek help and feel connected.
2020 and 2021 have been hard years for musicians with the lack of touring. How have you been able to continue connecting to your fans?
I've been posting at least once a week if not twice a week on TikTok and also Instagram and all the social media platforms. I also created a Facebook group that is the Lisa Heller Street Team. I'm going to be doing livestreams in there twice a month for true fans who really just want to hear the music, and I also created a texting list so that people can stay connected through messaging.
How has the EP, is anyone listening, been taking shape? How far along in the process are you at this point?