Talking with Lisa Heller All About "Red Flags", Songwriting, Finding Collaborators, and Her Musical Journey

Today is an exciting Music, Musings, and Me first as I get to share with you a conversation with an artist for the first time. Lisa Heller's single "Red Flags", off her forthcoming EP Is Anyone Listening, dropped today, so Lisa stopped by (virtually) to chat with me about all things songwriting, mental health, and her brand new music. 

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. 

"Red Flags" is available on streaming platforms now, and you can find more information about Lisa on her website, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter

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? 

Within a month of moving to LA, I got reached out to by this pretty new label based in Nashville, and it was really exciting. I was going to be their first artist, and it seemed really promising. As a young artist, I obviously wanted to jump at this opportunity. It ended up being a really cool experience. I got flown out to Nashville a few times. I got to bring my best friend with me. We made a music video and took pictures. But I didn't feel like I had a lot of control over the music that was being produced or the songs that were being released. Even down to the clothes I was supposed to wear and my make-up and hair. They wanted a very specific direction that just didn't feel right. It didn't feel true to who I wanted to be when I was that little girl writing music. 
It was hard to decide to stop working with this label because it was a big opportunity, but I wanted to trust my gut about why I first started writing music and go back to those roots. I think the fact that my hometown was so supportive proved that I don't have to follow what everyone expects. I decided to go in the opposite direction for the last EP I released. It was literally just piano and vocals. I creatively produced it. But it was scary to go from really over-produced, polished music to really just stripping it back, but I honestly connected with more people and more fans without the label support than with any of the label releases. 
Since then, I've figured out even more what I want my sound to be. That's why I'm so excited for this EP! I think I've let go of any fears with this upcoming EP. 

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. 

I think you kind of said directly what the song was about. I think I kind of struggle with blame a lot like who should take the blame for anything that I'm dealing with. It's mostly about losing friends. I can remember those specific moments where it felt hard because you don't know if it's you or the other person. I wanted to capture that there's always two sides to every story. No one is perfect. Everyone has things they're going through and dealing with. We're all kind of the same. Might as well accept that about ourselves universally. 

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?

I definitely love being as involved as humanly possible. That's something I've really really been focusing on in the last couple years- particularly the last year during the pandemic. I've learned everything that I can. I make all of my demos in my bedroom where I write the songs, and I try to start incorporating the ideas that I picture in the song. That usually is used within the final production of the song to some extent. I work with my producer friend, Will, who's based in Nashville over FaceTime. He really honed in on the sound I was looking for. 
You're right on about the lyrically and vocally focused. The song did start as just piano and vocals. Even though this EP is more produced than the last one, I wanted it to still feel like that was the main focus and anything else added to the production would just elevate that and support the vocals.

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? 

Basically all the songs are done- five out of six. There's one left to be mastered. Basically, now it's about creating lyric videos and getting them out into the world. 

Is there a narrative taking shape through the EP or is it more like a collage of songs and experiences? 
They're all different snapshots of who I am as a person and an artist, if that makes sense. "Red Flags" is about flaws that I have and I think other people might have because no one's perfect. Then my next single "18" is about nostalgia and growing up. It's about this playground I used to go to as a kid and getting drunk on the merry go round when I was 18. And then the third single is "Pity Party", and that's about getting in your feels and feeling pity for yourself. I feel like everyone gets in those moods. The title track of the EP, "Is Anyone Listening" is about some mental health stuff as well. It's about feeling like you're alone, but hopefully people will feel less alone when they listen to it.
They're all facets of what I think about on a daily basis. 

More on Music, Musings, and Me