Like many teens in the 80’s I was a loyal Prince & The Revolution fan. I drew the eyes, lips and side swept hair picture from the Purple Rain album artwork onto every book cover and Pee Chee folder I could find. My zip up hoodie vest was adorned with Prince & The Revolution pins. My bedroom walls were decorated with Prince crawling out of his bathtub and riding his purple motorcycle.
Not only was I infatuated with Prince and the sounds of his music I was intrigued by the two woman in the group, Wendy & Lisa. They added a female vibe and contributed their own musical talent to The Revolution.
I was inspired by their style, confidence and attitude.
In 1986, Wendy & Lisa became a musical duo creating their own albums, a few being Fruit at the Bottom, Eroica & Girl Bros. They also started scoring music for film and television shows such as Heroes, Nurse Jackie, Soul Food and Dangerous Minds.
When I heard Wendy & Lisa had a new album out called White Flags of Winter Chimneys I wanted to learn more about them. Here is my interview with Wendy & Lisa:
HIH: You’ve been friends since childhood. How did you meet and did you hit it off right away?
LISA: We met when we were little kids. Our parents were friends, our fathers met working in the studios in L.A. as session musicians (Part of the Wrecking Crew among other things), and our families became very close. There was an age difference between us, Wendy was probably only 18 months, and I was 4 years old? So obviously I was too sophisticated to socialize with a little rubber chicken like she was!
In truth, I was very close to her older brother and all of us kids went in and out of phase with our ages and interests, but always remained very close.
WENDY: I have no memory of not having Lisa in my life.
HIH: Many people don’t realize that you were musicians in your own right before being part of Prince & The Revolution. You both brought so much musically and creatively to the group. What was the group dynamic like in the early days?
LISA: I joined Prince’s band a few years before Wendy did and I was not aware of the existing dynamic in the band when I came to my first rehearsal in Minneapolis. I had played in a few bands etc…. my own bands mostly, and I had usually been the band “leader”, although it never was much of an issue or power struggle for anyone. Things were a bit different where Prince was concerned. There was a decidedly established hierarchy in place and I put my FOOT in it more than once. Having said that, Prince found me amusing saying, “I like a woman who laughs in the face of danger”. I think that because he thought I was a good musician he forgave me my attitude. He asked me frequently for my ideas and my biggest weakness was my utter cluelessness in regards to ”shaking my ass” on stage.
WENDY: I had studied and played for a very long time before joining the band. As it so happened that when I joined Prince’s band at the time I was really only spending my free time with Lisa so he was able to hear me play. That’s how I got the gig.
HIH: With all the protégé groups Prince was associated with was it difficult after The Revolution ended to be seen as Wendy & Lisa and not Wendy & Lisa from Prince & the Revolution?
LISA: It still is. That will always be there I suppose. I don’t know that I will ever really know the true effect that fact has had on my life and career. It is just the simple fact of my life. It has certainly made me/us a curiosity to people and it gets us in the door, but dealing with the definition and identity of ”Wendy and Lisa” remains a challenge to this day. We sometimes meet with executives that were in high school when Purple Rain came out and they tell us about the marching band that played purple rain, or that their school colors were purple and gold, and how everybody had hair like ours in the yearbook… so, umm…. yeah, that tends to cloud things when we are there to talk about scoring a drama or psychological thriller……!?
WENDY: I’m with Lisa 100%!!
HIH: You’ve had great success scoring for television and movies such as Heroes, Nurse Jackie and Dangerous Minds. What are the benefits and challenges to composing a score for television compared to creating a song for an album?
LISA: The great thing about scoring is the chance to zone in on an emotion or evolution of emotion using sounds and notes.
I find that the most simple approach usually works best. For instance playing one sustaining note and then adding a “major third”, as in the Three Stooges famous singing of, “Hello, Hello, Hello…..HELLO!” Those first two notes are a major third…. this creates a feeling of ‘good’, but if you start with that same single sustaining note and add a dissonant note , as in the famous JAWS theme where two notes a half step apart are played rapidly in succession, this creates a feeling of tension. These two notes are literally beating against each other, therefore literally irritating the human ear! (“Stop! PLEASE!” says the eardrum.)
When writing a song, the biggest challenge, or choice in defining the song is the lyric and/or vocal. The vocal can come right out and say whatever you want to convey. Love, loneliness, or some abstract observation; the choices are unlimited and if one is trying to sell a lot of records, the pressure of writing something that could appeal to the masses is, for me , a guessing game at best.
The Great thing about song writing is that you ARE free to decide where the ”scene” should go. You become the actor, the director, the camera… everything about it is your vision.
WENDY: Yes, Lisa is very right. Scoring is a beautiful and fulfilling way for me to understand and express the narrative of a story. I have always been and will always be a cinefile geek. Scoring has more power than the average ear can hear. I love that it is invisible yet it really drives the subtext or the larger vision of the writer director. Very different then writing a song.
HIH: How do you compose together? Do you both collaborate equally or does one take the lead more often than the other?
LISA: It depends on the project. We definitely have our individual strengths, but we also have worked so much together that we rely on the other one to be part of the thought process regardless of who is physically playing the parts, or writing a musical phrase or lyric. We score scenes in ”real time” while watching the picture, and for instance, while I play a string line or piano part we both watch the scene and Wendy can react and feel what I’m doing while am struggling sometimes just putting my fingers in the right place. We are a four hemisphered brain!
WENDY: We are merged completely.
HIH: What is your method when you get ideas for a song or score? Is it a methodical or whimsical approach?
LISA: There is a choice? There is a decidedly whimsical method to getting in ”the zone” for me. Just ask Wendy! Oh, you did.
WENDY: LOLOLOL… I think it goes back and forth the entire time.
HIH: Are you still in contact with any of the other members from Prince & The Revolution?
LISA: Yes, all of them. We remain close even if it’s just emails for long periods of time. When we see each other it is like “it was only yesterday.”
WENDY: Yes that’s true… we are war buddies… we stay very close. I think I speak to Bobby Z the drummer the most.
HIH: When Purple Rain came out in 1984, my Great Aunt May fell in love with the album and the movie. She was in her 60’s and I was a teenager but we both had a great time dancing to Let’s Go Crazy together. What music do you have fond memories of from your childhood or teenage years?
LISA: That is a HUGE question. Being that my parents were/are both musicians there was a constant flow of music and all kinds of music going on in our house. My brother and sister and I were all trained classically, but also had bands together in various combinations ranging from acoustic folk based, to punk/ new wave rock, Frank Zappa jazz dramedy, to a straight up bubble gum pop band that was produced by Wendy’s father.
I will say this… My Mother ALWAYS loved to dance and in the 60′s she would boogaloo to Jimi Hendrix, and in the 70′s we would all dance in the kitchen to things like Tina Turner’s first solo album, “Nutbush City Limits”, The Pointer Sisters, Rufus, Average White Band, Earth Wind and Fire, Santana… and Aretha Franklin … and then put Stravinsky on and weep to the Fire Bird Suite, or Beethoven’s 7th.
WENDY: My twin sister Susannah and I used to perform shows to our parents and their friends to Aretha Franklins CHAIN OF FOOLS…and the theme to Mission impossible which Our father played on. We used to pretend to hunt each other in slow motion and kill each other at the same time and fall to the floor for applause. I’m not sure what that says about our pathologies but it was cute in a sort of Addams family way.
HIH: I’ve been following you on twitter. What do you think of this direct form of communication with fans?
LISA: I LOVE IT! It has been a relief to me. It has lifted a phobia and a self-consciousness that was learned by years of being literally guarded and kept separate from EVERYONE. When Purple Rain became the success that it did, it changed our lives. We traveled first class, or on private jets, we would go straight off the stage into a waiting van or limo that took us to the hotel where we were lead through secret entrances, through kitchens and into our rooms where we would eat dinner in our rooms, often times pack our bags and get into a bus to drive to the next city. If we did go out to a club or restaurant together we were escorted to a private room, or table that was roped off, surrounded by body guards, and were almost completely unapproachable. In a way, at the time it was necessary, but to a great extent it was more like a strategy or a posture, than a necessity. It is also WAY better and easier than trying to answer fan letters in the mail, or even emails. We tried over the years to do that too, but Twitter is fantastic and fun and instant and also there is great wisdom in the limit of 140 characters per Tweet! (She said as she went on and on………!)
WENDY: I love direct contact. It makes all the difference in the world to find out for yourself what your fans want from you. I’m so in to it!
HIH: Tell us about your latest album White Flags of Winter Chimneys.
LISA: Well, most people ask us why it took ten years to release another Wendy and Lisa album, and I suppose that now by answering that question I have come to understand a little more about the meaning of this record and the experiences that took up that space and blew those pages off the calendar for an entire decade.
“White Flags of Winter Chimneys” is a Joni Mitchell Lyric from the song ‘Heijira”. At first I think we were drawn quite simply to the imagery and mood of the words. After letting the idea sink in for a little while (the idea didn’t come up until near the end of the project and then we wrote the title song), I started to connect with a deeper reason that perhaps we had both keyed in to without realizing it.
This record contains a lot of reflection on a continued feeling and experience of loss in our lives. Our last album was largely a memorial dedicated to Wendy’s brother Jonathan who died in ’96. We were incapacitated for a couple of years before we wrote GIRL BROS in ’98. As we began to heal and redefine ourselves as survivors, our personal relationship started to suffer great strain and eventually we parted as a couple and started living separately for the first time in 20 years.
Less than a year later my brother, David died and that is when I felt that the impossible was becoming the norm. That was in 2004. It was such a horrible blow…… Wendy and I, who had been working hard at remaining partners professionally and healing our broken hearts, were now face to face with another tidal wave to dive under.
With life throwing such cold and powerful storms our way it was hard not to want to just go to sleep. Like having hypothermia, I just wanted to close my eyes.
Funny thing is good things started happening. Professionally Wendy and I were getting great offers and support in the field of scoring, we both met other people and had children, and we both rededicated and pledged to work at keeping the best of ourselves available to each other. Why lose somebody when you don’t have to? We had been a family. Brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers included.
This was the Fire that was burning and sending up a White Flag of surrender, a beacon of warmth into the cold. It was acceptance and trust all wrapped up in a beautiful Lyrical Art Imitating Life Imitating Art.
The songs we finally got to writing all carry this truth. They are all songs about fighting and accepting. ”Beginning at the End”.
It was recorded in a few months in 08. Written and Performed by the two of us, and recorded by our friend and engineer Michael Perfitt.
It was made only because we wanted to make it. We have not had a record deal in 15 years? Maybe more. It is Rock, Folk, Psychedelic, Cinematic, Fun and Personal and… It sounds cool.
WENDY: WOW. Lisa answered for me. Thanks sweetie! Now I can get back to twittering.
Visit wendyandlisa.com and have a listen to tracks from White Flags of Winter Chimneys.
Follow Wendy & Lisa on twitter.
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