Through horn-rimmed glasses

Lisa Loeb struggles with the expectations of success

Loeb has been writing and performing since her days at Hockaday in the mid-'80s, and when she went off to college, she'd come home for the holidays and book a gig at Chumley's and call to hustle up a mention in the paper to promote the show. Usually, the now-defunct club would be half-filled with old friends from high school, and the occasional passing stranger.

She would also become a regular fixture at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, seen each year walking down the street with her guitar case in hand on her way to the Chicago House, where the other acoustic folkies played. Those who would label her success of the "overnight" variety do not know that Loeb was dogged about achieving at least moderate fame long before "Stay" was released, long before hearing it on the radio conjured images of Lawrence Olivier asking, "Is it safe?"

The success of "Stay" set off the sort of record-label bidding war the industry hadn't experienced in a few years, since the unexpected popularity of Nirvana's Nevermind sent artist-and-repertoire people scurrying for the next grunge-rock poster band. Such labels as RCA, Interscope, EastWest, Atlantic, Columbia, and Madonna's Maverick imprint for Warner Bros. were among those bidding for her services, but by July of 1994, Loeb decided to go with Geffen (which was, incidentally, Nirvana's label).

The album was originally due in April, then rescheduled for July, then pushed back till September 29. Rumors circulated throughout the industry that Geffen had sent it back to Loeb and producer-boyfriend Juan Pati–o for reworking, unhappy with the album's lack of focus and cumbersome mixes; in fact, a story in the tiny but influential New York Observer (no relation to the Dallas Observer) blamed the delays on Pati–o, whom the writer portrayed as a control freak-Svengali with a tight grip over Loeb's work. The story subsequently was rehashed in various entertainment magazines, though Loeb scoffs at the article and refers to it as out of context, "freaky and mean."

She says the reasons for the delays were purely artistic, caused by the difficulties in laying down complex string arrangements or harmony parts. "If it didn't feel right, or if the songs weren't leaning in the right direction," Loeb says, "we'd do what we had to do to make them right."

Tails is neither an unexpected departure from "Stay" nor a carbon copy of her so-called "Purple Tape," an all-acoustic cassette she and Pati–o recorded in the spring of 1992 featuring four songs that reappear on Tails. The new album is somewhere in the middle: once simple and stripped-down songs re-recorded with lush, subtly gigantic arrangements; awkward poetry ("Do you take plight on my tongue like lead?/Do you fall gracefully into bed anymore?") meant to communicate complex adult emotion; soulful singing by a young woman whose voice sounds forever frozen as a little girl's. Even when the songs rock, when the acoustic guitar gives way to the electric on a song like "Garden of Delights," Loeb still sounds...pleasant.

Loeb does not deny the label has certain expectations for Tails; then, how could it not? The video for "It's Over" is already receiving airplay on MTV and VH1 though the album is not in stores yet--something granted only to established artists. Should it fail to produce several Number One songs, should the album fail to ascend the Billboard charts, Geffen most surely will consider Tails, and Loeb, a failure. After all, you don't sign a number-one draft pick and invest thousands upon hundreds of thousands of dollars in that person to watch them fail in public.

"It's a weird pressure, though," Loeb says. "I had pressure while I was recording the album, but it was all internal. It came from me, it came from Juan. That's just the way we are with anything, whether it's with a record deal or anything. That's just the way we've always worked. We've done other projects together, and we have our own expectations of ourselves.

"I never felt any pressure from the record company or even from having a success with 'Stay' because that's not something I can do. I can't make a hit, I can't make a successful record. I can only make a record I did my best on...If the record doesn't sell, that wouldn't be nice, but I can't look at it and say, 'I wish I would have done it differently' because I don't know how I would have done it differently.

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