The singer-songwriter, who was born in New York but raised in Florida, has had an indirect path to country music. Although she grew up loving (and singing) the genre, her career originally took a pop path--she put out two top-10 dance hits while still in her teens, and toured with the likes of Taylor Dayne and Brenda K. Starr. Realizing that her true love was country music, she made the switch to where her creative heart lay, and has released three country albums to date. Her latest, Somebody's Baby, is garnering attention for the title track, which is climbing the charts and attracting ears with its unique rockin' country hybrid sound.
We had the opportunity to talk to Matassa about her new music, the fact that she's not Nashville based, and how she has managed to blend all her musical influences so successfully. Enjoy!
Our Country: There is a lot of discussion about how you are a country artist from Long Island. Given that country music is so widespread in popularity these days--and there are artists in the genre from basically all over the country now--do you find that your NY heritage is less of a talking point?
Lisa Matassa: It definitely continues to intrigue people a bit when they hear I live on Long Island. Once they hear how much country music influenced me as a little girl growing up in South Florida, I think my current place of residence no longer becomes an issue. As far as I'm concerned, country music is America's music regardless of where you hang your hat.
That said, what do you think your NY roots bring that is uniquely special to your music?
Every country artist brings his or her own unique style into a song, and I think a lot of their interpretation comes naturally from where they grew up. The way they approach a word in the song or the timbre in their voice, all of it is unique. For me, living in NY and hearing a more diverse collection of music gave me the opportunity to really hone in on my inner rocker, especially vocally and in my song arrangements. When you combine my early love for country music and the rock songs I listened to as a teenager, you get my interpretation of "Long Island Country."
Do you ever receive criticism for choosing not to live in Nashville?
It's funny; I've been going to Nashville so often these past few years that many people assume I live there. I love Nashville and fortunately I know my way around the city pretty well now so I'm comfortable being there. When I first went to Nashville, I did get a few "Say, you're not from around here, are you?" but I haven't encountered any criticism for being from New York. You would be shocked at how many talented musicians from the New York area have relocated to Nashville in the past few years, and the ones I know personally love every minute of it.
Have you ever considered moving your family to Nashville?
Absolutely. The first time I walked through the Nashville Airport, I heard the sound of a solo musician playing at Tootsies. I saw how many people like me stopped to listen for awhile and then I suddenly realized that I had been drawn into the vibe of Music City. It's hard to describe how I felt at that moment, and it may be a cliché, but it made me feel as if I were "home." My entire family enjoys Nashville as much as I do, and I wouldn't be surprised if we found it a place to call “home” sometime this year.
You have a pop background as well as country. Did your tenure as a pop singer help you or bring anything special to your career as a country singer?
The experience I had in pop music gave me a great opportunity to develop a strong stage presence and the ability to connect with an audience, especially larger audiences. But what it also taught me was the realization that the music business can be cruel and unpredictable, and that you better make damn sure you know exactly what you're getting into if your dream is to become a successful recording artist.
What is the best compliment you have ever received on your songwriting, either from a fan or a fellow musician?
I love country music fans not only because they're sincere and loyal but because they will actually take the time to write you and tell you how your music has touched them. I recently received an email from a male fan battling cancer, and he told me that listening to my music this past year helped him get through painful chemotherapy. He was thankful because his doctor told him this week he is in remission. I cried when I read his email and felt so happy my music helped him.
How do you balance motherhood and family time with a nontraditional career?
Thankfully my two children are in high school and are a bit more independent, but they also grew up listening to me sing and rehearse with musicians every day in our house for years. It helps that they are also musicians and they are so happy to see me reach for the impossible dream. I really have the most amazing support system with my family, from my husband, my children, my parents and everyone in between. They all help out when I'm required to be away from home. When I am on the road and they can't join me, we make sure we talk via FaceTime every night. It's hard being away from home and if I didn't have their full support on this journey, I would walk away from it all in a heartbeat.