“My first time performing live was probably at school assembly when I was 10.” Twelve years on Goldsmiths graduate Lisbee Stainton is touring all over Europe supporting Joan Armatrading with three albums and five singles under her belt.
“It’s been an almighty learning curve touring with Joan, it’s like the fast-forward button’s been left on. I love it, the fans are an amazing bunch of people,” beams Lisbee.
Lisbee has been touring with Armatrading since March, living out of a motor-home while taking in the European scenery. “I’m not needed until the evening, so I have the whole day to explore. The days tend to blur together. One day I’ll get out of our motor home and completely forget where we are.”
Is motor -home life with close friends as fun as it sounds? “It’s fun, and not fun,” laughs Lisbee. “I mean you could get a real sense of camaraderie and all, but there’s not much privacy. We’ve had it a lot better than Joan’s crew though, all 40 of them have to sleep crammed in on a bus.”
Joan Armatrading is a three-time Grammy Award-nominee with a number of records certified gold, surely, Lisbee must be feeling the pressure? “My first gig was in Cologne, Germany. When I went out on stage the audience completely erupted even though they were there for Joan! That first night was one of my favourites, I’ve never been that nervous in my entire life.”
“I get nervous every time I go on stage. Always. I think it gives me a boost, and it’s good especially when you’re on tour. You play the same stuff every night so it can get quite stale. It’s really easy to switch off, so the adrenaline keeps you going and it keeps things fresh.”
Having grown up in Hampshire for the first 18 years of her life, the bustling thrills of city life are a relatively new experience for Lisbee. “I was born in Southampton, right by the sea. Then I moved up to a tiny village called Newnham. There’s just a village green, a pub and a church. I think I was one of six under the age of 50.”
“I had to work in the pub when I was 14 until I was 18. It’s sort of like a rite of passage, it’s what everyone did. There was an active folk scene in Newnham, and working at the pub exposed me to a lot of it. That’s when I got going in terms of song-writing and music.”
Lisbee’s songs are bursting with bright, warm sounds. What inspires her sunny pop melodies? “The way I write music changes every time. Some songs take 20 minutes, some take weeks. I pretty much listen to anything, I’m a very greedy ear person,” jokes Lisbee. “I believe the more stuff goes in, the more stuff will come out. I love walking into HMV, picking up a random CD and listening to it at home. Sometimes it’s great and I hear amazing stuff, other times it doesn’t quite work out that well.”
Her decision to study at Goldsmiths has clearly worked out well, though. “Everyone is creative here. As soon as I walked in, I knew it was the right kind of place. You just spend three years dipping into people’s lives, combining influences and coming out with different results. I tried to work with as many people as I could, just to see what would happen.”
Her collaborations are far and wide; many of the musicians featured on ELL are friends of Lisbee’s. “Goldsmiths really widened my perspective. It just takes you out of your box. It’s not the kind of atmosphere you’d be able to find again.”
Atmosphere is important, whether it be for universities, music venues or homes – and Stainton’s was a musical one. “My dad plays the guitar, it was always in the living room and any chance we’d get my sister and I would play with it,” laughs Lisbee, strumming an imaginary guitar. “When I was 10 I took classical guitar lessons, then got into studying classical theory but now I’ve lost the theory. I have favourite bars from classical pieces that I would sometimes use for inspiration, sometimes there’s a piece with lovely little chords.”
“My dad still inspires me, and he’s actually my manager now. When I was 14 he said: ‘The music industry is a shark, maybe it’s worth DIY-ing it’ like a lot of musicians these days.” So Lisbee is unsigned despite her impressive discography, supported by a team of people working with Marionet Music.
“Many of them do it just because they love my music, which really gives me a boost. I think wow, this many people believe in me. Without them this tour wouldn’t have happened, nor would my latest album have come together so well.”
The album is a compilation of material Lisbee has written over the years. “The oldest one was from when I was 16. The idea behind the album was to keep production as low as possible while still sounding professional, we literally recorded everywhere including a barn in East Sussex.”
Does Lisbee have a recurring theme in her songs? “A drunk lady in Bruge came right up to me after my show and she was like, ‘I’d like to say something, you sing about yourself a lot’ which made me laugh. I mean I do sing in first person but it’s not necessarily me. I would try and convey a tapestry of emotions by pretending to be someone else. I try to be as open-ended as I can so I don’t give myself away too much. Most of the time I write for the listener, so the music can fit any situation.”
Lisbee is set to go back on tour around the UK, finishing the Joan Armatrading tour at the end of June. She plans to work on her studio album due out next year. Watch her Myspace for details of gigs late-summer in London.