A recipe for joy – meet Lisa Budin-Price
She’s a larger-than-life, fiery Aries with a huge heart, a naughty streak and a solid gold voice. It’s no wonder that songstress Lisa Budin-Price is the perfect person to breathe life into Remembering The Carpenters: a charismatic tribute to the songs and music of Karen and Richard Carpenter. All Things Entertainment talked music, life and art with her.
“I was a little shit!”
“I was a little shit”, laughs Lisa, reminiscing about the precocious young girl who sang (and played) her first song on the guitar at age four, corrected an uncle’s guitar chord usage at age five (“Shut up, you don’t know everything!” – Uncle. “Yes, I do!” – Lisa) and these days moves audiences to tears of joy with her beautifully constructed tribute show, Remembering The Carpenters.
“My entire family was musical. It was just natural. My grandmother did it, my parents did it, my four brothers did it, they all played instruments, everyone played instruments. And you have to remember, we were from a cold climate [Lisa was born in London Ontario, Canada], and my mother and brother had polio, so we didn’t go out much.” This set-up lead to regular family visits to Lisa’s house, where often there’d be up to 25 people, all of them bringing their instruments, filling the days and nights with music. “I remember everybody just singing and playing…”
Lisa was born with music in her bones. After kicking things off with that first song, Peter, Paul & Mary’s Where have all the flowers gone?, she continued studying music in primary school, going for lessons and taking part in musicals.
“My dad was the school principal and my mom was an English teacher. Everyone knew everyone in the town, and they all knew that I sang, even though I was so young.” Moving to Australia in her tweens did nothing to derail her destiny. “When I came to Australia I was nearly eleven, and I was put into the school musical, The Snow Queen. I had to be the Grandmother and sing a solo piece myself, accompanied by piano. And you know, I was only 11, so it was pretty rough! But I just did it naturally, and everybody was roaring… I thought, this is fun!”
Later at school she’d do a version of “Solitary Man” on a 12-string guitar, faced by 1 000 kids, including her four brothers and her peers. “I was such a terribly naughty child, a bully, but I had this beautiful voice. So, when I sang, everyone was like, is that LISA?! It was as if I had two personalities, I was this sweet little singer and then I was this little shit,” she admits wryly. She muses that being a brat was probably directly related to her awareness of her talent – but she laughs about it now. “My dad had done child psychology, and my mom was an English teacher, and I said to myself that I was NEVER going to be a teacher because no way on the planet would I want to suffer with someone like me!”
Music continued as Lisa grew up, with lessons and musicals and singing in school trios, “always learning, always being involved in different areas”. But she never did a formal music degree, and says her experience comes from “life, rather than education.”
At the age of 19, she went to the A1 professional music studio, choosing to sing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” – and the future was ready to start.
“Nothing is hard for me when I’m singing…”
“Nothing’s hard for me when I’m singing,” says Lisa. “Everything just sort of flows out with no real thought of what I’m doing or why I’m there...” But finding music effortless does not mean that it doesn’t take hard work and perseverance to make a good show work – and this fact is at the heart of one of the biggest misconceptions about Lisa’s chosen career.
“People don’t think it’s work. You’ve probably heard a million people say, ‘I’m a muso, or a singer – but people don’t want to pay me money.’ And I think, hang on a minute: if a plumber comes to your house and looks at your washing machine, that won’t happen for less than $150. And if he then replaces the starter button, he’ll charge you $300. Then he goes to his next job. Say he does ten jobs a day – he’s just made $3 000. But if you’re a muso, someone will ring you up and ask if you can play for free at a party. No, I can’t. Right? And I don’t charge per hour – I charge per event. Because it’s ten hours from the minute you go there with your equipment, doing set up, performing, being professional… The misconception is that people think I do this for fun. Yes, I HAVE fun while doing it, but I don’t DO it for fun – I need money. That’s how I survive and how I’m able to do stuff!”
Lisa took a career break between the ages of 25 and 35 – “marriage, children and that sort of stuff” – returning to music at age 35. Her music teacher wasn’t convinced that she needed any kind of guidance, though, telling her to go right out and record an album, but Lisa needed to rediscover the fun, and “just get back in tune with instruments and my voice”.
“I went to her for a year to get back into the swing of things and to remind myself how much I loved singing, learning and getting better. And it’s funny: when I went back, it was like I’d never left it.” Lisa also had a very strong idea of the project she wanted to create, and how to play to her strengths. “People had always pushed me to sing in a different key, saying that I should sing higher. But the quality of my voice is at a contralto tenor, which is a very special little area that not a lot of people can get to, and if you DO get to it, you want it to be very good. When I first started singing, I sang in the deep ranges, and that’s where I felt comfortable. So, at age 35 I took a stand and decided I wasn’t going to listen to anybody – unless they were people who understood me, my voice and my range.”
Lisa met Nigel Hanley, a guitar player and musical arranger, at one of the clubs she performed at, and discovered a kindred spirit: “I asked him if he understood what I was trying to say about not being able to sing a certain song in a certain key, and he was, like ‘100 percent – I’ll rearrange all your vocal stuff, I’m bringing it down three tones, don’t listen to what anyone else says.’ I told him I wanted all the Carpenters’ music written in my range, and that I would practice them and perform them… It felt natural, people had already told me that I sounded like Karen Carpenter when I was young.”
Some people questioned Lisa’s decision, wondering about the impact of such “depressing” music – but she wasn’t daunted. She had a vision, and it culminated in a dynamic tribute show that can feature an full eight-piece band or transform into a smaller, more intimate act with just Lisa.
Building her team of musicians was a process, starting out with the advice of her singing teacher. “She referred me to John Martin, a concert pianist she knew, so I rang him up. He’s been with me since the beginning. The majority of the people, though, I found from doing club talent quests.”
Lisa probably did about 100 of these talent quests, adding another carefully arranged Carpenters’ song to her repertoire every time. It’s taken 20 years and $200 000 of her own money to create the show, CDs, arrangements and copyrighting… But it’s been worth it. The feedback and testimonials are a testament to Remembering The Carpenters’ wide appeal – and often sketch poignant vignettes of people who are deeply touched by Lisa and her music.
“You know, these shows… It’s not about me, it’s about everyone else. If people are coming to the show and they’re crying and being happy and they react… Ah. I get goose bumps just thinking about it now.”
A special treat during Lisa’s shows is when she hands out 12 red roses to members of the audience. This often makes for heartwarming moments, such as when one rose recipient turned to give it to his mother. “It’s a hard thing to give out the roses, to have to choose only 12 of all the people that have their hands up, saying ‘pick me, pick me!’. I wish I could take 500 roses! It’s just amazing. You know what I think it is? Musically, the music is staying alive because my voice is transporting it to these people. There’s nothing else, it’s that simple: the audience is listening to my voice come out of my mouth, the songs are being heard, the songs are awesome, the musicians are amazing. If you can pull it off and you’ve got personality and wit and you’re able to handle any situation at all you’re going to survive, you’re going to do well, and you’re going to be able to smash anything. Even the mistakes, there are many mistakes, but nobody knows that!”
“It’s true to people’s lives…”
The Carpenters sure did create some melancholy songs. But this in no way detracts from the music. And the core truth she feels lies at the heart of their music leads to an impassioned musing from Lisa:
“Melodically, the music is true to people’s lives. Everything that has been written and sung was about someone or something, and it’s all true. All the wording of every song: ‘Every night, every day, you’re the one I’ve always dreamed of… Every line on your face is sketched so plain inside my heart’. That’s a song called ‘You’re the One’. It was recorded by Karen, but never put on an album until ten years after her death. She wasn’t even able to hear this song recorded! Now, I’ve sang that song at weddings a million times, and if you listen to the words… It’s so full of love. It’s real: love is life, happiness is life, sadness is life. I keep saying in my show, if you don’t have the emotions, you won’t know what happy and sad is, ’cos you’ll just live on the same plateau and you won’t get excited, you won’t get upset, you won’t be able to love anything or anyone because you’re always in this grey thing. To me, the appeal of the music is that it brings out happiness and sadness, sometimes tears of joy. That gets to me. I love all the songs, I love all the love songs. I just love them.”
We take a moment to breathe. In the face of such passion, can light-heartedness find its way in? Absolutely: Lisa laughs about a show where she encouraged the audience to get up and “take your clothes off, dance on the tables, do whatever you want” to the sound of “Jambalaya” and four ladies responded with gusto.
“I was like, no, no, no! Sit down! If the manager comes in we’re busted! Ah, no, no! And then the whole place was clapping and screaming and cheering – it was bloody hilarious!”
The importance of music
Lisa believes in music’s ability to invigorate the brain, and feels her role in the musical process is to keep everybody alive, kicking and active in their minds. To this end, she often performs at aged care facilities and in dementia wards. She often finds this painful, due to her memories of the time spent in hospitals with her mum, and the emotional nature of the surroundings – but she also thinks it’s an extremely important service. “If I can trigger a memory for them, then that’s the role I play – making people remember, making them happy.” She also feels strongly that more can be done to add music to Australia’s aged care and general care landscape. “I think the biggest problem is funding. Retirement villages, nursing homes – they don’t want to pay money for artists, or pay very little, expecting it to be done out of charity – and I think that’s wrong. I would do it if I chose to, and I DO often do it, but I really think that the government should step in and pay good money for something that adds joy and meaning to lives that desperately need it. For example, I was singing at the unit for spinal cord injuries (SCIA), and one of the things they did once a month was put music into the spinal unit – they paid the artist $300 dollars to come for two hours. They’ve cut it. They no longer want to pay once a month for someone to come in and sing and bring so much pleasure and joy to these poor people that are in there for three to six to 12 months. The government stopped giving them money to do that. How ridiculous is that? We don’t need a $5 000 leather lounge in Parliament House – we need music in the SCIA, where it’s needed most!”
Smaller is better
Lisa has performed at a myriad of venues, big and small – but enjoys the intimacy of performing in a smaller venue, where you can really interact with the audience. That’s what made a recent experience in the Blue Mountains Theatre one of her favourite shows ever: “They’ve had Morning Melodies going on there for over two years, so I just got in touch last year and asked them if they’d be interested in a show. They said yes, we’d love to have you – and the theatre ended up with 310 people, which was their biggest crowd ever! They were awesome: the sound, the lighting, the people, it was all great.”
“ATE make everything awesome”
Talking about million-dollar publicity – Lisa waxes lyrical about her experience with All Things Entertainment.
“Nancy (Nancy Hillary director, All Things Entertainment) is my kind of woman. Working with ATE is an experience in uplifting, diligent, great-quality work. Everything is done, cared about, nurtured – they believe in me! And that kind of thing is important: I don’t want to do all the background stuff, I want to be in the front, singing. And Nancy sorts out everything so that I can do my best, and she believes in giving me the best. It’s the little things: talking to people, coming to events, seeing the show, understanding that I don’t want to deal with niggly stuff. I’ve never had that in 20 years, because I always did it for myself. So, to now have someone who is really working hard for me, that’s amazing! And I appreciate it so much because she lets me still be me without bossing me around. All Things Entertainment make everything awesome! ” [Note from ATE: okay Lisa, we owe you a beer!]
What gets you in trouble?
Too much wine! Haha!
Coolest person you’ve ever met?
Weirdest person you’ve ever met?
Person you’d love to meet?
Richard Carpenter – so that I can sing with him!
Favourite song to sing?
The Carpenters’ “Superstar”
Favourite song to listen to?
Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé – “Barcelona”
Favourite people to have over for dinner?
My kids, my dad and my brothers
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Never listen to people telling you to change your hair colour!
Lose weight! Ha!
What makes you angry?
What would people never guess about you?
That I’m from Canada – I don’t have an accent.
Not Without my Daughter by Betty Mahmoody and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
My Fair Lady
Thing to do that’s not work related?
Swimming at the beach!
Words: Donnay Torr/ Torr Collective