Lisa De Angelis’ music could be described as “Australiana” because it blurs the lines between country music and Americana. The singer was raised in southwest Sydney, and now resides in Brisbane. She’s been described as “part Judy Garland, part Saturday Night Live comedian” – and her songwriting has the power and authenticity of Americana greats Emmylou Harris and Townes Van Zandt.
While working on her debut album (scheduled for release next year), De Angelis tragically lost the hearing in one ear. It was a life-upending ordeal that required six months of treatments in order to simply walk and balance herself properly again.
While most country music in America (except for Morgan Wallen) currently sounds like it was written by an artificial intelligence program, there are no pat algorithms and formulas in De Angelis’ music. She exudes one-of-a-kind courage and creativity.
“My Sister’s Blue Suitcase” is beautifully sung and tells an intriguing story. How did that song take shape?
Thank you so much! I wrote “My Sister’s Blue Suitcase” as an exploration of my feelings around my OCD diagnosis, the baggage that I still carry in adulthood from my broken childhood home, and the streak of depression that has run through the women in my family as far back as anyone can remember. Every single person has this shared experience of being someone’s child’s child, and I was thinking about how many parts of us come from further back in our bloodline than we’re aware of. How many things are we acting out in our own lives that are the result of some life lived generations ago? I wrote it in a single sitting, late at night when all those feelings were keeping me awake, and it really surprised me. I finished it and just sobbed.
My partner Paul Bain is a session drummer, and he and I co-produced the song in our private studio in Brisbane. The experience of being able to share this with the love of my life in this really creative space was so healing. When we decided we wanted a horn section I contacted Tobey Alexander, a really talented composer friend here in Brisbane. I sent him some dodgy voice notes of me singing what I thought the horns should do, and he took it and absolutely ran. I told him I wanted “somewhere between a mariachi band and an old Western funeral dirge,” and somehow he nailed it. I cried then, too. It’s all been “good crying” but there’s been a lot of crying with creating this song!
Last year, you had an illness that cost you the hearing in one ear. Will it slowly return, or is it (unfortunately) gone for good?
At this stage they think it’s gone for good. But I’m an incurable optimist so we’ll see! It was a massive shock. I got an illness called “labyrinthitis” which affected the nerves in one ear, and literally just woke up with complete, profound hearing loss in one ear. The nerve damage affected so many parts of my body, and they told me when I woke up the next day in emergency that my case had been very severe: I couldn’t see straight, couldn’t walk properly, had really severe vertigo and sensory overload, and couldn’t balance. I was in and out of hospital for the better part of six months re-training my body to do all these things, and am so grateful for how incredible the care I got was during a really scary, daunting time. I had hyperbaric oxygen treatment, vestibular physiotherapy, steroid injections through the eardrum, every scan under the sun…you name it, I had it done. I was determined not to let it interfere with my career as much as possible. I’m a baby artist and you work so hard to get to the point of releasing, and then to have something like this happen when you’ve just released your second song is devastating. I went back to playing gigs within the first month and tried to make that part of my healing process so it wasn’t something I had to re-learn from scratch later.
What types of things did you study in the CMAA’s Academy program?
The Country Music Association of Australia’s Academy of Country Music is this sort of intensive course set up to help budding country artists and musicians find their feet in the industry. There was a lot of creative stuff – songwriting classes, instrument lessons, how to read the Nashville Number System, for example – and then practical things that you need to know as an artist as well, like how publicists and agents work, navigating community radio for airplay and interviews, all kinds of things.
A lot – not all, but a lot – of big Australian country artists have gone through the Academy, and honestly it was a real game-changer for me as far as networking, opportunities and practical advice.
Townes Van Zandt died over 25 years ago. What first drew you to his music?
I think I discovered Townes Van Zandt first through Amy Annelle’s cover of “Buckskin Stallion”, and was so moved by it that I looked up the original, watched videos of Townes talking about it, and fell in love with him as an artist. I related to a lot of the way he lived his life and moved through the world, and not always the prettiest parts of it, so his lyrics and the sadness that pervade his sound really resonated with me.
The former president of The Americana Music Association of Australia told me a few years ago that he loved my “lady Townes Van Zandt thing” and I still think it’s one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received! I taught myself to play guitar based on old cowboy songs and Justin Townes Earle’s guitar style, so I guess it makes sense that there have been some similarities passed down also in the way I structure and play my songs when it’s just me and an acoustic guitar.
How extensively have you toured the United States, and will you tour here again to promote your upcoming album?
Nowhere near as extensively as I’d like! I moved to Arkansas many years ago, and it was really there that I learned about Americana music and fell in love with it. I’ve traveled the US pretty extensively but all the playing I’ve done over there has been pretty sporadic rather than a cohesive “tour”. We did an Australian and United States release for “My Sister’s Blue Suitcase” and the response over there has been wonderful, so I’m very eager to get back to the US and make some noise. The plan is definitely to tour my debut album in North America once we get a little closer to release.