AWFC Membership Spotlight
A Q&A with 'Munich' Singer and Composer Lisbeth Scott
I saw a wonderful photo of you in between John Williams and Stephen Spielberg! Could you tell us a bit about the history of that?
I was honored to work with John and Stephen on the film Munich. John wrote a 5-minute solo for me that is featured prominently in several parts of the film. Stephen told me my voice was the voice of atonement for mankind. We all cried at the recording session!!! It changed my life. After the session, John pulled me aside and said “I don’t think you realize what a true artist you really are. You have to remember that.” My response Tears!!!! And hugs too!
You recently worked with your collaborator, Nathan Barr, on Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot for New Line Cinema. What was that experience like?
The first time Nathan and I met was at Hans Zimmer’s studio as we were walking in opposite directions down a hallway. The rest is history! We have a sublime collaborative relationship, one that doesn’t need words or explanation. After many collaborations on songs, musicals and more, writing a score together was an expansive experience for us both. We each had to let go of how we score alone, and embrace ‘How we could score together?’ There was a lot of “How about this? No? Ok…what about this?”…..I learned a lot from Nathan as this was my first true horror film. We experimented constantly, tweaking sounds, and mangling vocals until a whole new world was created. Fun!! We are hugely proud of the score and feel it is truly a unique sound that reflects both of us.
I see that you have been nominated twice for an Annie award. Do you find animation to be a particularly inspiring medium for you? In what way?
I was nominated twice for the stop motion animation show, Tumble Leaf, created by Drew Hodges/Bix Pix Entertainment. The show is brilliant, colorful, funny, and embraces positive learning in groundbreaking ways. I loved scoring it…and could truly dive into who I am as a musician….I played piano, ukes, all guitars, harp, harmonium, dulcimer, and sang a whole bunch. For several episodes, I was able to write for and record orchestra and string quartet. The whole experience was a blast. I found myself dreaming about the characters and the land they lived in!! I love animation, the beauty of make believe, the world of dreams….it’s limitless and full of joy, which is an important element in life…too often forgotten!
The upcoming documentary, Gratitude Revealed by Louie Schwartzberg, is being released shortly. How did you go about creating the score?
I had worked with Louie several times, first as a vocalist on his Wings of Life feature, and then as composer for his Moving Arts series. His work is spectacular. Every frame of his films fill me with inspiration. So when he mentioned Gratitude Revealed, (gratitude…another pillar of my life’s philosophy!) I knew we were a match made in heaven. He agreed and off we went. He had clear ideas about what he wanted the score to do and after a few discussions, and listening to ideas, I got to work. Some films place music in your head from the first frame. This film was like that for me. I knew the sound I wanted for every moment. I worked with strings (Orchid String Quartet!), performed on piano, vocals, guitars, harmonium….. Such a joy!! Louie is another person with whom I have an effortless collaborative relationship. I am so proud to be part of this film and the team that made it.
How did you first become involved in music? What is your background and what led you to where you are today?
Funny story…I was 6. My mother was painting the kitchen of our new house, listening to the radio while she worked. The DJ came on announcing a contest. Winner was the 3rd caller. On a whim, my mom stopped painting and called in. She was the third caller!! And she won..wait for it…a piano!!! That was the start of my music career. I sat down on the day it was delivered and started to play. Went on to study classical for 20 years, started singing very late. I was a dancer and played for dance classes to make money.I used to sing along with melodies I improvised in class….I was working in Idyllwild and the musician in the next studio heard me. He came running over and asked if I would be interested in singing on a score for Hans Zimmer. He was working as Han’s intern. My response? Sure! Who’s he? I grew up in the world of classical music, folk music and world music. My mom was Armenian and her extended family was very close to all of us so I grew up understanding Armenian a bit and speaking a mangled version of it! My grandmother sang Armenian folk tunes to us and they are permanently embedded in my brain. The deeply emotional tone of that music is a part of me and my sound both as a singer, and as a composer.
What advice would you give a younger Lisbeth?
Don’t be afraid to be honest about what you want and who you are. Listen to your heart and inner voice. Be kind, to others and yourself. Put good things into the world with your gifts. What other people think of you is none of your business. Only what you think of yourself truly matters in the end. Learn something new every day, no matter how small. Do something you’re afraid of every day! Be grateful every morning when you wake up and open your eyes. Life is a gift, even during the hardest and most challenging times! Focus on bettering yourself, not others!
You have a new album coming out, Calm and Comfort on Hearts of Space. How do you balance your solo projects with your film and television projects or do you find that they feed each other?
The multiple ways that I express myself with music most definitely feed each other! They are all equally a part of who I am as an artist. I’ve given up trying to figure out whether I’m a vocalist, a pianist, a songwriter, or a composer or what?? I’m all of it. Each project that I compose allows me to focus on whatever element is needed. When I was writing the score to the film, American Son, I fell in love with writing for string quartet. And that passion led to falling in love with writing for orchestra. My voice is, of course, an integral part of who I am. Whether I am actually singing or composing for instrumental ensemble, that voice guides me. It sings solo piano lines, flute melodies and ensemble string parts. As I wrote more and more for strings, I found myself wanting to create a solo album for voice, piano and strings and so Calm and Comfort was born.
Calm and Comfort is a special project to me. It is cinematic in nature, with lush vocal stacks and delicate piano melodies atop warm strings and was definitely influenced by my work scoring film….and because all the players were women (Orchid Quartet) it has a feminine, nurturing quality. Each piece was specifically created to soothe the soul! I intended the entire album to be a safe sonic space to retreat to when the world is overwhelming….which I think we can all agree is most days! My sound as a composer has grown out of all the music and experiences that have influenced me throughout my life. My sister was a ballerina so Tchaikovsky played all day….and she loved the Beatles so the Beatles played all day too….and my dad loved the Mills Brothers…and my first boyfriend was a blues harp player…and my mom loved musicals and Bernstein and Robert Frost and my grandparents sang Armenian folk songs…and here I am. I am a true melting pot.
What is next for you?
I am excited about all the projects in my life right now. I have a nearly completed musical that explores the inspiring stories of my Armenian grandparents and would love to bring that to fruition. I love stories that show us how to be good, to ourselves and each other. Romantic dramas and biopics of inspiring people are high on my list. I would love to score more films that explore the natural wonders of the world. I am already working on my next solo album. So….on we go!!
Check out the AWFC directory for Lisbeth Scott
Interview by Valerie Manahan