Independent Lens: Lisa Matassa - A Long Island Country Music Pioneer

Long Island's Lisa Matassa has broken through the clutter of country music artists with a unique take on country music that she calls "Long Island Country." In this exclusive interview we learn more about her career, her approach to music and her goals with her new single "Somebody's Baby."

Long Island's Lisa Matassa has broken through the clutter of country music artists with a unique take on country music that she calls "Long Island Country." In this exclusive interview we learn more about her career, her approach to music and her goals with her new single "Somebody's Baby" among other topics.

Matt Bjorke: Despite having some success in the 80s you settled down and raised your family but never stopped leading bands and playing live on Long Island. 

Lisa Matassa: Absolutely, I've been singing nonstop since I was 8 years old, it's all I've done or known. I was classically trained as an opera singer from 8-16. and when I moved back to New York, the music was so much different. Especially in NY, if you told anyone you were a country music fans, they looked at you like you were crazy. People didn't listen to it at the time. They made fun of me as it was with my Accent from Florida. But it was interesting because the music I had also started listening to before moving back to new york was Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alabama, Bon Jovi, Heart, Journey so for me that was cool and I liked that because I could connect to the lyrics of the song.

But at 19 I was offered a record deal and at the time Freestyle dance music was really big and it was by no means what I wanted to do but of course at 19 you take that with open arms, this opportunity of a lifetime so I thought if I wasn't going to sing country music I was going to at least have a name that sounded like a country artist. So I changed my name to Lisa Lynn in homage to Loretta. So I got to tour and have success and it was a great opportunity. I wouldn't change it for the world except having done country instead. The music then changed and then rock came in and the style of music went by the wayside. When that fell apart and the music had changed, I felt that it wasn't exactly my time to get out there and continue in that field so when I met my husband and started raising kids. But I never stopped working on music, I kept writing, recording and worked with vocal lessons….

Matt: Didn't you do some commercial singing too?

Lisa: I Did; jingles and voice over work and things like that and it was very lucrative and made a really good living at it but you can't take the performer out of me so when I'm on that stage, that's when I come alive. It's all about connecting with the audience and living in the moment on that stage so whether it was in front of 50 people or 5,000 people or 500 people, I would give the same performance and now that my kids are older and they've seen musicians coming in and out. So I talked with them about chasing my dream and asked for their support.

Matt: Well and you'd have to have moved down here with your husband to chase the Country Music Dream…

Lisa: If I had moved down there, I'd probably not have even met my husband. I had won a scholarship to the academy of dramatic arts and Broadway was one other thing I was interested in having been classically trained but you know, you can't deny what the heart wants. You can listen to different songs but there's always going to be that one genre of music you go back to…

Matt: Look at Kristin Chenoweth and her love of country music. 

Lisa: Exactly you can't lie to yourself… 

Matt: Darius Rucker's another who followed his heart…

Lisa: Exactly and you can feel that in their hearts. And I could've sang anything but I grew up with country music and when it comes down to it, that's what I really want to do the most…

Matt: You could innovate country dance, country club, (laughs) 

Lisa: (Laughs)…I don't think so…

Matt: And now you're kinda leading the way in New York as it's 'invaded the city'...

Lisa: Yeah, it has; And I like that you used the word 'invaded' because it has invaded Long Island. You don't necessarily think of Country Music with New York but when you read the population numbers you learn that the state with the most downloaded country music is the state of New York. So, when you think of Long Island, you don't necessarily think of Country Music. However, it has over 8 million people end to end and it's almost like it's own little state, if you think about it.

Matt: It almost was it's own state...

Lisa: Yeah. And, I'm glad there is that one station there on Long Island now, too. I think that everything happens for a reason because I remember when I came down to Nashville in January of 2011, coming down here with just a hope of a dream. I was thinking "Will my music be accepted? Will they even be interested in what I have to offer? Will they take a woman from Long Island, let alone a woman in her 40s as a country artist. Will they accept me?"

If not, that was OK, but I was willing to take that chance to see if they would like it and we met with all types of people [in the industry] and they embraced it, my concept of "Long Island Country."

Matt: How Would you describe "Long Island Country"'s sound to someone who hasn't heard of it before?

Lisa: To me, "Long Island Country" is the best storytelling of a Country song and Country Music mixed with the edginess of Rock & Roll. That's my interpretation of it. So when we were talking with different people in Nashville, somebody said that it'd be great if a Country Music station would be back in Long Island. Because back in the 80s it didn't work and nobody was really listening to it. But they thought that now seemed right for a station. I remember getting a call from the gentleman I had talked with this about and he said, "you're never gonna believe this but at 12:01 this evening, WJBC went on the air as Long Island's first all-country music station." And that was January, 18, 2011. I remember the day because I had gotten [to Nashville] on the 17th. 

So when I got into my e-mail that night, there was already a message from the program director of WJBC who said he had read a story about me in Newsday newspaper, a big local newspaper, and said he'd love to work with me, since I was local to the area. And, since then, they have been really supportive of me and my career.

Matt: That's Amazing and certainly helped these dreams come true, I bet...

I've thought the doors that have never been open for me before have been opening and opening. So when you go to the next door, they open. I never thought CMT would even take a meeting with me but and they did and I saw my videos ["Me Time," "Wouldn't You Like To Know" and "The Christmas Song"] went #1. So, for me, it solidified that it [my career] wasn't supposed to happen for me back then [in the 1980s]. Now is the time and it's all happening as it should be.

Matt: How much fun did you have making the EPs and Album you have made?

I've been in the studio so much throughout my life but it was incredible to have something that I have my own stamp on, creatively. I co-wrote half of the songs on the Sunrise Highway album and they all come from personal experience. For me, I find it almost difficult to sing songs that are not close to me. I need to feel connected [to the songs]. 

Matt: Yes, that makes a lot of sense, especially in country music where fans see right through stuff if your'e not connected… 

Lisa: Yeah, and I'd hope at this point in my life I'd hope I have vast experience and perspective that your average 20 year old singer couldn't possibly have.

Matt: Yeah, and despite the fact that labels all want 20 somethings, they sometimes forget that artists who have maturity sometimes connect with fans better than the young 20-somethings… 

Lisa: It just goes to show you that it doesn't matter how old you are, if you can connect to the music, the fans will connect to the music.

Matt: and nobody's going to believe a 20 year old singing songs like "Somebody's Baby" or "Me Time." There needs to be maturity to sing that. On top of that, YOU are in the demographic they want to reach the most. [they being radio and record industry].

Lisa: Yeah, I AM that demographic! 

Matt: Exactly.

Matt: What can you tell me about your new EP Somebody's Baby?

LisaI had such a great time making that EP and Sunrise Highway and love that they've been my debut to the world and that I got to work with so many great people to make it.

Matt: And you know, there are a few great covers on the albums, like Bryan Adams' "Heaven."

Lisa: Yeah. That song has such a great lyric, too. Which is why I've always been drawn to it and Bryan Adams is an amazing songwriter.

Matt: What one word best describes Country Music to you?

Lisa: It's the word connection. The connection that a listener feels with the artist and the song, it invokes a connection. I can remember [Country Music] doing that for me with Loretta Lynn's "Coal Miner's Daughter." It's the connection to life.