If you're a true house head, then Lisa Shaw needs no introduction.
Since the mid '90s, this beloved Canadian-born singer has put her soulful golden touch on records by deep house luminaries like King Britt, Q-Burns Abstract Message, Fred Everything, and Andy Caldwell. Of course, Shaw is also a prolific songwriter with several acclaimed albums and EPs to her name.
But her closest collaborator in recent years has been renowned San Francisco DJ-producer and Salted Music label boss Miguel Migs.
With the pair alighting at The Vagabond on Saturday for a special live performance, Crossfade caught up with Ms. Shaw -- currently a Miami resident -- to chat about her early days in the NYC house music scene, fads in electronic dance music, and her new album in the works.
Crossfade: What did you grow up listening to? And how did you first get drawn to dance music? Did the music scene in your native Toronto shape your tastes in any way?
Lisa Shaw: My parents are Jamaican and I come from a family of six, all older than me. So I grew up with everything from reggae to soul, funk, rock, pop, New Wave, and disco. Toronto had a huge impression on my musical taste because we were exposed to all music without prejudice. My taste in music goes from one spectrum to another, which allows me to express myself however I feel.
When did you first start singing? Did it come naturally to you? Or did you hone the skill through classical training?
I went to an arts high school and majored in voice, so I was trained classically, as well as [in] contemporary and musical theater. I always had a love and fascination with singing, and had friends and family around me that assured me I had something I should develop. Sometimes, you can think you have some kind of talent, but you need others to give you reassurance to pursue it, or else it's really just an illusion.
You started your recording career in New York City in the mid '90s. What are your fondest impressions of the house music scene there at the time? And what was it like working and moving in it?
I remember being in the booth with my mentor DJ Smash, and watching Frankie Knuckles play at a club -- I am not sure of the name at the moment. I was so young and though I know Frankie plays my music now, I highly doubt he knows I was that girl in the booth, hanging out.
There was another time with Barbara Tucker and Nell's, back in the day -- it was open mike Mondays and she was the queen of the night! It was my first opportunity to sing, and though I did my usual covers -- Billie, Diana, Bonnie Raitt -- she was the headliner and was always so wonderful to see. Prince actually came out a couple nights to watch and (just my luck) I was not there. Ugh!
My fondest memories come from Shine with Prohibited Beats and Nerve. It was a live D&B collective with leader/drummer Jojo Mayer and a bunch of heavy hitters like Takuya Nakamura, Karsh Kale, MC T.C. Islam, and Jonathan Maron, to name a few. We played live every Tuesday at Shine in NYC for about a year. It was all improv, and Jojo was a live drum machine. It was just the sickest thing ever, and I was blessed to be part of such a crew. The experience taught me a lot, and I honed quite a few skills from playing live with a band that never rehearsed.
You've collaborated with numerous artists and producers in the past, not the least of which is Miguel Migs. Which have been some of the most rewarding of these collaborations for you?
Miguel Migs, without question, has been so amazing for me, and not just working, but our friendship which has lasted throughout the years. Besides Miguel ... Jay Denes, Dave Warrin and Eric Stamile have made a stamp on my life forever. Though there have been a bunch of remixes from some of my favorite artists, these are the boys that I have worked closely with and collaborated with in the studio for many years.
How did you first hook up with Miguel? And what would you say glues your long-standing creative partnership together?
Miguel and I were first introduced by Naked Music A&R's Bruno Ybarra. I did some writing and recording on a track called "One Wish" while I was in NYC, and Miguel remixed a track by Dave Warrin and I called "That's Why I'm Here" for Transport, later released on Yoshitoshi. Though we both worked with each other's music. we never met till a year or so later. We actually met during WMC at the Delano Hotel in Miami for the Giant Step party. I heard someone say his name and I went up to him and introduced myself. That was the beginning of our friendship.
Having come of age as a deep house artist in the '90s, why do you think that decade's sound has made such a comeback on the international underground scene recently? Is it just a fad for the kids? Or are they genuinely wising up to the quality of that era's music?
Fads come and go, and the good stuff sticks around. It's like you never know a classic till it's a classic. And every song you write is supposed to be the "hit," but then it winds up being just another song.
Quality music is not going anywhere. Because whatever music they make up along the way, there will always be some kind of reference point to recreate. It's the natural evolution of all music to go back in order to move forward. So now that soulful house music may be "back in style" (to some, of course, it has never gone out), it may be out in a few months. But I never fear, because it always comes back around.
So what prompted you to move to Miami? Do you have any favorite local spots?
Miami was on a whim! No months planning or anything. But honestly, I felt like being adventurous and wanted to be a beach bum for a while, I guess. I've met some great people here. But really, my favorite spot is The Vagabond. I've played quite a few different places in Miami, but it always feels like home and I support Carmel [Ophir] and The Vagabond family completely. Their hearts are in the right place and I love their diversity in music. It's solid and consistent, which is really hard to find.
What's been going on with you this year on the performance and production front?
Miguel and I are constantly on the road. But if we are not, then we are working in the studio. Not always together, of course. The hard part is keeping that balance of work and play -- though work is play and play is work! In regards to shows, Christmas and New Year's Eve are around the corner, and specifics are being worked out at the moment. But it looks like we will be in San Francisco together, which has not happened in over a decade!
What else does the future have in store for Lisa Shaw?
I'm working on my new album with Miguel and his Salted Music label at the moment. I'm really excited to get this new project up and running, but that won't be for a little while. In the meantime, we are finishing up my next single, which is due out very soon.
Any chance you will be unveiling some of this new material during this Saturday's performance with Miguel at The Vagabond?
I'm in San Fran now actually, and just finished recording another track in the studio. I think we may give a little taste of the newbie!
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SHOW ME HOW
Lisa Shaw with Miguel Migs and Max Pela. Hosted by Back Door Bamby. Saturday, October 20. The Vagabond, 30 NE 14th St., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $10 plus fees via wantickets.com. Call 305-379-0508 or visit thevagabondmiami.com.