Pixyish, bespectacled singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb made music history in 1994 as the first unsigned artist to score a No. 1 single with "Stay (I Miss You)," a winsome ballad featured on the soundtrack to the counterculture comedy "Reality Bites" (1994). Its success led to a brief tenure as part of the alternative-folk movement of the early '90s, enjoying major label fame and chart hits with 1995's Tails and Firecracker (1997) before achieving more modest returns with her efforts in the new millennium, including Cake and Pie (2003). Loeb shrewdly parlayed her effervescent personality into stints as a reality television star, most notably with "#1 Single" (E! Entertainment Television, 2006) and voiceover artist before finding a second wave of popularity as a children's music artist on Catch the Moon (2003) with former bandmate Elizabeth Mitchell and the charming Camp Lisa (2008). While Loeb's career as a musician for adults continued to hover in the lower end of the charts, she moved effortlessly into acting, books for children, her own eyewear line and philanthropic efforts in the 2000s while also continuing to release albums for adult and young listeners, which helped elevate her out of the '90s-pop doldrums that plagued such peers as Paula Cole, Joan Osbourne, Jewel and the Indigo Girls. Loeb's talent for memorable pop-folk and likability among a wide audience of media consumers helped to preserve her status as one of the more versatile female performers of the '90s and beyond.
Born March 11, 1968 in Bethesda, MD, Lisa Ann Loeb was raised in Dallas, TX along with her three siblings by gastroenterologist Dr. Peter Loeb and his wife, Gail, who served as president of the Dallas County Medical Society Alliance and Foundation. All of Loeb's siblings later had careers in music; her brothers, Benjamin and Philip, were a conductor and recording engineer, respectively, while sister Debbie was a singer and television host. After graduating from the Hockaday School, an all-girls private school, in 1986, Lisa Loeb attended Brown University, where she graduated in 1990 with a degree in comparative literature. While there, she met Elizabeth Mitchell, who later formed the indie band Ida before becoming an acclaimed children's music artist. The pair formed a duo, Liz and Lisa, which released two independent albums before calling it quits in 1990. Loeb then briefly attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA before dropping out to form a new band, Nine Stories. With producer Juan Patiño, she recorded a cassette-only album, The Purple Tape (1992), which attracted industry attention through high-profile showcases on the New York club circuit and the South by Southwest music festival. In 1993, her friend, actor Ethan Hawke, passed along the single "Stay (I Missed You)" to actor-director Ben Stiller, with whom he was making the 1994 film "Reality Bites." The song, which became the picture's end title theme, received major exposure via the platinum-selling soundtrack, as well as a music video directed by Hawke that unfolded in a single, unbroken take. "Stay," which earned Loeb and Nine Stories a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Performance by a Group, eventually placed the singer in the music history books as the first unsigned artist to record a No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100.
That same year, Loeb was signed to Geffen Records, which released her major label debut album, Tails. The album, which featured "Stay" as well as the Top 20 hit "Do You Sleep?" reached gold sales status and earned positive critical reviews. A sophomore album, Firecracker (1997), repeated the success of its predecessor and led to tours with the Wallflowers, Chris Isaak and the Lilith Fair. Loeb also began experimenting with acting roles, providing cameo turns in features like "House on Haunted Hill" (1999) and series like "MADTv" (Fox, 1995-2009). However, her fortunes declined after switching labels to A&M for her third album, Cake and Pie (2002). Though co-produced by Loeb and pop hitmaker Glen Ballard and featuring an impressive lineup of contributors, including her then-boyfriend, guitarist Dweezil Zappa, the album failed to peak any higher than No. 199 on the Billboard 200, prompting A&M to drop her from its roster. After buying the rights to her masters, Loeb moved to Artemis Records, which reissued Cake and Pie under a new title, Hello Lisa, which paid homage to the popular Japanese cartoon figure Hello Kitty. The following year, she provided the voice for Mary Jane Parker, romantic interest to Peter Parker, in "Spider-Man: The New Animated Series" (MTV, 2003), which effectively launched her second career as a vocal artist for animated series.
In 2003, Loeb reunited with Elizabeth Mitchell for Catch the Moon (2003), a children's record which featured recordings of new material and traditional songs for young listeners. The following year, Loeb switched labels again, this time to the long-running folk imprint Zoe/Rounder, which released her fifth studio album, The Way It Really Is. It again failed to generate significant record sales, though critical response was largely positive. Loeb then shifted her focus to television, co-starring with Zappa in the reality series, "Dweezil & Lisa" (Food Network, 2004), which followed the real-life couple across America while they sampled regional cuisine. Their relationship came to an end shortly after the series left the air, which led to a second reality show, "#1 Single" which followed Loeb's re-entry onto the dating scene with the help of her sister Debbie and other friends. She also kept her music career afloat with a greatest hits compilation, The Very Best of Lisa Loeb (2006) and a CD release of her Purple Tape (2008), which included an interview CD featuring conversations with Loeb about her early days on the New York club scene. That same year, she returned to the children's music field with Camp Lisa (2008), a collection of original songs and covers associated with summer camp which featured guest contributions by actor Steve Martin, who provided banjo on one track, as well as fellow alt-folk singer Jill Sobule. The record reaped exceptionally positive reviews, including inclusion on National Public Radio's list of the best children's music releases.
Loeb also founded a non-profit organization, The Camp Lisa Foundation, which provided funding for many camp scholarships that allowed underprivileged children to attend overnight summer camps. While dabbling in the fashion world with her 2010 eyewear collection for women, men and young girls, Loeb also remained an energetic presence in children's entertainment in the years that followed Camp Lisa. She penned the musical "Camp Kappawanna" (2010), which included several tunes from the album in its songbook, and wrote her first children's book, Lisa Loeb's Silly Sing-Along: The Disappointing Pancake and Other Zany Songs (2011), which included a 10-song CD of covers and original material. She also continued her voiceover career, most notably as the voice of the bird princess Winger on "Jake and the Never Land Pirates" (Disney Junior, 2011- ). In 2013, Loeb released No Fairy Tale, her first album for adult listeners in nearly a decade.
By Paul Gaita