Music has always been a part of Lisa Marshall’s life. Before she was a teenager, she would listen to Donna Summers and Pat Benatar, belting out lyrics along with the divas. It’s fitting because Marshall’s own voice– room-filling and soulful–stands up well against many of music’s top classic female vocalists.
“I’ve always loved music, the harmonies and the blending of voices,” she said. “Being onstage is exhilarating: You get to be creative but you also get to not think about anything else,” she continued. “Sometimes it takes you over and catapults you into another blissful zone.”
Marshall had moved to California and had her first relationship with another woman by the age of 19. Afraid of her parents’ rejection, she came out to them by writing letters from Los Angeles. Although her father took the news well, her mother, a born-again Christian, flew to Los Angeles and wouldn’t leave without her daughter coming home with her. Marshall was raised in a Methodist household and remembers church on Sunday and regular Bible study. She said religion was not a factor in accepting herself as a gay woman. Even so, it did create friction in their mother-daughter relationship in the following years. Unfortunately, more recently, they’re at an impasse, although Marshall said she’s made peace with the situation.
Marshall is the older of two children and took on a more protective, adult role when her parents divorced when she was six. She said that her mother’s struggles as a single parent strengthened her–and contributed to Marshall’s own character development. “She gave me my warrior spirit, as far as strength and courage and the ability to stay focused when there’s a lot of negative stuff piling up on top of you.”
A trip to Austin in 2008 proved fortuitous. Having lived in Seattle for a while after leaving Los Angeles, Marshall was not putting into practice a lot of what she does now in terms of growing her music career; she lacked focus and drive. She’d gone to Mugshot’s downtown with her guitar and sung a few songs. The dive bar was empty, except for one guy and his girlfriend. After she finished, he called her over.
“He said, ‘Bobby [of Robert Lang Studios) is a good friend of mine’ and he took my CD,” Marshall said, adding that two weeks later she got a call and a meeting with Lang. He offered to record her material free of charge. Acts such as Nirvana, Heart, and Liz Phair have recorded at Robert Lang Studios. Needless to say, this sealed the deal for her move to Austin, and she’s been pounding the pavement ever since.
Marshall’s ad on Craigslist for an all-female soul band led to a response from the woman who became the band’s bass player. The band has been trying to play as many gigs as they can get around town. Even though they’ve only been playing together for a year and a half, the band has done shows at the Continental Club, Antone’s, and Saxon, along with gigs in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. They’re finishing up a debut album using Kickstarter (a website that allows bands to pre-sell albums and other items, asking fans to pledge small sums of money). They play four nights a week and have worked with such well- established singers as Patrice Pike.
Their sound is drawn a lot from early Ike and Tina Turner, infusing soul, R&B and some rock and roll, a little grittiness, Southern soul, with a little Delta Blues thrown in. Marshall does all the songwriting but said the band “sweetens the pie” with their contributions. Her musical career has also built long-lasting friendships.
Julie Gamboa met Marshall two years ago after hearing her singing a cappella during a KAZI radio interview. She purchased Marshall’s CD online, then the two connected after Marshall–who was in the process of moving to Austin from Seattle at that time–emailed her to ask for feedback. They met at Marshall’s first show at the Carousel Lounge and have been inseparable as friends ever since.
“Her soulful, powerful voice blew me away,” Gamboa said, adding that she has gone to almost all of the band’s performances over the past year and a half. “I could not get enough. She’s like Aretha, Janis and all the ‘60s and ‘70s female soul singers in one.” Gamboa went on to say that Marshall gets the crowd going with her original “Swamp Song” and Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” during live sets. “I watch the crowd and find people who have never heard Lisa perform and watch them in awe over her presence and her voice.” Indeed, when Marshall is asked what her top five albums are, it’s clear that she draws inspiration from the legends. She loves Aretha Franklin’s 30 Greatest Hits, The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, and The Best of Gladys and the Pips. Growing up playing a variety of sports, including football, basketball, softball and soccer, Marshall felt, at a very young age, that something was different. She recalled hanging out with her best female friend and at times feeling nervous around her. “It was an instinctive feeling, even at the age of six, realizing that I was separated from the others,” she explained. “It was a warm, fuzzy feeling. Years later, it’s like, girls do this to me and boys don’t.” Separating herself from her family and her hometown helped in her coming-out process. When she moved back to Virginia Beach at the age of 20, she worked on a dinner cruise ship as a singer, and it was there that she met her best friend, a gay man whose best friend happened to be the entertainment director on the cruise ship. Her sense of relief, knowing and connecting with another gay person, was palpable. “His sister was gay, too, and there were other folks on the boat who were gay,” said Marshall. “Suddenly, I felt no shame and I felt like I had a family.”
Later, they all moved to California together and would hit all the Los Angeles gay bars in the late ‘80s, always having a blast. She came into her own and embraced her identity.
Nonprofit work is one area she wants to get involved in, particularly helping with LGBT youth. “If you’re going to have kids and they tell you something about themselves that you don’t care for and you do what–throw them out of your home? How great would it have been to have a place to go to, somebody’s home, maybe a gay couple, who would say, ‘You’re alright. This hurts but it will be okay.’ ”
Indeed, her own early issues with gaining acceptance from her mother, and the ways in which that struggle continues to this day, help fuel the passion and depth of soul in Marshall’s work. “She’s a human being first and foremost who happens to be my mother, so I can love her that way,” she said. Difficult circumstances are often the breeding ground for artistic excellence. With a new album coming out this fall and plans to tour Europe and work the festival circuit, Marshall is living proof.