Interview: Fisher Releases Shimmering Fourth Album, 'Water'
Chances are, the music of Fisher has made a major contribution to the soundtrack of your life—whether you've realized it or not. This Ventura County-based band is comprised of vocalist/songwriter Kathy Fisher and her husband, musician/songwriter Ron Wasserman. Fisher first made their mark 10 years ago when they became the most downloaded band on the Internet when MP3.com released their song "I Will Love You." Subsequent soundtrack and TV placements have included everything from "Breakable" on the Great Expectations soundtrack to the song "Beautiful Life" in TLC promos. In July, Fisher released their fourth studio CD, Water. Recorded after the tragic death of Fisher's father, the album tackles grand themes with a personal touch, and Fisher's velvet-laced vocals bring it all together. Life, death, faith, hope—it's all there. LAist recently caught up with the band at Pickles Deli to get the scoop on everything from the new disc to their thoughts on the music industry.
LAist: Was the water theme there when you initially began working on this album, or did you later realize the thread that ran throughout many of the songs?
Kathy Fisher: It was a subconscious thing that we noticed after it all started coming together. I said, "Ron, there are so many songs about water. That should be the name!" He was originally going to call the album Suomaf, which is "Famous" backwards, because we're famous for not being famous. I thought that was cool, but it might be hard for people to pronounce.
Ron Wasserman: I put it on the band's message board and no one liked the idea. At least they're always honest with me!
Somehow this album seems to hearken back to your debut, One. Is there a special tie? Even the cover seems to be the complement to your first album cover.
Ron: You're the first one who's figured that out. We tried some other stuff, but I was messing around with some photos and thought, "Wouldn't it be funny to just take the other half of her face?" It was like a bookend and it seemed fitting—especially because, with each album, I'm always saying, "This is the last album."
Fisher - "Water"
Kathy: Just like one of the Gallagher brothers is leaving Oasis again this week… (laughs)Why do you always say each album is your last?
Ron: The albums are a lot of work. For every hour she's on the mic, it's about 1,000 hours for me. But then after some time passes, something good happens and I think, "Maybe we should do another one…"
Kathy: I used to believe him when he'd say he never wanted to do another album, because he's the type A—the workaholic, focused one—and I always think that he is the sense of reality for both of us. Then he goes into one of those "We're done" states, but it passes. Ten years later, I've finally realized that.
Ron: But I haven't said it this time!
Is that why your first album, One, was given that name? Because that was going to be the only one?
Ron: We used One because I wanted to number each of our releases. I always thought that'd be a good idea, because it would be really easy for people to find the oldest or newest work by a band. We even made an album of unreleased tracks for MP3.com that was called Minus One.
But then were partnered with a label and they released True North, which is essentially One with a couple more songs. So we couldn't really call it Two.
Kathy: Plus, due to the obvious connotations, I don't know that I would have wanted to release an album called number Two…
Fisher - "One"
So what was it about this album that made it the bookend to One?Ron: In our recent albums, we've had a lot more people involved. With One, I sat alone and wrote the majority of it. And that's what happened this time with Water. So it seemed fitting to kind of do a tip of the hat to the first one. I suppose we could have called this one Ten since it's been 10 years since our first release.
Kathy: One thing too is, in your life cycles, you do end up going full circle. It's through the long road of finding out what you don't want, and just trying new things, that you come back to the basics. We've learned to just go ahead and put our artistic vision out there and not worry about what anyone's going to think.
This CD also breaks tradition, or goes back to old tradition, in that it's a concept record. It's not an obvious concept record, but it is a journey record. It was put in a specific order to take you through the emotional roller coaster that was going on—from my baptism to my father's death to coming out of it and being able to breathe again.
Kathy, you've said that you asked Ron to put the album in sequence before you wrote the lyrics. Did you change the order at all once you finished the songs?
Ron: Yes, the song "Revival" was going to start it, but we moved it to the back and everything else shifted down a notch.
Kathy: "Revival" and the first track "Breathe" are similar. They're really about washing the slate clean getting back to basics. So we have a full-circle moment where the record comes right back to the beginning.
Although you could have ended on a somber note, the album concludes on a hopeful one. Does that reflect your journey?
Kathy: Absolutely. When I was in mourning, Ron told me, "Honey, I know you've got to go through this, but there has to be a point where you live again." So there had to be a rebirth. There had to be a point where I came out of that.
I did have some tools that helped a little…I went into therapy a few years ago, and I remember expressing my fears to the therapist. She asked me, "What are you afraid of?" I told her, "I'm afraid I won't survive this situation." And she said, "Didn't you survive everything else before?" That's when I realized, as Stevie Nicks once said, "I am stronger than you know."
It took someone else to point that out to me, because I was just so fearful of failure and thinking, "How am I going to pull out of it?" Then I realized "You have, and you will again." It was still extremely difficult to come out of the thing with my dad, though. It was so sudden and so shocking. [Kathy and Ron tell the full story on the band's podcast.]
Ron: It was like he was murdered.
Kathy: He wasn't, but it was that intense. Just devastating.
Fisher - "Victims of the Sky"
Was the second verse of "Water Burial" the first time your son has contributed to one of your songs? It's sweet how he was trying to comfort Kathy, and it became such an amazing part of your album.
Ron: Yeah, it was the first time. He actually said all that—not quite as smoothly, but he said all that. It really stuck with me because I was thinking, "How odd is it to have a then-three-and-a-half-year-old comforting an adult over the death of someone?"
Getting into some of your other albums, I thought that Uppers & Downers was one of the greatest concepts for an album—to have one CD of upbeat songs and another CD of mellower ones.
Kathy: Thank you!
Ron: Naming stuff is always the hardest, which is why we're called Fisher instead of something else.
Kathy: That's a big regret.
Why is that?
Ron: We were in a pinch. We'd just gotten the Great Expectations track, "Breakable," in at the last minute. We were sitting in [soundtrack exec] Darren Higman's office and he asked, "What do you call yourselves?" We didn't have a name, so he suggested Fisher.
Kathy: He told us, "A lot of artists are doing the one-name thing." It was a great idea, except when I'm signing an autograph, I don't know what to put. Am I Kathy? Am I Fisher? Am I Kathy Fisher? I love ya Mom, but I always thought "Kathy Fisher" doesn't flow that well. For whatever reason, "Carrie Fisher" sounds great. "Kathy Fisher," not so much.
Now that you've had time to think about it, what would you have called yourselves had you been given time to reflect?
Ron: I have no idea.
Kathy: Maybe "Music to Cry By." (laughs)
When the two of you met, did you end up falling in love over songwriting?
Kathy: Well, our writing process was pretty separate, but we did talk constantly. We'd go to Bob's Big Boy, have a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, and we'd start talking about relationships.
Ron: We were just friends. I thought she was getting married. She would call me every day and talk about him.
Kathy: He had just been divorced when I met him. He'd just been through the ringer, so it wasn't like, "Oh, cool! Another girl who can ruin my life!" After I was single again and had dated around a bit, I looked and Ron and thought, "That guy's a really good person and we have a lot in common."
Fisher - "Love Is on the Way"
If people are new to Fisher, do you recommend that they start with your most recent album? How do you like people to discover your work?
Kathy: I usually start them with One, because then they'll hear "I Will Love You." That's the song that gets the most letters. I often hear "We just played it at our wedding," or "My brother died unexpectedly and we played it at his funeral."
I actually sang it at my father's funeral. As I was numbly packing, standing in my closet, I just stopped and realized, "Oh, Dad, you're going to want me to sing that song, aren't you?" I just knew. And why wouldn't I? That's the ultimate respect.
Ron: He and Kathy's stepmom were there when we recorded it. It was done in the studio, but it's live. I drank two beers and did three takes. That was take three.
You were one of the first bands to really find success via the Internet. How did you come to realize that the Internet was where you needed to be?
Ron: Back in 1992, I'd written the theme and started doing all the songs for the Power Rangers. The VP of the company was already using America Online and said, "There are chat rooms talking about you and your Power Rangers stuff." I asked him, "What does that even mean?" So I started my journey and jumped onto the Internet.
I still get e-mail about the Power Rangers every day. I've finally agreed to go to their convention next year even though I've been saying for so long that I wouldn't go. They asked again and I said, "I'm worried that everyone's going to expect me to still be 29." But I suppose some of the Power Rangers are pushing 40, so it's OK.
What do you think it'd be like if you were a band just starting to promote your stuff online today?
Kathy: There's too much content online now. When it came to our release on MP3.com, it was all so new at the time. To be one of the first people to show up and get that ball rolling was key. To get the momentum in the first place, we were lucky to be a big fish in a small pond. Today the pond is so huge and there are so many fish. Where do you get that leg up? I mean, you hope the cream rises to the top, but you never know.
Ron: Back in those days, TIME Magazine and CNN were coming to us, because it was all so new.
In some of those older articles, people refer to you as an "Internet band," and make reference to it as if music released on the Internet is different from music released on CDs. Was that something you had to fight against?
Kathy: Yeah, I think it was a good way to get press, but I think it was also a stigma as the B-list.
Ron: Everyone expected our first album to sell a bajillion copies, but that was also around the time people started downloading music for free.
These articles also talked about the "Internet music audience." In your opinion, who is your audience?
Kathy: I don't think you're ever going to know who your audience truly is. When we first started out, someone asked us, "Who's your demographic?" Especially when we started playing smaller venues, we found that you'd have an eight-year-old there who was fanatically into the music and knew every word, and a 78-year-old singing along right next to her. You don't know what to expect. You just make the music and let the chips fall where they may.
Ron, a lot of what you said 10 or so years ago about the future of the music industry has proven true—that it would become a 99-cent, single-driven business and that the Internet would be the key for a lot of up-and-coming bands. How do you view the music industry now?
Ron: What I see now are small niche markets for everybody. When the old guys die out, there won't be arena tours like we have now, unless they have 50 bands for a weekend. Cause nobody will be able to pull those kinds of numbers anymore. But it's that way with TV and movie stars, too. There used to be 20 or 30 movies stars and now we have 300 or 400.
Nowadays, could you survive as musicians were it not for the licensing you do?
Ron: No, we'd have day jobs.
What would you be doing if you weren't making music?
Ron: At this point, I'd probably go into investing, because I've always enjoyed it.
Kathy: Well, my dream would actually be to be an advice columnist; I've been dabbling with that a bit on the website. But I'd probably just end up being a travel agent or something.
Ron: Kathy's also been able to a lot of commercial work in past years. But with the recession, they don't want to pay singers from the United States. They're hiring more non-union singers out of Canada, because when they use Canadian citizens, the Canadian government subsidizes it.
"Beautiful Life" — Original Toyota ad featuring Fisher
Did you foresee the continued success of your song "Beautiful Life," which has been used in both Toyota and TLC campaigns? Was it originally the plan for Toyota to release the full song online or did that come out of people asking for it?
Ron: The song was written for the Toyota spot. I got a call that said Toyota was reinventing themselves, and the spot would be called "The Wheel." I looked at their animatic—of this tire rolling through peoples’ lives, then wrote a song. Our son was one at the time and I thought, "I'm going to write a song about taking him to Disneyland." And that's what came out.
Kathy: I think jingle houses are starting to get used to the fact that when you have a campaign that's a hit, you get people wanting a full song. So Ron wrote a full song and made sure we retained the rights to it.
Ron: The reaction to it was great during the month Toyota ran the ad. Then last year, TLC used it to promote a bunch of their shows, and once again we got a great response.
In addition to TV and movie licensing, you also work with charities, correct?
Kathy: Ron does a lot of work with charities—for children, rescued dogs from puppy mills, etc. They'll want to use "I Will Love You" and he'll often give them carte blanche.
Ron: Right now I'm working with a great organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which chokes me up when I talk about it. It's for families whose babies are terminally ill. Right there, usually right after birth, professional photographers go in and shoot these incredible photographs of the parents with the babies before the newborns pass away. When you see the photos and the videos on their website, it's just heart-wrenching.
It's great that you can give back like that with your music. And what an amazing charity!
Fisher — "I Will Love You"
Switching gears a bit, over the years, through Acoustic Café and your studio albums, you've done some great cover songs. What's been your favorite so far?
Kathy: I think mine is "Send in the Clowns," because Ron had some really specific melody ideas he wanted to try, and I just loved where he took them.
Are there any covers you'd like to try in the future?
Kathy: I'd really like to do "Nights in White Satin." I love that song, but I didn't understand it when I was younger. As a teen, I was picturing horses and knights in white satin. I didn't get that it was a couple in bed in white satin sheets.
On this album, you have a song called "Hollywood," and you're also one of the few musicians (Michael Penn is another) to have written a song ("Simi, California") that mentions the nearby city of Simi Valley…
Kathy: It's funny you mention that, because the lyric was originally "See me as you want me, and I'll be yours tonight" or something like that. But it just wasn't working.
Then I discovered that a friend was having an affair, and it kind of ended up being her song. So that song evolved. She actually lived in Granada Hills, but that didn't sing as well. "Granada Hills, California..." (laughs)
I know you've just finished this album, and that you often say your most recent album is your last…but have you already started thinking about the next one?
Ron: Not yet, but I can say that Paul van Dyk is remixing "Revival." And Filo & Peri are doing a dance mix of "Victims of the Sky," which is going to be really interesting. We've had quite a few songs remixed in the past, such as "Ordinary Moment" and "Closer Now." It's great to work with these remixers and it's incredible to see videos of 40,000 people dancing to your song.
What's funny is that later when a song hits the dance community, someone will say, "Hey, another band did an acoustic version of that great dance song." And I'll post a reply on YouTube saying, "Look at the date—we were first!"
Thanks for speaking with LAist, Ron and Kathy!
To learn more about Fisher, visit www.fishertheband.com. The band has also put together a free podcast describing each of the songs on the new CD, and you'll find it here. Their new album, Water, is available at online retailers and via iTunes.