Pop: Happy to be centre stage, at long last

Big stars? Glum rockers? Don't let the buggers grind you down. Lisa Germano didn't.
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The Independent Culture
"WAY BELOW The Radio", the first song on Lisa Germano's lovely new album Slide (4AD), hums and pulses into life like some magical transmitter. It's the perfect beginning for a record whose mesmeric wash of eerie guitars, twinkling glockenspiels and asthmatic harmonium is punctuated with sudden, uplifting rushes of energy - like guerilla broadcasts on a previously undiscovered frequency. This is captivating music; music that wraps itself around your heart as inexorably as a climbing plant invades a trellis. Its depth of subtlety and nuance are the last thing you would expect from someone who started out playing the fiddle for that shameless Bruce Springsteen- wannabe, John Cougar Mellencamp.

On meeting Germano, the mystery deepens. The elliptical and melancholic character of her recordings is belied by a sunny and bewilderingly straightforward presence. As she recounts an unhappy recent return to jobbing musicianhood with The Smashing Pumpkins, her good humour seems even more surprising. Having been assiduously courted by chief Pumpkin Billy Corgan, she rehearsed with the Chicago glum rockers for a month in London earlier this year, only to be fired for no reason the day before the first gig of the tour. "They're just really miserable people", Lisa says cheerfully. "My friend Kenny Aronoff was playing the drums with them, too, and I guess the two of us were so positive it was just too much for them".

An excess of positivity has not always been Germano's problem. Having spent years training as a violinist, she quit music to "wait tables at a coffee shop in Indiana, being miserable for six or seven years". Then she started playing fiddle in a country band. And after the aforementioned Kenny - then drumming for John Cougar Mellencamp - dropped by to sit in with them, it was only a matter of time before Lisa was touring with the man who gave the world "Jack and Diane".

The music she's making now is a world away from such ponderous beginnings, but she credits the stadium-size egos of the rock aristocracy (Germano can also count Simple Minds and U2 among her former employers) with an inspirational impact. "They think the whole world revolves around them, but I think they have to think that way to be that big. These people are not invulnerable - they get crushed sometimes like everyone else, but they have to have this persona that can't be crushed. You can feel insecure by yourself, but when you're in the public eye you have to do ... confident things".

"I didn't want to be a star," she remembers, "I just knew I was denying myself what I was supposed to be doing". So Lisa finally got around to finishing off 1991's ear-catching solo debut On The Way Down From The Moon Palace. Subsequent releases Happiness, Geek The Girl and 1996's mercurial Excerpts From A Love Circus expanded her palette(the latter featuring contributions from her cats Dorothy and Miamo-Tutti), but Slide attains a new balance of the confessional and the universal. Lyrical snippets like this from "No Colour Here": "All my mistakes woven in a rug" are as vivid as dog-eared snapshots falling out of a photo album.

OP8, her recent collaboration with veteran desert rockers Giant Sand, produced the courtly and elegiac Slush (V2) one of 1997's finest albums. Watching OP8 play live a couple of times, the battle of wills between Germano and Giant Sand's notoriously disruptive frontman Howie GeIb was a joy to behold. "Howie had to go home in the middle of the tour because a friend of his was dying. Me and the other two guys carried on and we got a dynamic that was really working, and then Howie came back..." Her voice tails off. How was the impasse resolved? "He had to give a lot and I had to give a lot".

"I can fit in with anybody if I'm playing with them, but if it's my thing, it doesn't fit in with anybody... If someone asks me what kind of music I make, I don't even know what to tell them". Surely that's how it should be? Germano laughs. "It doesn't sell records, but I feel very creatively satisfied".

`Slide' (4AD) is out on Monday. Lisa Germano plays upstairs at The Garage on 16 October