Guitar God Lisa Prank in Conversation with Big City Producer Rose Melberg

The Seattle singer-songwriter talks her new record with friend and collaborator Melberg (Tiger Trap, the Softies).

Lisa Prank is the Seattle-based project of Robin Edwards; Rose Melberg was member of the legendary Sacramento band Tiger Trap and The Softies, and the producer of the latest Lisa Prank album, Perfect Love Song (out now via Father/Daughter Records). Here, the two talk about the record, their Lisa Prank song generator app, and Nashville
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Robin Edwards: So how did you get involved in this Lisa Prank project? 

Rose Melberg: Well, Lisa Prank and I made a magical connection — when did we make our first magical connection? When did our magic start?

Robin: I remember really sitting down and talking to you at the Dear Nora show at the Black Lodge [in Seattle].

Rose: We talked about songwriting! That’s where it all started.

Robin: Yeah, I think I was really blocked on songwriting and I talked to you about it. I remember after I got home from talking to you, I wrote down all these things in a notebook of ideas for songs.

Rose: Do you remember what the things you wrote down were?

Robin: I remember you telling me that I should write a sexy song. [Laughs.] I don’t think I ended up doing it though.

Rose: [Laughs.] But you should hide it with these innuendos only you know.

Robin: What do you remember about that?

Rose: I just remember coming away from it feeling like you were a kindred spirit in the way that we wrote songs and the way we felt about how and why we write songs.

Robin: Yeah, me too.

Rose: I remember talking about how both of us kind of have no filter where we should have filters, but then also that we’re kind of blocked in ways that we felt like other songwriters weren’t blocked.

Robin: [Laughs.] Yeah, totally. I think that’s very true.

Rose: I have no problem writing about these horrible traumatic things that happen to me, but I can’t just write a normal song.

Robin: Yeah, I really relate to that.

Rose: Absolutely. So I think that was maybe the night we fell in love?

Robin: Yeah, I think that is the night we fell in love.

Rose: I remember, based on our conversation, I started to write a song called “Legal Lover.” Remember that?

Robin: [Laughs.] Yeah, because we were talking about all the different words that you could use besides partner or boyfriend or husband.

Rose: So I decided to start calling John my legal lover instead of my husband. [Laughs.] And then I tried to mind map that song. I’m not much for mind mapping, but I was trying it out, and so I remember trying to turn that into a fully fleshed out song. More of a comedy song, I guess. It never quite got finished, but there was a line in it about calling the constable — “Call the constable, make it legal.”

Robin: [Laughs.] You gotta finish “Legal Lover!”

Rose: [Laughs.] So yeah, very early on I knew that we would make music together.

Robin: I felt the same way. I felt hopeful that we would in the way that you feel hopeful that you and your crush will fall in love someday.

Rose: Exactly, you just know.

Robin: You do.

Rose: Then you came up to Vancouver; you were sad and you needed to run away, and you were playing show here, so you came up early and we went to the Cat Convention. That’s when you finished writing “IUD,” in my living room, and I wrote the harmony. And so it began, my dipping my toe into your album.

Robin: And then you were visiting and we were going to record in a few weeks, and you were working on some harmonies.

Rose: That’s right, and your drummer could not come to practice, so I sat in on drums.

Robin: You did, and then you had all these great ideas for the songs and how they should be arranged. 

Rose: And you said… 

Robin: I said, “What are you doing in two weeks?”

Rose: And I said, “I’ll be producing your new album?”

Robin: And I said, “Yes!”

Rose: And there you go!

Robin: [Laughs.] I said, “The pay is friendship.”

Rose: Yep, and I said, “Worth it!” So began the two craziest months of my life.

Robin: Yeah, it was a wild time and… I lost my train of thought.

Rose: Were you thinking about “Legal Lover?” [Laughs.]

Robin: [Laughs.] Yeah, I was trying to think of what to rhyme with “lover.” Covers?

Rose: I’ve definitely done that rhyme before, but I more like “other” and “lover.” [Laughs.] What was your favorite part of the whole process together?

Robin: When we wrote “Telescope” together, that was one of my favorite parts of it.

Rose: That was really magical.

Robin: It felt really magical. That was a song that was not really even going to be on the record. It was partially done, and then we started working on it together and it felt like in the TV show Nashville when they just start looking into each other’s eyes and singing and the song comes out.

Rose: I remember feeling really self-conscious because I don’t collaborate well lyrically with people. I never have, I always just write lyrics on my own. But you went into the post office and I was sitting in the van and you left me, like, “Here’s the lyrics I have for this song.” And in the time that you were in there I started having all these thoughts and ideas about the song, and I remember feeling really self-conscious being like, I wonder if I could make these suggestions about where the song could go. But I had never done that before. I had never worked with someone else on the lyrics of a song in that way.

Something just clicked where I said, “What about this?” And you were like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” It happened so easily, and I never experienced that before. It was so beautiful. It was exhilarating to experience what those writers on Nashville experience — you know, when Scarlett and Gunner are talking about their feelings, and it just comes out and automatically they know the melody. [Laughs.]

Robin: [Laughs.] And they can harmonize all of a sudden too.

Rose: They harmonize it, they know the arrangement, they know when that fucking bridge is coming. It felt like that. It felt so natural and easy, and like the song was kind of already written but we had to put our superpowers together to bring it to life.

Robin: I felt the same way. It felt very magical to me. I’ve collaborated with people on lyrics before, but it’s mostly been on very silly songs. It’s never been on anything emotional..

Rose: That’s what was so cool. I always feel too vulnerable to talk to people about my process of writing lyrics, so that’s why I was hesitant to step on your process, because I know how tender those feelings are. I felt really honored that you let me into your process. You gave me permission to jam on your idea.

Robin: When I think about the record, I think that that’s something that’s so special about it, that I can’t imagine someone who I’m not deep close friends with working on it, because it’s so personal and vulnerable. 

Rose: There’s a lot of very big feelings on this record.

Robin: Yeah. Just having you there, both to help produce the sound of it and also just to help manage my feelings [Laughs], I can’t imagine doing it without that.

Rose: One of my favorite things about making the record was all the stupid ideas we had that, of course, we didn’t do. But now when I listen, all I hear is the joke lyrics that didn’t actually end up on the record. One of the best things about making the record [is] I will always hear those lines in my mind forever and ever.

Robin: Yeah, I will too. We were joking about, Lisa Prays a lot, my religious band, and replacing all the words with god.

Rose: “I will pray hard.”

Robin: Yeah, “I will pray hard for our Lord.”

Rose: It almost got creepy, it was just too good.

Robin: It worked too well.

Rose: Honestly, we should just re-record it with the religious lyrics and re-market it. I swear to god, you would be so popular. Because you look like an angel!

Robin: Aw! [Laughs.]

Rose: But I also think one of my favorite things was when we were working on the Lisa Prank song generator app.

Robin: Oh, yeah, all the words that go into Lisa Prank song so that the person at home can just make it themselves. What were some of the words?

Rose: “Feelings” and “love” and “tonight.” “Moon,” “hurt,” “pain.”

Robin: “Lies.”

Rose: “Sad,” “betrayal.” But we don’t want to give too much away, because we’re going to sell this app.

Robin: Oh, yeah, it’s true. You’ll have to wait for the app.

Rose: It’s gonna be hot stuff.

Robin: Rose, what character on Nashville would you say that you relate to the most?

Rose: I gotta say Rayna Jaymes.

Robin: You’re totally a Rayna.

Rose: I’ve been around the block. [Laughs.] Took me later in life to find my true love. I guess, she’s really kind of secure in herself and she feels a lot of empathy for other younger women artists, but also sometimes a little bit of envy and jealousy, and that’s so real. She always wants to help the up and coming artists, but then [there’s] always kind of an element of competition as well. I can relate to those feelings, but not to the extent of like — I definitely don’t have a Juliette Barnes… yet.

Robin: Maybe someday.

Rose: Who are you? Who do you relate to?

Robin: I relate a lot to Juliette even though I’m not as bad as her.

Rose: Right. You’re not quite as self-centered, but she’s also got big feelings like you.

Robin: She does. And she’s impulsive.

Rose: She is impulsive. She’s been known to cause a scene.

Robin: She’s been hurt before. I’m not really sure. I think I’m part Juliette Barnes. I’m probably part Avery too, honestly. Who do you think I am?

Rose: I guess I can see little bits of Avery — he’s sensitive, he sometimes doesn’t speak his mind when he should, which that’s a little bit you sometimes. I’m not saying you do, I’m saying that you feel like you do, as per your song that you wrote about that… i.e., all the songs. [Laughs.] I don’t know. You’re kind of like, what’s her name? The young one that won the contest?

Robin: Oh, Layla Grant.

Rose: Only because she’s wide-eyed and there’s all this possibility, and she keeps getting treated like garbage. But she just keeps going and she kind of rediscovers herself, and all that positive stuff.

Robin: Aw, yeah.

Rose: I feel like there’s some Deacon in me also. I think kind of half Rayna, half Deacon.

Robin: I can see that.

Rose: Because I’m not very good at collaborating, but since they collaborate so magically, I feel like those are the two sides of me inside that write my songs — my inner Rayna and Deacon talking to each other is where my songs come from.

Robin: And you’re like a heartthrob. Respected at the Bluebird Cafe.

Rose: I look great in cowboy boots. I’m an amazing guitar player. [Laughs.]

Robin: You are!

Rose: I am glad that you let me play a little bit of guitar on the record.

Robin: Yeah, you play guitar on “Telescope,” and you sing a million beautiful harmonies. I don’t even remember anymore which ones you sing on and which ones you didn’t sing on.

Rose: I can’t tell what’s you and what’s me, but I know there were songs when we were recording the backing vocals that I felt like it was really important for you to sing your own backing vocals, because the emotion was too big for me to take on — that it was really important for it to be just your voice telling that story. I remember sort of making that decision as we went through each song and being like, “You need to sing on this one, I can sing on this one.” I think we made all the right choices.

Robin: I think so too. Oh, and where were we recording, Rose?

Rose: We recorded in the basement of a bank, at the Vault in Seattle, Washington with the unbelievable Ian Sage, who I absolutely adore. He was a total wizard. I think of all the engineers I’ve worked with, he was the most technically proficient at taking our, “We want this feeling to be like this,” and he was like, “Boom, we made it happen.” He was amazing.

Robin: He rocks. What else do you want people to know about this record?

Rose: We worked so hard. It was months of going back and forth, and I hear it when I listen. We really thought about the details. I know we were driving Ian crazy by the end with how much stuff we wanted to redo, but I hear the care in it and I’ve never worked so long or hard on a record ever in my life.

Robin: Me neither.

Rose: It was a phenomenal learning experience for me. And again, I was so honored to be allowed into that process. This is the first time I really recorded this much with someone else’s songs, and that shit is sacred. I love that we took the time to really honor the songs.

Robin: Me too, Rosie.

Rose: What’s your favorite song on the record?

Robin: People have been asking that in interviews and I usually just say “Telescope” because I can talk about you and me writing it together.

Rose: Isn’t it special?

Robin: But how do you choose a favorite star in the sky?

Rose: I know, exactly. Maybe I was just baiting you to say that line. [Laughs.]

Robin: What’s your favorite song on the record?

Rose: “Ignore It.”

Robin: Because of that three-part harmony?

Rose: Maybe kind of, but the whole song. I just loved the whole way it came together and how different it was from what it started as. It was kind of bonkers. We had so many laughs. I guess it’s hard to really hear the songs as a listener — I feel them so deeply now when I listen to them, and they’re all just a series of hilarious moments. So that one is really delightful to my ears. But I also love “Work Hard” because all the percussion stuff that we did was really fun.

Robin: Oh, those beautiful claves.

Rose: The claves and the cabasa. Remember when we turned the kick drum upright on the chairs and made it like a tom? That was really fun. It was kind of medieval in some weird way. We ended up mixing it quite low, but when it was mixed high, it sounded so insane. That really it surprises you, cause it comes in later in the song and my heart just goes, Oh, yeah! every time I hear it.

Robin: It’s funny thinking about the recording process, because it was so fun. I feel like I was laughing more than I’ve ever laughed in my life. A lot of them are very sad songs, but we were just having a blast in the studio.

Rose: We really were, and we were laughing at things that people really shouldn’t laugh at, pretty dark material that there was just no boundary between the humor and the tragedy when you’re in the studio. [Laughs.] Anything goes.

Robin: We gotta make another one.

Rose: I really loved watching you play guitar. That was really fun, watching you record your guitar parts. You’re so good and so tight and so consistent. I’ve never played with anyone who was so consistent with the guitar. Your strumming and your palm muting — I just can’t believe how quickly you went through the songs, and how precise it was. I knew these songs were new to you, yet it felt like you’ve been playing them for years. I was really impressed by your guitar playing.

Robin: Thanks, Rose.

Rose: You’re welcome. Did I not tell you that at the time?

Robin: I think you did, but it’s nice to hear it again. I never feel super confident as a guitar player, so it’s nice to hear that.

Rose: Very impressive.

Robin: “Virtuoso.” “Genius.” [Laughs.]

Rose: I think that’s the word you’re looking for, “genius.”

Robin: Guitar God Lisa Prank… Big City Producer Rose Melberg.

Rose: [Laughs.] I’m so happy that the record is out.

Robin: Me too.

Rose: Everyone gets to hear it, but I know no one will hear it the way we hear it. It was beyond magical, the process. Like you said, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that much or hard in my entire life. I feel like it transformed my heart and inspired me so much to continue creating. It reminded me how much I enjoy the process of recording, even though it’s super hard, but if you’re doing it with the right people, how amazing it is. It was totally life-changing to me.

Robin: Me too.

Rose: I’ve recorded so many records, but this felt different. It was so fun.

Robin: It was so fun.

Rose: When’s the next one?

Robin: I don’t know. Gotta write it!

(Photo Credit: left, Jon Manning)

Robin Edwards is Seattle-based musician who performs as Lisa Prank  and in the supergroup Who is She? You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.