New Zealand-born Lisa Crawley had stars in her eyes when she landed on US soil. Having lived in Melbourne from 2014 to 2019, after a bit of back of forth between New Zealand and the US, she ended up moving to LA in January of 2020 once she got the Artist VISA; those stars might have sparkled their way down her cheeks in tears though, since a year of quarantine sullied her plans for songwriting, performance and collaborative creativity.
Not all was lost, though – the resourceful Crawley initiated live streamed piano karaoke sessions three nights a week from her Hollywood confinement, attracting singers from around the world. No wonder, really. For homebound amateur stars with Broadway dreams, it was a dream opportunity to join in on sessions with the lead from the Auckland production of Tony Award Winning musical ONCE, Banff Centre songwriter-in-residence, and recording artist.
When she wasn’t live streaming, Crawley was writing her own music with the assistance of Grammy-nominated Rob Kleiner. He both co-wrote and produced on her upcoming EP, Looking For Love (In A Major) – due out July 23. Thus far, she’s released two singles from the project: “Clear History,” and “The Right Way.” Premiering on Audiofemme is “Looking For Love,” which explores the awkward – and frankly, sad and true – reality that many of us are not content with the one we’re with, imagining instead a more ideal partner. The promise of online dating, which presents much like a shopping catalogue, can fool us into a “grass is greener” belief.
Crawley and Kleiner wrote the song at his place with their friend Kevin Gibson, who was in a Chicago-based band called Tub Ring with Kleiner and can be heard in the song’s backing vocals. “We had a few people in mind who inspired us for the song – those people who are never happy. You’re so sure, and then you’re not really sure, you know?” Crawley says. “We wrote and recorded that song in one day. Rob’s a really busy guy, and he’s quick. I dwell on things when it’s just me writing at home, but he motivates me to get to work.”
The video is gorgeously kitschy – and Crawley’s part-time gig had a lot to do with the aesthetic. “The video is inspired by asking a date at the time to take me to a drive-in, but he never did,” Crawley explains. “I started working part-time at a drive-in cinema, which is the first time I’d been to the movies in America. All those retro ads – dancing drinks and dancing sausages – seemed to fit with the song. It also made me think that dating can be a bit like fast food, so throw-away, too.”
That dovetails with the lyrical inspiration for the song, as well. “I did a little bit of online dating when I first got here, then I realised that it’s a bit early for that. Being new to the country, I wanted to make friends. I did a bit of Facetime dating, but mostly I was observing other people doing it,” says Crawley. “The song is based on observing the dating culture here. I grew up in a pretty traditional environment [in Auckland, New Zealand], so it’s pretty eye-opening. It’s harder to get away with in smaller cities and countries, but here you think you want something – you have it – and then some tiny thing sets you off to the next option. It’s easy when swiping on dating apps to be so judgmental. Being ghosted, it’s never fun. It’s about that person that’s never happy no matter what they have, because there’s always something wrong no matter what.”
From the opening seconds of reverberating bassline, Crawley hooks you. The tropical vibe is all sunshine, cocktails and romance novels by the hotel pool. For any Audiofemme readers who were teenagers in the 1990s, or have schooled themselves in radio playlists of the era, they might find themselves recalling Swedish band The Cardigans when listening to Crawley. There’s something of the playful, poppy, ultra-feminine Nina Elsabet Persson in Crawley’s delivery.
That carefree execution belies the stress Crawley was under in her first few months of living in the States. The Artist VISA requires applicants to show that what they bring to the table is unique and that they have work lined up in their field – music, in Crawley’s case. It’s a lengthy, expensive process and Crawley didn’t want to set herself back since the VISA lasts three years and took multiple letters from colleagues to support her case. When lockdown happened, she was determined to stick it out.
“I’m in a tiny studio apartment in Franklin Village,” she says. “Something I enjoyed doing in Melbourne was improv comedy and I thought it would be fun to live around this area because I’m living next door to the Upright Citizens’ Brigade. I had to take an online improv comedy course with them even though they’re right next door!”
Crawley admits it was an extremely lonely experience to move to Hollywood and find herself isolated so soon. “It’s been really lonely, so I fostered a cat called Iris, because I’d had a cat in New Zealand and Australia for 20 years. In fact, I didn’t apply for a VISA until my cat was really elderly. She was like my child, but when she passed I applied.”
She only had two months to try to find work and meet people, and she did have a good run initially. “I got booked for some gigs and worked with other artists, but I don’t want this to be a ‘poor me’ story. I had help from Support Act in Victoria; they gave out grants which was definitely helpful since I was living off my Patreon. I had a placement on a TV show, Nancy Drew – a song ‘You Won’t Be There‘ played, and that helped, too.”
On fact, one of the draws of moving to LA was writing and working with TV and film. Five years ago, Crawley began networking in LA with film and TV insiders to kickstart the opportunities for getting her work on screen. A conference in Hawaii introduced her to a sync licensing company that began to set her up with writers and enabled opportunities to place her music on shows. It can be highly lucrative, however varied. “It is one of the few ways that artists can make money these days,” she admits. “Streaming…well, I’m sure you’ve heard the numbers.”
Crawley has scored her friend’s web series, Ex-Sisters In Law (still playing festivals, but not publicly available yet). She’d been a guest musician on Tuesdays@9, which organises test scenes between actors and writers; it was via that group that she was introduced to Ex-Sisters, co-written by Suzan Mikiel. It’s only one of the many collaborative projects Crawley is involved in, as much as it has felt like she’s alone. It reminds her of her first solo travel, post-school.
For four months, aged 19, she worked in a very isolated Japanese town, Atami, “with no internet, in the middle of nowhere.” She was working seven nights a week in a hotel, performing the same show – singing, dancing and piano – to entertain tourists in the hotel bar. Since 15, she’d played in bars at night and churches in the mornings while also writing her own music, so entertainment is in her blood.
“I became more of an introvert after that Japan experience,” she says. But with plans to venture out and explore America – Nashville, Austin, New York and New Orleans all beckon – it’s hard to imagine Crawley can maintain her introvert status for long.