Lisa Velez better known as Lisa Lisa and her band Cult Jam rose to the forefront in the 80s’ with the single “I Wonder If I Take You Home.” The Puerto Rican singer went gold with her song “All Cried Out.” Her name Lisa Lisa spun from her producers Full Force saying her name twice.
She is now bringing her solo album Life ‘n Love to Northalsted Market Days one of the biggest street festivals in Chicago. With this interview you will see why we love this lady from “Head to Toe.”
Gozamos: Hey, Lisa. I have listened to you music forever so I am glad you are coming.
Lisa Lisa: I’m glad too. It is going to be fun.
Have you played a lot of gay festivals?
Yes, yes, yes. Every year I do about ten. I play them all the time.
Wow. Did you take a break from the music business for a while?
No, actually I didn’t take a break at all. The thing is I wasn’t in the public eye because I didn’t release an album. I was overseas and working with other artists, writing and producing, that kind of thing.
And working on a family, too?
Oh, absolutely (laughs).
You are Puerto Rican?
Yes, I am. Born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City.
Was it hard growing up?
No. Well, in everybody else’s eyes it was if you weren’t from Hell’s Kitchen then people thought it was crazy. When I was living there it was all about gangs, the Westies, the Italian mafia and all of that stuff. But you get over it. You do what you gotta do. To me it was about survival of the fittest. I wanted to do what I wanted to do and I did it!
Were you a tough girl?
I think pretty much. I had to be because I was the youngest of ten of a single parent living in Hell’s Kitchen. I went to public school. I am very short. I had to protect myself. My mouth was my first weapon. Then if I had to get physical then I had to get physical. Very rarely did I have to because we were from the neighborhood and we basically protected each other.
Your brother was in the military correct?
Yeah. My oldest brother was in the army. He did the Vietnam War for three tours.
Was it a typical Puerto Rican family, maybe loud and crazy?
Yes, crazy! You hit it right. Loud, crazy but my mom is very religious and we were raised in the church choir. That’s how I wound up singing at four years old. She was very strict with us. I wasn’t allowed to wear pants, no makeup, nothing, until I started in this business, which was pretty early because I started at 13 years old with Full Force. It was very hard for her but she knew that it was something I always wanted to do.
Can you explain Cult Jam and Full Force? How did that all work?
(laughs) Basically I met one of the guys from Cult Jam who was a roadie for Full Force at the time. I met them at the local club Fun House in the city. He told me about this audition and I went. I got the part but the part was for a three-girl group that they wanted to do. They couldn’t find two other girls to blend with my voice so they just made it a band, myself and two other guys, which were Cult Jam. They were Mike Hughes and “Spanador.” Full Force were my producers. They were their own band and group of six guys. They produced for the world, I can tell you that. The rest is history.
What was it like when all of those hit singles kept popping up?
Honestly, I was so young and very happy to be on the stage singing really. I wanted to sing, that is always what I have wanted to do. I was still in school and touring with songs on the radio. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand. I was like, “What the hell are people so excited about?” I was doing what I wanted to do. The whole fanbase and this and that, everything else to me was just sacrifice because I wanted to be on stage. When it started happening to me it was a little overwhelming. It was so worth it because to be on a tour with major artists out there, learning from them and watching, it was great and it still is…
Were you influenced by Prince?
I was. I actually worked with him a couple of times. It was nuts. He is just a guy though. He really is. It’s funny because people see him and perceive him as eccentric but he is a really homey guy. He is into his thing and he does what he does. When it comes to working it’s all about let’s get this done and taken care of. I am so like that. It was fun. I worked with a lot of people.
There was a lot of breakdancing back then. Did that influence you also?
The sound we started was the sound that all of the freestyle dancers were dancing to. That was a lot of bass synth, Spanish guitar and drum. Everything was hard on the drums. We got that name and that style because it was what was being played in the clubs when the breakdancers were coming out. That’s where we got that sound from. Everybody started doing it.
You worked on your solo album Life ‘n Love with Pitbull on a track?
Yes, I did. It was funny because we had to do it over the phone. We asked Pit if he wanted to do it. We were on the phone talking and he threw in some lines. We mixed it together. It was a lot of fun.
What do you think of his rise to fame? He had a big hit with Jennifer Lopez recently.
He is doing that dance thing. He likes that clubby radio ready pop thing, which is great because it is hitting hard right now. Everybody wants to touch Pitbull. I am happy for him. God bless him.
I noticed you have a Spanish language song on your album too.
It’s called “Que Locura.” I had to throw that in there. This album has me rapping in Spanish and of course has the R&B in it too. I was born and raised on R&B, I gotta tell you. A lot of people think it was Latin freestyle or Hip Hop but the first music I listened to growing up were Salsa and of course Motown. I lived on Martha and the Vandellas. I was raised on her, Patti LaBelle and Teena Marie.
Would you ever do a whole Spanish album?
A lot of people have asked me that. They wonder why I haven’t agreed to do it. It’s because I don’t want to be a sellout. I love Salsa. You have no idea. I was raised on Jimmy Sabater, Joe Cuba, Willie Colon and Celia Cruz, all of them. It has to be the right thing with the right people. If they come up with the right idea then I will do it.
Do you cook Puerto Rican food?
Yes, I do.
Are you a good cook?
I think so. My kids think so too because I teach them how to do it. I learned from my mother, rest her soul. I think I am good (laughs).
Where do you want people to purchase your music?
They can find it on Amazon.com, iTunes or hit me up on my Facebook page and I will lead them into my other pages.
Thanks so much for supporting the gay community because we love you.
It is my job because you guys do love me and I love you all in return.
Get “Lost in Emotion” at Market Days on August 14 at 4:30 pm with Lisa Lisa. Visit http://www.northalsted.com for information on more artists at the biggest two-day event in the Midwest.