Hurricane Lisa - Get Ready to be Blown Away

It was on a bitterly cold night in January that I first saw Hurricane Lisa. Pulling up to Mugs – a tiny pub in downtown Calgary – I left the warmth of my car, jammed my hands into my pockets and made the dash across the slippery parking lot, my breath steaming in the frosty night air. Stepping out of the cold and through the doors, I was instantly transported to another world.

The venue was a small, cozy corner pub, with a bar taking up most of the central real estate and an intimate stage set up to the right of the entrance, facing out towards several tables and booths. The atmosphere felt thick and heady, and there almost seemed to be a haze in the air, as though it was 1995 again and you could still enjoy a cigarette with your beer. Looking around, though, I realized that the bar was completely smoke-free, and that what was hanging in the air wasn’t exhaled smoke, but rather the vocal stylings of Hurricane Lisa, creating layer upon layer of sultry, bluesy ambiance and filling the room with nuance and emotion.

If you haven’t yet encountered Lisa Schroeder onstage and in front of a mic, it’s hard to do justice to the unique timbre of her voice. Her take on it? “I sound like I just went and drank a bottle of whiskey…but I feel like I get away with it!” Think Melissa Etheridge or Janis Joplin: raspy, soulful, and enrapturing.

I got the chance to chat with Schroeder about her music career and her time performing in Calgary following her show at Mugs. “I’ve been involved in music my whole life...anything that had acting, music, any of those kinds of things I got involved in,” Schroeder told me, when I asked her how she came to find herself singing and performing. Then, while taking part in a jam session at The Blues Can about five years ago, Schroeder was confronted by a heckler. Rather than backing down or getting upset, she used the stage and her music to stand up for herself – and in that moment, she realized she had truly found her passion: “It was then that I knew,” she told me, “that I wanted to be on that stage, and that I wanted to a performer and not just a singer…I always thought that the stage was my alter ego, but really, it’s not. It’s where I’m actually myself.”

Seeing Schroeder perform at Mugs that night, it’s clear that these words came from her heart. She exuded confidence and personality while singing and playing guitar, and was completely at ease joking with the crowd between songs and taking time to connect with individual members of the audience. Of course, it helped that backing her that evening were some incredibly gifted bandmates. On drums, the brilliant Gavin Sorochan – a staple in the Calgary music scene. Bass duty was handled by Murphy Martin, hailing from Kimberly, BC and equally at home onstage in both Calgary and Seattle, where he’s a regular fixture at live music venues. Finally, Schroeder was joined by “Southpaw” Bob Kohl on guitar, a player whose name is well-known within the local blues scene and who has run guitar and jamming workshops at past Calgary Bluesfests.

While Schroeder was accompanied by some pretty hard-hitting talent, it’s important to note that in true blues-fashion, Hurricane Lisa is a force unto herself – players come and go, and there are regular musicians that she makes a habit of working with, but ultimately, Schroeder’s aptitude and career stand on their own, making each show an interesting and entirely unique experience.

What’s on the horizon for Hurricane Lisa? Well, quite frankly, a lot! “At the moment, I’m working on three separate projects,” Schroeder informed me. These involve a project with another local Calgary vocalist, an increased focus on bringing more to Hurricane Lisa’s live act, and excitingly, a studio album of original tracks. “I’m almost done writing,” she said. “[It will be ready] hopefully within six months, but no later than the next year.”

While that sounds like a lot to take on all at once, Schroeder has recently found herself in the position to be able to fully commit to her music, for better or worse. “I was diagnosed last year with tumors in my head, and I was told by my doctor that I can’t work,” she confided in me. “They’re not cancer, I’m not going to die, it’s not a big sad ending, but I said ‘I’m still going to gig,’ because without gigging, my emotional state wouldn’t be any good.” Then, after a pregnant pause, Schroeder reflected: “Thank goodness I have music, or I’d have nothing.”

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