“I find in writing songs that I’m often walking that thin line – I’m trying to make a personal, individual experience universal,” muses singer-songwriter Lisa Marie Simmons.
From her homebase on the coast of Italy’s beautiful Lake Garda, Simmons collaboratively leads two different ensembles – Hippie Tendencies and NoteSpeak – with keyboardist, arranger, and songwriter Marco Cremaschini, each deeply but differently informed by the struggles and triumphs in Simmons’ own life.
Born in Colorado Springs (CO), Simmons survived several troubled adoptions and foster homes. She found solace, like so many artists, singing in her church choir and was featured soloist with the Boulder (CO) Youth Choir. At nineteen, Simmons moved to New York City to study theater and music at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and perform in various pop, funk, soul, blues and jazz bands throughout the Manhattan club circuit at night. “Music is my savior, and my past has taught me empathy,” she reflects.
Manhattan served as the launchpad for five years of geographic and musical globetrotting: From 1993 until 1997, Simmons explored and performed music in Amsterdam, Costa Rica, St. Marten, and France, where she began to compose her own music and lyrics. She continued her travels through Central and South America, and eventually returned to Europe to establish her new artistic home and search for someone to produce her own music.
In time, producer Pieradis Rossini introduced her to Paola Peroni (aka D.J. Groovy), with whom Simmons teamed under the moniker Bacon Popper. Their first single (“Free”) exploded on the 1998 European club scene, reaching #1 on the dance singles chart in France and #2 in Italy. Their second single (“Rejoice in Love”) was quickly followed by a full-length album for which Simmons wrote every lyric.
Lisa Simmons finally stepped out as a solo artist in 1999 with her first single (“Feel It”) and continued to collaborate with various artists and producers throughout Italy. She released her last single as a solo artist (“I Won’t Be Waiting,” with producer Emanuela Gubinelli) in 2004. Since then, Simmons and Cremaschini have divided most of their attention between the neo-folk, neo-soul project Hippie Tendencies and spoken-word-jazz project NoteSpeak. Hippie Tendencies has released two full-length albums and their cover of “Here’s To You/The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti,” which recants the execution of two Italian immigrants wrongly convicted for murder during a 1920 armed robbery in Massachusetts, was adopted by Amnesty International as the theme for their #herestoyou campaign.
A unique collaboration that intertwines poetical and musical forms to raise awareness of real-life triumphs and struggles around the world, Notespeak explores creative paths established by such artists as The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and Brian Jackson, but venture down contemporary avenues to address current topics of which many remain unaware. Musically and vocally, NoteSpeak constantly changes, shifting from style to style – acoustic jazz solos into hip-hop beats into harmonized gospel vocals into electronic jazz and fusion into free verse rhyming – and yet seems to consistently groove. Simmons' delivery swims in the deep waters connecting Nina Simone to Jill Scott, completely obliterating the line between vocalist and poetess: Warning like a mother lioness, whippersnapping through urban haunts, and curiously wondering about it all.
“I love the exploration of the spoken, sung and played mingled. It's been a joy working with new musicians with NoteSpeak. We’re convinced of its relevance as an original observation deriving from our own unique experience (as each of ours is) of the world today; and in particular we are trying to call attention to some phenomena of which many are unaware,” Simmons explains. “In NoteSpeak, we’re giving ourselves the freedom to just tell these stories with as much craft and beauty and compassion as we can muster.”
Her creativity also encompasses composing with and for artists working in other, different genres, including: Rock ‘n’ rollers Plan de Fuga; American roots music on Lisa Bell’s The Italian Project; and soulstress Cheryl Porter. Porter performed “Consequence,” co-written by Simmons and Cremaschini, with Padova’s Symphonic Orchestra from the Conservatorio di Musica “Cesare Pollini” in Padova and with the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra in Washington, DC, for the “Two Countries, One Heart” initiative co-sponsored by the American Initiative for Italian Culture, the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras and the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington.
Simmons also sings in the house band for the five-star Lefay Resort on the beautiful Lake Garda coast, while Lisa and the Welcome (which Simmons describes as “Hippie Tendencies dressed well”) presents her as jazz chanteuse, singing pop and jazz standards at private and corporate events.
“I am an idealist and I truly believe in making the world a brighter place and contributing in an enlightened evolution of humankind. It seems so obvious to me that love and the thread that connects each of us is all that matters,” Simmons explains. “I want to continue to grow in ways that I cannot even imagine today, to champion those without a voice, to celebrate the gloriousness of existence, to give voice to my inner landscape, to reflect the events that surround us while learning from the past and seeking to aid in avoiding the repetition of history's worse errors, to share, to know and be known.”