Lisa Tenzin-Dolma | Interview | New Album, ‘Echoes’
Lisa Tenzin-Dolma is a UK based author, singer-songwriter and artist. Her new concept album/rock opera, ‘Echoes’, recorded with Zac Ware of The Proclaimers and The New Spirits, and Peter Ulrich, former percussionist with Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil and The Peter Ulrich Collaboration was recently released.
She is also the founder of the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour. Lisa’s interests cover a wide spectrum, including human and canine psychology, physics, cosmology, symbolism, mythology, and complementary therapies. She is the author of 31 non fiction books and 3 novels. Lainey’s Lot, one of her Young Adult novels, was shortlisted for the 2016 Romantic Novelist Awards and is currently being developed as a screenplay by Lionhawk Productions in the USA.
What can you tell us about the initial concept behind ‘Echoes’?
Lisa Tenzin-Dolma: ‘Echoes’ came to me in a flash as an entire story with three characters while I was playing my guitar one afternoon, years ago. I wrote the first four songs that afternoon, and then slowly progressed through writing the rest of the songs, in between working on other projects, until it was completed in 2020. As an author the idea of telling a story through songs, and exploring and expressing emotions through the songs, very much appealed to me.
What was the creative process? Were you able to work despite the pandemic?
Lisa: I found the creative process of building on the foundation of the lyrics and music, and especially working with Zac and Peter, tremendously exciting and uplifting. I’d known Peter for many years and had first met Zac in 2019. I sent the rough recordings of the songs to Peter as soon as I’d finished writing them, and was delighted when he was enthusiastic about them and offered to be involved in the album.
I’d been using very basic music software up until then, and Peter suggested I switch to a Focusrite interface and Pro Tools, as that’s what he uses – so I did. This posed quite a learning curve for me initially as I had to figure out, with Peter, then Zac’s help, how to record more professionally. When I told Zac I was planning to record ‘Echoes’ he offered to come on board with the male vocals, guitar, pedal steel and mandolin, and to produce the album. He suggested we use his recording studio, as we both live in Bath, though as Peter is in Norfolk his percussion tracks would be recorded in his own studio and sent to us.
Restrictions due to the pandemic meant that we only managed to meet 3 times at Zac’s studio, so we decided to carry on recording our individual parts independently. Peter and I emailed these to Zac, who put all the tracks together in Logic, mixed them, then sent them to Peter and me for feedback. We met on Zoom to listen together and do additional recording and some of the editing.
It turned out to be a much more straightforward process than we’d anticipated, and Zac prepared the final mixes for mastering.
Zac Ware: My role in the creation of ‘Echoes’ was as producer, mixer and instrumentalist. The pandemic decimated live work, so taking away my main source of income. So I built a studio in my garden and decided I needed to teach online and produce and do session work from my home if I couldn’t tour or gig. When the first lockdown opened up I met Lisa in a music shop and we chatted and agreed to work together.
The work process was straightforward at first. Lisa came to the studio and we would discuss the song and what it meant and the feeling she wanted from it. I suggested small tweaks to arrangements, adding bridges or a repeating a section. But we kept them short and to the point. There’s 18, songs after all, and we wanted to keep the listener engaged for the whole story. Lisa was economical and kept the songs short and to the point. We would put a groove together using apple loops. She then put her acoustic or electric guitar down and vocal. I would add bass, guitars, simple keys and backing vocals.
When the second lockdown started we began to work on zoom, Lisa using her Focusrite Scarlet and mic to record guitars and vocals on to Pro Tools at her home. She then sent me the Wav files of the best takes for me to edit and import into Logic at my end. It worked as I was still able to focus the way she was playing and singing even though we weren’t in the same room. We then talked and passed ideas between us. When we got to a certain point and the song felt strong we sent it to Peter Ulrich who added percussion and created spaces and sounds we would never have thought of, and moved the songs ever upwards.
Lisa was very patient as even though I’d recorded many demos this was my first record for anyone else. I did a lot of learning and every time I thought I had finished I learnt a new technique and went back over every track to make sure that it reached my new standard!
Peter Ulrich: I’d “met” Lisa back in the days when “myspace” was the forefront of social media – there’s now a generation which has never heard of it! But until a couple of years ago, I only ever knew her as an author. I knew she had a great interest in music, but had no idea she played and wrote, so it was a surprise when she sent me a batch of songs out of the blue one day. They were simple recordings, just acoustic guitar and voice, but I immediately liked them – they had a freshness about them, and yet seemed rooted in some of the music which originally inspired me back in the day. A little more time had passed when she told me she’d met Zac, was planning to record an album, and invited me to contribute some percussion.
I was used to the process of recording remotely and sending files back and forth from having done my previous three albums working with a producer and musicians based principally in New York. Lisa and Zac were at least able to get together a few times as they are local to one another, so their interaction drove the bulk of the project. Some tracks required fairly standard drums/percussion, so Zac programmed those, while I came in on the songs which they wanted to give a more unusual twist, and/or a more live feel – so the album is split roughly half and half between these two approaches. Mostly I was left to my own devices (very brave of them), so I was able to indulge myself using a range of percussion – an udu here, a bendir there, even a bit of thigh-slapping at one point – and managed to slip in some kalimba (thumb piano) in one song. Only on one occasion did Zac give me the specific request to come up with something reminiscent of John Bonham on “When the Levee Breaks”. That was a bit different, but fun to do, and I’ll leave you to figure which song it’s in.
What would you say was the dynamic between you three?
Lisa: The dynamic was creative, inspiring, and joyful. For me, it was an immense pleasure to have this opportunity to work with two musician friends who I have boundless admiration for. We all discussed ideas about how each song should sound,which instruments to include, and how to create an atmosphere for each song that reflected the emotions and the characters. We decided that although I had conceived of and written Echoes as a story, each song needed to be developed so that it would stand alone.
There’s something very special about making music with others, and Zac and Peter are such incredible musicians that I learned a great deal from both of them, and have become a lot more experimental with songs I’ve written since Echoes was completed. Developing and creating Echoes with them has been a truly wonderful experience.
Zac: The dynamic was very easy going. We all had clear roles and these were respected. Lisa is the writer and her vision came first. I was in charge of getting a decent mix and arrangement. Peter would throw in lots of ideas about sounds and feel and would be very supportive whenever Lisa and I had any doubts about what was working or not, but left the final decision making up to us. Lisa as the writer was very open to arrangement and instrument choices, allowing me to do some weird guitar and run with an idea even when I wasn’t sure if it would work. That is always fun and if it didn’t work it didn’t matter and we tried something else till we all got the sense that the song had been well served. That is the key really. We all put our skills at the service of the song and didn’t get too caught up in our own idea of it. A thoroughly enjoyable process.
Peter: I’d agree with Zac there – very easy going. I was already sold on Lisa’s basic songs, but I immediately liked Zac’s arrangements and contributions when the working files started coming through – some really thoughtful and interesting guitar work, and nice variation with mandolin and pedal steel popping up here and there. Lisa’s singing became stronger and more assured as we progressed, and it was exciting to hear the songs coming together. I took a few pieces in directions which Lisa and Zac found quite unexpected, but I think that maybe encouraged them to be a little more experimental too, and the feedback flying around was all positive. Lisa is a wonderfully enthusiastic person and seemed thrilled with the way her songs were developing, so we’ve ended up with a bit of a mutual appreciation society. But, of course, the important thing now is to get ‘Echoes’ heard far and wide, and hope the spirit we feel we generated between us translates to its audience.