Lisa Heller Flies “red flags” To Own Her Flaws

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Lisa Heller always felt a need to fit in, until she didn’t.

“Once I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore, I started realizing that my flaws are what make me unique,” she says, “and it’s actually a positive thing. Everyone has flaws, and they make us human.”

Her new song “red flags,” co-written with Meghan Williams, pulls back the curtain on her insecurities in a way that’s brash and vulnerable. Last pill from the bottom of the bottle / Take so much, I don’t need water, she confesses. So what / I’m a little f***ed up / Can’t sleep sometimes.

In 2019, Heller attended the ASCAP Expo where she met Williams, now a frequent songwriting collaborator. “We really hit it off. We’ve actually been writing over FaceTime since even before the pandemic. So we were used to this process already,” she says, noting they began writing the song soon after meeting. “And I put it on the backburner. This past summer, I was revisiting all the songs I had, and I still really connected to the song. I had lost some friends, from growing apart. We tweaked the song a little bit and made it more polished.”

With the accompanying lyric video, conceptualized with Cheska Zaide, Heller drowns the viewer not only emotionally but visually, as well. “We had this idea of being under water and feeling trapped. I also love the handwritten aspects of videos I’ve seen before as it feels very personal. I actually took an iPad and wrote out all the lyrics and we added them in. I stayed up with Cheska until 3am in the morning to get it done, the night before the press release went out. It was worth it.”

“Red Flags” kicks off Heller’s forthcoming six-song EP, Is Anyone Listening?, the title track for which sees the singer-songwriter questioning her entire existence. “Sometimes, it does feel like no one is listening especially during this pandemic,” she says. “A lot of people feel this way. I felt at times I couldn’t count on anyone.”

Therein lies the general feeling of the project. Heller rushes from “Turning Off the News,” inspired by the 2020 relection and pandemic news coverage, to sweeping nostalgia as found with “Eighteen.” On the latter song, she describes “how you can always feel nostalgia at any point in life,” she offers. Specifically, she got to thinking about “the elementary school playground I grew up going to. Later in high school, I’d go back with friends and go drinking or have a good time there. Even then, I thought I felt so old.”

Later, she wrestles “these moods where I feel sorry for myself” with the aptly-titled “Pity Party.” “Obviously, life isn’t easy; it’s harder for some more than others,” she explains. “Once you’re in that trap of feeling alone or that people don’t like you, it’s easy to get in a cycle of always feeling that. I wanted to make it a little playful. As much as life can be hard sometimes, the only person that can get you out of that dark place is yourself.”

Since her last body of work, The Lisa Heller Project (2020), the singer-songwriter has undergone a personal and creative transformation. “I’ve finally landed in a place I’m really excited about. I’ve been writing pretty much nonstop over the course of the pandemic,” she says. “I feel like the whole world was on halt, but I wanted to keep moving.”

“Over the past few months, I’ve felt I’m becoming stronger and more comfortable with myself and feel in a better place, creatively,” she continues. “The songs that are coming out of this are coming out of what I went through. Even though it’s been a really hard experience, it’s honestly helping my creative process.”

Heller has struggled with anxiety and depression since she was a 13-year-old growing up in Simsbury, Connecticut. “Music has always been the thing that’s helped me out of dark places. At the beginning of the pandemic, I actually flew back home to be with my parents. It was the first time since really high school that I lived with my family again. It was hard. It reminded me of the hard times I did go through in middle school and high school. A lot of people experience that. I know a lot of good friends who also moved back home, and it’s definitely a challenge. Your circles get smaller. I felt really isolated at the beginning.”

Early on in her career, with the first batch of songs she ever released, Heller worked intensely with a Nashville-based record label, which pushed her into the more electro-pop realm. “I just wasn’t feeling it,” she says. “I wanted to go the opposite direction, so I stripped everything back and took all the production off. Over time, I’ve found a happy medium. I still wanted to keep the intentions of the songwriting process, but having fuller production was definitely a goal.”

“Red Flags” is the beginning of Heller not only finding her voice but reclaiming the narrative. Now, she can fully own the space.

Photo by Jessamyn Violet

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