Heart 2 Heart:
Lisa Prank Wears the Crown of Creation
If you’ve seen the name Lisa Prank but haven’t heard her music, you might’ve expected the worse. Some one-joke phonies might’ve felt the need to reference their favorite school supply designer of yore while stinking up the stage with phony nostalgia. Fortunately, Seattle’s Robin Edwards beat the posers to the pun/punch, using a silly moniker to communicate her innermost feelings on one of the best pop-inspired punk albums of 2016.
At a time when the ‘90s are fetishized by many musicians and listeners, Edwards captures the emotion and charm of the era better than most peers as Lisa Prank. Her music is not a carbon copy of pop-punk, grunge, Riot Grrrl, or anything else from the era, yet culls a little from each to help emote a tender heart’s innermost feelings. “It’s definitely a sit-in-your-bedroom-alone-and-feel-feelings type of project,” Edwards says.
Back in 2013, Edwards recorded Crush on the World in her bedroom. The songs were uploaded on the internet to share with friends. That decision set in motion the rise of Lisa Prank, with a New Jersey label issuing it on cassette once word had spread East.
Edwards relocated from Denver to Seattle in 2014, putting Lisa Prank in the same scene as her close friends Tacocat, Pony Time, and Chastity Belt. Among Edwards’ growing discography is her appearance as a guest vocalist on “You’re Not My Real Dad” from Childbirth’s Women’s Rights, the brainchild of members of all three before-mentioned buddy bands. The song was born when Lisa Prank and Childbirth toured the West Coast together. Both would combine forces on stage as Know It All Dad, sporting backwards baseball caps and performing the lone bratty anthem in their shared arsenal. In the process, they solidified a musical kinship that’s still paying dividends. “Childbirth played the Suicide Squeeze Records anniversary party, and we did our little party trick there,” Edwards says. “And they’ve backed me up before on my songs. At my record release show, Stacy [Peck] played drums and Bree [McKenna] played bass on a few songs at the end.”
Examining Edwards’ music as Lisa Prank alongside that of her Seattle friends brings up a similarity. It’s not geography, and for Christ sakes it’s not gender. Each band tied to this circle of friends can make you laugh and think simultaneously. There’s a palindrome named band with a song about Dana Scully that can also get you fired up about creepy old catcallers. Another group can use hilarious press shots without diminishing the impact of their often beautiful and chilling music. They’re not politically-driven acts that are so serious that they come across as fuddy-duddies. Nor are they wacky “party rockers” with zero substance. Each act harnesses best of both, minus the extra baggage.
Per Edwards, there wasn’t any kind of conscious effort to build a scene of hilarious yet socially-conscious acts. It’s all a happy coincidence for a group of talented people who are all just being themselves. “I think probably the reason we’re friends is because we have similar senses of humor and ideas about what we want musically and in our lives,” she says.
This close-knit Seattle community of silly yet sincere musicians played a role in Edwards’ Father/Daughter Records debut, Adult Teen. Instead of recording it herself, she turned to Tacocat guitarist Eric Randall. While Edwards had played all instruments on those early demos, her newer songs feature such guest musicians as Julia Shapiro (Chastity Belt, Childbirth) and McKenna (Tacocat, Childbirth).
The album arrived in June following an impressive amount of press attention for an act that hadn’t toured extensively. It delivered the goods, with “Starting Again” and “Luv is Dumb” continuing Edwards’ pop-accessible mission of exploring her innermost feelings through songs. The process isn’t about sulking or being “emo.” Instead, Edwards’ end game is quite triumphant. “Sometimes you write a song about something and you figure out how you really feel about it in the process,” she says. Not only does Edwards better understand her feelings – she gets a song out of negativity that otherwise might’ve been swept aside and forgotten over time.
The videos for Edwards’ songs are a good starting point for new fans still grasping her gaudy visual aesthetic and sense of humor. “Starting Again” shows Edwards in a rotating collage of outfits, celebrating the teenage dreamer by singing her songs to herself with a hairbrush “microphone.” The more recent “Luv is Dumb” is even better. It’s her long-awaited chance to pay homage to the film Singles and pretend to fly around stock footage of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.
There may be much bigger audio-visual goodies in Lisa Prank’s future. “I’m working on a television show,” Edwards says. “It’s like Clarissa Explains It All meets Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” That’s all she’d say about her idea, admitting that the concept is in the “sapling stages.” Whether it’s a web series or something that gets shopped around to cable networks, a TV show is an ideal medium for an over-the-top character that’s full of stories and problems that can typically be solved in 30 minutes.
One thing Edwards has that makes Lisa Prank memorable is a giant crown and pair of hand-shaped earrings she had designed by Seattle-based graphic designer and musician Liam Downey. “I was already wearing a crown because I was doing a bad Courtney Love impression and I had hand earrings, so he made an exaggerated version of that,” she says. The crown wasn’t Edwards’ first attempt at emulating Love. While in Denver-based duo Lust-Cats of the Gutters, she had bleached-blonde hair. Now her tribute to a grunge-era hero is something that gives the Lisa Prank character a trademark look.
Edwards is currently on tour with New York queer punk duo PWR BTTM. She’s on tour without a backing band, allowing her to jump in her tour mates’ van without taking up much space. With her working relationship with Childbirth and experience touring from Seattle to New York with Tacocat, don’t be surprised if Lisa Prank eventually tours with friends who pull double-duty as her backing band. That’s how Nobunny has done it for years while on the road with the Wax Museums, the Rock N Roll Adventure Kids, the Hussy, and others, so such an arrangement is far from unprecedented.
In the meantime, expect more Lisa Prank solo tours, including a forthcoming jaunt with SAD13, the solo recording project of Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis.
With Edwards’ popularity spreading, are new fans mistakenly calling her Lisa? “Sometimes they do, and I’m fine with it,” she says. “I don’t correct people anymore because it’s part of me. It’s a more dramatic, extreme version of myself, with me exploring feelings to their fullest extent.” Edwards added that she recently caught herself turning her head when someone named Lisa’s order was called out at Taco Bell, although the staff there likely had no clue about her dual identity.
Expect laughs, friendship, and feelings to inspire more Lisa Prank material once she’s wrapped up consecutive album tours. Edwards says she’s already sitting on a few lyric ideas until she can make it back to the friendly confines of her bedroom. In an earlier interview, she spoke of a side project with McKenna and Shapiro called Gutless, featuring songs based on local Seattle weekly The Stranger’s missed connections blurbs and legendary Coast to Coast AM caller and alleged time traveler John Titor. If anything on the down-low needs to reach a wider audience, it’s Lisa Prank feeling feelings about Titor.
What is it about Lisa Prank that allows Edwards to be gaudy and emotional without the silly or the serious overshadowing the other? The secret lies in Edwards’ claim that her on-stage character is really just an amplified version of her own personality. It’s like pro wrestling in a sense. The man behind Stone Cold Steve Austin was a foul-mouthed, beer swilling redneck away from the arena. By adding some believability to his character, he could stand out in a competitive field that relies on both personality and talent, becoming one of the few people out there who got to beat up their boss every Monday without legal consequence. Likewise, Edwards incorporates her tender heart and quirky personality into her music, shunning her own presuppositions of how a woman in music should present herself on stage. “I felt like a lot of examples of women playing music that I knew made me think I need to be more dark and mysterious and reserved,” she says. “That’s not who I am. I’m gaudy and cheesy.”
Photo by Sarah Cass.