“As depressing as the time was, I was able to create more than I ever had. I was able to drop three albums and an EP.”
Though we’ve gushed over Boston r&b singer Lisa Bello’s shows and singles in the years since, when we put her on the cover of our print edition back in 2018, she had just left her teaching job in BPS to sing full-time.
With COVID and everything that came with countless venue shutdowns and pauses, it’s been a roller-coaster ride for the Hyde Park native, mostly positive despite pandemic setbacks. We spoke with her about the ups and downs ahead of her May 14 show on City Winery’s main stage and a May 16 gig in Provincetown that wraps her latest tour.
When we first started speaking with you, you were teaching at the Timilty in Roxbury. How long has it been since you went full-time as a performer?
This is my fourth year since I retired from teaching in the Boston Public Schools system. Feels like it has been a lifetime.
Before we get on with the music, what are your feelings about that school closing?
I am choked up just talking about it. The legacy of the Timilty has brightened the Roxbury community since it opened. To think that we will no longer see the khaki and maroon uniforms at Jeep Jones Park feels like such a great loss to the city. I hope they find a way to honor its legacy and the incredible teachers that graced those halls. Timilty Tiger pride forever.
What have been some of the advantages of being an active community member as far as it applies to your career as a singer?
I believe being on the ground level within my city over the years has many advantages. It allows for me to have organic relationships with venues, businesses, other artists and people in general. My first job was as a teen leader at the Hyde Park Municipal Building at 13 years old, shout out to Mr. Winston. Though I navigate between Boston and other states for my career, I will always be about my community.
You’ve been doing shows around here for a while. What are some changes you’ve seen in the scene and in opportunities, whether for better or worse?
I have seen so much in the past 15-plus years. One positive I have seen is the increase in the amount of grants and affordable access for artists. Places like the Record Co. that make it accessible for anyone to create an album or rehearse for a show without having to take a small loan out are vital to the city. People like Catherine Morris from BAMS Fest make it possible for local acts to perform with national artists. Also, giving us access to venues in Boston that aren’t as friendly to artists that are actually from the community is major. I believe overall that Boston is taking positive strides in the music scene.
What kind of music work were you able to do during the pandemic?
If we count the pandemic as two years, then I was able to drop three albums and an EP during that time. As depressing and financially debilitating as the time was, I was able to create more than I ever had. I am most proud however of the live album I recorded at the end of 2021 with my musical ace MikeMRF. It’s titled Wait Just Listen, named in honor of our best friend and bandmate Justin Waithe that we lost last summer.
Mike and I, along with Vancil Cooper, who is currently on tour with Earthgang, produced the album. Mike and I have traveled the world with our albums pre-pandemic and will continue to do so this fall.
In addition to your own stuff, you seem to appear on quite a few other projects? Who are some people you have worked with recently and who are some people you would like to work with?
I really love to be on other people’s joints. It makes me happy to add something and not have the stress I do with my own releases. In recent months I got to make magic with Slaine, Edo G., Rasheed Chappell, Cliff Notez, BiaJavier, Oompa, and Chris Stath. I do want to get back in the studio with Millyz, it’s been a few years since I did hooks for him and I think it’s time we run it again. Also solely based on the fact that we may be the most tatted Mass artists, it’s only fitting.
You seem to have a busy summer show schedule. How does an independent artist these days go about gigging like crazy and actually turning a buck in this game?
I am stacked, thankfully. There is definitely an art to getting the bag in any city during the summer months. The key is to set your price and not waiver. If you’ve done the work and have a resume behind you, you can get paid your worth. That’s not to say there aren’t some days I’m singing for 40,000 people at Fenway Park and that same night knocking on doors at another venue to get the check they owe me. The ebbs and flows can be quite comedic.
What’s the deal with the City Winery show—it seems like a biggie. What can people expect?
We are currently on tour for our live album and the Boston City Winery is the second to last stop. We are in the main room which is a big deal. I was there seeing Talib Kweli recently and now we get to take that same stage … wild.
People can expect to hear the music with a full band and the thought process behind each song we created. Our genre is hard to explain but it hits r&b, jazz, pop, and more. My son Cash says it “sounds cool,” so that alone should be enough to entice fans to come see it.
Any other pearls of wisdom you would like to share with fans?
I’m just grateful to everyone that has continued to support me throughout the years. Also, I can fight.
Lisa and MikeMRF bring the “Wait Just Listen” tour to City Winery on Saturday, May 14. Tickets at citywinery.com.