Singer and songwriter Lisa Ritchie throws caution to the wind and goes after her dream
Let your voice be heard.
- Written & styled byTanya Monaghan
- Photographed byJustin Ruhl
- Hair & Makeup byErin Lynn Brooks
- Special thank you toScott Dickey for the use of Mint Chip the Jeep
When you first meet Lisa Ritchie, you may be so taken by her beauty that it’s hard to even hear what she is saying. But once you hear her sing, you will also be captivated by a voice both true and soulful.
Lisa was born on Galveston Island off the coast of Texas and later moved to Michigan with her parents at age 8. Raised by scientist parents, Lisa smiles at the irony of them producing such a creative, artistic child.
Although they didn’t always understand where her music came from, her parents were supportive of her talents—buying her a piano and lessons. Lisa admits she didn’t always stick with her music teachers. “I was a really weird kid who loved poetry,” she shares. “I used to carry around books by Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe in the fourth and fifth grade. I also wanted to be a lawyer, so I kept a legal dictionary handy to learn new words.”
When she was in seventh grade, her best friend played the guitar and shared with Lisa the music of Nirvana and The Ramones. Lisa felt the guitar calling and wanted to learn to play. She bought a chord book and started to teach herself. It seemed quite fitting that she and her friend would then start a middle school band named Perjury.
They played Nirvana covers with Lisa as the lead. They would even hold shows at the local coffee shop. She smiles as she remembers making her own shirts before the shows. “I was a ‘wannabe artist’ from early on.”
While Lisa mostly played cover songs during this period, she longed to write her own music. In high school she started to experiment with writing and more guitar playing but kept her progress hidden because deep down she didn’t believe she had a strong voice. Over time she realized that a lot of successful singer/songwriters, like Bob Dylan and a young Taylor Swift, also didn’t feel like they had vocal chops.
With practice Lisa overcame her self-doubt and improved. “If you have a good voice and have a story to tell that is believable and relatable, then what you are saying or singing becomes more of a focus than the quality of your voice,” she says.
Having kept her budding talent hidden for so long, she decided to break out of her shell at age 18. She entered a talent show at her college, the University of Michigan, where she was studying PR and marketing. Lisa sang a song she had written, and to her surprise the response was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone went wild for it, squelching that doubting voice in her head that had persisted for years. That initial feedback validated and affirmed her passion and talents.
“It’s kind of like dating. You can’t force it to happen. It has to be the right match, and they have to see where the song can go. I feel that I am good at writing lyrics and the bass of the melody, but I need that talented person to see the message I am trying to get out and enhance it.”
A couple weeks later Tom Halpin, a fellow student studying to be a producer at the university’s music school, approached her to create an album. She already admired his talent, and they both shared a love for the same music genres and bands. The musical chemistry worked, and they completed an album together. Tom also helped her start a band called Hush Love, and they played gigs together for a year and half until they disbanded at the end of college.
She distinctly remembers walking across the university grounds and coming across a band playing named Lord Huron—they have subsequently achieved some notoriety due to recent TV show placements. As amazing as they were, Lisa noticed that most people just walked past them as if they weren’t even there. She thought, “How do they just walk by? They were pouring their hearts out, and no one was listening.”
At that moment she decided a musical path might be just too painful. Maybe she didn’t have it in her to be a musician. So after college she decided to do the “responsible” thing and take a corporate job. She became the executive assistant to the CEO of an aviation company where she mainly did PR work. She got a taste of the “jet-set” lifestyle—attending conventions, flying around in private jets, rubbing shoulders with some highly successful people.
But after two years she knew there was something else she was destined to do. She decided to take a chance on her dream and put all her time into music.
At 23 Lisa’s good friend Kelsey offered to be her manager, helping her secure gigs in Michigan for the summer. She was able to quit her day job and focus solely on her writing and singing. She no longer worried she might be that artist singing her heart out as people walked by … this was the only thing that felt true to her. Lisa and Kelsey worked together for six months until Kelsey moved to Chicago.
Then, as if straight from the pages of a movie script, Lisa packed her Jeep, left her hometown boyfriend and started driving by herself from Michigan to L.A. She didn’t know where she would be living or what would happen, but she felt it was right.
Her parents were incredibly supportive of her decision. Her mom gave her a hug and told her if things didn’t work out, she could always come home, reboot and go back and try again. Having that safety net took a lot of the pressure off Lisa.
On the way, she visited Kelsey in Chicago and then stayed with a friend’s sibling in Nebraska. Other than those brief respites, it was just her and the open road. She drove through the fog and clouds right into the sunny skies of California. She didn’t know what was going to happen, but a sense of adventure kept her going. She was following her passion and finally felt alive.
Ben Gibbard, the front man of one of Lisa’s favorite bands, Death Cab for Cutie, said his album Codes and Keys was his least favorite because he wrote it while he in L.A.—which made him feel constrained in what he was allowed to say. Lisa found it profound that Ben believed he wrote better in different locations. She says, “All songwriters have the dream to pick your stuff up and go to a cabin somewhere and just write. And I still have that dream—there is a part of me that wants to rent a villa in Italy and write.”
So not knowing a single soul, Lisa arrived in the City of Angels with that spirit of adventure and her dreams fueling her. She bounced around at first, staying with friends of friends, but eventually she found an apartment in Glendale. Although that apartment was a steal, she realized she wanted to be based in Hermosa Beach and started working with local producer A.J. Fox.
Lisa worked as a nanny to a 3-year-old to pay the bills while producing tracks with A.J. Together they created her two favorite tracks—“Est” and “Paper and Receipts”—in 2017. “Est” represented the time difference between L.A. and Michigan, as well as the dynamic of her past relationship with the boyfriend she left behind. “Paper and Receipts” is about the little things from relationships that you find and remember.
Soon she met Zacc West, a fellow South Bay musician, at one of her gigs at The Strand House. He approached her after she played a set, told her she was really talented and later reached out with the idea that the two of them should work together. Before agreeing to his offer, she wanted to watch him play. His talent blew her away, and for the next year they worked together writing songs.
Zac, born and bred in the South Bay, exposed her to all the best local jaunts and restaurants the Beach Cities have to offer. They produced an album together earlier this year titled Copperline and made it available on Spotify. Within the first year of moving to the South Bay, she started getting some happy hour gigs at places such as The Standing Room, The Strand House and The Slip Bar.
Lisa now has a steady stream of gigs at Terranea Resort, The Portofino, The Point and Hotel Café in Hollywood. She enjoys the niche found here but also wants to write and release more of her own music. She is actively looking for the right producer to collaborate with—often the most challenging part of the process.
“It’s kind of like dating, she says. “You can’t force it to happen. It has to be the right match, and they have to see where the song can go. I feel that I am good at writing lyrics and the bass of the melody, but I need that talented person to see the message I am trying to get out and enhance it.”
In the coming year she hopes to find that perfect match and get some new music out. Lisa’s dream is to reach as many people with her music as possible and share her love of it with others. We can’t wait to hear it.
Plaza El Segundo
Photos courtesy of David Fairchild