When Lisa Michaelis and Billy Schlosser got married, they each had been in the music business for a few years. Classically trained and proficient on a number of instruments, both were teaching, performing and recording in New York City, fast–tracking it to the Big Time.
How our priorities change.
Today, the Atlanta–based couple has an unusual pop group, Laughing Pizza, that also includes their 14–year–old daughter, Emily. The music is geared, unapologetically, towards children and pre–teens, but unlike much of the day–glo tripe that fills the Disney Channel screen 24/7, Laughing Pizza’s music is written and performed by people who genuinely care about sending a positive message.
They’re not preachy, either. It’s all about fun (Michaelis likes to say they fill “the void between Barney and Britney”).
And the music, best of all, is really pretty good.
See for yourself on the myriad daily “Pizza Breaks” aired on every Georgia Public Broadcasting station. These are videos of Laughing Pizza songs, featuring the three family members in brightly colored clothes, dancing and lip–synching to the recordings they’ve made in their home studio, with all instruments and vocals by Lisa, Billy and Emily.
Still not impressed? “Pizza Breaks” air in 30 public broadcasting markets nationally (in 18 million homes), with more added every week. Laughing Pizza has received six Parents Choice Awards and performed at the White House twice (with Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers).
The group has issued four CDs of original songs. Their third DVD, the New York–filmed Laughing Pizza Live, will be released Sept. 20.
In advance of Laughing Pizza’s Aug. 28 matinee at the Savannah Theatre, Michaelis called to tell us why and how Laughing Pizza came to be.
Because we asked, Michaelis admitted that she had appeared on Broadway at the age of 15, in the rock musical The News (the late Jeff Conaway played her father).
She also told us that she and her husband met during filming for Star Search three years later; she was singing in a band called Kid Danger & the Skirts, a ‘50s band fronted by David Hodo, the “construction worker” from the Village People. For the TV gig, Schlosser was the fill–in saxophone player.
The group won several weeks running, until the country band Sawyer Brown scattered them to the wind. Michaelis and Schlosser stayed together.
In 1991, she co–wrote Frankie Knuckles’ chart–topping dance hit “Rain Falls,” sang lead on the record and starred in the video.
Emily was just a tot when 9/11 happened; her parents freaked (like a lot of people) and moved everything to Georgia.
And that’s where we pick up our story.
“That is the reason we started this as the parents of a then–6–year–old child. We noticed Emily, like most kids, gravitating towards the very hip, fabulously–produced pop radio. Even though she was already playing classical piano. And she started lip–synching to Britney Spears. Even though she was in a Montessori school that’s not that big, it gets in, and it’s kind of hard to keep any of that stuff out. And I don’t want to – we love pop music so much, and the only part about it that was weird was that was singing these lyrics that made us uncomfortable. It was kind of funny at first, but to see your 6–year–old singing ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ is .....”
“Those grooves, and the way that stuff is produced, it’s really fun music. Why can’t there be music like that that doesn’t have that kind of message? And then we also noticed that for kids, on television, it went from goofy kids’ shows like Barney to teenage, kissing, making–out stuff ... and there didn’t seem to be anything in the middle. It went from baby stuff to ‘Wow, you’re not ready for that yet.’ So ‘filling the void between Barney and Britney’ became our slogan, and the weirdest thing is, it’s still there. There’s still this bizarre void.”
“I was teaching, and I was going crazy doing ‘B.I.N.G.O.’ and ‘Eensy Weensy,’ I’d had it. So I started sort of writing other kinds of children’s songs by myself in class. When the head of Warner–Chappell, our publishing company, said ‘You write children’s songs, don’t you?’ we said ‘Oh, yeah, absolutely.’ So over a weekend Billy and I put together and demoed three or four songs – and we literally wrote them as if we were writing pop songs. It led to us writing for a few of Mary Kate and Ashley’s Olsen’s TV specials, and a couple of their videos.”
“What’s always been fun for us is, there is no ‘You have to write it in this style.’ The incredibly freeing thing about writing music for various artists, much less the children’s music world, is that you can write in any style. So we wrote two or three different country songs for the Olsen twins, we wrote a complete pop song for them, it was everything. I would say that one of our favorite things about doing this is that you’re not pigeonholed so much. We are primarily pop songwriters, but Billy’s a rock guy, and I’m more of a ballad, country and Broadway person.”
“There is this extraordinary thing for us as a family, to be able to spend this kind of time together. Here’s the other thing: Even though Billy and I started this for Emily, we had no idea that she was going to be this kind of musician and songwriter. She is such a prolific songwriter who now plays five instruments.
“Except for the creative part, and the performing part, the music business sucks. And it’s so rewarding to be able to do this as a family. And really because there are no kind of family role models out there, unless it’s a car crash. So that’s our reward – we get a lot of love, we get a lot of really wonderful feedback about how we’re providing this experience for kids, and for parents, to see a family doing something together.”
Where: Savannah Theatre, 222 Bull Street
When: At 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28
Tickets: $20 adults, $17 children age 3–13
Artist’s website: laughingpizza.com