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"Lissa Kukura Strikes a Note"

At 23 singer-songwriter Lissa Kukura can already add playing at legendary Sydney music club The Basement to her CV.

“I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t eat, I was so nervous beforehand, “ she said. “I was supporting two bands and I was terrified. I kept on asking myself ‘Can I do this? Do I want to do this? Am I even worthy of standing up there in the Basement?’” “But now I’ve done it, I’m so glad I did. It was very cool.”

Performing in front of crowds has been a massive readjustment for the Turramurra musician who was once so nervous she couldn’t sit her music exam to qualify her as a trained piano teacher.

“I don’t know how I actually go out there and sing,” she said. “I always feel awful beforehand but once I’m up there and realise that I’m there because I love it, things get better. I can actually think it’s good and enjoy it’”.

The fledgling singer, who also plays guitar, has been surging ahead since exchanging her Macquarie University psychology degree two years ago for an honours degree in music.

“Even my first gig in June last year was an accident,” she said. “I was at uni, in the middle of my thesis and with no idea what I was doing when someone contacted me and said. ‘I hear you write songs. Would you like to come at play at the Sandringham [Hotel] in Newtown?’ Then they asked me if I had a band. I said yes but I didn’t have a band at all so I had about five weeks to get one together and rewrite all the parts to include them.”

She has been gigging regularly ever since and next month will perform at the Black Stump music festival at the International Equestrian Centre. Last year, she released her first EP after studio producer Peter Northcote heard her perform at The Basement and offered to help her put her songs to vinyl.

“He really taught me so much,” she said. “My whole world opened up when I met him. I knew absolutely nothing when I started but he was so patient and by the time I heard my songs at the end of it, I was blown away. We just sat on the couch to listen to them and there was sound everywhere.”

Born in Wahroonga, as a child Lisa used to sit on her piano teacher mother’s lap to play duets, while her radio producer father would invite her into his office to sing harmonies to his favourite Beatles and Bee Gees tunes. “He’d pull me into the studio and say ‘I’m going to sing this part. You sing the third harmony’,” she said. “I used to hate it at first but after a while it started to come naturally.”

At 12, she discovered she preferred writing songs to playing scales, after watching a fellow student struggling to launch his music career. “He was about 19 and I remember sitting at the piano and getting really frustrated and saying to him ‘But how do you do it? How do you put these chords together?’” she said. “Then one day. I thought right, I’m going to do this. I’m going to write a song.”

She did and ended up submitting it to the annual music festival at Ravenswood in Gordon, where she was a student. “There were no words to it and it had about three chords and was called something like The Last Goodbye,” she said. It did win her a certificate of encouragement however, and she continued to enter the competition until Year 12 when she finally won “So I though something must be working, so I kept writing,” she said.

But while she now describes her sound as acoustic pop and folk, she admitted she still owes a lot to those early classical music days. “For years I tried to push classical music away but some the melodies that come from them are divine’ she said “Some of the French piano music such as Ravel and Debussy, the songs are so delicate and fragile but they’re also compelling, and I think sometimes you lose that in pop music. People say ‘here is my beat, here is my four chords, here is my song about partying and sex’. But you compare that to classical music and there’s this whole great story told told without words.”

But while Lissa is the first to admit she has been lucky so far, she said she is under no illusion as to how hard the way ahead may be. She still teaches piano to 30 students at a music school in Beecroft to pay her way as well as her regular gigs and working hard to get both her name and her EP out there.

“Everybody tells you how hard it is to get into the industry and sometimes I get so daunted,” she said. “I go on the internet and click on MySpace and see artist after artist and think ‘Wow, we’re all trying to do this thing’. But it’s like those days when you wake up thinking “Is this what I should be doing?’ Then you’ll wake up the next day saying ‘Wow, I love this. I love doing what I do.” - Northside


Lissa (self-titled EP)
small steps - Part One
small steps - Part Two



The curtains are drawn back. With a guitar that looks twice her size, Lissa stands unassumingly on stage. The petite songwriter gently picks the strings of her guitar, opening the night of her latest EP launch with lyrics that sum up her journey thus far; “And as I look inside I see the world that I must face. And although I’m scared to climb through, I know each small step takes time.” The rest of the night is filled with memorable melodies that compliment her intriguing sense of harmony; a delicate world of classically influenced, folk-pop. She carries the audience through light-hearted vignettes into intimate moments of honest reflection. Support act for the night Amanda K. later commented in her blog, ‘…just quietly I thought about popping her into my pocket and taking her home with me...she's just so darn cute.’ With the warmest of smiles and personality Lissa invites her listeners to come on a journey with her, striving to make it an extremely rewarding one for each person.

Despite extensive classical training on piano and having grown up with extremely musical parents, it took a number of years for the little fledgling to find confidence in her abilities. But that all started to change during her uni years in an arts/psychology course. Lissa had the privilege of undertaking a singing class under the guidance of Mr. Percival, one of Australia’s most highly respected vocal performers. It was Percival’s constant encouragement that led Lissa to start taking her singing and songwriting more seriously. Her parents’ birthday gift of a Breedlove guitar enabled her to take her writing in a new direction and her final year in a music honours course opened up the opportunity to do her first gig.

Walking in the footsteps of many other young artists, Lissa’s first gig was at the old and iconic Sandringham Hotel in Newtown, Sydney. Being somewhat enthusiastic and up for a challenge, she formed a band in six weeks and wrote and arranged her songs for guitar, bass, drums, two violins and a cello! Squished on a tiny stage, Lissa with shaking hands presented her songs for the first time to a warm and supportive crowd. Having tasted the joys of sharing her music, she decided that this was the road she was to take.

Soon after, while performing at Sydney’s famous Basement, Lissa caught the ear of respected guitarist and producer Peter Northcote. He offered to record and produce her music and Lissa’s first, self-titled EP was released in December 2008. She continued to gig over the next year at places including the Vanguard, the Manning Bar, El Rocco and several universities and festivals including Festival of the Sun, Port Macquarie. She was also greatly encouraged when she was selected into the Top 30 in the Australian Songwriters Contest 2009.

The release of her second EP ‘small steps – Part One’ (May 2010) was the next exciting project and it is the first in a series of three. Produced by Ro Tombs and engineered by Adrian Hong at Soundport Studios, she also partnered with an impressive, up and coming visual artist Matthew Weatherstone who has painted an accompanying scene for each part of ‘small steps’. ‘The painting helps me to describe my music. It’s warm and intimate, slightly melancholy but full of hope. It contains a quiet delight that is offered to every viewer for their enjoyment.’ Performing to a sold out crowd at Raval in Surry Hills, the launch of ‘small steps – Part One’ felt more like a leap as Lissa’s craft reached new heights and she exhibited a more relaxed presence on stage. ‘I was the most ‘me’ that I’ve ever been! I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m learning to be comfortable with who I am and to let people get a glimpse of that when I perform’.

‘small steps – Part Two’ has just been released in March 2011. Drawing on influences such as French impressionists Debussy and Ravel and artists like Lior, Fionn Regan, Ingrid Michaelson and Angus and Julia Stone, Lissa will simply endeavor to keep writing songs that touch your heart, make you smile (or even cry a little) and perhaps help discover thoughts and feelings you never even knew were there.