LAist Interview: Meet Lissie
Lissie I Photo courtesy of Cobra Camanda PR
I don't know if you've noticed, but there seems to be a very healthy country/folk scene growing in Los Angeles. Which is a little unexpected, LA is not the first city that you think of when you think of Americana, but the developing sound is nothing short of wonderful. From Olin and the Moon, to Dawes, to Leslie and the Badgers, The Whiskey Saints, Parson Red Heads, and Mississippi Man, there is definitely something in air.
To add to that list, please include Lissie (Maurus) a young lady originally from Rock Island, IL who has been calling LA home for the last five years. Her debut EP Where You Runnin' has been making huge waves. In fact, I don't think I've seen critics this excited about an EP since Bon Iver's Blood Bank EP earlier this year. And for damn good reason too. The bright, intensity of Lissie's voice will cut through any disdain your jaded heart may have built up against singer/songwriters. We spoke with her a few weeks ago before her soundcheck at the Troubadour. Here is some of what was said.Lissie - Little Lovin'
When did you first pick up a guitar?
I first picked up a guitar in grade school because my mom had a guitar laying around. She didn't play the guitar, but we had a guitar in the house. So I figured out a few chords when I was young, but didn't really pursue it until high school when I started teaching myself a lot of chords in order to put down all these poems, which I had written about all this turmoil that I experienced at school. I would write down a couple words and then put a couple chords next to it without any sort of idea about verse and chorus. I would just write these little things to get my feelings out. I guess high school was the time when I realized that I really wanted to be a songwriter.
Was there a moment you had where you realized, "Hey I'm pretty good at this."?
Yeah well, when I was little I did a lot of musical theater. I was Annie in Annie at this dinner theater and we did like eighty shows. So from a young age I was always a strong singer and I always liked to perform. Although I got less into theater as I got older. I think I always had this drive to do it. I knew I always wanted to be a singer. But as far as a moment? I think it was when I was at the Lilith Fair my junior year of high school and it was when the Dixie Chicks were up. I just got the goosebumps. I got like the chills over my whole body. I just thought, "I want to do this so bad! This is so amazing." It made me feel anxious, you know? Like when am I gonna get to do this? When am I gonna get to do this? I mean, that wasn't THE defining moment, but it was moments like that when it was just like "I've got to do this."
I understand that. If you're driven to do something, then you'll do it whether or not someone is paying attention to you.
Exactly. It's cool, but it's also like a catch because when it was just my thing to do for myself, I think I got more pure joy of the process of writing. I mean, now I still experience that pure joy but I'm much more critical of myself now that people are actually going to hear it. It's still a joy, but there is much more pressure now. I don't censor myself, but sometimes I think I overthink things because someone out there is going to have something to say about it, good or bad. But I always always wanted to perform. You know every kid says they want to be a star when they grow up. The star thing for me kind of faded out for me when I moved out here five years ago. I do not want to be a star! But I do want to make some money. (laughs) I think? And not have to get a normal job.
Photo: Lissie I Picture via Lissie's Myspace
Why did you move out to LA from Illinois?
I just thought if you were going to get into the music industry that you should come out here. And I love the sunshine. I had never been to LA before I lived here, but I just always thought that I was more of a California kind of gal then a New York kind of gal. But I did just move to Ojai three months ago, so I guess I'm not technically in LA anymore. I love it out there. It's so relaxing.Why did you choose to title your EP Why You Runnin'?
Well, it's one of the lyrics in "Little Lovin' " and I hadn't thought about what I was going to call it. And kind of at the last minute was kinda going through my lyrics and thought "why you runnin' " seemed appropriate because...you know when you're writing songs you're kind of facing things that some people bury and feel bitter about? Well, I think for artists and musicians and writers the stuff that some people run from is actually the stuff that we dig up and put out there. It just kind of seemed appropriate.
Is it about a person?
Well...the last four years I was dating someone which wasn't necessarily the best relationship. I mean it had it's moments, but it ended in heartbreak for me. So I've written tons of songs about him and that situation. Uh, I guess it's kind of about that, but also kind of generally not running from your problems, but facing up to them.
Where was the EP recorded?
I recorded "Wedding Bells" first with Bill (Reynolds) who produced the EP. I had met him through mutual friends and we hit it off and we recorded that song two years ago in my apartment in Hollywood. "Little Lovin" was done at a studio in North Carolina at a recording studio Echo Mountain. "Here Before" and "Everywhere I Go" were done at my home in Ojai. So it was a really natural, disjointed sort of thing. It was more like "Hey let's hang out and make some music" rather than a planned thing. And then it somehow became an EP. So we didn't start out with a goal in mind. It was just sort of random. The song "Oh Mississippi" was a demo that I made when I was in London, so it's just kind of all over the map.
How did you end up at Fat Possum?
Once we had this EP we were looking for a home for it and someone who I worked with knew someone at Fat Possum. So we sent it over and they were super into it and super enthusiastic and things moved really fast from that point. They called me up and were like "Okay, we're releasing this on Nov 10th, this is what we've got to do, blah, blah, blah." And I was just like "All right. Let's do it." That happened in August.
Holy crap. That is fast.
I know! I'm just starting to learn about them. I actually don't listen to a ton of music, which is kind of bizarre. But they sent me a bunch of CDs and the only one I'm really listening to is Townes Van Zandt, which I love! I don't even know what the album is called, but I've been listening to it on repeat for two month.
Where where you when you wrote "Here Before"?
The day that I wrote it I was in London and every day I've been there it's been perpetually gloomy. And since I've moved here I've become a sunshine addict, so I think it was just one of those days when you're just melancholy and it's gloomy and you're just kind of down in the dumps. You know, it's like when you get like that you have to remind yourself "Okay, you've been here before, no good ever comes of it, so just wait it out." It's almost like you're pleading with the universe, "Just give me some zest!"
I call those days a perpetual bummer. Sometimes you're just bummed for a three day stint without knowing why.
(laughs) Yes! Exactly. You just feel lame and you don't know why. That song is about getting over that emptiness.
So you just acquired your band a couple days ago?
Where did they come from?
My friend Pete is a drummer, who I've played with and recorded with in the past, and he is in the know, so I told him I was trying to put a band together. I mean, I'm friends with a lot of musicians, but it's not always the best idea to have your good friends in your band. And they were also busy with other stuff. So Pete put together some auditions and Eric and Lewis, who were the first people I met with I instantly knew where it. They're amazing. They're so great. So we've rehearsed maybe four times, and we had a gig in September, so it's a really new thing. I'm also getting used to playing the electric guitar in the last month in a half. I used only play acoustic and I used to only play solo, so there is a lot of new stuff happening, but I'm loving all of it.
What was the worst show you ever did?
Probably when I was in college. I played a Pizza Hut, but I got fifty bucks, so it really wasn't that bad.
Who booked you at a Pizza Hut?
I knew this guy who knew this lady who booked Pizza Huts. (laughs) I don't know. They had this patio and they booked music there. So I went and did it, and it would have been fine, but I was playing out on the patio and there were two people sitting outside. As soon as I started playing, they went inside. It was heartbreaking. I was like "Am I really that bad?"
Oh, that is sad. Where's your favorite place to play in LA?
There's this place called Crane's Hollywood Tavern and I used to do this music night there called Beachwood Rockers' Society on Wednesday nights. I started it in April 2006. It's still going on. I played there last week actually, but I don't organize it anymore because I got burnt out. It's really awesome, though. All my friends play there. I used to go every Wednesday.
Okay last question, if you could sing with anyone in the world who would it be?
Phish! And I would sing "If I Could I Would." So, if you ever talk to them, let me know. Tell them I'm available.
I will! Thank you so much for talking with us.
Be sure to catch Lissie tonight at the Bootleg Theater! Tickets are $12.