Lissie Interview

Photo courtesy of Bryony Shearmur

California based indie rocker Lissie is making an name for herself in the music world, with opening slots for Badly Drawn Boy and Lenny Kravitz, to name but a few. Having signed to Columbia she’s midway recording her debut album which promises to be soulful, enigmatic folk music, tinged with some rock for good measure.

Lissie took some time out before her Borderline show to have a chat with Dee Massey about what it’s all about, from recording in Elliot Smith’s old studio, listening to Celine Dion in high school and what’s happening with the new album..

So welcome to the UK for your first UK tour! You played the Apple Store this afternoon right?

Thank you! Yes, we played at the Apple Store which was cool, I didn’t really know what to expect but there’s a stage in there, and a good sound system. There was a good turn out, and I think there were people who were just shopping who stopped and listened so it was cool.

We don’t really know that much about you – can you introduce yourself to the Crossfire readers?

Well, my name is Lissie…I’m from Rock Island, Illinois, which is 3 hours west of Chicago on the Mississippi river, it’s a kind of a small town. I moved to Los Angeles about four years ago to pursue music. I’m a folk singer, but with a little more rock in there, I played solo for years but now that I’m playing with other musicians I feel that more of an ‘edge’ is coming out, so yeah…I’m basically a folk singer with some edge!

How did you get into music?

When I was really young I always liked to sing, and was Annie in the musical ‘Annie’, I was always in musicals, I loved to sing but then I grew out of the acting side of it…and in high school I taught myself to play the guitar, and started writing songs, and stuck with it enough that I decided 4 years ago to move to LA and give it a shot. ..and here I am! [laughs]

Your first success was in the form of a track with DJ Harry ‘All My Life’ – what was that all about?Well when I moved from Illinois, I went to Fort Collins for college in Colorado for a while, and I met DJ Harry through a mutual friend, and we just decided to collaborate on a song. We wrote it from scratch with me improvising lyrics and melody to this instrumental loop that he had come up with, and we just did it again and again until he was able to pinpoint what the lyrics were, and where the chorus went. So the song got played on some TV shows and movies [including “The OC,” “Veronica Mars,” “House,” and “Wildfire”] and radio.

You got involved with Maverick Records – can you tell us a little about that.

Yeah [sighs], I was on Maverick – after about a year of living in LA I got signed to Maverick Records but after a year or two and nothing had really come of it, and Maverick was closing. I wasn’t really aware of that when I was with them, but basically they were letting everyone go, and they let me go too. [laughs] At that point my manager got me over here to London to sing for some people at Sony BMG UK and I ended up getting signed to Columbia UK, so its been a long process but I just know that I love to sing, I love to be around other musicians and I love to sing with other people and I don’t think that my main goal is the fame or anything, I just wanted to be able to make a living of [it]..and it’s been an adventure….I don’t regret any of the time that I’ve bounced around because I think it’s made me a better musician.

Who are you main influences in your music?

I really like Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Mamas & The Papas, Willy Guthrie. There’s a certain kind of music that I like to listen to, that’s simple, that’s telling a story… but the more I grow the more I feel that my music has more of an edge to it, it’s become folk rock, so to speak.

What’s your biggest inspiration for your song writing?

Really just whatever I’m feeling at the time, I’m not really good at writing things on purpose. It used to be more about guys [laughs], if some boy made me sad, nowadays it’s pretty much just where I am emotionally, wherever I’m at.

So where are you with your new album, have you started recording?

I’ve started recording and I’ve got about six songs which are mostly done, and now I’m in the process of going backwards and forwards with the label saying they like this or don’t like this. So we have started, but it won’t be done for a while [laughs]

How do you find the recording process?

I enjoy being in the studio, I think as long as I take it moment to moment I enjoy it. If I get too ahead of myself and think about the end result I think I get stressed out. If I’m just being creative in the moment then I really enjoy it. We’ll work from like 2pm-2am, Monday thru Friday- the engineer has more work to do when the artist has gone, and they have families to go home to, so I feel sorry for them – they work so hard!

I heard you spent some time recording in Elliot Smith’s old room?

Oh yeah! Before he died Elliot Smith bought a studio in LA, and after he did die these people bought it. It’s a space that he recorded in that’s now called New Monkey Studios, and it’s a small room, but it sounds good. It’s affordable, and I know the people that ended up buying it, a lot of the Hotel Café crowd over there. It’s cool knowing that he was there, and he originally bought the sound board and everything, but apparently couldn’t get it to work or something [laughs] Then someone else came along and sorted it out, but apparently Rush used to record on it! There are all these cool little connections. You kinda get used to that when you live in Los Angeles, there’s so many musicians..

It must be amazing being involved in the music scene over there.

Yeah but you have amazing legends in London, all the best musicians came from here!

You have to say that since you’re signed to a UK label!

[laughs] No no! You have like…David Bowie..The Beatles…Rolling Stones, even Donovan.

What’s been your best experience on tour?

I guess one of the best experiences was the second night on tour with Lenny Kravitz, and it was just me, solo on my guitar when this portion of the room started chanting my name, and I just started laughing. It was like ” Oh….I like that!” and then pretty soon tonnes of people were chanting, and it wasn’t even that they were chanting my name, it was more that they were with me and I was able to joke with them and feel comfortable. I felt part of something, and that was pretty cool.

And the travelling’s been cool, my boyfriend plays piano and he’s played with me from time to time, and came on the Badly Drawn Boy tour, and just driving around, seeing the Pacific North West, which is beautiful – it’s so pretty.

What do the next six months hold for you?

Hopefully I’ll finish my album, that’s really my main goal in my life, so that I have something that I can give out, and I can tour and actually have something to leave with people…

And finally I have a few random questions that I ask everyone…firstly, what are the 3 things you always take on tour with you?

If possible my dog , my guitar – that’s obvious I guess [laughs] and Neosporin [laughs].

What was the first gig you ever went to as a child?

One of the first concerts I ever went to was a Neil Diamond concert, but the best concert I ever went to was a Fish concert back in high school.

What’s your most shameful CD that you own?

Well I feel bad..I don’t want to offend anyone! But..ooh..I definitely listened to some Celine Dion in high school [laughs], I do listen to musicals sometimes, but yeah, it’s probably the Celine Dion CDs I used to rock in high school!

Where would you most like to tour and who with?

I’d like to go to warm tropical places! And I’d like to on tour with…someone like..erm…Madonna? [laughs]

What’s your favourite drink?

Probably beer.

And best hangover cure?

Chicken noodle soup [laughs] and Gatorade!

And lastly – do you have some words of wisdom for the Crossfire readers?

I think that there are few lasting virtues in being cool, so you should serve what is true in yourself, and not try to be different for others people just so they’ll like you. I think that’s good.