PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Everywhere She Goes: An Interview with Lissie

Photo: Elaine Constantine

The Rock Island native got huge in Europe before starting a glorious iTunes-assisted crossover to America, and speaks to PopMatters about what it all means ...


Lissie

Catching a Tiger

Numerical Rating: 7
Label: Fat Possum
UK Release Date: 2010-06-21
US Release Date: 2010-08-17
Cover
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Rock musician Lissie -- better known as Elizabeth Maurus to her friends -- hails from Rock Island, Illinois, a Midwestern town on the Mississippi River that has a rusted and rustic heritage. The town saw better days when shipping farm goods down the wide and muddy river brought economic prosperity to the region. The place still has many charms redolent of the past and the promise of a resurgent future. The river itself is a magnificent beast, and there is still a lot of local pride in being from there.

The fair haired, blue eyed singer with a big voice may have moved to California, but the place in which she grew up still shapes her creative work. Still, she struggled to get out. She was expelled from the public high school and really did not become a professional musician until she left the state. Lissie's career really exploded last year. Her single "When I'm Alone" was picked as iTunes Song of the Year in the UK, and Paste Magazine named her #1 Best New Solo Artist. Her debut album Catching a Tiger was released in June and has garnered great reviews across the globe. Her second album is eagerly awaited, but doesn't have an assigned release date yet.

She spoke to PopMatters by telephone during a short hiatus before her next tour. She was planning to return to her parent's house in Rock Island before heading to Europe for an extended set of performances until the end of July, including the massive Isle of Wight Festival. Lissie had performed at the Redstone Room in Davenport, Iowa just a few months before. Davenport, along with Rock Island, is a part of the Quad Cities area. For Lissie, this was her native land.

* * *

There's a completely different vibe when you are playing for your family and friends, your nieces and cousins, than when you to play before strangers. It was a hometown gig and there was a warmth everywhere in the room. People were smiling at each other just because they were there, and I was smiling too, just to be part of it. I brought my music back to its roots.

How has being from the Midwest affected you and your music?

Well, it has made me more open and receptive to people. In general, I talk to strangers. Even when I am in New York City, I am open and friendly. And that goes into my music, too. I don't put on a front. I am an honest person processing my thoughts into song with the best of intentions.

I don't put on a spectacle, although I admire many of those that do, like Lady Gaga. But that's not who I am. I put who I am in the foreground. My songs are about my life, my family, and what I am feeling. I moved to a small town outside of Ventura in California, Ojai, but its more of a place I have put my things because I have been traveling and touring so much during the past two years. The Midwest is what made me.

But most of your shows are in England and Europe, rather than the United States. This is true for many American musicians. Why is that?

My stuff did not take off in the U.S. as well as it did abroad. I am on Sony International, and my record came out on a major label in Europe, Columbia Records, while here in the States I am on an indie, Fat Possum. In Europe I play to thousands while in America I might play to hundreds, and at great festivals, and I am regularly featured on television and radio in Europe. The demand is strong.

I am not surprised that American music is bigger in Europe than at home. It's natural to be curious about people who are different. In the States, we love shaggy-haired English bands. They like American troubadours. The media paints a picture of you as an alien creature, and that generates a positive response.

Photo: Valerie Phillips

So being a Midwesterner was never held against you? No one did not take you seriously just because you were a blond waif from the middle of nowhere?

No. not at all. Most people asked where you were from and saw that it was somewhere near Chicago, but most people thought it was cool when I said I grew up by the Mississippi River. A lot of my girlfriends in California only date guys from the Midwest because they say they are non-threatening in a nice way. If anything, I thing being from the Midwest gave me an advantage. People have a positive perception of the place. People from the big cities think it's cool.

Yet you couldn't wait to leave. You had problems fitting in the local community.

I don't think that was just the place I was, but it was my age. I had good parents who were passionate about me doing what I wanted to do. School is boring for most kids. They don't know what they want to do. Most are given the message that they are aren't really good at anything. People need to be encouraged, but too many young people just fall through the cracks and have to fight the system. It' a whole other topic, but many, many kids would be better off if they weren't forced to take college prep courses, but could discover their own strengths and talents.

How is it being a musician in these times -- of economic recession, war, and political unrest?

I pay attention to the news. I listen to NPR. It doesn't make me want to write specific types of stories. But it gets me thinking, that if you boil everything down to a specific point -- some people's lives are just hard. Hold on to your goodness and the good things in life.

All of my songs are autobiographical. They are completely literal. I don't make up anything, I just dribble out my heartfelt and personal feelings, and I have no trouble sharing what comes to me.

The song "Oh Mississippi" with its evocation of the river as a place of reflection, and the journey out west seems to be describing your life.

Of course, but every song is. Lines come to me. I hum them over and over. Then I sit down and try to figure out -- is there something in the words I need to pay attention to. I will be doing dishes and my heart will feel heavy, so I just have to write it down. Or sometimes streams of consciousness type language comes pouring out and I will try and capture and shape it into music. But I don't censor anything.

Lately, it seems like the song "Cuckoo" has become the local anthem. "I fell in love with being defiant / in a pick up truck that roared like a lion" -- that just captures the spirit and freedom of youth and their vehicles.

Thank you. It's certainly the way I felt growing up. And I haven't really changed. I may be in my twenties instead of my teens, but I still like to get loud! People need to express themselves. I know I did and I still do.

So it sounds like you have everything figured out now and you are on the road to success.

Ha! Life is crazy. I am constantly traveling, playing, writing, and performing. Everything is mad, but I wouldn't have it any other way. My adrenaline is flowing, and I am having a ball.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.