Indie Singer/Songwriter Lissie has had an extensive career since her debut album, “Why You Runnin” came out in 2009. Since then, she’s made a name for herself both domestically and overseas, and released her fourth LP, “Castles” earlier this year to critical acclaim. We caught up with Lissie ahead of her set at the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage. Check it out here:
B&E: This is only your second time playing Milwaukee, and your first Summerfest. Did you get to see any of the city when you were here?
Lissie: When I was 18, after high school, I actually got to go to Summerfest. It ended up being kind of a fateful experience. I was a big fan of G. Love and Special Sauce, and I jumped on their stage while they were playing, and got kicked off, and then I… jumped on their stage again (laughs). We ended up sneaking back to the tour bus, and I told G. Love and his band and his manager that they should let me play some songs for him, and they totally indulged me. They let me play one of their acoustic guitars, and actually wound up flying me out to Philly to try to develop me as an artist. But I was in college at the time so it didn’t work out. I’ve always wanted to come back as a spectator and a performer, and now I get to come back to play this time. How cool is that?
B&E: That’s amazing. What ever became of that?
Lissie: It was definitely a good way to understand how a studio works. Like you just play the guitar, and then you have another track for the vocals, and channels and all of that. Like it was a learning experience for sure. That wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t really bold at Summerfest. But my aunt and uncle are from Whitefish Bay, too, so I know a little bit about the city. And I remember eating at this German restaurant by Turner Hall.
B&E: You’re playing this tour in support of your new album, “Castles”. How would you describe the sound of the album?
Lissie: Well it’s my fourth full length album, and I think it’s a lot more atmospheric, and slightly moody and dark, but it has some hope in it as well. It’s very personal, you know, and it talks about real stories of what’s gone on in my life. “Castles” was made in the process of a relationship that didn’t work out, and so it was in the middle of trying to let go of someone, and it kind of took a while to cut the cord and grieve the loss. Ultimately “Castles” was kind of a learning experience, to go into the darkness and confront myself, and to really move on and let go a little bit.
B&E: You moved from California to a farm in Iowa before this record. Did that influence the sound of the record?
Lissie: You know I don’t think so, really. It’s funny, like, my last album “Wild Wild West” was about deciding to change how I live my life and deciding to leave California after twelve years, and buying this farm was a big pin in this whole decision. It came with a lot of, not pressure, but I have almost 50 acres of land. So making “Wild Wild West” was me getting ready to start this new chapter. I got kind of distracted by this relationship that “Castles” was about, so I was able to use the solitude of being out in the country to reflect on the relationship, I think. I was able to write a lot of the songs here and record some of it in my little home studio. But I’m not sure I’ve been here long enough that, now that I’m free of this relationship. So I don’t think it influenced that much of “Castles”, but I think it’ll play a role going forward now that I’m out of this past chapter. If anything I think it gives me a chance to be out on my own with my thoughts. That helps songwriting.
B&E: One of the first times that I had heard of you was your cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness”. Are there any covers you’re planning this time around?
Lissie: Not really. Actually, I just played Bonnaroo and I brought “Pursuit Of Hapiness” back. I thought I’d retired it, in the United States at least. In Europe, I do well with my own music, but I think in the United States that Kid Cudi cover was the way that a lot of people found out about me. So as much as I don’t want to like, play it out or belabor it, because it is Kid Cudi’s song, I feel like people expect to hear it. But there was a time when I was in California and had the same backing band for six years, and we would do covers. We covered One Direction, we covered Metallica, or Lady Gaga, and Bob Dylan, just because that was fun for a group for us to do. Now I play with a Minneapolis based band, just because that’s closer to where I live and it works for rehearsing. We’ve started to talk about wanting to do an ABBA cover, but we haven’t had time to work on it with touring. Probably not in time for Summerfest. But I do like taking people’s songs and getting to re-imagine them in my own voice.
B&E: It helps that it is a great cover, though.
Lissie: It was an awesome moment. Like we just kind of decided to play the song, and then it kinda went viral. And I love the spirit of the song. I think that’s what’s so great about music. Like when I put songs out, they’re my life and my experiences, but then I get to meet all these people who reinterpret the songs for their own lives and their own situations, and they get to apply it to whatever they were going through.
B&E: You’re touring back and forth from Europe this summer. Why did you agree to such a crazy touring schedule?
Lissie: Yeah! I think the business is different now. I was signed to a major deal there in like 2007. In the States I was considered being part of an indie label, but in the UK and Norway and places like that I had the muscle of a major label behind me when it came to budgets and tour support. I had a number one song in Norway in like 2010, and have been fortunate to have albums in the top 20 in Europe. “Castles” actually made the top 10 in the UK. I think it’s been a combination of having the muscle behind me, and then like a lot of serendipitous moments. like meeting a lot of Norwegian artists, or we played a festival and the sun came out in the middle of our set and everyone cheered, and that endeared me to the crowd because it was a fun moment. Plus having more opportunities for press and things like that over there makes things different.
B&E: Do you have any moment from playing live that stands out as being one of the coolest things you’ve done?
Lissie: Yeah it’s kinda between two moments that I kind of go back to. My first album came out in June of 2010, and I had done some touring before that, opening up for Lenny Kravitz and Ray Lamontagne and things like that, but not like where people were coming out to see me. Then I played Glastonbury in the UK, and getting up and there’s like 10,000 people there. I was totally a deer in the headlights like, “woah, what is going on? I have this like, momentum”. And like I’ve been working at this since I was 18, so this was like that moment where it felt like my hard work paid off, and I felt like I could have a career playing music. The other is that summer in Norway at a festival called Slottsfjell. It was raining and kind of gloomy. In my song “Everywhere I Go” I have this whole thing about like the angels calling me home, and I hit this really high note, and as I hit the last chorus the clouds parted and the sun came out and everyone cheered. It was such a beautiful, dramatic moment. I’m always grateful for what I do, but sometimes you feel jaded or burnt out, so I get to go back to 2010 and think of moments like that.
B&E: So after all of this crazy touring, do you have anything planned for later this year?
Lissie: Yeah, so we just put together this band in Minnesota, and we’ll be playing a lot in the Midwest to promote “Castles”. We’ll be doing both the Iowa and Minnesota State Fairs, which is great for me, because I didn’t like the Midwest growing up. I moved out when I was 18, but like, I’ve grown to really like it now in this point in my life. I can try to build up my career more regionally now, because that’s where home is and that’s where my family is. We do need to hit the Southeast, because we kind of missed them on this last tour, so I’ll continue to tour into the fall and early winter.
There is, also, a plan to make another album. I’ll probably be putting out some sort of collection of songs. If I had my way I’d like to be able to spend some time nurturing my Midwest following for a while. And like, I wanna get another dog, and I wanna get donkeys. You can’t really tour when you have donkeys (laughs). It would be kind of fun to take a period of time to live the farm life and have animals. I have a big garden that I’m really into and it would be cool to live there, and then like, take a truck up to Milwaukee to play a show, and come back the next day to feed donkeys. But I don’t know! Something big could happen and I could be like, touring Japan. That’s the beauty of this business.
B&E: Have you gotten back to Summerfest since that initial G. Love moment?
Lissie: No, actually it was just the one time. I always wanted to. After jumping on G. Love’s stage, I kinda had to get out. I got kicked out of high school, so like I had to get out of the little town I grew up in, because I was kind of paranoid that people thought I was a bad kid, and now they know that I’m just trouble (laughs). But I got out of the Midwest. I moved to Colorado and then to California, so I haven’t really been around until like the last few years. My aunt and uncle have a cabin outside of Milwaukee on a lake somewhere. I go there sometimes with my family. But only one Summerfest. We were like 18, and we got really drunk and snuck in or something, and then we got to their bus. Like, if someone did that and got back to my bus now I would totally not be feeling it. If I saw myself then I would be so freaked out by me. (laughs).
B&E: If you had to pick someone to tour with, who would you pick?
Lissie: Let me Google it quickly! Okay so, love Bonnie Raitt, that would be amazing. I think J. Cole’s pretty cool. The Weeknd is amazing, and Big Boi, and Arcade Fire?! Yeah let’s go with my first one, because now that I look at it there’s like a million people on here. Like The Flaming Lips, Pixies, this is gonna be amazing! I mean, Janelle Monae is awesome. I have mad respect for her. I think Cheap Trick is from close to me right? Oh Yonder Mountain String Band, I used to see them a lot when I was in college. Love Jonathan Davis from Korn, I was a big Korn fan actually. Basically they all look really good so I’m just gonna go with my first one and say Bonnie Raitt. Like, she’s such a hero of mine.
You can catch Lissie on Friday June 29th at 10:00 on the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage