It would be easy to misconstrue Lissie. Slight and blonde, a pretty, guitar-playing slip-of-a-thing, you might easily take her for a sweet Midwestern girl, a freckled balladeer borne of milk and cookies and cornfields. More fool you. For all the flaxen hair and big blue eyes, this girl is smart and gutsy and tough, with a big old voice to match it: Stevie Nicks taking Neko Case by the scruff of the neck, Laurel Canyon prettiness stewed in campfire and bourbon; there is, after all, a certain vocal quality that only a decade of beer and cigarettes can bring.
She was born in Rock Island, Illinois, one of the Quad Cities, on the banks of the Mississippi River. It’s the city that inspired Rock Island Line, and that bore Bix Beiderbecke, it’s the stuff of spring floods and pick-up trucks and bona fide blue collar country music. “I think that people often want to focus on that side of me,” Lissie says, “But it wasn’t like we were all sitting on the porch having a hootenanny writing the album; I grew up listening to gangsta rap just like millions of other American teenagers. There are many sounds and experiences that have influenced and inspired my music.”
Lissie was always the musical one of her family. Inspired a little by her Grandfather, a former international barbershop quartet champion, she would sing along at her Lutheran church but was never a choir girl, then auditioned for the local dinner theatre production and at the age of nine scored the lead in an 80-date production of Annie. “I was always humming,” she says, “making up these little songs and melodies, writing these poems and putting them to music. I know if I’m I feeling bummed out just the vibration of singing is kind of soothing to me.”
She was also the family tearaway; trouble, it seemed, had a knack of following Lissie. From once dyeing her hair with pen ink in 6th grade, cutting class, talking back, eventually getting thrown out of High School for spitting in a teacher’s face. “I felt that people didn’t know what to do with me, and tried to squash my spirit a little, which gave rise to a defiant streak within me early on,” she concedes. “It was that that made me bend my ideas around convention” But all the while she was still humming, still writing songs; she taught herself a handful of guitar chords, wrote about the girls who snubbed her and the boys who broke her and all the scrapes she got herself into, and played them out loud at the local coffee shop where she worked, dreaming of the big city and leaving her small Midwestern town.
Colorado State University was sort of a back-up plan, a brief toe-dip into academia where she took classes in everything from Geology to Speech to Anthropology. She played music, still — honing her songs, headlining the local theatre, writing and recording a track with a local electronic DJ that would somehow find its way onto TV, sound tracking the OC and Veronica Mars and House. She spent a semester in Paris, learned French and photography, kept writing, kept playing, and when she returned to the US, she decided to ditch university altogether, move to Los Angeles and make a go of her music career.
In LA she played bars of course, showcases and residencies, performed in clubs sometimes to an audience of one. In the spring of 2006 she started her own night with musician friends at a bar called Crane’s Hollywood Tavern in her neighbourhood, which she named Beachwood Rockers’ Society, and made ends meet handing out restaurant flyers and selling honey every Sunday at the local farmer’s market. “Raw honey,” she recalls. “I would say “Have you tried the world’s best-tasting honey? It’s not heated, treated, whipped or spun!”
Little by little things seemed to come together; she recorded a five-track EP named Why You Runnin’ with her friend Bill Reynolds of Band of Horses that caught something of a fire in the States last year. She headed to Nashville to record with Jacquire King (who was fresh from working with the Kings of Leon). “There were times when it was hard to figure out the entire picture, of how I wanted it to feel and sound,” she confesses, “but I’m proud of what came out of it and looking forward to the road ahead.”
After leaving LA she spent time in London and Tennessee, and hankered a little for her home in Illinois. Eventually she extricated herself from a long and troublesome romantic entanglement and relocated to Ojai, California, an hour and a half north-east of LA, renting a house she had never seen in a town she had never visited “just because I sat next to someone from there on an airplane who told me it was nice.” She likes it up there.
“It’s fairly slow, everything closes early and you can see all the stars at night. There are mountains outside my front door and it’s really quiet, which means I get a lot of work done and have time to myself which is essential for me to function. I can still drive into LA for some excitement when I want, going out and being around other people is equally important to me. I didn’t want to make plans or have any responsibility to anyone. It’s totally got me through what I needed to get through.”
“All these things,” she says, talking a little about Ojai, and a little about her music, too, “I do them without thinking. So much of my process has been accidental. Its instinct and it’s natural. Even in photo shoots I won’t wear concealer, I don’t want to look like someone who painted my face, because everything I do I want to feel natural, I want it to mean something to me, if it doesn’t feel natural I can’t do it. I can’t act. I’m not good at faking it.” And this is probably the grain of Lissie, something straight-down-the-line, straight-talking, un-phony. “Now I’ve gotten older I really found myself recognising the smalltown Midwesterner in me and embracing it,” she says. “For better or worse it’s not all that tactful or that cool, but there’s no phoniness. It’s pretty direct. And I’m direct, I’m not hiding anything” She takes a swig of beer, pulls out a fresh cigarette. “I don’t really know what or why or who I am,” she says, “but I don’t know how to not be how I am.” Lissie, you might say, nothing heated, treated, whipped or spun.
Apr 8 2010 8:00P – Shepherds Bush Empire w/ Joshua Radin London
Apr 10 2010 8:00P – Rescue Rooms w/ Joshua Radin Nottingham
Apr 12 2010 8:00P – o2 Academy 2 w/ Joshua Radin Birmingham
Apr 13 2010 8:00P – Concorde 2 w/ Joshua Radin Brighton
Apr 15 2010 8:00P – Thekla w/ Joshua Radin Bristol
Apr 16 2010 8:00P – o2 Academy 2 w/ Joshua Radin Oxford
Apr 17 2010 8:00P – The Haymakers w/ Joshua Radin Cambridge
Apr 18 2010 8:00P – Norwich Arts Centre w/ Joshua Radin Norwich
Apr 19 2010 8:00P – o2 Academy 2 w/ Joshua Radin Liverpool
Apr 21 2010 8:00P – Brudenell Social Club w/ Joshua Radin Leeds
Apr 22 2010 8:00P – Academy 2 w/ Joshua Radin Manchester
Apr 23 2010 8:00P – Oran Mor w/ Joshua Radin Glasgow
Apr 24 2010 8:00P – Cabaret Voltaire w/ Joshua Radin Edinburgh
Apr 26 2010 8:00P – Dublin Academy w/ Joshua Radin Dublin
May 15 2010 10:30P – The Great Escape East Sussex
May 31 2010 7:30P – Evolution Festival Newcastle
Jun 4 2010 8:00P – Rock Am Ring Nürburgring
Jun 5 2010 8:00P – Rock Im Park Nuremberg
Aug 13 2010 8:00P – Summer Sundae Weekender De Montfort Hall and Gardens, Leicester
Sep 9 2010 8:00P – Bestival – Stage & dayTBC Isle of Wight