Lissie’s not a “new noise”, as such. You’d do well to find an iPod Shuffle that didn’t have her musical mark on at the turn of the decade. But, despite the Illinois artist appeasing our euphonic desires for nearly a decade, it’s her latest record that promises the most refined and charming example of her craft.
Freedom has always been a prominent theme in Lissie’s music. Her first three albums, spanning from 2009 (the debut landing ahead of the big singer-songwriter-with-guitar curve) have exuded rawness and emotion that’s hard to find. It’s little surprise then, that critically, she’s rarely missed the mark, receiving near-perfect reviews across the board for every record. Her latest full-length release, Castles, is heading in the same direction, but there’s an air to the album that sets it apart from her previous work. It reflects a new form of independency for Lissie having moved out to the sticks in Iowa to live on a farm. Luckily for us, she’s still on the grid, so we managed to catch up with the singer to talk DIY – in terms of both music and farm-life – and what inspired the new album.
How would you describe the sound of your new album?
Oh that’s always a tough question. I’d say it’s sparse and spacey, ambient sounds and synth. A little dark, yet twinkly!
What were the influences for the new album?
Mostly I write about what’s going on in my life. I was becoming self aware about how I tend to behave in relationships and going through/ coming out of a rough one.
The sounds developed partly through having limitations in my home studio in Iowa combined with the taste and stylistic genius of producer Liam Howe who mixed most of the album.
How has living in Iowa affected that?
I think I have more quiet time to dream up lyrics and melodies in a looser way where there’s no pressure or time constraints. I also have a very minimal studio set up so those limitation allowed to me to start making Castles with what was available. A laptop, digital drums and synth. Things kicked off in Iowa but I traveled to LA and London as well as some other cities to write and record so I liked the balance of country and city.
This is your fourth record – how was the process adapted or changed over time?
The last two albums I made independently so that’s been a huge and positive shift. I’ve been able to take my time and approach it all in a natural and honest way! While I consider songwriting structure and storytelling, I don’t have to report back to anyone or get permission if I just want to make a song without worrying how it’ll fit into industry or be commodified.
Does writing come naturally?
Yes! When I try to make myself write it can be counterproductive but I like writing with other people, that helps the flow! But if I’m at home alone, I usually get ideas for songs when I’m doing housework or activities outside rather than forcing it. So I try to respect that subconscious stream.
How do you remain fresh and set yourself apart from the crowd?
I’m not sure I do?! Haha, I just try to be myself.
“I get lucky sometimes and write a catchy, universal song.”
What piece of advice would you give the version of you who was writing her debut album?
To be nicer to myself and worry less. But I guess the worry made me work harder? Or just that everything was gonna be OK. One step at a time!
Being 35 now and moving to be closer to family, do you still have the same approach to touring?
I’m figuring that out! After I moved, I solo toured a lot and borrowed my opening band’s players. I’ve just assembled a band closer to where I live that are incredible so I want to find that balance of home/tour, solo/band stints. I’m definitely not wanting to go out on the road for too long at a time because I like to garden and be a part of my community. And it’s aging me!
Is it harder than before?
Yes because I can’t quite get away wit the same party vibe and no sleep like I used to. And the novelty starts to wear off when you simply maintain the same amount of success. Also I got accustomed to more leisure and luxury solo touring, so I gotta figure out how hard I’m willing to hustle when I bring the full band and crew.
Do you want to keep on creating albums?
Of course! I will always be writing and singing, creating and recording!
Favourite part of your newly-found farm life?
The sense of empowerment and purpose of learning. I’m no expert. I’m not yet a farmer or beekeeper but every time I try something, even if I do it wrong, I learn and it’s encouraging. I garden and love planting a seed and watching it grow. It gives me hope for the future. Self sufficiency is a goal!
How do you tackle the demand for “commerciality” in your music?
I don’t! I get lucky sometimes and write a catchy, universal song.
What do you want people to get from this record?
In terms of understanding me, that this is me sharing a specific chapter of my life as each album is. That it’s OK to go into your darkness to find your light. To embrace the duality of despair and hope living together. And also to pick up on the subtle nod to many worlds theory and infinite possibilities.