A MUSE IN THE BALANCE Lissie

“Sometimes it doesn’t
happen if you overthink it”: sound advice from the newest songwriter du jour.

 

BY NANCY DUNHAM

 

 

Now that Lissie has left the Midwest for California,
her Americana
roots are starting to show.

 

Like many artists that hail from flyover states, this
singer/songwriter moved West as part of a quest to find kindred, creative
spirits willing to embrace left-of-mainstream artistry. Ironically, now that
she’s there, her circle – and one would arguably say her music in the EP Why You Runnin’ (produced by Band of
Horses’ Bill Reynolds and issued by Fat Possum) – often reflects the heartland.

 

“I can appreciate now how people who live in LA tend to
gravitate toward each other,” she says. “They have more of a respect for other
people. Nobody’s too cool and I think there’s a certain quality to that that is
appealing.”

 

Just like her Rock
Island, Illinois,
homeland, Lissie’s music reflects a certain unpretentious beauty. Her somewhat
low and charmingly modulated voice dips and soars as she sings about getting to
heaven, corn fields and other Americana-themed images set to an
acoustic/rock/indie folk musical backdrop. Corny as it sounds, the music
reflects her heritage but it also soars into gospel, folk and other genres. That’s
not to say that Lissie (full name: Lissie Maurus) is a Grand Ole Opry wannabe.
Yes, her songs have plenty of Americana
stylings, but they also have plenty of electric guitars and even new age
contemporary stylings a la Clannad or
even Andreas Vollenweider.

 

“Wedding Bells,” a song about the one who got away, is
wrapped around the universal message of heartbreak while perhaps reflecting
Lissie’s personal thoughts about a recent breakup. Many would argue the type of
heartfelt honesty Lissie presents through the song’s vocals and arrangement
wouldn’t ring true if she wasn’t fully grounded, comfortable in both her past
and future.

 

“After a couple years [away from the Midwest]
I started to appreciate where it was from,” she notes. “My background surfaced
a bit more into a specific kind of personality and started to make itself a
little more apparent.”

 

It seems it would be difficult to escape. Lissie’s
grandfather was an international barbershop quartet champion who sang at church
and community theatre. From a young age, Lissie caught the performance bug and
her mother encouraged her interests by enrolling her in voice and dance
classes.

 

“It was always my favorite thing. My sister has a great
voice, too, but I just really loved it. It’s funny though, I just started
singing and had a good voice and I loved to warm up my voice and even do all of
those exercises.”

 

Plenty of coffee and cigarettes have deepened the vocal
quality, Lissie’s friends tell her, giving it a pleasing and uncommon timbre. Add
to that her own brand of writing and you have the makings of a stand out
artist.

 

“I don’t know if it’s country or rock or soul,” she says, of
her music. “I don’t think a lot about what I’m doing. I just do it.”

 

That means humming out a random melody that takes her to the
piano that evolves into a concept begging for rhythm and vocals and all the
other elements that turn her musings into full-blown songs. After she’s had a
few glasses of wine and is, in her words, a “little tipsy,” that’s one of the
best times for her muse to visit. “I’m pretty passionate about things. I just
need to make music and sort of process what I’m feeling. I don’t listen to a
ton of [other music] but tunes will just come to me, sort of subconsciously… It’s
kind of random, inspired by nature and emotions.”

 

She talks a bit about the artist Bat for Lashes, otherwise
known as Natasha Khan, who adopted the moniker because she liked the feel of
the words. In much the same way, Lissie develops her music.

 

“There’s a balance that comes from making sounds and using
words, even nonsense words. Music is so great, it doesn’t matter what you are
saying, it comes together. Sometimes it doesn’t happen if you overthink it.”

 

 

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