Was I the only Australian that got into Lissie? I swear everyone else jumped ship not long after her Oz tour from 2011. I still think she’s lovely – her album from last year was good fun, and it featured one of my favourite songs of the year. She was very sweet to interview, as well – giggly, charming, enthusiastic. Bit like Ben Kweller, really!
– DJY, October 2014
It’s probably hyperbole to say something like “Lissie has taken the world by storm.” With that in mind, it’s no secret by now that the clouds have certainly been gathering – following a slew of singles, tours with Lenny Kravitz and Ellie Goulding and a top 5 album in Norway of all places, the young singer born Elisabeth Maurus has certainly got a name for herself out there. This month sees the big-voiced Californian make her first-ever trip to Australia as the main support act for Megan Washington, an idea that has been coming together ever since the two first met in Paris late last year.
At the time of the interview, Lissie claims she has “literally just pulled into the driveway” of her home in Ojai (say it “oh-hi”), in California’s Ventura County. “It’s really nice to be home! I was gone since, like, early March. I did some shows and stuff like that, which was awesome, but it’s really nice to just sit down at home and have a deep breath.”
Maurus is unpretentious, sweet and engaged with everything that is going on around her – and it’s these traits that translate into the stunning songs of her debut album, Catching a Tiger. Released in June of last year, the album has garnered a strong critical reception and comparisons to everyone from Linda Rondstadt to Stevie Nicks. It’s a diverse, intelligently-crafted record that allows Lissie to stand out from a myriad of other girls with guitars. It is also an album that has been a long time coming.
“Going into making this record was really weird,” she confesses. “I started out working with some different people [in 2008] and not liking the direction it was going in, all the while thinking I was recording my first album. I had a bunch of old songs, and some songs from when that was going on. When it came to Catching a Tiger, the songs that ended up on the record were ones that I’d written for a year up to the actual recording, so they were all fairly new.”
Along with penning tracks on her own, Catching a Tiger also saw Lissie in sessions of productive co-writing with a handful of other songwriters, including former Furniture frontman Jim Irvin and his production partner Julian Emery. As she discusses her craft in depth, it becomes clearer just how much work has gone into creating the album. “Loosen the Knot was a hard one to write,” says Maurus when considering which of the songs proved the most difficult. “I knew when I was making it that my heart wasn’t too into it, because I was co-writing and I thought it was sounding a little too Avril Lavigne.” She lets out a hearty laugh when mentioning the Sk8er Boi songstress before explaining that “The ones that came the easiest were ones like Bully, Everywhere I Go, Oh Mississippi, When I’m Alone… songs like that were fairly immediate. These lyrics came very genuinely and sort of sporadically. It’s different when you’re co-writing, and it’s different when you write songs alone.”
The topic of co-writing is brought up again, and Lissie is happy to discuss it in further elaboration. It’s often quite contentious with many singer-songwriters, who feel as though they may grow more vulnerable when exposing their quite personal lyrics and music to someone else. This was, initially, a perspective shared by Lissie herself. “When I started I was worried about that,” she confesses, “This is a really private thing, and I didn’t think I wanted to do it. With Jim and Julian, who did a few songs on the album with me, I just really liked talking to them. It’s like I could talk to them about everything in my life, and when you earn that trust, you feel really safe with them. So I’ve been lucky with some of my co-writes – even though I hardly know them, I just have this instinct that it’s a safe zone that I can open up in. I think I’ve made a point of only really pursuing writing with people that I immediately connect with.”
In addition, Lissie believes that working with musicians of different heritage and style to hers is beneficial in expanding her musical palette. Describing her vocals as having “relative pitch” as opposed to perfect pitch and confessing to “honestly knowing nothing about music theory,” the humble Maurus is excited by the prospect of growing as a musician. “I come from a folk background, and I can only really play so many chords on guitar,” she says. “It’s very easy for me to rely on C to F to G when I sit down and write. So when someone else comes in the room and plays an A7 diminished chord – and I don’t know how to play that! It opens up a new possibility with melodies and stuff.”