INTERVIEW: Lissie (USA), May 2011

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

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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.”

INTERVIEW: Scary Kids Scaring Kids (USA), November 2008

I don’t remember too much about this one. Hell, you probably don’t even remember there WAS a band called Scary Kids Scaring Kids. They were in that whole mid-2000s wave of post-hardcore. That was a time, wasn’t it. Hell, the guy I interviewed from the band was their KEYBOARDIST. Remember when keyboards were still a thing in post-hardcore? It was like how every nu-metal band in the late 90s and early 2000s got themselves a DJ, only to find they contributed nothing – they either learned how to play keys or they fucked off. Anyway, nothing too brilliant about this interview – or this band, for that matter, although they did have a couple of decent tunes. Just throwing this up here for completion’s sake. Mawsh.

– DJY, July 2013

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Scary Kids Scaring Kids don’t exactly seem like the happiest of dudes – especially given their musical subject matter is frequented by despair, abandoned hope and the evil that women (and, occasionally, men) do. Thankfully, this kind of pained imagery belies them – today, at least. Keyboardist Pouyan Afkary is in high spirits as we begin our conversation.

“Feeling really good, man!” he enthuses. “Just got off the road with Anberlin and now we’re on our way down to Australia. Really looking forward to it!” You can understand why. The band are hitting our shores as headliners of the Versus tour, alongside those good Christian boys Haste the Day and Californian pop-rockers Halifax. Afkary definitely sounds excited to be on tour with two bands he is close with.

“We’ve known both bands for many, many years,” he comments. “It’s gonna be a pretty wild tour. Haste the Day are more like our bigger brothers who guide us in the right direction and have a very positive influence on us. Halifax, on the other hand, are the band that really bring out the party in us.” Which side of the line SKSK themselves will fall is anyone’s guess; even for Pouyan himself. “It’s like the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other,” he laughs.

The tour is not only the band’s second visit to our shores, but also their second visit this year. The band rocked the mainstage of the Soundwave festival back in February. “It was great fun; beautiful place,” Afkary says with great positivity. “Can’t wait to be back.” With this notion made, it must be asked why the band have returned so soon? “There’s a promoter out there who thinks our first headlining tour would be successful, and so far ticket sales have been great,” explains Afkary. “Obviously, his faith in us is paying off!”

Scary Kids have been on the road supporting their latest release, 2007’s self-titled release, for quite some time now. “It’s been great, man. The tours have been very different – we’ve toured with a lot of – œparty’ bands, we’ve toured with a lot of Christian bands, and equally we’re connecting with all of them a lot.” Asking for some of the best memories of the tour so far sees Afkary temporarily stumped. “That’s tough,” he muses out loud. “I’d say the first headliner tour we did on the back of the self-titled album was one of the best, but also the Versus tour we just did with Haste the Day. We have a real camaraderie with them.”

Scary Kids Scaring Kids is certainly a record that the band themselves are especially proud to be touring on. The band’s first record, 2005’s The City Sleeps in Flames, is described by Pouyan as being “really rushed”.

“We only had thirty days to write it, and we’d just gotten a new guitarist [Steve Kilby, who did not play on the band’s debut After Dark EP], who was just getting comfortable with our vibe,” he recalls, before adding, “I think in the two years between albums, he got the time to become comfortable with the band.” So what was the next step for Scary Kids? “We locked ourselves away for a month and a half in a secluded place and focused ourselves entirely on the record,” Afkary continues solemnly. “What we wanted to play had slightly changed in that past two years and we really wanted to grow. It was a very conscious effort to make growth from the last album.”

With such a positive state of mind that the band are now in (touring an excellent sophomore release, playing with good friends, seeing the world), certainly Pouyan must be exhilarated to be back in Australia? “I dunno, man…” he says cautiously. “I’m actually kinda nervous. I always stress myself out about making next time bigger and better, y’know what I mean?” Nerves aside, one can rest assured that Pouyan and his five fellow Kids are set to put on some memorable shows this week, with all shows close to selling out at time of writing. Having said that, Afkary is still not without his reservations. “I don’t think I’ll ever get really excited unless we’re, like… KISS or something,” he jokes. “Or AC/DC, in your case.”