Live @ O2 Academy Oxford
February 13, 2016
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

"Lissie Maurus was raised in the riverside town of Rock Island, Illinois, and she drew upon those blue-collar Midwestern origins to create her own form of indie folk music. The granddaughter of an international barbershop quartet champion, she grew up singing in theater productions, eventually picking up the guitar and playing her own songs at local coffee shops as a teenager." ALLMUSIC.COM

Possessing a magical and characterful 'sun-and-tequila-soaked voice', which will provide nectar for your ears and lasso your heart, Lissie believes that music gives her "purpose" and uses songwriting as an outlet for processing her emotions, covering themes such as love and longing. But in amongst these 'open book' autobiographical songs, she's also unafraid to tackle issues in society, describing her first person, honest and literal lyrics as "straightforward, authentic and heart-on-sleeve." Eventually graduating to guitar after her natural compulsion to sing from a very young age, Lissie taught herself to play simple chords and began feeling her way as a songwriter / penning songs when she was just 15, originally envisioning herself as being an acoustic-based indie folk act. She later electrified her sound however and broadened her musical vocabulary, palette and repertoire to include rock, pop, blues, soul and country, citing artists such as Bobbie Gentry, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan and Fiona Apple as inspirations, along with jam bands, hip-hop acts and a host of other eclectic influences.

After guesting on the ambient / chilled-out DJ Harry track, All My Life, in 2004, which was played on the Santa Monica College-owned KCRW radio station and licensed for usage in television series and films. Lissie began receiving royalties and realised from this moment onwards – coupled with the support of her parents plus her own self-belief / determination – that music was perhaps something that she would one day be able to do for a living and pursue as a career. Having enrolled as a student at Colorado State University, she opened for a variety of artists and bands visiting the state during this time and even spent a semester in Paris. Then, in the mid-noughties, Lissie decided to finish her course (courageously ignoring a number of detractors / naysayers that she'd encountered along the way) and with big dreams, make the move to Hollywood, fully-immersing herself in the life of being a singer-songwriter / professional musician. She studied at the Musicians Institute for 6-months, taking the 'Recording Arts Program' and also founded the musical community group, Beachwood Rockers' Society.

But Lissie's big break came in 2007, when after relocating to London, she signed a major record deal with Columbia Records in the UK after her manager had set-up a meeting with the label, putting out her debut long player, Catching A Tiger, in 2010 and its successor, Back To Forever, in 2013. Internationally, both of these LPs were released on an independent imprint and other additions to Lissie's back catalogue, include a live CD/DVD package plus a handful of EPs – some of which feature her famed and unexpected cover versions. Also realising the importance of fan merch, Lissie even has her own line of limited edition Tequila!

After playing shows all around the world, supporting artists including Lenny Kravitz and Tom Petty, receiving critical-acclaim, appearing on compilations / TV commercials, singing on other musicians' records, winning awards and helping charities. Lissie (having had first-hand experience of The Music Industry machine, its economics and its pitfalls) is now proudly a fully-fledged and self-financed independent artist, who has complete control / copyright ownership. This means that she funds everything herself – from recording costs, to pressing albums, to promotional materials / videos, to PR officers, to touring and no longer has the burden of being in debt to a record label or complying with their demands / business models. Not only is this empowering and befitting of her 'try your best and see what happens' credo, but any profits from physical music / digital downloads, merchandise and ticket sales go directly to Lissie and help in sustaining her livelihood. Her third LP, the Americana-marinated, My Wild West, was issued on February 12, 2016, through Cooking Vinyl and has scored a deluge of glowing reviews, with Q Magazine proclaiming: "Undoubtedly her strongest album yet."


With no desire to manipulate the media, chase superstardom or the trappings of fame and fortune. Lissie did seriously consider stepping away from the notoriously fickle and at one time omnipotent Music Business, which would have also shed the stressful and continuous 'album / promo / tour' trajectory that can begin to encumber many professional musicians' creativity, as well as alleviating the constant scrutiny that their work has to endure. But in celebrating her new-found artistic freedom, she discovered: "The moment I decided not to make an album was when I really started to make the album. That took all the pressure off." What emerged from that period was a cohesive, conceptual, musical whole. "The songs turned out to be more personal because I wasn’t adhering to a strict set schedule" she explains. Also following her heart and waving goodbye to her old life in Ojai, California, having lived there and in Los Angeles for a combined total of 12-years, which is documented on My Wild West. Lissie recently returned to the Midwest and purchased a 10-acre farm in a small town in Iowa – "her own 'field of dreams' and is busy converting the barn into a recording studio, getting used to her new pick-up truck and setting up beehives."

Her press release continues: "She is visibly content in her new life, eager to take on each new adventure and challenge that presents itself." Admitting that she much prefers performing live (be it solo or with a backing band) to slaving away in a recording studio, it seems rather apt that the day after My Wild West was released, I should have the privilege of interviewing Lissie in her dressing room – who's as beautiful on the inside, as she is on the outside and a total sweetheart! Before her absorbent and transcendental gig in Oxford saw the songstress dipping into a honeypot of life-affirming / crowd-pleasing tunes, in-front of a packed house of fans whose eyes and faces were lit-up with joy all night long...

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1. As a tribute to David Bowie's unique genius and otherness, I thought that it would be fitting to begin with a quote from him, where he once described music as his "doorway of perception." Do you view music in a similar way?
"Yeah, I would say that that's a BRILLIANT way to put it and when I make music, it's just a way to process my feelings you know? Whether it's relationships with other people, or myself, or the world around me, I've always been making-up songs since I was really small. So, it's just sort of a way of practising at communicating my emotions. When I listen to music, I think it's similar, as it helps you feel things that you maybe can't always talk about. You either have to do it – or feel it – through music. So it's all about feelings I think."

2. With the increasingly popular Music Autobiography market – e.g. Bruce Springsteen has just announced that he is soon to publish a memoir entitled 'Born To Run' – if you were ever to write a book about your life story, what do you think you may call it?
"I don't know (laughing). You know, it's funny, because I realised right now on this last album that my label is called 'Lionboy Records' and in the United States, I'm on a label that's distributing through my label called 'Thirty Tigers' and the guy that does my music videos is called Obear. So when you put those all together, it's like (chanting), "Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!" from The Wizard Of Oz (laughs heartily). So, maybe something like that, something with an animal in the title (laughing). But I don't know for sure (smiling)."

3. I absolutely LOVE your voice and understand that you think of yourself as a singer first and foremost, even finding singing calming. But as your vocals are so integral to your sound and stamp your identity all over the songs that you create, I wanted to ask you if (as some singers put it) you feel that your voice "blossomed" at a certain age?
"Hmmm... Well, I've been singing since I was a really little kid and I was in Musical Theatre. I starred in Annie when I was 9-years-old and I had this big belty voice and I sung night after night, so my voice was really strong as a kid. Then maybe when I was about 12, I took some singing lessons, to learn how to take care of my voice. But since I hit my 20s, I think that for me, the more I stretch and learn to warm-up my voice, and the more I tour, it just gets stronger and stronger – it's like a muscle. So, I can't tell you the exact age that I feel my voice "blossomed", but I do think my voice is better now than it's ever been. I'm sure when I get older though, it will change even more."

4. In terms of honing your songcraft, do you now know exactly how a track should be treated – sonically, length and feel etc?
"I think on this album (My Wild West), I knew a lot more about what I wanted the other instruments to do, and what vibe and rhythm these songs were going to have. Whereas in the past, I was working with a lot more people who were helping me to interpret the songs. So, I would say that as I get older and more experienced, yes, that when I write songs I have a pretty clear idea of what I think the life they need, or deserve, is – where the drums are going to come in you know?"

5. It was of utmost importance to Motown producers, that each and every song should 'grab' a listener from the first few bars. Is this something that you ever think about?

"Well, I know exactly what you mean and I think that's maybe why I almost hit a rut a little bit at one time. Before I started making my second album (Back To Forever), I think I was a little too concerned / had been led to believe that I needed to be concerned about things like the first note 'grabbing' a listener, having a killer chorus or having the structure be radio-worthy. I think thinking about that stuff kind of got in my way. But I do think now that if I just try not to think about it, that hopefully, sometimes it happens naturally on its own so that I don't have to psyche myself out (laughing). So, I think it's important, but for me – if I think about it too much – it makes it less creative and honest somehow."

6. On a similar note, whereas some artists / bands make music with a specific audience in mind, I read that you're happy for any radio station to play your songs and hope that as many people enjoy listening to your music as possible. But, does it ever bother you if your tracks are edited for radio airplay or given a new mix to meet certain criteria – as happened with Everywhere I Go – especially as you are particularly fond of that song?
"I really love the original album version, because it was created in a very pure, open and emotional context – it was like the first attempt and it wasn't thought about really, it was just heartfelt creativity. But, I was made to create a radio version of that song. Then, I went and did it and the radio didn't even play it! That even happens now! I'm reluctant, but as you mentioned, I want as many people to hear my music as possible, so even with my new single (Don't You Give Up On Me), you kind of have to do a radio version, because if it's too long, they won't play it. Which I've said at times to, "Well, then they won't play it!" Like (dismayed tone), "I'm not going to change my music!" But then I think that's naive to think and I'm not well-known enough to be that stubborn (laughing). Maybe some day I'll get really stubborn (jokingly + laughing)! But if other people were to remix my song, like a Dance DJ, I would love it! But in terms of trying to keep recreating myself – the same song – I don't really want to do that, because it waters it down."

7. When penning a new track, you've spoken of how you hum a melody to begin with and then start adding lyrics after this, jotting words in a journal and recording ideas onto your mobile phone. But are you happy to revise lyrics if this means that they'll flow better, or even shorten verses so that they're more concise and will enable you to reach a chorus sooner?
"I do tweak lyrics, because I think some words just don't sing well you know? You're trying to rhyme something (pausing), like I can write a poem and think, "Oh, that's really nice" and then you try to sing it and it just doesn't flow. I mean, yes, I will try and think of how I can say the same thing with words that are more easily sung, so that you can understand them better – like my decision may be based on whether it's an 'Eee' sound or an 'Aah' sound (laughing). So, I do consider those things sometimes, as well as the length of a verse, but I wouldn't make it my first concern."

8. Of all the musicians, co-writers and producers you’ve worked with, which one did you have the most in common with / had the biggest influence on you + have you gleaned lots of useful tips and new skills over time?
"I've worked with so many great people, that it's hard to choose. The producers of all my albums up to now, have been wonderful and have taught me so much. But, I would say though – fresh in my mind – is working with Curt Schneider who executive produced My Wild West. You know, I quote unquote executive produced because I funded it and I oversaw it, but he really pulled all of the elements together and helped me make this album and finish it. I would say that working with Curt is probably one of the best experiences that I've had in the studio, because I just felt so supported and relaxed. Like, he was real patient and optimistic and he was open for anything that I wanted to try, then I'd go away and he'd make it better probably (smiling). But, I just felt really supported when I went in and told him that I was doing this independently and I have a vision, like, "I don't even want to release it but I'll pay you to help me finish it." And he in his most gentle but genius way, kind of gave me the confidence that I needed to succeed. So, I'm really grateful to him and then of course he was glad when I was like, "Actually, I am going to put it out!" I was just looking at my phone now and it's like # 8 on the iTunes Chart and it was # 4 in the UK Midweek Chart (excitedly). I've never gotten that high in The Charts – even when I was on a label! So, it's kind of cool (big smile), but I really have my fans to thank! They pay attention to what I'm doing, even if I don't have all of the marketing money and budgets to put my face everywhere (laughing)."

9. Have any of your songs been created from scratch in the studio?

"You know, I LOVE that and it's rare that that happens. I did something like that recently – some songs that I'm hoping to sort of maybe release as an addition to My Wild West."

10. Is it correct that you have lots of unreleased material in your vaults, such as a College long player, acoustic folk songs and tracks recorded in Nashville?
"Yeah, and this also leads on from my previous answer. In October of last year, I went to Nashville and got together with some great songwriters and musicians and their plan was like, "Let's write and record 4 songs in a week." And we did. One of the songs was ok, but two of the songs are just brilliant and some of the best songs that I've done (excitedly), so moving forward, that's what I want to do – let's just write and record in one go!"

11. As a listener, if done tastefully, I think talking in a song can really add gravitas to a track and deepen the impact / memorability of the meaning behind the music. Some of my favourite bands who I feel have done this to great effect, include Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Glasvegas, The Long Blondes, Placebo, Pulp and Suede, and I would easily add the clever use of spoken-word dialogue in your song, I Bet On You, to that list. So, I wondered if you can tell us more about this, and also, do you have any treasured tracks that have interludes with speaking parts?
"I genuinely wouldn't have thought to do that and I almost giggle a little bit when I hear it, because it's just kind of so different, but, I like it! I couldn't come up with a good melody for a middle 8, so I just said, "Well look, maybe I'll just talk these lyrics." That's a song that I've sort of let go – you forget about some of your songs and then people remind you and I'm like, "Oh yeah, I love that one." As for some of my favourite tracks that have spoken-word interludes, I like Lana Del Rey and she talks in some of her songs. Who else talks in their songs (thinking)... Janet Jackson talked in her songs sometimes right? I don't know (laughs heartily)."

12. As a guitarist, do you take many guitars on the road with you and do you like to customise / modify them with pickups, certain brands of strings etc?

"You know, I'm going to sound really sexist right now, but I noticed that all of the guys that I play music with are really into their gear, and their really into the names of things like the pickups and the effects pedals. Whereas I'm generally (pausing), probably because I feel like I'm a singer first and a guitar player second, but I mean, you could just hand me some crappy guitar that's out-of-tune and sucks, and I kind of feel that I could make it work you know? I don't think I'm very knowledgeable about my gear and stuff, so no. But luckily, I have other people who I respect and admire to kind of guide me. Like on this tour, there's a guitar tech in the band and he sets everything up and makes sure it all works – that's his role, he loves that and that's what he's passionate about."

13. Why do you think there are so few musicians celebrated as 'Guitar Heroes' nowadays?
"I think there are some people – at least right now – that say rock is dead. I went on this cruise conference thing and there was this expert on The Music Business, and he was saying in his talk that at this moment in time, 'Rock Music Is Dead', which isn't true. But in terms of commerce, music's changed so much. Like my guitar player in my band from the last 5 or 6 years, Eric Sullivan, I mean, he's a virtuoso for sure and I know a lot of really, really great guitar players, but I just don't think that that's what's 'in' right now. I'm not sure if this was more in The '90s, but Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, he's probably considered to be a 'Guitar Hero' right? I think it's just because that music isn't popular right now, but I think it will come back again."

14. I saw that the first concert you ever attended was a Neil Diamond show, but growing up, did you sometimes wait after gigs to try and meet artists / groups?
"Oh, YES (excitedly + big smile)! When I was in High School, I tried to meet Eminem – I got free tickets when he played in this arena and his performance was just so intense and powerful, that my friends and I were like, "We have to meet him!" But, we didn't get to. Then, when I was in College, I did a semester in Paris and I felt like I was violating her privacy, but this girl who I knew took me to see Liz Phair – who I completely love – and this girl who I was with was kind of wild and crazy. I can be wild and crazy, but I can also be kind of shy... I know it doesn't seem like it right now (laughing), but she grabbed my hand and said, "We're going backstage to meet her" and pulled me with her. I hid behind the curtain because I was so mortified and I was like, "This is a violation of her post-show privacy." I knew it then, but now I REALLY know it, because when you perform you need your space and you want people to respect your boundaries. But Liz Phair was so nice about it and after my friend talked to her, I was kind of like, "Sorry" and she said, "Don't worry about it, it's totally fine." She was super sweet and because we sang along to every word, she asked us if we were singers. So Liz Phair was really nice, even though I snuck backstage. But I wouldn't do that anymore, because after you've given so much of yourself onstage, as much as you want to talk to people and thank them, there just aren't enough hours in the day to recover emotionally and mentally (laughing). Like when I finish my shows, my manager wants to come backstage right away and I've been like, "Can you just give me 20-minutes?" Maybe just to even sit down and text my Mom or something you know... to be alone."

15. Has anyone that you admire ever requested to meet you?
"Well, David Lynch came to one of my concerts and he's brilliant! That was like such a huge honour – he'd been tweeting and talking about me in interviews and liked my music and ended up coming to one of my concerts and coming backstage. I mean, that made me feel pretty cool (smiling), because I don't think I'm considered quote unquote, very hip. He's such a cult and classic figure – everybody respects him as just being amazing and the fact of all the people he could love, that he was very into me, made me feel really good about myself (laughing)!"

16. Do you carry any lucky charms on tour with you?
"Not really, but I have a moon ring that my Sister bought for me at a gas station and I also like to wear jewellery that reminds me of home (big smile). I'm actually due to call my Sister after this interview."

17. Your fans realise just how passionate you are about playing live, but when performing, do you find that different songs get different reactions in different countries?
"Yeah, and you know what I have noticed, I did a cover of a song called Pursuit Of Happiness by Kid Cudi, and in the United States, half of the people who know who we are is because of that cover! So, if we don't do it, people freak out – they come to the show just to see that song! We were always doing it in Europe and a lot of people I know over here are like, "Oh, you know, I can take it or leave it." So, I've noticed that some of the covers that I've done are so loved in one part of the world, and then not known about in other parts. But it's more the covers rather than my own songs."
*Later this evening during Lissie's set, an audience member asked why her original band weren't with her and she explained that as touring is very expensive – especially when you no longer have money from a record label to help. That her original group are all in the US, but that Lissie's support act, The Travelling Band, are also going to be her backing band for these UK and European dates, having rehearsed with them the week prior to this tour starting*

18. Referring to how special and life-changing music can be in the passage of time, a critic once wrote that albums can be like “messages in bottles waiting to be discovered.” So, are there any LPs in your record collection which you absolutely cherish and perhaps own in a variety of formats – from CDs to vinyls to cassettes to reissues to box sets etc?
"Well, when I was younger, I bought everything that Sarah McLachlan had ever made and this was right when the Internet started. I was 14 and this was like '97 or something – I don't know, I can't do math (laughing). But I went online and I found everything that she'd ever made, like her first album and b-sides and I just loved Sarah McLachlan so much, because she could play guitar, she could play piano, she wrote great songs, she had a great voice and she was beautiful, but not like super sensual or sexual about it you know? I would say that I got really into Metallica too, so that's kind of the opposite (laughing). But as for records that I have on CD and vinyl, probably Led Zeppelin – although now, everything's just on my phone because my record player broke. So, I've got to buy a new one (laughs heartily)!"

19. Following on from this, as you're now amassing a back catalogue which I'm sure takes pride of place in many people's record collections – mine included! I thought that it would be nice to inject some nostalgia into the interview and flashback to your early years – before you were on the road that you're now on – to see if you can recall the very first song that you were really proud of writing?
"Oh, yeah (big smile)... When I was in High School, I started teaching myself guitar at about 15, and at around 17, I was starting to get pretty good at (pausing), there's like 6 chords you need to know and then I kept learning more, like E minor. So, I'd gotten a pretty good handle on 5 or 6 chords that I could change between and so I was starting to get good at the guitar, and I wrote a song called Little Raindrops. It actually had a killer chorus melody – although the lyrics are pretty dorky (laughing) – but I was proud of it because when I played it for people, they were like, "Wow, that's a really well-written song!" It had a great verse, a big chorus and I felt like I had really crafted my first song that was catchy and had a middle 8. So, the first song that I was really proud of writing was called Little Raindrops and I was about 17."

20. Lastly, I found it very interesting how you took your famed love of Tequila one step further after visiting the families who grow, harvest, roast and create the Mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico, by then teaming-up with 'MÉTL Mezcal and Tequila' to have your own limited edition line of the drink (which is available to buy in both Blanco and Reposado). But, if you could take a shot of Tequila with anyone, who would it be and why?
"Well, I got to meet him once and I just thought that he was such an Everyman's man – like such a class act – and that was Bruce Springsteen. I would also say Jeff Lynne from ELO, because he's my new obsession, but I have a feeling that he probably doesn't drink (laughing)."

A very special thanks to Lissie, to her Tour Manger Mel and to Hayley at Six07 Press, for all of their time and help.

Oxford Set List

They All Want You
When I'm Alone
Oh Mississippi
Bully (A cappella)
Sun Keeps Risin'
Don't You Give Up On Me
Further Away (Romance Police)
Everywhere I Go
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Little Lovin'
In Sleep

"I could've been a hero, I could've been a zero
Could've been all these things"

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?