Q&A: Lissie on red wine, wishing Lana Del Rey would write a novel, Metallica, and not being able to be “all Hollywood”
My first indication that Lissie is a down-to-earth kind of chick is that, when I call her to check in before her stops in New York and Boston on a tour in preview of her new album (dropping sometime in September) she’s waiting in line at a gas station bathroom. She asks me, with a throaty laugh, if it would be cool if I called her back when she’s done. Never mind that most touring artists travel on pimped out tour buses with bathrooms nicer than those in some Allston apartments I’ve frequented. When I call back — having waited what I hope is sufficient time to allow Lissie to do her business — she confirms this assessment, having just shot a music video in her hometown of Rock Island, Illinois for the second song on her upcoming album, “Further Away ‘Romance Police.’”
What’s the video about?
I feel like where you’re from has such a big part to do with who you are. I don’t want to ruin the surprises, but we just walked around to lots of different sites that were memorable and special to me. A friend of mine is a police officer and once it got dark he turned on his police lights which made some really cool lighting.
What’s your process for writing this album been like?
I’ve had quite a bit of downtime. I needed a break because I was just getting kind of worn out, but was also anxious to make a new record and hadn’t really done a ton of writing when I was on the road. So he last nearly two years I’ve been writing and kind of spending time at home and cultivating some of my other interests.
What kind of other interests?
I just got a road bike and I’m not like a super awesome pro yet but I really got into riding my bike. About 20 miles is the most I’ve written but I’ve kind of become addicted to it. It’s not something I can really do when I’m on the road. And I live in a really beautiful place — I have a dog, I take him out and we go for long walks. I really just like being outdoors, and that was one thing from the first album cycle — it’s like you’re always on a plane, or in a car, or inside a venue, so when I’m home I’m never inside. But I’ve really gotten addicted to so many TV shows. I’ve gotten really into wine (laughs) I drink a lot of wine. I like red because it’s just kind of calm, this warm rush over you…
Yes, melty, exactly.
So what TV shows are you into right now?
Oh, it’s like what shows am I NOT into? I love “Game of Thrones,” I’m really excited about “Arrested Development” coming back. I also like Nashville a lot, it’s very good. I made my first record in Nashville and I think they do a good job of showing the city. I watch everything. “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Modern Family.” I just watched “House of Cards” on Netflix, that’s amazing. So yeah, basically I spend a lot of time drinking wine and watching TV. (laughs) Oh! I also can swim a mile now. And I’ve been spending time with my family back in the Midwest.
Speaking of the Midwest — and Midwestern values — do you feel like you’ve changed since gaining some fame and moving to California?
I wouldn’t say I feel like the same person but I don’t think that that’s because anything has changed. I think as you get older you kind of come into your personality and learn from life experiences. I guess in a way I put out the single “Shameless” because it’s me proclaiming that I don’t want to have to be anything other than myself or be underhanded or desperate or shady to find success. Even if I wanted to be all Hollywood I wouldn’t know how to do it. I don’t think I’m socially awkward but I don’t really know how to be mysterious, or manipulative, I don’t really know how to manipulate people’s energy. And I’m glad that I don’t know how to do that.
Have you ever been asked to compromise yourself like that?
Not that it was asked of me, but I’ve seen that other people have done it. Say, you and some other girl really liked a guy and she was just going to be throwing herself at him all night. And you feel like, well, I’m not going to do that. And maybe she gets to go home with him. But I don’t want to stoop to that level. I just want to be myself and if he doesn’t come home with me then he’s not the right one for me.
That’s a cool metaphor for fame.
Thanks! I’m glad it made sense. I think in the song, too, I even acknowledge it. Like, why does it bother me, “why do I react so angrily, it’s just my insecurities acting up.” Because there’s also something where, if you are in a situation, and two people are going for the same thing, my inclination is to sort of retreat a little bit, where I’m like (puts on a bratty voice) “well, I don’t even care, I didn’t want to be part of this stupid club.” (laughs)
What do you prefer playing, big fests or club shows?
I think when I was starting out doing festivals I really liked them because it was new to me and it was really exciting. There were so many bands, and you got the cool backstage area where you got to go see music, and you got to talk to people, and it’s very social. I think that used to be very fun for me. Whereas now, it’s still fun but it’s also really exhausting because you have to preserve your strength a little and it’s too tempting at a festival to just be like ‘oh, I’m just going to have a blast’ and then feel like ‘oh, I can’t sing now because I talked too much.’ But I really like club shows because people are there to see you, and I’m still in a place where we get to play kind of intimate shows, and you get the feeling of who your crowd is and connecting with them.
How would you self-describe your genre?
When I started out I was a singer-songwriter, with an acoustic guitar, and kind of had some folk tendencies — but I kind of wrote pop songs. This next record is not as much showing off my folk sensibilities, I mean they’re still there, but I’ve been playing with my band so much over the past few years and we really kind of rock out. So I think this record is a little more consistently rock/pop. You’ll detect some faint traces of folky, kind of country, gospel-ish vocals, potentially, but the music is pretty much rock music.
I think this is an interesting time for folk music, like how the Lumineers were up for a Grammy — I thought that was sort of unusual.
I did too! I mean I like that song, and I like them — so I don’t mean this in a bad way — but I almost feel like that trend has sort of ended. I think the Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show started it, and were doing it, and it wasn’t mainstream. And then Mumford & Sons really brought that into the mainstream consciousness. Which is really great, because it opened the doors for a lot of bands to be successful, but I’m not sure that that’s where it will stay.
Right. Well, what do you think is going to be the next wave?
My prediction is that the guitar solo is kind of coming back. And I want to be part of that.
I’ve been listening to a lot of the Hall & Oates Pandora station, and that music has kind of been resonating with me again. It’s kind of dramatic music, and it’s kind of a little cheesy, and it’s got the epic guitar solos. But I think it’s so emotionally evocative, it makes you really feel like ‘YEAHya!’ So I really feel like there’s going to be a Hall & Oates-esque revival, but who knows?
I was actually about to ask you what I’d find if I looked at your Recently Played playlist on your iPod…
My obnoxious answer is that I really don’t listen to music because it, like, stresses me out. I know that sounds terrible. But I had this shift happen where I used to listen to a lot of music and I used to write a lot just for fun and I of course still love music and still love performing, but it’s taken on a different kind of role in my life now that I have to think about it differently. But one album that I was listening to a lot was Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”. And I love Lana Del Rey’s album. I think she is someone who I wasn’t really feeling her vibe, because I was just being a bitchy girl. I think I was like, ‘oh she’s glamorous, I don’t like her.’ (laughs) I didn’t want to like her. But then I got her album and I love it, I love the entire thing. It’s like she’s creating a whole world, it’s not just music. I feel like it’s very evocative of another era or something. It haunts you. She’s a good storyteller, I don’t know how much of it is like a character, but I feel like she could write a novel and I’d want to read it.
Did you watch her SNL debacle?
After I saw that, and saw how mean people were being, it made me like her more. Because, you know what, not everyone that is good in the studio is necessarily good live. I think my problem for a long time was that I’m kind of better live than I am in the studio.
That’s not a terrible problem to have.
But that doesn’t make me a better artist or more of an artist. I also like how Kristen Wiig went on as her and defended her, I thought that was really cute. I love Kristen Wiig. Oh, I like the new Tegan and Sara album. That’s kind of my feeling about pop music even, like they’re onto something, they might be a little bit ahead of the trend. I feel like their kind of pop music is going to be considered credible again because it makes you feel good…it’s fun to listen to. I’ve gotten into exercising again, taking care of myself, and I couldn’t really get myself motivated to run — and then I put on the Tegan and Sara record and I was like ‘ok, I can run.’
Yeah, they’re great. And they’ve been great for awhile. It’s funny how one hit song can suddenly propel an artist into the public consciousness — I hope it lasts for them.
It’s a tricky thing. When I look at what I’d like my career to be like, I’d just like to be respected and financially stable, it’s pretty much all I can ask for. And anything else is kind of a pleasant bonus. Even at the level I’m at now — I mean, I got a cold, I keep getting sick because I think I’m not used to being busy, and I have interviews, and have to do a show… and I think to have an overnight hit and be on that trajectory would be so stressful. Maybe I’m afraid of success or something, but I’m kind of really happy where I’m at right now.
I love your cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness.” Who would you want to cover one of your songs, if you could pick anyone?
I think it would be cool if Asap Rocky covered me. I guess he did cover me, he sampled me, but somebody in a totally different genre. Like Metallica, but that would never happen. (laughs) I love Metallica.
Haha ok. What else?
Just that if people aren’t sure, just come to our show! I can probably give you, like, a 90 percent guarantee that they’ll enjoy themselves. (laughs)
GO SEE HER:
June 3 @ 8 p.m.
6 Delancey St., New York
June 5 @ 9 p.m.
Brighton Music Hall
158 Brighton Ave., Allston