Musician On the Rise: Lissie

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Meet Lissie. Perez Hilton praised her ages ago, she’s been hailed by some as the new Stevie Nicks, and her full-length debut, Catching A Tiger, is a stark rejection of the Gaga-fied, auto-tuned pop world we live in. She is simple and authentic. She’s also interested in hedonism and claims to have no musical influences—pretty astounding for a young musician (the latter, anyway). We spoke to Lissie on the phone from Norway about her inspirations (don’t get those confused with influences), covering Kid Cudi, and being addicted to celebrity gossip.

Much of Catching A Tiger has this nostalgic, Midwestern feel to it. Now that you’re traveling so much, have you found yourself inspired to write while on the road? With the EP, I did have more influences of my younger years, of going to church and living in a blue collar town on the Mississippi River. Catching A Tiger is a lot about this break up I went through. And as I’m traveling and spending time away from loved ones, it leads my mind to think of concepts more – of this longing to be a good person and not care about what other people think. There’s more about that than about being dumped. I find the lyrics are more about being independent and being strong and having faith in myself and others. That kind of comes through having a job that requires you to take a risk and be separate from your comfort zone a lot.

When did you realize you could really sing? From the age of three, there’s home videos and something’s happening in the room, and there I am sitting on a rocking chair, humming to myself like an alien child. That was before anyone told me about singing. Even at seven or eight, people would come over and I’d make up a song and sing it to them and really get into it. And my mom would be like, Where is this coming from? When I was eight, I probably wanted to be Madonna or Janet Jackson, but I never really thought about it that way. It was just a part of me. It was how I expressed my feelings. When I got older, I realized I’m not really good at anything else, so I might try to do this as a job.

Was there one record that really spoke to you growing up? When I was eight, I got this microphone stand with lights on the base of it for Christmas. And I’d go in the basement and I loved Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, the one cassette that I had. I would play it over and over again, sing along to it and dance. I went to a Neil Diamond concert when I was nine or ten, and I don’t think I was that into it. But I still remember it because we got to go on the stage and I was thinking, Wow, this is really cool. When I was in theater, I was Annie in the play at the age of nine. The environment of being in the dressing room or the smell of Aquanet — there were just certain things about the theater that just felt right. But when I was in high school, I went to Lilith Fair when I was 16 and that was a moment when I remember watching the Dixie Chicks. That was a moment when I was like, I have to do this.

Your cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” went viral. Why did you choose to cover it? I was home last summer with my best friend Sarah. She was in the car and puts on the Kid Cudi album, and I felt like I had maybe heard it. I was like, I love this song, and we listened to it like five times. We were basically driving around Rock Island, and she was kinda drunk driving, which is so bad, I know. And we were smoking a blunt, which I don’t really do anymore, but it was this classic high school moment. The song was narrating our night. I googled the chorus when I got home and I started playing it on my acoustic guitar. I made it my own, changed the key, and showed it to my band. We started playing it live and that was that pretty much it. I ran into this guy, this jock, and he knew what it was because it was on the Kansas City basketball team’s blog, the last person I thought who would be a fan of mine.

Can you tell me about the creative process of Catching a Tiger? Well, that conversation will happen more as I move forward. To be honest with you, the EP just happened. Not by accident, but based on Bill Reynolds [from Band of Horses] and I hanging out and making music. I think I realized my sound through trial and error more than actual intention. Sometimes that’s how my process works. The best things I do happen on their own without me trying. If I try to make a big statement, it gets sort of convoluted because I put too much pressure on it. But moving forward, I need to find a balance.

In the past, you’ve said simplicity and being real is important to you. Why? It sounds sort of obnoxious when I say it, but I’m trying to be real. I lived in LA for five years, and I didn’t want to be mysterious. I don’t want people to feel I’m more interesting than them, or cooler. It’s about being myself and being okay with it, knowing that it might not always make me feel cool or mysterious. Well, fuck that. Life’s too short to worry about that.

Is authenticity and simplicity lacking in most mainstream music? As far as modern music, there is good music but, it’s a bit frustrating at times when popular songs are really hedonistic. I’m really into hedonism – getting drunk, having sex, having fun. Everyone needs to let loose and do that. But for example, I read Perez Hilton a lot. I’m addicted to celebrity gossip. It’s a guilty pleasure. He’s been doing a lot about bullying and young people killing themselves. And I sort of look at that and look at the music he champions. Shouldn’t music be about topics that are more about just looking good and having fun? Music should be about celebrating who you are and finding peace with who you are in this universe. If one of Black Eyed Peas’ songs come on, I can’t help tap my toes because of the beat. But they sing about True Religion jeans. These are jeans that cost two hundred dollars a pair. Why are we singing about it? Why is everything so vacuous?

There’s lots of to describe your sound. Who would you say is your biggest musical influences? Well, it’s weird. Because the stuff that I listen to that really moves me doesn’t necessarily influence what I sound like. When I was 14, Sarah McLachlan was a big influence. When I was 20, probably Liz Phair. Since then, it’s been the Grateful Dead. But the stuff that influences me is music that lets you go off in a place in your head and encourage your fans to befriend one another. I’ve got the Stevie Nicks comparison and that’s a huge compliment, but I wouldn’t say anyone really is an influence to me. I almost don’t listen to music, unless it’s the Grateful Dead. If I listen to artists that are in the same vein as me, I analyze what they’re doing and I feel like a jerk. It sort of ruins music for me.