During her stop in New York, alt-country artist Lissie sat down and talked with QRO. In the conversation, Elisabeth Maurus talked about the tour, her biggest in the U.S. to-date, being sick on the tour – twice, her debut LP Catching a Tiger (QRO review), recording in a big studio, recording using Garage Band, covering non-country artists, dropping her ‘g’s, New Year’s at Twin Peaks, meeting David Lynch, meeting Brian Williams, and more…
QRO: How has this tour been going?
Elisabeth Maurus: It’s been going pretty well; the shows have gone well. My guitar player and I have both been battling being sick since New Year’s. ‘Cause we played in the northwest over New Year’s, and it was so cold that I got the flu, and then I had a cold, and then I had swollen glands, and then I had a sore throat…
And then I got better. We did the L.A. show and the Denver show, were great. Davenport, Iowa, which is close to where I’m from, that was great – a little weird, ‘cause when you know people at the shows, it’s always strange. You’re whole family and everyone you went to high school with is there.
But then Minneapolis was so cold that both Eric [Sullivan] & I got whooping cough – I don’t know if it was really whooping cough, but I call it whooping cough – I had a fever…
It was crazy ‘cause the adrenaline’ll kick in, and the shows will go great. Maybe you start out a little slow, but just because the crowd’s so enthusiastic, somehow your adrenaline overrides everything else, and you just snap into it. And then, as soon as you get off stage, you’re shivering, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, I forgot I had the flu…”
So just now I’m starting to feel better. I had a great interview with Brian Williams (NBC News), which was so cool, for his own blog that he does. It’s called ‘BriTunes’. He’s just a really funny, nice guy.
Luckily, my voice has been hanging in there, feeling pretty good.
I’d say that this tour has been a success. We did a really short tour in October, and had to cancel half of it. So this one, I feel like we’re halfway through, we’re all starting to get healthy. And [New York] will be a big show, ‘cause it’s in the big city. So I’m probably more nervous about New York than, say, the other ones seem to just flow effortlessly.
So the tour has been a success. The reviews have been good. Most of the shows have been sold-out – pretty much all of them, except for Denver, were sold-out. So that’s a nice feeling, to know that people know who we are.
QRO: Is this your biggest tour to-date?
EM: In the U.S., yeah. Overseas, we can do pretty big rooms, and have been touring there a lot, in the last year. So, like, say in Oslo, we’ll do two nights in a three thousand-person venue.
Not our biggest, but definitely in the U.S., our biggest success to-date.
QRO: It does seem like you’ve done more touring and stuff in Europe, specifically England, than America…
EM: That’s mostly because I’m signed to Columbia in the U.K. I was signed with them first. There wasn’t a label in the U.S. that I was on, so I was free to be with Fat Possum here. Just ‘cause I was signed with Columbia first, and they bankrolled the album and everything, I sort of had a commitment to promote the album there first, as a U.K.-based artist.
So that’s sorta how it all started. And then different parts of Europe started getting on board, and the U.S., sort of not… we wanted to be over here, but we didn’t have the time in our schedule.
We’ve got a really wide fanbase [in U.K.] We’ve got older folks, and thirty-somethings, and then we’ve got the late teens, who are the ones who tweet me, “OMG, my life would be OVER if I can’t make it to the Lissie concert” “I’m completely gutted! I can’t go to the concert! My life is OVER!” And I haven’t seen as much of that happening in the States.
But it is funny. I’ll get recognized some times, and people will want their picture with me. It’s so weird…
QRO: Has this tough month of weather messed with your plans at all?
EM: We’ve been all right. When we were driving from Minneapolis to Chicago, it was snowing, and it took us a long time. And I was just hacking up my lungs in the back.
QRO: I’m hoping you weren’t driving then…
EM: [laughs] No, I haven’t driven yet.
We have had tour buses in the past, but I would just rather be in a van and stay in a hotel. That’s more my style.
[drummer Stuart Wilkinson comes in]
Our drummer, Stuart, just flew over from England. He came to the L.A. show, and then is playing [the New York] one and the Boston one, but the rest of the tour’s been a three-piece.
QRO: So you haven’t expanded your ‘operation’ for this tour?
EM: The L.A. one and [New York] one are bigger rooms, but a lot of the other ones are a couple-hundred [capacity]; I think Minneapolis was like five-to-eight hundred, so that was a bigger one.
We did the three-piece thing for a long time, so we can still pull it off. But definitely having Stuart – he’s such a great drummer. It really adds a whole other level.
QRO: What was it like, playing an Indian casino, on New Year’s Eve [Snowqualimie Casino in Seattle]?
EM: It was interesting. That the beginning of me being sick.
‘Cause we really love Twin Peaks, and it was in the town, North Bend, where they shot a lot of it. So we went to the café from the TV show, but it was completely remodeled, so didn’t look like it. But it did on the outside.
And after we ate there, I just started feeling awful. There was an oxygen tank in our dressing room – I don’t know why there was an oxygen tank in our dressing room, but I was taking my blood pressure, doing oxygen, ‘cause I’m like, “What is wrong with me?” I thought maybe it was the Twin Peaks coffee that made me go crazy…
So I started feeling sick that day, so it was actually really over-stimulating. ‘Cause we would go into the casino floor, and it’s just so… lights, sounds…
For me, because I was sick, I didn’t really get crazy and into it. I just sort of sat in the dressing room until it was time to play, and played, and the adrenaline kicked in, and the show was great, and the crowd was excited.
It was weird because there were three bands that played; we were the second band. And we got paid really, really well for it. It wasn’t like people were really there to see me, so it wasn’t like it was my own show. But it paid better than one of my own shows…
The people weren’t quite as crazy as I thought. I don’t really know who goes to casinos on New Year’s. It was a fun crowd; they dropped balloons at midnight. I kinda ‘wheeled myself out’ at midnight, just for the balloons to drop on me, and then I went back and threw up, covered myself in a blanket and shivered.
You know, really, at this point, any show’s cool. I love my band; I have fun with them.
The guy that I’ve been dating has been working with us, too. So he’s been coming on the tour. That’s nice – I just feel like I’ve got a good ‘family’ vibe on the road. We have fun wherever we are.
QRO: How does touring as headliner compare to previously touring as opener?
EM: We opened up for City & Colour [at Webster Hall – QRO venue review] last January. I was sort of like,
It’s nice, ‘cause you get to play longer sets. When you open, you play like six songs – you’re just getting started, it seems like. Three songs in, you’re finally getting in your groove, and then you’re almost done. So playing longer sets, getting to play more songs is fun.
Having the banter, the interaction – if I have a crowd that’s willing to interact with me, I love talking to them. If they’re not, either my talk’s awkward, or I just don’t talk much. But doing your own show, they’re there to see you, so they kind of engage you more, yell things out – you kind of almost have a conversation with people on stage, and it’s a lot of fun.
So playing to your own fans is good. ‘Cause we’ve gotten really lucky with opening up to bands whose crowds took to us, but there were a few times overseas where we opened for Josh Radin – who’s a great guy; he was really sweet – but there were a couple places where his crowd, just you could tell they were wanting him to come out. And it just sort of breaks your heart, as an opener, ‘cause you just feel like you’re playing to a brick wall.
We’ve gotten lucky – I’d say 99.9% of the time, it’s great. But headlining is good. It’s your night, your people.
QRO: In addition to Stuart, who’s in the rest of your band?
EM: Eric Sullivan plays guitar, lead guitar, and sings. Lewis Keller plays bass, and when Stuart’s not with us, we do the three-piece, so Lewis does the bass, but he also does kick-drum, high-hat, and snare with his feet, and sings, and plays bass. One-man band…
QRO: How did making Catching a Tiger compare to making initial EP Why You Runnin’ (QRO review)?
EM: Well the first EP was done… I didn’t know I was working on an EP. I was good friends with Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses), and we did “Wedding Bells” literally as a demo – I sang and played it once; we put two things on it. It was done on a laptop in my home office. And the reverb that we used was on Garage Band.
We did it so minimally, and everybody was like, “That sounds so good!” And we’re all like, “Oh, yeah, well, thanks…” And so pretty much whenever Bill & I could, we’d just get together to make music and see what happens. Over the course of maybe six months or a year, we’d get together every so often. I went to Asheville, North Carolina; he came out to Ojai (California), where I live now. And we just recorded a bunch of songs.
In August of 2009, I talked to Matthew Johnson at Fat Possum, and said, “I have these songs with Bill Reynolds, and my album’s not coming out in the U.K. until next year.” These were different songs than what I thought was gonna be on the album; this was a separate thing, almost. And I said, “Would you put this EP out in November?” And he’s like, “Yeah, let’s do it!”
And that’s how the Fat Possum thing started. I got involved with Matthew, I took the songs I’d been working on with Bill, plus a demo I did of “Old Mississippi” – that literally was just the writing demo that turned out to be ‘the version’; I re-recorded it, but I just stayed with the demo.
The EP came out in November 2009. I had already sort of recorded most of the album that earlier spring with Jacquire King. And that was like, I went into it knowing what songs I was gonna do, knowing what exactly the timeline was: we were going to work from eleven to eleven, Monday through Friday, take the weekends off; these were the musicians, they were coming for a month, and then I was going to stay there for another two months for mixing, overdubs, and singing, and blah-blah-blah.
The album was like, we knew what we were doing with the album. It was approached with like, ‘Okay, this is the timeframe, these are the songs.’ And there was still spontaneity in that the musicians and I just like ‘jammed’, and that was how we came up with the arrangements for the production on the song.
The album was very intentional, and lot of the EP happened sort of accidentally. So then when it came time to put the album together, you know I was so in love with so much of the EP; and also, Bill & I had done a couple more songs together. So the album became a combination of EP stuff, and Bill stuff, and then Jacquire stuff. It all sort of sits together. It’s very diverse, when you listen to the record – each song’s a little different; some are sparser, others are more produced.
But it happened in this two-year time period, where I had gone through a break-up, I was writing a lot. The spirit embodied in all the songs was all very much in tune with one another.
But it was funny – the EP was kind of a happy little accident, whereas the album, there was months of preparing going into it, because it was going to cost a lot of money. We rented a house and brought gear into the house for the Nashville thing, so we really had to be smart, because it was going to be expensive.
Whereas with Bill, it’s like, “Oh, I’ve got a laptop and Garage Band…” He had some microphones – we live together in Ojai now; he’s my roommate. And he just buys more & more gear, so my office slowly has become like a little studio. But sometimes we’ll actually just switch from ProTools back to Garage Band, because it somehow has this simpler sound to it.
QRO: So what was behind some of the songs of the EP being on the LP?
EM: The EP didn’t come out in the U.K. And so, when we were putting the album together, and people were starting to get to know me – I’d gone on Jools Holland and done “Oh Mississippi”, and I had done something for the BBC where I had played “Little Lovin'”, even though those weren’t really going to be on the album at first, because I’d been playing them and people were responding to them, I was like, “Why don’t I have all of these on the album?”
Me putting those on the album was also more sort of also for the U.K., ‘cause they never got the EP. And you don’t want to go and then do a different album for the U.S.
QRO: Are there any songs that you particularly like playing live?
EM: Yeah, I really like playing “In Sleep”, because I love the guitar solo at the end. A lot of what I’m doing now, I feel like I’m always singing at people, the whole song, so songs where I get kind of a break, to sort of step back and let Eric go off on a guitar solo, is always fun for me.
“Little Lovin'”, “In Sleep”… We do a cover of [Kid Cudi’s] “Pursuit of Happiness”, which is always fun ‘cause the crowd just goes crazy. I like to play “Everywhere I Go”, just ‘cause I feel like that’s such a tender ‘moment’, and I can really get into the right headspace. And the crowds are so great – they’ve been so silent for the quiet songs.
It’s almost hard to choose one.
Lissie playing “Everywhere I Go” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on January 28th, 2011:
QRO: Are there any that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, or just don’t like to play live?
EM: There’s some that we haven’t really worked on, just ‘cause we haven’t really had time to go off and practice, we’ve just been consistently on tour. Like “Stranger” – I’ve never figured out how to play “Stranger”. Because it was done on an omnichord, and I pretty much just sang on it, so I never really figured out how to play it, and have never played it live. People have called for it, and I’m just like, “Yeah, I don’t know how to play that song…” [laughs]
[note: Someone did call out for “Stranger” at her Webster Hall show…]
We never do “Lookaway”, and I’m not sure why. Love “Lookaway”. That’s one of those that I think – occasionally, I’ll do a song by myself; not very often, but that’s sort of one of those songs that I’d do by myself, if I had a little more time with that one. Break up the flow of what’s going on.
QRO: Considering the overlap between the two records, and the size of venues you’re playing now, do you have to play every song that you now, and/or add other pieces, like covers or new material?
EM: We have a couple covers that we’ve done. We always like to do a cover, just ‘cause we’ve gotten a lot of fans from playing covers, you know? People yell out, “”Pursuit of Happiness”!” without fail, after every song at every show. We do it, ‘cause I know people want it, and it’s a fun moment.
We could do more of my original stuff to fill up the time. I feel as though I have plenty of songs – I have so many songs; I have still songs I need to teach my band. I probably have another twenty songs that people don’t know that I would start doing, but we’re still sort of running on the last year of playing the record.
So I think when we finally do take a break, and just get together to play as a band, and practice, and hang out, we’ll probably bring more songs in – that might not even be on the second album. ‘Cause soundcheck isn’t really long enough to work on new songs.
QRO: After the CMJ show in New York in October, has Dylan LeBlanc finally learned the words to Townes Van Zandt’s “Waitin’ Around To Die”?
EM: [laughs] I felt so bad! Basically, I had been playing it in soundcheck as like an, ‘Oh, should I do this one?’, because it’s one that I do like to do. And this guy Rob, who’s a fan of ours, who’d been to every show on that tour, and he kept saying, “Please do “Waitin’ Around To Die”, please do “Waitin’ Around To Die”…” And we canceled most of the tour, but we still did New York. So I knew he was going to be there. I’m like, “We’ve got to do “Waitin’ Around To Die” for Rob, because he’s been so loyal to us, and come to every show and asked for it…”
So Dylan heard me singing it, “Oh, I love that song!” “Oh, you wanna sing it with me?” And he was like, “Sure!” And then we get up to do it, and he knew the words, but then, in the context of singing it with me, and knowing them in the order they go in, he was like, “Wait – maybe I don’t know the words to this song…”
And he was like, “Maybe I shouldn’t do it, maybe I shouldn’t do it…”, and I’m like, “You’ve gotta do it!” I really bullied him into doing it. I put him on the spot, and I was like, “You can just hold your iPhone while you do it…”
I felt bad. I was like, “Oh, I totally bullied you into doing that, when you weren’t wanting, didn’t really want to do it…”
I don’t know if he’s learned the words – I haven’t made him do it again…
QRO: What’s with you and dropping your ‘g’ – Why You Runnin‘, “A Little Lovin'”, “Waitin’ Around To Die”?…
EM: Well, you know, it’s funny – if I was to spell or write, I guess I sort of ‘write how I talk.’ And I do find that I say, ‘How ya’ doin’?’ – I wouldn’t say, ‘How are you doing?’ I guess I would say, ‘I’m gonna go running’, but there might be instances where I might say, ‘runnin’.’
So it’s not like a premeditated, stylistic choice. I notice I try to like – ‘How do I talk?’ Or ‘How do I say it?’ And then I just find myself, if I’m writing it out, I just put the apostrophe at the end of the ‘n’, instead of the ‘g’.
I mean even “Catching a Tiger”, and I think I said, “Catchin’ a tiger.” But then I made the choice, ‘I should say, “Catching a tiger” – be more formal on the title…’
QRO: Why did you decide to also cover some decidedly non-country/folk artists, like Kid Cudi (QRO album review) and Lady Gaga?
EM: ‘Cause I like so much different music!
I know when I put my EP out, people thought, ‘Oh, here’s this new folky, sparse, blah-blah-blah…” And then my album came out, and it was more produced – and I think some people were like, ‘Well, what is it – this or that?’
But it’s not one or the other. People are just getting to know me.
So when I choose a cover, it’s basically… Kid Cudi, for example, I was with my friend last summer, just driving around in Rock Island – “Rollin’ the Midwest side” is what he says in the song. And she put that song on, and I’m like, “This is such a good song!” And I’d heard of Kid Cudi, but didn’t know the song.
And so we just kept listening to it, over & over. We’d just gone out for daiquiris – it’s like three in the morning, there’s nobody on the roads in Rock Island. We’re sort of having this night & this moment – the song was narrating our night. And I’m like, “This song is so awesome!” When I lived there, I was sort of defiant, and like, “People told me slow my roll / I’m screaming out, ‘Fuck that!’” I was just like, “This is awesome – I gotta cover this song!”
And so I ended up covering it, and then we recorded it at a show we did in Brighton, England, and put it online. Since then, it’s just become a little bit of a ‘calling card’ for us.
And the Lady Gaga one (“Bad Romance”), I’ve always really liked that song. I think the lyrics are good, I think the chord progression – I just think it’s a really well written song about an unhealthy relationship. Who doesn’t, somewhat, relate to that?
I’ve got a lot of weird tastes. We’ll probably cover a Grateful Dead (QRO photos) song. The Grateful Dead is probably one of my favorite bands – I don’t sound like them; no one would say, ‘Oh, you remind me of The Grateful Dead…’ But, they’re one of my favorite bands, and there’s a lot of their songs where the words do really speak to me.
QRO: Do you have any new material?
EM: I sort of ‘half’ have new material. A lot of stuff is half-finished. Talking about my schedule with my manager, it’s like I’m really gonna try to take some time off, ‘cause I’m gonna try to have my album finished by November, but I’m on tour pretty much through June. So it might come July, it might be, ‘Oh, we only have four months left!’, and I might be scrambling.
I write down ideas, and little bits of melodies, and certain lyrics, but for me to really finish a song, and get in the zone, where I really feel this song, I mean what I’m saying, I need to have space, and time alone – a bit of room to reflect and think about what it is that I’m trying to say.
I have this one song I’ve been working on, that I just, in soundcheck one night started sort of playing, my band was noodling around on it. But it was just an idea. And I have to finish the lyrics. I don’t like to force lyrics – I wait them to come to me. And if them come to you when you’re busy, you can’t really always catch them in time. So I need to go home and do nothing, so if they come to me, I’ll be ready to write ‘em down.
QRO: Do you play any new material live, or other, older, non-released material?
EM: Anything new that I’m starting to write isn’t ready to be played live yet.
And also, if it is close to being finished, or could be finished with the band, there just hasn’t been an opportunity to do it.
I have older songs that aren’t on the album, that I haven’t taught my band. But that are done, that I liked to do, but I wanna focus on the album. Because, you know, when you go see a band play, you can send them away with the EP and the album – they have everything right there that they need to relive the concert. And they can find the covers online. So to do a song that they can’t get, I sometimes wonder… I mean, it’s nice, but maybe wait until they can get it as well.
Because then also, if it’s not quite finished, and it’s online – if somebody tapes it… I just want it to be done – I don’t want it to be half-done, and then for the wrong version of it, people like it, ‘cause then I wouldn’t be able to change it. Then I’d be like, ‘Well, they like it like this – now I can’t change it…’
QRO: So after this tour is done, you’re going back to Europe?
EM: When this is done, February 10th, then we’ll go do one more show in Santa Barbara, I think on Valentine’s Day.
And then I’m gonna take a little time off – my sister’s having a baby, so I’m throwing her a baby shower. So I’m taking three or four weeks off. I’m sure there’ll be some things – I might go do some writing; I might do some co-writing.
And then March 8th, I think, March 7th, we go back to Europe for like a month. Then we’ll have a couple weeks off. When we go to Europe, we’ll be in like France, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany. We’ll do like a three-to-four week European tour, and then we’ll have a couple more weeks off – at that point my sister will be actually having her baby. So I’ll go home for that, back to Illinois, where I’m from.
So I’m sort of going to be between California and Illinois for the baby, and then we’ll go to Australia on the end of April. And spend like three weeks there, opening as well as doing some headlining stuff. ‘Cause apparently there’s some momentum building there – I haven’t been there yet.
So we’ll do that, and we’ll do some festivals in June. We were talking about doing a bunch of festivals in the summer, but unless I get some really great opportunity, I’m gonna have to say no. If it’s a really great slot, or we’re getting paid really well – not that I’m ‘money hungry’, but getting paid helps me go towards recouping my record deal and stuff. ‘Cause spent a lot money advertising, and paying to make the album, and all the things that go along with it.
So you try to get a lot of work done, get exposure, but I’m gonna have to sorta start to reel in the touring & over-scheduling, ‘cause I need to finish my songs & record my album?…
I still love all my songs; I still enjoy playing them. But you do kinda get, ‘Okay – I have some new things I wanna say; I need to find the time to ‘catch’ them…’
QRO: Do you notice a difference between European and U.S. audiences?
EM: Not in so many words that I could say, definitely. ‘Cause the U.S. is so big – even in the U.S., certain crowds talk more, and some crowds will interact more, and some crowds are shyer. Different parts of the country – or maybe some nights, they’re just drunker…
But people are so different around the U.S., I find. When we first started playing in the U.K., I thought, ‘Wow, people are really quiet & very polite’ – but then we got our own fans, and they just are all about the same now.
I think if you’re more south in England, the crowds tend to be a little bit more shy or something? The more north you go, the crazier you get. If you go up to Scotland, they’re crazy & awesome; Ireland, the same thing, Northern Ireland, the same thing; and the northern parts of England. When you’re kind of further down, they’re a little bit more reserved.
But, like I said, now that we have our own fans, they’re all just crazy and awesome.
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing?
EM: I’ve really always just enjoyed playing Norway, because the crowds there just love us and are so good to us. And I always feel like somebody is giving me something – a pair of jeans, a necklace…
The people there just really seem happy. Because they have all that oil money. It’s just a really nice, clean, happy place. The food is always really good quality – it’s not like you’re going to find some crappy food, and that’s all you can find. ‘Cause sometimes you’re traveling, and you’re just like, ‘Okay, I’ll eat that, even though it’s disgusting – I’m hungry…’ Norway’s just nice – we’re taken care of. Everything about it just is pleasant.
And I really liked going to Toronto. I felt like they were really laid back. I had a lot of promo, but the way that they approached it was really easy and calm. It wasn’t like crazy, crazy neurotic…
I love Paris – we only played there once, but I just love that city. I did a semester there at college, so to go back was like, ‘Oh, I love it here!…’
And I love playing in L.A., ‘cause that’s where I like ‘honed my skills’, played around in bars for years & years. This past time, I got to play the Henry Fonda, which was so exciting.
It’s hard to pick one. Hometown shows I like ‘cause I get to see people. They’re not really my favorite shows, ‘cause they know me, they’re not really as attentive – they get a little hyper. But I still like it ‘cause it’s a good way for me to see family & friends.
New York’s great – I haven’t played [it] a ton. It is just harder to get around, though. There’s more stress involved. It’s not like you can just pull up in your van – it’s hard to find anywhere to park. And if you want to go from one place to the next, you want to go back to the hotel after soundcheck, by the time you get back there, it’s gonna be time to come back.
But I like the energy of New York. It’s like ‘an honor’ to get to play here – makes me feel cool.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
EM: I don’t know… It’s all little things, like trying to move the seats around in the van, and them becoming unattached, and no one knowing how to put it back in. And spending an hour laughing at how useless we are at doing things, sometimes. Sometimes there’s just little, frustrating things, that might actually make you really pissed off in some settings, but then you stand back and look at the comedy, sometimes, that is your life. Because you are really just trying to eat, sleep, not lose your voice & stay healthy. Your life becomes so basic that all these little things, you just have to laugh at.
At the beginning of this tour, David Lynch came to our show – and Katy Perry (QRO album review). So I got to meet both of them. He came and talked to us, and is a huge fan. And then today, Brian Williams is another one of our huge fans. I think that knowing that these people you respect & admire… It’s almost like I’m afraid to meet them, because they’re so excited about me, and I think, ‘Oh, I’m such a dork!’ I don’t want them to meet me and for me to ruin it…
Even though I know that sounds like a ‘star worshipper’ or something, but it’s sorta, kinda cool when someone like David Lynch or Brian Williams, who aren’t like your everyday celebrities – they’re interesting people are like ‘super-fans’. Just these really smart, interesting, intelligent, kinda quirky personalities – and they just love me & my band.
And not just me, but my band. They love my guys. And I think that’s always nice seeing my band getting all the recognition they deserve. Because sometimes, if you’re a lead girl singer, people just see [me], but the band is very much a part of what goes on.
Lissie playing “Bully” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on January 28th, 2011: