We first met Lissie Maurus seven years ago when she stopped by our once glorious Guest Apartment, cramming into the tiny room and shaking the picture frames off the wall. The video feels a bit like a time capsule at this point...my oh my, have we come a long, long way in the production department. But the Rock Island IL native's voice is as big and bold as ever. Lissie is a country bred powerhouse...her voice careens off picturesque, Midwestern silos and echoes across the heartland. She's the product of her upbringing, and it shows in our newest session.
Swinging by our current hideout in Sunset Park Brooklyn, Lissie brought three songs from her most recent album, My Wild West. The album is an ode to her 2nd home in California, where she lived for the last ten years or so. It's dotted with tracks titled "Hollywood", "Wild West", and "Ojai". But she recently returned to her Midwestern roots, purchasing a farm and a pickup truck in rural Iowa (I guess that would pretty much be all of Iowa...). The way she described the place to us sounds idyllic; a country home where she can relax and reflect, bump around the fields in her truck, strum her guitar on the porch, and eventually build a studio in the barn where musical mates of all stripes could stop in for a visit and a jam session...a new adventure in her own personal, Wild (Mid) West.
Who knows what you'll find when you look inside? Haunted beach, roll the dice The zombies in the corner aren't amused Play the part of the blushing bride Tame the horse and take it for a ride This thread of consolation comes loose I could've been a hero, I could've been a zero Could've been all these things I could've been nothing, I could've been bluffing Could've been all these things And if I am unable, tell him that I'll try But underneath the table I will spin the wheel and hope for gold I've seen the road and I've seen it hide Out of view, cloaked by night I want my forty acres in the sun Bitter winds come in from the north My spirit dims, but I feel the force "No longer in my hands," I say to you I could've been a hero, I could've been a zero Could've been all these things I could've been nothing, I could've had something Could've been all these things And if I am unable, tell him that I'll try But underneath the table I will spin the wheel and hope for gold Oh, and where it stops, nobody knows Could've been, should've been, could've would've been should've been should've been Could've been, should've been, could've Would've been, I could've been a hero, I could've been a zero Could've been all these things I could've been nothing, I could've had something Could've been all these things And if I am unable, tell him that I'll try Underneath the table I hope for gold Where it stops, nobody knows - Hero was a song I wrote in the middle of finishing up songs. It came to me in this rush and I wrote it in two minutes, and that was a song I took to Curt Schneider, the producer that I worked with on My Wild West and said, "Hey, let's cut this song. " And some musicians came over and we did three takes and there you have it. Hero I felt I was exploring this concept of I'm not really interested in outcomes. I'm just trying to be part of this process and both realities, I'm a total loser and I'm amazing at the same time. And I have to be okay with that. Ojai is about Ojai, California. It was a pretty straightforward goodbye love song, in a way, to a town that was good to me over the years and really healed my soul. When I left Hollywood I was pretty battered, so ti was good to me. And I think Ojai is really about me recognizing, "I think it's time to go back to the Midwest. It's calling my name. I miss the seasons. I need some land. I need some space. I need to return to my roots. " But it was sad to leave but it was time. I've got a feeling like I'm almost there And I think I might belong somewhere As I cut these ties, I realize I've been disbelieving in my own heart And the deceiving is the hardest part And I feel the knowing that I must be going Ojai, I don't wanna leave you behind But you know that I made up my mind So goodbye; I know I'm gonna see you again And I'll be thinking of you until then, Ojai I miss the seasons, I miss the land I miss them for reasons I don't understand I took it all for granted I bloomed where I was planted Ojai, I don't wanna leave you behind But you know that I made up my mind So goodbye; I know I'm gonna see you again And I'll be thinking of you until then, Ojai Ojai, Ojai Ojai Ojai, I don't wanna leave you behind But you know that I made up my mind So goodbye; I know I'm gonna see you again And I'll be thinking of you until then, Ojai - Well, I had written some of the songs that are on My Wild West at the beginning of 2015. There's a few songs on it that are older than that. I had said, "Oh, I'm not gonna make an album. I'm just gonna finish up a couple songs that I'd started. " And so I went to L. A. , to Curt Schneider after I'd decided I'm moving, I'm preparing to leave California and go back to the Midwest, I'm just gonna finish up a few songs. And with that being my only goal, I didn't even have a release in mind. I just wanted to not let these songs get lost. I wanted to finish them. Then I started writing new songs and coming into the studio like, "Okay, well, now we've finished these songs, actually I have like one more song I want to do," and musicians would come in and we'd just track it live. My Wild West took on this almost concept album revealed to me in the process. It wasn't really conscious at the time that I was reflecting on the 12 years I spent on the west coast and in California. Even calling it My Wild West was a way for me to process and reflect on and move on from the 12 years that I did spend in California, which were probably gonna...someday I'll look back and say those were some of the best years of my life, for sure. I had so much fun. I just wanted to be able to get into a studio and see what happened, but that's expensive. So I wasn't really allowed to get in a studio and see what happened until a handful of people signed off on my songs. I didn't have the songs yet, and actually this new album, My Wild West, Don't You Give Up On Me, which is the single that's actually done better in the states than I've ever done before on radio, was a song that many people told me was just not a very good song. I was basically given the impression that the chorus just wasn't any good and that it needed to be a better song, and I cared and then I stopped caring, and then I made it anyway and now there you have it. It's doing all right. You set the sun, I feel your waves I look at the ocean, so big and brave Am I only a ghost? Cause what I fear the most is me I left you on the coast for something only I can see What kind of world will there be When I wake up from this dream? I hear you call so far away Just keep me close when I'm afraid And don't you give up on me As I dive into the dark Slip into the endless sea Don't you give up on me Are you swimming in the stars? Breathing in eternity Don't you give up on me You are the moon, I feel your weight You tug at the ocean, you help it change And you keep on reminding me of a darkness only I can see What kind of world will there be When I wake up from this dream? I hear you call so far away Just keep me close when I'm afraid And don't you give up on me As I dive into the dark Slip into the endless sea Don't you give up on me Are you swimming in the stars? Breathing in eternity Don't you give up on me Don't you give up on me now Don't you give up on me now Don't you give up on me now Don't you give up on me now Don't you give up on me now And don't you give up on me As I dive into the dark Slip into the endless sea Don't you give up on me Are you swimming in the stars? Breathing in eternity Don't you give up on me Don't you give up on me
Lissie Maurus is from here, this rounded part of the Land of Lincoln that most people still believe to be another part of Chicago because their mental map of Illinois ends at the suburbs, as that Aurora outlet mall fades into the eastern distance. Rock Island, Ill., probably gave her those carameled freckles that dot her cheeks. The blue collar town that shares the Mighty Mississippi River as a border with Iowa definitely fused into the young, natural blonde: her sass and her inability to be phony, to be anything other than a talker, a good hug, a warm and affectionate sweetie pie, a light-hearted sprite, a girl who hits the municipal pool or the freshwater lake frequently when the weather's right, a girl who eats cheeseburgers, drinks when she's happy and is sort of a son of a gun in sundresses and with a smoke between the fingers. Here is where the winters make you seek shelter for months because there are near unbearable situations like wind chill factors of 50 degrees below zero and summertime often brings with it such a thick humidity, fat with mosquitoes, that it melts people in half. It's where the U.S. government makes a ton of bullets and guns and it's a place that used to make way more farm implements that it does now. The floods that come down the river in the spring are epic.
All of these details and more are Lissie and the songs that she writes, that she put on this debut EP, Why You Runnin', on Fat Possum Records. Produced by friend Bill Reynolds, who just happens to be the bassist in Band of Horses, Lissie couldn't be more enchanting, or more of a person explaining the mystery of how she came to be full of that muddy river water, which along with it come the whiskered muskies, the bass and the bullheads that all swim through her body like the dark clouds and the passing driftwood. The five songs are stacked with the kind of billowing and rustic sentiments that come from broken hearts that have been patched as well as they can be, gaining that scar tissue that never makes them like new again, but gives them a refined personality, one that's subtle and powerful all in one fling. Lissie has all kinds of love in her heart and it comes out in resplendent and oaky waves, like the insides of a campfire doing a lot of talking, a lot of jumping leaving its smoke burrowing into your skin and clothing, where it reclines for days.
There are all these things that make these songs and her spirit possible, some of it in deference to that spirit: having a grandfather who was an international barbershop quartet champion, having a great-grandfather who was a train-jumping hobo on this famous Rock Island Line (the Cash song of the same name Lissie has played in hometown gigs), a father who delivered her at her birth, getting kicked out of high school, selling honey for living money upon coming to LA and an inability to separate herself from this Midwestern city where many just raise their families, get fat and die satisfied.
She lives by herself, with her dog, in a farmhouse in Ojai, Calif., where she tends to drink wine and will, on a whim, go to the store to buy paint for her rocks so she can construct a medicine wheel in her big backyard. She has all the time to listen to what's happening in her inner chambers, what's turning on and off her lights, what's giving her goosebumps and where she thinks she'll be led tomorrow. - - Sean Moeller, Daytrotter