It's no wonder Lissie Maurus titled her debut album Catching A Tiger. The last year or so has probably felt something like taming a wild beast...making the impossible, possible. From Mississippi roots in Rock Island Illinois to the dry heat of the Californian desert-scape, Lissie's letting dusty Americana riffs, deep soulful vocals and sometimes surprisingly poppy tendencies lead her to the kind of places I doubt she thought much about when she first picked up a guitar. Right now, that means England...her home base over the last few months. In this exclusive interview with the budding young musician we also learn a little bit about some of the inspirations that fuel her heartfelt music, and the experiences that have rained upon her as a result.
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