Well Seasoned: Lissie, November 11 at Huckleberry’s Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 03 November 2009 16:34

Lissie. Photo by Andrew Calder.

It might be lemons and lemonade and all that, but Rock Island native Lissie Maurus said she's pleased that it's taken her this long to reach this point in her musical career.

Maurus (who performs under the name Lissie) spent half a decade in Los Angeles and, for the most part, made her living from music. But when she comes back to the Quad Cities for a Daytrotter.com show next week headlined by Sondre Lerche (see article here), she'll be supporting her first proper release.

Her debut, the EP Why You Runnin', will be out November 10 on the Fat Possum label, and it recalls the spacious intimacy of both Neko Case and Cat Power, with a spiritual thread on "Oh Mississippi" and some earthy fervor on "Little Lovin'." In her Daytrotter.com session last year, she revealed a different side with just her voice and an acoustic guitar -- more urgent, more naked.

The contrast between the two cover versions of "Wedding Bells" is instructive. The EP track is certainly pretty, with voices echoing like ghostly memories, but Lissie's lead vocal is nearly swallowed by the modest production. The Daytrotter recording is simple and plain but sounds spontaneous and authentic.

Whatever your preference, though, in both contexts Lisse sounds appropriately seasoned.

"I've had record deals that haven't worked out, and I've done recordings that have never been heard or released," she said in a phone interview last week. "I'm so glad that it's taken me this long to even be doing what I'm doing now, because if I'd have gotten a certain amount of attention when I was younger, I don't think I would have been ready for it." Plus, she said, her travels and her life have given "great fodder for my songs."

The EP is more of a beginning than a destination. She'll be supporting Ray LaMontagne on dates this month, she has a long-playing record almost finished, and she expects more songs to be released before that comes out.

She had previously opened for Lenny Kravitz and Badly Drawn Boy, but Why You Runnin' and the opening gigs are part of a long-term strategy. LaMontagne's audience seems like the "right fan base. ... It's a good match," Maurus said.

And the EP will serve as an introduction to the singer/songwriter for many people. "You just don't want to put it out without anyone having heard of you ... ," she said of her forthcoming album. "I feel like I'm on a good course now."

The EP was recorded with Band of Horses bassist Bill Reynolds, and Maurus said it benefited from developing organically. "When you make music without a specific goal in mind, I think it can sometimes just end up turning out better ... ," she said. "It's like tricking yourself in a way."

The songs on the EP also mark Lissie's development. She said she learned how to articulate her musical desires more clearly to her bandmates, and she gained confidence in her ideas.

"I came into my own there, being able to communicate about how I wanted something to sound in a way that I couldn't really ever do before," she said. "Music is not a tangible thing all the time," and trying to express what she wanted to hear could be frustrating.

The result, she said, is a recording with her fingerprints all over it.

"This EP actually sounds like me," she said. "It sounds like something I would sing and say and how I feel and the mood that I maybe felt when I was writing these songs. ... It's not about trying to please someone or sell something. It's just about: In this given moment, let's give the song the treatment it deserves and have a good time."

She also said that she doesn't regret that previous efforts haven't seen the light of day. "There's a ton of music that has been made that hasn't been right," she said. "I'm so glad I waited until now ... to officially release something."

Maurus has also escaped from Los Angeles. Returning from a recording session in Nashiville this past spring, she said, she realized she wanted to leave -- but didn't know where to go. "I really don't want to live here, but I feel like I have to because I need to be here for my music," she said. "It was like I felt trapped."

She chose a house in the small town of Ojai, California -- 90 minutes from the city -- and put down a deposit without visiting. She said it's cheaper than her L.A. apartment, it has a yard for her dog and a back porch, and it allows her to reconnect with herself and the land. She said she entered the town's chili contest (she didn't win) and likes to make pies.

"I'm kind of like a grandma at 26," she said.

Lissie will perform on Wednesday, November 11, at Huckleberry's, in a concert that also features Sondre Lerche and JBM. The show starts at 7 p.m., and cover is $10.

For more information on Lissie, visit MySpace.com/lissiemusic. To listen to her Daytrotter.com session, click here.