"I had lived in L.A. for about a year and a half and was a little bit disillusioned by the lack of camaraderie or community with trying to do live shows," says singer/songwriter Lissie. (She was born Elisabeth Maurus but her stage name suits her: fun, a little bit girly, not too serious, completely disarming.) "I met the guys from Scrappy Hamilton, they were my neighbors and became some of my best friends."
The guys from Scrappy Hamilton moved to Los Angeles from Asheville — not so different from Lissie, who relocated from Rock Island, Ill., a town of about 40,000 people. The small-town transplants banded together with other artists and musicians living in Beachwood Canyon, a neighborhood Lissie describes as "vibey, with some nature and hiking trails."
At the time, she was working at a bar called Cranes, where "no one seemed to go but it was a really cool place, so we started this thing every Wednesday night called Beachwood Rockers Society." Kind of like a songwriters’ night where all the performers went on to get label deals and tours. "Everyone was so talented and it was cool to watch everyone grow over the years," says Lissie. "Now all of us have our memories of those times but we're getting to be proper musicians." The guys from Scrappy Hamilton formed Truth & Salvage Co.; Lissie became, well, Lissie, releasing her full-length debut, Catching a Tiger, on Columbia Records in the UK and Europe and on Fat Possum here in the states.
"I spent most of last year overseas," she says, sounding a bit amazed. (Lissie often gets asked, in interviews, about the time she was kicked out of school — she’s that girl — but she also admits to getting carsick, which is pretty much the antithesis to the touring rock star image.) "Running into a friend who said they heard you in the grocery store, playing a concert that sells out, it's a lot of little bits that make you feel like, 'Okay, this is going well,'" she says.
Lissie's Tiger is a polished but wholly likable collection of '60s and '70s-tinged jangly pop-rock. There's a coiled energy in Lissie's voice that's still young and barely contained. Sometimes she almost seems to get away from herself: Tracks like "Record Collector" and “Little Lovin'" prance with abandon, all coltish and wild. Of course, these moments of lost control are also some of the album's best. And it was another Asheville musician — Bill Reynolds of Band of Horses — who first captured Lissie's sound.
A friend of the Scrappy Hamilton/Truth & Salvage members, "He would come out to L.A. to work. At first when I met him I thought, 'Who is this guy? He thinks he's so cool,'" says Lissie. Then one day she added some melodies to some instrumental sketches Reynolds was working on and "we sorted of bonded over that experience.” They covered “Wedding Bells” by Hank Williams and realized they had a good working connection, so Reynolds completed her EP, Why You Runnin'. (In fact, their bond is now so tight they're roommates, sharing Lissie's house, though their individual touring schedules mean they're rarely home at the same time.)
Some of the songs on both Runnin’ and Tiger (which followed the EP) were recorded in Asheville's Echo Mountain Studios (“Little Lovin’,” “Everywhere I Go,” “Bully” and “Stranger” credit Reynolds as producer), but the rest of Tiger was produced by Jacquire King (who's worked with the likes of Tom Waits, Kings of Leon and Norah Jones).
"Bill's more of a mad man — In a good way," Lissie says of Reynolds. "When I talk about recording in an abstract way, he knows what I mean." She credits King with bringing her to a level of professionalism because "he had already done so many great albums and he knows it takes a lot of hard work and showing up on time. Every day at 11:30 I was ready to go. I knew what my thoughts were for the day and what I wanted to work on."
Structure, formality, a coach-style working relationship and being "rad" are what she attributes to King, though she's quick to add that Reynolds will produce her next album because "now I've learned the professionalism, and sometimes certain people just complement each other."
About that next album: Right now it's just in the idea stage. She has until November to record and will be on tour until August. "The lyrics aren't coming to me as quickly," she says of her current writing process. "I find I'm writing about different things that require a bit more time." So, probably not as many references to romantic angst (“I asked nicely please get out of my face, excuse me I’m not yours, I am mine,” she sings on “Stranger”), and no guarantees that the '60s and '70s sounds — the jangle, the slow-driving beats, the hand claps — will be repeated. "Musically, I don't think I'm nostalgic for the past," she says. "I never really tried to go for anything in my recording." It was about honoring the song, she explains. And it still is.
What Lissie is looking forward to is recording her second full-length album with her band, who she's been playing with for a year now. No more studio musicians — that's one change — and "I'm not going to be complaining as much about guys. I'm sort of over that."
— Alli Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.
who: Lissie (with Dylan LeBlanc)
where: The Orange Peel
when: Wednesday, Feb. 2 (8 p.m., $12 advance/$15 doors. theorangepeel.net)