Lissie

“I gotta keep my identity and focus on what I can do,” Lissie sings on the chorus of Shameless, the first single from her new album, Back to Forever. We met with the American folk rock singer to talk about that focus, her Scandinavian ancestry, and Bruce Springsteen.

When we meet with Lissie in a large room with a bar in a Stockholm rock club, she jokes about it being her biggest dressing room ever. She turns out to be a very likeable and modest person, who puts greater value in authenticity than glamorous rock’n’roll life.

I read that you have some Scandinavian ancestry; can you tell me about that?
– My grandma sent me some information about that actually, let me look in my phone, she says and picks up her phone to read an e-mail about her Swedish history.

– Actually all of my mom’s family were Swedish. But this was like a hundred years ago. When I’m in Sweden though, and tell people I’m Swedish, they’re like “No you’re not, you’re American”. I had a great great grandpa that was a professor at Uppsala University. My family moved to America when the great famine was in Sweden.

Have you been to Stockholm before?
– Yes I’ve been here like five times. And when I was younger I had a Swedish boyfriend that I used to visit. But I’ve been to Norway like thirty times, I’m really big there.

How do you think the Californian surroundings have shaped your music?
– Well, I’m from Illinois originally, so I grew up in the mid-west and I think growing up in the middle of the U.S. is different from growing up in the coasts. It’s what they call the heartland; you know football and Christianity. So I think my Illinois roots have influenced me more than my Californian.

– People where I’m from are pretty straightforward, trying to do the right thing. I was raised in an area where material things weren’t that important. It’s the no frills, no bullshit people who lives there. Family is really important. Even for me, always wanting attention as a kid was kind of frowned upon. You were meant to work together and support each other, and I always drew attention to myself and got into trouble at school.

– I think my roots have helped me stay grounded, and made my music pretty straightforward. The lyrics are direct and literal, you know what I’m talking about immediately. The folder in my new CD has photos of me in my background surroundings.

The business of it can be a pain
in the ass, but I love making
music and it’s what I want to do.

I love your cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way. Is that the kind of music you listen to, old rock and pop music?
– I really listen to a lot of everything. In high school, when I just got my driver’s license I was in to classic rock. I used to put on Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, and Rolling stones. It was what I acquainted with freedom and getting my driver’s license. I had a pick-up truck and drove down the road, turning up the music.

–  I’ve also listened to a lot of gangster rap and country. I’ve always liked Sheryl Crowe and Fiona Apple. Fleetwood Mac I’ve started to listen to in the last few years actually, it started with people telling me my voice sounds like Stevie Nicks’. People told me that almost too often, which made me want to listen to them. They’re great.

Have you met them?
– No, I haven’t. I’ve been close to Stevie Nicks at a concert though. I could almost touch her, but I didn’t want to bother her.

Is there an artist or band whose music you wish you’d done?
– There’s an artist called Bobby Gentry who made a song called Old Billie Joe, from the late sixties, which I really like. She was such a good lyricist and great singer, and she had such a cool style with great productions and instrumentation on her albums. Although most people don’t know who she is, when I listen to her album, I think ‘I wish I could write music like this woman’. She’s such a good story teller; she uses great details and really paints the picture. She quit music because she thought it was a pain in the ass.

But you don’t?
– No, I mean the business of it can be a pain in the ass, but I love making music and it’s what I want to do.

Lissie. Photo by Victoria Stillwell.
Lissie. Photo by Victoria Stillwell.

What keeps you going?
– Good things happen along the way that keeps you doing better and better. The live shows are really my strong suit. The ninety minutes we’re on stage together we have such a good time. I have such a sweet, awesome, talented, kind family of a band too. We get to travel and meet lots of nice people. It’s really all I know how to do, so I just keep doing it.

I was just going to ask you, if you didn’t do this, what do you think you would do?
– If I’m having a hard time or if things aren’t going my way I lie in bed and ask myself the same question. But I think I would want to simplify my life as much as possible. I would want to do something in nature, like learn the names of different plants and their purposes and medicinal uses. It’s called a naturalist. I really like the idea of surviving in the wild. So that’s my back-up plan, she says with a laugh.

– By doing music I feel like I’m connecting with people and filling a purpose in life, I’m giving other people something meaningful. So that’s why I, if I didn’t do this, would want to work with helping the environment, teaching or volunteering. I would want to simplify my life and help others and not want materialistic things.

I’m not doing it to shock
anyone or to be famous or cool.
I just try to enjoy my life

What’s your dream collaboration musically?
– There are so many, but I would say Bruce Springsteen. Making a duet with him. I’m working on it, she says laughing.

What song would you want to sing with him?
– He and Patti Smith did Because the Night which was pretty cool. He also did this album called Nebraska, maybe I would do some oh’s and ah’s on that. I like that album, it’s pretty stripped down.

What’s the aim of your music?
– Maybe it sounds selfish, but this is something I’ve liked doing since I was a kid, and naturally have been inclined to do. It’s a way for me to basically process my emotions, analyse my relationships, and sort through my experiences. So I just want to stay true to what motivates me. My aim is to be as authentic as possible; play real music and speak my truth depending on what I’m going through, it might be really positive or negative or political or silly. Just continue to process my shit. That way I get to meet a lot of people whom I relate to, and it feels like I’m helping them to go through some shit too. I’m not doing it to shock anyone or to be famous or cool. I just try to enjoy my life and be loyal to my muses, and not worry too much of what I should do.

Listen to Lissie’s latest album Back to Forever here.

Photos by Victoria Stillwell.