Elisabeth Corrin Maurus, known as LISSIE, is a musician with authentic and genuine talent. Type “Lissie” into YouTube and you’ll likely be moved by her solo performances of her songs with acoustic guitar and vocals as those with her full band in a studio. Her first record as an independent artist, and third studio album, My Wild West, was released in 2016 and went on to receive critical acclaim. Her fourth studio album Castles, was released worldwide in March 2018. She has reached audiences worldwide with her unique blend of strong vocal presence, catchy melodies, and honest songwriting. LISSIE was gracious to answer a few questions for FRONTRUNNER this past week.
Tell me a little about your songwriting process. Do you strum the guitar or can you write it out? Does the melody get stuck in your head? Do you spend more time on the lyrics in stages or do they come out as they ultimately end up?
These days, I get little snippets of melodies and words that come when I’m engaged in other tasks, like doing the dishes, cleaning, gardening, etc.. Those get hummed into my voice memos and are revisited later. When I sit down with a guitar, it’s usually to figure out the chords to something that’s been swimming around my head. When I’m making an album I primarily write with other people though. That process can vary. A lot of times, my co-writer will feed me some chords and musical progressions that I start to vocally noodle melodies over. Once I whittle down the melody parts (verse, chorus, bridge, background vocal ideas) then I flesh out the lyrics. A lot of times there is a stream of consciousness lyrical skeleton that can be built on and expanded. The best thing is when an entire song just appears to me in one full swoop but that is rare!
You have lived in England and gotten a taste for Europe and the U.K., California, and now Iowa. What are some of the things you always wanted to do in those places and have or haven’t done?
I never really “lived” in England but have spent a lot of wonderful and creative time there over the past decade. I’ve toured Western Europe extensively and have also spent a lot of time in Norway. I grew up in the Midwestern US, spent a couple of years in Colorado and then 12 years in Southern California. I have been back in Iowa now for the past 5 years. In general my travels are for touring and recording with not a lot of leisure time built in. When I do get days off, I tend to rest and catch up on calls, etc.
When I think of my time in Norway for example, while I have done a bit, I really hope to be able to spend more time in nature, hiking and exploring. I know that there is so much pastoral, rural beauty in the UK as well. I hope that in my travels, I’m able to build in more exploration of each locales natural wonders. When it comes to being home, I also tend to use that time to regroup. I’m hoping to explore more of the gems of the prairie so to speak of living in the Driftless region of NE Iowa.
Cool to hear your songs on piano. Tell me about how the idea of taking some of your band songs to a sparser and piano & vocal arrangement came about for you.
Thank you! I have toured in so many incarnations over the years. With a band, as a duo, solo acoustic, each album cycle and then the time between has created opportunities to recreate my songs time and time again. When I was promoting “Castles” I had been doing these intimate sets with my piano player friend and collaborator Jo. There was something so fresh, fun and freeing about setting down the guitar, simply using my voice and body to express the heart of my songs. On the back of that, I quietly made “When I’m Alone; the Piano Retrospective” almost as a supplement to my existing catalogue. I could live in the songs present day and find the ways that they still ran deep. It made me fall back in love with the music and have gratitude for the experiences that inspired the songs in the first place. From a practical standpoint, it also gave me a way to simplify my touring life between albums.
You have an amazing song, “Shameless”, that speaks so much about being a creator in today’s world. “They All Want You” shows another side of this. The song speaks for itself in a way but would love to hear how you hear this now with a little perspective. What advice do you have for younger artists, especially women, who are interested in pursuing their dreams in music and the arts.
When I wrote “Shameless” I was coming out of my debut album touring cycle and getting started on a new album. I had seen and experienced things about the music industry that threatened to turn me a bit cynical and bitter. Like with most emotions, I use songwriting as a way to process and let go of negative feelings. Let’s be honest, there is so much image, phoniness, hype and bullshit wrapped up in the “entertainment” industry. It’s an industry that also has a lot of good intentions though and one that I need to make a living, so I was moved to express my boundaries somehow moving forward.
Prior to becoming a professional musician and to this day, I have a lot of internal baggage around rejection and belonging as well as a rebellious streak haha, so it’s been a gift to have music as a coping mechanism. “They All Want You” was written about a relationship that I had with another musician and I resented having to share him with everyone. It’s exhausting to be in a relationship with someone who is always ON and needs so much attention and approval. But at the same time, I could relate. As far as advice goes, the music industry is changing so fast. I’ve had to look beyond my identity as a musician and think about what I’m inspired to create and stand for, then stick by that. I can’t control how people will react, nor compare myself to others. Easier said than done. But I would say to someone with passion and conviction, dig into that and try not to have expectations. Put in the time and have faith in things unfolding.
In your career, you have recorded some powerful covers of popular songs. Recently, “Dreams” and, a few years back, “Pursuit of Happiness”. Hearing these covers next to your originals just seems to solidify your talent. What are some songs and musicians that really inspire you and might be a dream collaboration or future cover?
Thank you! Yes, I sure do love my covers! And it’s been a great way for people to find me and my original music. I feel like my taste and interest in music really weaves, waxes and wanes through the years. More recently I love Angel Olsen, always love Lana Del Rey, & going back to Gerry Rafferty, Simon and Garfunkel and heard Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away” last night and was reminded how powerful simple songs can be. So it’s all over the place! I’m realizing how much i love guitar solos and how much I miss the guitar being a central instrument in contemporary music. These kids don’t know what they’re missing! Haha A dream collaborator would be Jeff Lynne from ELO. He’s such a great songwriter and producer!
You are an independent musician with integrity that has made a big impact with your voice and your songs over the past decade: authentic, and genuine. Currently without a label, how do you feel you “keep it real” and keep your values in check?
That is so kind, thank you! The truth is that after I was dropped from Sony UK, I didn’t want to go through the process again. I have nothing but gratitude for my big label days but I realized that I didn’t have it in me to be micro-managed nor the desire to take the world by storm. I’m so fortunate that the success I had with them and my team on my first record earned me a loyal group of followers who still support me today. Sometimes I think it’s misleading to say that I’m independent because I have a team of folks I work with who help and advise me still. However, I have a lot more intention and control over what records I want to make, when and how I want to tour and so on. I’ve had to get more financially aware and savvy too. Lately, it’s really about balance and how I can have home, community, inspiration and creativity all live together! Work in progress!
Right now we live in a troubling time environmentally, with our political leadership. We face COVID-19, Global Warming, inequalities, and deception. This is a time for faith. What is powerful to you and positive in this time of change and unrest?Where do you find this? I am thinking of your song, “Don’t You Give Up on Me” in particular. It feels like it could be an anthem for our country today.
We do! Such uncertain, strange and troubling times. I find the outdoors, blossoms blooming, sunshine, planting a garden, cooking food I grow and hanging with my dogs very grounding. Going for a walk is, in my opinion, one of the best things to do to reset. So if I keep it simple, I’m able to have hope in those small moments. Not that there aren’t ups and downs but in the scheme of things, staying informed to a degree, practicing the things that I believe in and voting my conscience. Sometimes I pray or write too. Or I realize that even if it’s not ok, it’ll be ok. “Don’t You Give Up On Me” was written in a time when I felt like the light had left me and it’s been up and down ever since and will most likely continue on that way! Haha
What do you have planned for the future and what are your dreams, collaborations, experiences, or goals?
I’m realizing through all of this social distancing how much I miss performing, traveling and people. I’d like to start thinking about making a new record but spend lots of time at home in Iowa growing and making stuff in the meantime. It’s such a pretty time of year and so much is still unknown but I’d say come fall I’ll be making the next album and touring more come 2021! The goal is balance and to have a good time!