Illinois-raised singer-songwriter Lissie (@lissiemusic on Instagram) first caught the public eye in 2008, when she co-wrote Grammy-nominated dance track “The Longest Road” with Morgan Page.
Eight years, two major-label releases and countless live shows later, she’s living on a farm she just bought in Iowa and preparing for a U.S. tour in support of her first independently produced EP, My Wild West.
We caught up with the 33-year-old to talk about her new farm, the boons of self-producing and why she no longer does shots of tequila on stage.
InsideHook: I read that you live on a farm now.
Lissie: Yeah, last summer I bought this 10-acre farm in northeast Iowa and the house is under renovations and construction while I tour. In May, I’ll take a month off and move into the house to plant some trees and make plans for the land. I’m going to get bees. That’s my long-term plan: to be a beekeeper and try to save the bees. Their colonies are collapsing because of industrial farming.
IH: Your new album is called “My Wild West.” It’s not a country album, but it’s distinctly Western. What were you listening to when you made it?
L: I tend not to listen to a lot of music when I’m actively being creative — I don’t really want to be influenced or muddied up in my mind with different sounds. I can hear in my head if it’s gonna be a rock song or a sparse song or a tender song. I do really like Townes Van Zandt, I like Jon Klein, I like Bobby Gentry, Harry Nilsson … I’m really into songwriters who were playing folky pop music that had a country twinge but wasn’t strictly country.
This album was also different from my past albums because i’m independent now — I self funded it. If I thought that I wanted some slide guitar, or a song with just some guitar and vocals, where my label would’ve said that sound is too country, now I can say, “Well, fuck you, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to. I can put whatever I want on my songs.”
IH: Having produced the album yourself, do you think you could go back to working with a label in the future?
L: I want my life to be bigger than just being a musical artist. Fame and fortune aren’t really interesting to me; I don’t want to be recognizable on the street. As long as I’m touring and making money, I can finance my own creative endeavors. The music biz is like the Wild West right now — there are no hard and fast rules. I’m fortunate to have a great fan base that can keep me afloat. For me, at least — because world domination isn’t in my sights — I’m able to be able to do all the things I want to do creatively independently. I just sorta want to be a medium-sized artist.
IH: There’s a song on your new album called “Daughters.” Some of the profits from the single are going to charity:water to help people in developing countries get access to clean water [Ed. note: You can contribute here]. How did that partnership come about?
L: So I had written this song and my lawyer is actually really involved in charity:water and he was like, “You have to meet them, it’s the perfect partnership.” The song goes: We are the daughters, we are the sisters who carry the water, because I had gone to Haiti and seen these women in developing nations, where it’s women’s responsibility to collect the water.
Long story short: I teamed up with them and I was really inspired by them because they monitor the wells and they have GPS coordinates so that if you gave a dollar it says, “Your dollar went to Ethiopia and here’s the well.” And these wells, the water managers are generally women. So you have these women who are leaders in their communities because they’re controlling the water and now [with the help of charity:water] they have more time to get educated, to start businesses, to really grow and thrive as individuals. So it really empowers women. It was a perfect partnership. It mobilized my fans around something I believe in.
IH: I first discovered your music a few years ago when I found a video of you covering Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness.” You’re a pretty prolific cover artist. Any new ones planned for the upcoming tour?
L: This guy Skrizzly Adams, who’s opening for me, is loaning me his band and letting me stay in his parents’ house and rehearse in the basement, which is super fun. So we’re talking about trying to cover “Swimming Pools” by Kendrick Lamar. And for sure we’ll continue to do “Pursuit.” I’ll probably do that song forever.
IH: Can we still expect you to do shots of tequila on stage?
L: Once I hit 30 I wasn’t really into liquor anymore and it totally bums people out. They want me to take a shot of tequila and I’m like, “Nooo, it’ll make me so sick.” I can’t keep up my schedule and be shooting tequila like I used to. Just red wine.
IH: Finally, you don’t shy away from cursing on stage, and I respect that. So I wanna finish with a question Charlie Rose always asks his interviewees: What’s your favorite curse word?
L: One time this guy sent me a really annoying tweet and I called him an Asshat. That’s my new favorite thing: “You’re an Asshat, man.” Somebody told me to take off my shirt in Germany, so when that kind of stuff happens, I’ll definitely throw out the Asshat.