words & photography | DAMON WILSON

Lissie, after expeditiously chiseling out a name for herself in the Los Angeles music scene and recording a couple of albums, decided to replant herself close to her childhood home and bought a farm in Iowa. While affirming her footing in her new homestead, she has continued to create, independently produce, and tour in support of music that is authentically her. She sat down with Polly magazine on a chilly January evening at Southgate House Revival, the Northern Kentucky music venue, where we talked about performing covers, Transcendental Meditation, and creating art from a place of comfort.

Polly: You’ve recorded two EPs of covers now, and with both you very much put your own spin on the songs—even with Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness.”

Lissie: You can make a cover your own, but you still have to give full credit where credit’s due—to the original author/writer/performer . . . but, yeah, that was one that really made a lot of people, who I don’t think would’ve found me through my music, aware of me. So covers have been a great way for me to get out there, and it’s just fun for me. There’s really no rhyme or reason to what I do. I just do what feels good.

P: I’m sure you gained a few fans when your band performed at the Bang Bang Bar (aka the Roadhouse) in an episode of Twin Peaks in season three. Rumor has it that you share an interest in Transcendental Meditation with David Lynch.

L: I’d heard of TM for a long time because I grew up in Rock Island, Illinois, just across the bridge from Davenport, Iowa, not far from Fairfield, where the Maharishi founded the Maharishi International University [now named the Maharishi University of Management]. I went to boarding school with a girl from Fairfield who grew up meditating. She was just such an elegant woman, very even tempered and cool, calm, and collected. There was a summer I was home from California, and I thought, “Well, hey, I’d like to know more about TM.” I went and I took a course, got my mantra, started doing it for twenty minutes, twice a day. When I stuck with it, it really did seem to just make everything in my life better. Not only my life, but I felt like people around me seemed calmer. I do really think that TM has a ton to offer and is the real deal. I followed up with David to tell him that I’d done it, and he, of course, was super happy to hear about it. But, the thing about me is I have trouble sticking with stuff, especially with my travels and bouncing here and there. I would try to do it on an airplane, or I would do it when I was jet lagged and fall sleep. So, I’ve had a really difficult time, but that’s also kind of my personality. I haven’t stuck with it, but when I do I definitely notice a better ability to deal with whatever comes my way on that day. So I wouldn’t taut myself as a big meditator. I could lie and act like I do, but I would be a poser. In my ideal version of myself, I would be doing TM twice a day because I definitely saw benefits in my mood, mental clarity, and relationships.

P: What part of being a songwriter/musician/recording artist/performer do you love the most?

L: I really love to sing in front of people, and it’s as simple as that. I kind of struggled to find my place in the music business because I don’t always love writing songs. I have to do it because it’s in me, and it feels great when it comes out and it’s saying all the things I want to say. Sometimes recording can be fun. I can say very clearly I just love getting up in front of people and singing.

P: Since you moved to Iowa, have you found a more comfortable life balance? If so, how has that impacted your creative process?

L: I think I have yet to find that balance. I think it’s coming, but I think I spent so much time promoting My Wild West and then making and promoting Castles that I don’t feel like I particularly have found the balance of owning this farm. I do manage to make sure I have time to plant a garden, make sure it gets taken care of, and when I’m home that I can do things to engage in that way. I think my Iowa life is coming, but I’m not there yet. I will say that I have had stretches of time where I do have a lot of solitude and quiet in nature. In the making of my last album, Castles, there was a lot of time for me to sit with my feelings and write.

P: Where does your art come from? Do you create from past experiences? Discomfort? Pain?

L: I did write Castles a bit from a place of emotional discomfort—trying to detach from a person in my life that I really cared about. But, ultimately, we were not great together. I learned so much through that experience. I’ve really moved on now, sort of let it go. I guess that is a question in terms. I’ve never really made an album that wasn’t on the back of some death of something, whether it’s a relationship or a move. On my second album, Back to Forever, I did write more so from memory of experience rather than being right in the experience. I think it’s totally possible to write beautiful heartfelt music from your imagination and memories without having to just keep throwing yourself into the fire. You do have to do some living in order to talk about stuff. I tend to like my stuff to be true. It makes me feel better. Then other people can have it once it’s off my chest.

P: Is there a connection between farm living and the new and yet to be released piano and voice retrospective comprised of stripped-down versions of past songs?

L: There is no connection. I actually made most of that album in Berlin. [However, a] lot of Castles was made at the farm but with a lot more computers than I ever had before. That was the funny thing. Yeah, I’m on a farm, but also I needed more technology because I didn’t have a proper studio. I’ve alluded to it before . . . . I’ve had this career that I’ve been so fortunate to have. I work hard, but I’ve also been really lucky. I’ve worked with a lot of great people. You do the thing of making an album then touring. Each album has been very necessary for me to move to the next chapter, like the levels in a video game. You’ve got to do this one to get to the next one. I think for me, to do this piano vocal album was more like me at 36 thinking what is the thing that I am most feeling about music right now, and it’s that I love to sing. It’s about my voice. I will definitely put out another produced album and play with the band again at some point, but why not just give my voice all the room it wants? If people think it’s boring, that’s fine. I started as a guitar player and singer, and that was the thing that got me to the point where I got a deal and then [was told], “You need a style. You need a thing. You need to make a produced album.” So I feel very good about the fact that I can at least temporarily come back to a place where it’s just about my voice and me singing my songs that I’ve been living with for ten years—hopefully putting some new perspective on them.