Interview | Lissie Talks New Album And Jamband Roots

Written By: Ryan Dembinsky

Catching up with the ever adorable Lissie in advance of her latest full-length release, Back to Forever, made for wildly entertaining conversation as far as interviews go. Not only did Lissie share her interesting insights behind the nostalgic undercurrent that permeate the Back to Forever idea, but she also talked about her days as a dready jamband fan in the early 2000s, performing with Umphrey’s McGee when they were still a lesser known quantity, and her thoughts on the hippie mafia. If couldn’t tell already, Lissie is pretty down to earth girl and she brings a real music fan approach to her career.

[Photo by Andrew Whitton]

The new album has a more pop leaning sound overall as evidenced by the early singles, but the true standout tracks are sentimental title track and the powerful vehicle for vocal soul called “Mountaintop Removal.”

JamBase: Before we get into to talking about the new album, I noticed something in a previous interview that I have to ask you about. You mentioned at one of the festivals you were playing at that you were a big Umphrey’s McGee fan and were looking forward to seeing them and also that you had gotten up on stage with them a long time ago. So, I wondered if you wouldn’t mind telling the story of how that original sit-in came about.

Lissie: Sure! When I was in high school, I got into Phish but I didn’t really live in a place where they had that jamband culture really, but I got into it and then got taken to a Phish show by this guy who was older than me. I got really into them. So then when I went to Colorado State in Fort Collins, I sort of dove right into the jamband scene there.

There are really just two venues and they have a band every night, so I basically became friends with all of the security guards and they would let me into the shows for free. I saw so much amazing music and I loved to dance and drink microbrews. So I was at the Aggie in Fort Collins and I met one of the managers of the venue and he would let me open for the bands that came through because I sang. I opened for G Love, Ozomatli, and some good stuff like that.

So, he knew the Umphrey’s guys and he convinced them to let me get up and improvise on a song. They were so sweet and just said, “Yeah sure, that’s fine!” So without having ever heard me sing, they let me get up there and sing. It probably exists on a bootleg somewhere, because I know it was recorded. I got up there and sang and we all improvised and it was so much fun. Then, every time they came into town I go and see them and talk to them. I became friends with Ryan and went and saw them in Chicago and L.A., but we’ve fallen out of touch a little, but they are really good guys and great musicians.

JB: That’s great. On the new album, in a general sense, it starts out a little more poppy than your first album and that seems like what the single is going for is a crossover appeal, but as it moves along it definitely gets back to a more gritty sound. What were you shooting for in terms of an overall vibe?

Lissie: On my first album, I hadn’t ever really played with a band before. I was always a solo artist, but I got hooked up with a producer and studio musicians, so I learned a lot about how it worked. I was always a big music fan, so I had a sense as to how it all fit together, but it was actually pretty new to me. I think having played with my band since then in promoting Catching a Tiger, I’ve gotten a lot better at it and we’ve become a live band. I always tell people you have to come see us live, because that really puts all the pieces together.

So, going into making this album, it was just important that my band be a part of it and that every song was given the life that it needed. I have pretty diverse tastes in music and there are a lot of sides to my personality, so I ended up with a little more rock-pop vibe on this one, but I hope it’s a bit more cohesive. I do like variety though, and I think that’s my right in a sense as an artist to not overthink and just do what feels right. Then, I just tried to find a track listing that tied it all together. I think ultimately what ties it all together is my voice and my perspective on where I’m coming from.

It probably sounds flaky, but I wasn’t really going for anything. [laughs] It was more just saying, “Let’s get in the studio and make some music!” I’ve been writing for about a year and a half, so I had a lot of songs to bring to life.

It’s kind of all over the place, and that’s why I think people have a hard time deciding what I am. Some places I’ll go, they will say “Are you a country artist, or a pop singer, or a folk person, a rocker? What are you?” I’m all about being natural and trying not to overthink things. I mean, you have to do a bit of over- thinking to put together a studio album, but you still want things to happen pretty naturally and not worry too much about making things sounds a certain way or fit into a certain genre. I just do what feels right.

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