Lissie refuses to play by the rules

Andy Welch
AAP

"I gotta keep my identity/I focus on what I can do," went the chorus of Lissie's single Shameless, released earlier this year.

"I don't want to be famous, if I've got to be shameless," it went on.

The three-minute song was less an introduction to Lissie's second album and more a laying out of her entire ideology.

"I wrote Shameless on Valentine's Day last year when I was in London," explains the 30-year-old Illinois-born singer.

"I was in a little studio in Battersea and feeling grumpy because I had all this time on my hands and for some reason, recording was taking forever.

"So I was in this terrible mood and got thinking about how it's the famous people that do well. I just want to be me, and sing, and get out there to tour. And I wanted to write a song so people will understand.

"I don't want to be famous if I have to be shameless, just as I don't want to use people, be fake, date the right person or get beaten up by my boyfriend, whatever. We reward the wrong behaviour, and I wanted to write about that."

Following on from the success of her debut album Catching A Tiger, which was certified gold after its release in August 2010, Lissie began touring the world.

Less than a year later, she started writing for what would become her second album, Back To Forever, released in mid-October, and before long she had about 50 songs to sift through.

Shameless was one of them, along with The Habit (all about breaking the cycle of addiction, whether to another person, substance or otherwise), Further Away (Romance Police), Sleepwalking, Can't Take It Back and an anthem for the underappreciated, I Don't Want To Go To Work.

"I actually wrote that years ago, and it was originally a lot slower and more country-sounding," she says of the last-named song.

"We just work and work and work, people get into debt, we're all undervalued by our bosses and don't get vacations. Being part of a workforce can really suck out your soul.

"When you're young you have all this hope for the future, what you'll do and where you'll go, then suddenly 20 years have gone by all those dreams have slipped away. That song is about not letting that happen."

Initially Lissie was unsure what direction her second album would take. She didn't want to limit her songwriting and decided to see what came out when she put pen to paper - although it wasn't long before a theme started to emerge.

"With my first album my heart was broken from this crazy relationship I'd been in, so I had this fresh topic to draw on instinctively. This time around, that wasn't the case," she says.

The upshot was that, far from struggling without new dramatic life experience to draw on, Lissie relied on her memory and imagination, plus hindsight.

"A lot of the songs on the new record are love songs, but from different angles. And I'm able to recognise how I and the other person acted. With that detachment comes the ability to be objective and tell a much better story," she explains.

"I've started to see songwriting like solving a puzzle. I have three minutes and these resources to express a really big idea and I want it to have a melody that the listener can't forget. Now I've started thinking in those terms, I enjoy writing more than ever.

"Writing a song is one thing, crafting it is another, and I've really started to grasp what it takes."

It was another year after that initial blizzard of writing - during sessions with the likes of Jim Irvin and Julian Emery, with whom Lissie worked on Catching A Tiger, former Sidewinder guitarist Martin Craft and Greg Kurstin (Beck, The Shins, Sia) - before recording would start, but it was worth the wait to get the right producer: Garret "Jacknife" Lee.

"I went out (to) his place in Topanga, just outside LA, took my band with me (Eric Sullivan, Lewis Keller and newcomer Jesse Siebenberg), we got to work and just had a blast."

Again, there was no rigid plan in place before going into the studio, Lissie preferring to react to the mood of the sessions and give each song the treatment it deserves.

"I do have different sides to my character, but it was important for this second album to be more cohesive than Catching A Tiger - it's a much more unified album," she says.

Sun-kissed, mid-70s, West Coast melodies are all over Back To Forever, the sort that would float easily on long road trips.

"It's hard to put into words how much I love what I do," says Lissie.

"I'm a really happy person, but writing this album I started thinking long and hard about what being a successful artist means: the social climbing, thinking about what's cool all the time, and I just thought 'I don't know what this game is but I'm not going to play it'.

"My music has to be on my terms, and that's exactly what this album is all about."

A FEW FACTS ABOUT LISSIE

- Lissie was born Elisabeth Maurus in November 1982 in Rock Island, Illinois. She now lives in Ojai, California.

- She began singing when she was young, playing Annie in a school musical aged nine.

- Lissie released her debut EP Why You Runnin'? in November 2009.

- She duetted with Robbie Williams on Losers, the closing track on his 2012 album Take The Crown.

- She has a lhasa apso dog called Byron.

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