The West

A search for answers
Lisa Mitchell is finding her own musical maturity. Picture: Supplied.

The singer who famously asked us for a dollar to do her laundry has finally released the follow- up to Wonder, her Australian Music Prize-winning debut album of 2009. Hold the front page: Lisa Mitchell is back and she's all grown up.

We got a hint of this growth when Mitchell released the Spiritus EP in May, supported by a string of shows/religious experiences in churches around the country.

But even with that warning, the new album's title track and lead single, Bless This Mess, takes your breath away with its directness.

It sounds like the Killers channelling Springsteen. And it sounds damn good.

"That massively makes sense. I'm a massive Killers fan; that's amazing you've picked up that because it's like one of my major influences," Mitchell enthuses.

Growing up is inevitable. Some of us do it gracefully, gaining wisdom through life experience, while others rail against the passage of time in an endless and ultimately futile struggle to turn back the clock.

Mitchell, at the ripe old age of 22, is firmly in the former category.

As a 16-year-old, she finished sixth in Australian Idol and quickly turned that attention into a dedicated fan base of thousands watching live performances on MySpace.

Carefully chosen supports brought her an audience beyond Idol and two EPs, Said One to the Other (2007) and Welcome to the Afternoon (2008), established her as a Triple J-endorsed artist. Mitchell reached critical mass when her debut LP dropped in 2009, with ARIA nominations, platinum- level sales and a song, Coin Laundry, in the upper reaches of Triple J's Hottest 100 that year.

When an artist achieves success early in their career, the typical make-hay-while-the-sun-shines approach demands a sophomore album sooner rather than later.

But Mitchell was in no hurry.

"I guess there's a real expectation for musicians to churn albums out," she says.

"When you really think about it you realise there isn't a right or wrong way and that's what I love about the music industry: there are no rules. That's just how long it has taken for me to decide and be ready to put a new project together."

When Mitchell eventually made it to the studio, she spent a "luxurious amount of time" working with Evermore's Dann Hume, who also produced Wonder and the aforementioned EPs.

"When you don't have time restraints you can follow your intuition and I think that is what has led to the big arrangements and several layers of instruments and vocals."

The Melbourne-based singer says the concept of oneness is a recurrent theme on the album and the best way to explore the idea was to involve a lot of friends, including Clare Bowditch, in the recording process.

"Ironically, to get to the point where you feel connected to everything, you usually have to endure a period where you feel connected to nothing."

For Mitchell, such philosophical introspection saw her struggle to figure out her place in the world.

"I guess there was a big awakening to what I'm doing here; what I'm doing here on planet Earth," she says.

"So, I was asking myself big, big questions when I got back from touring; back to Melbourne and hanging out in the garden with the butterflies, trying to grow vegies.

"What am I doing? Does this idea of being a musician and, traditionally, what you do as a musician, does it gel with me? Do I want to reinterpret that? All these questions about where I fit, how I fit into the music industry, and maybe how I don't really fit and how that's fine as well."

Weighty subject matter for anyone, let alone someone who is also working out "what it means to be a woman in this day and age".

So, she took a backward step and found a creative outlet in blogging (check out Lisa's Like List) but, in appreciating the beauty and wisdom in the music of others, she realised where her inclinations truly lay.

However, it wasn't all smooth sailing from that point - they don't call it second album blues for nothing. "I felt like, for a time, that what I was writing suddenly had an expectation on it," Mitchell says.. "And if there's a way to kill anyone's creativity, whether they're a tap dancer or a chef, it's to really judge what someone's doing, or to make them judge themselves.

"It's that self-consciousness where you suddenly realise you're not writing these songs when you're 15 in your bedroom anymore."

Instead of shying away from these feelings, Mitchell had the emotional maturity to harness them and produce an album brimming with confidence and faith in the artist, and indeed in the person, that she's growing up to be.

Bless This Mess is out now. Lisa Mitchell plays the Astor on October 26 and the Prince of Wales, Bunbury, on October 27.

The West Australian

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