Lissie made her mainstream debut in the days of MySpace, back when music was often discovered on friends' profiles; a soundtrack for the envy you felt when you didn't make top eight. But Lissie's impact stretched beyond the throes of a homepage, developing her own genre that blends folk with soft rock and experiential lyrics formulated with raw honesty.
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June 21 marked 10 years since Lissie dropped her first album, Catching A Tiger. This anniversary provides not only an opportunity for fans to reminisce on the folk classics that once defined their listening habits, but also for Lissie to reflect on her own growth as an artist in a decade of experimenting with new sounds and influences that have shone through in her music in recent years.
The album, which was co-produced by Jacquire King and Band of Horses' Bill Reynolds, gave Lissie the opportunity to dive deep into the finer details of heartbreak and loneliness, particularly on tracks like "When I'm Alone." In the second verse, Lissie sings "And when I reach out and I only grab air/ And it kills me to think that you never did care/ And it's hopeless/ You've always run off somewhere else," which highlights the all-too-familiar feelings of isolation paired with the disappointment of lost love.
Now, Lissie is showing fans a new side of the era that started it all with the static video premiere of her first unreleased track written for Catching a Tiger, "Just Because I Can," today on PAPER.
In the first verse of the folk track, Lissie sings "I let it slip from my hand/ Just because I can," reflecting on a narrative that she is in control — or wants to be. The story is driven by a desire to make the right decision and define her identity as an artist; it sounds like a call-to-action of sorts, one that demands change while simultaneously calling on something higher to help guide the way. The message, paired with Lissie's distinctive and familiar vocal, sends fans right back to 2010 to feel with her.
Below, PAPER caught up with Lissie to discuss "Just Because I Can," discover previously unreleased sounds from her past era and reflect on a decade of defining music.
Let's start with reflection. Catching a Tiger was released 10 years ago. How would you describe who you were as an artist a decade ago?
I was green, I was fresh, I was fiery and I was really determined. I think of myself as being pretty fearless in my early to mid-twenties; I just had this unshakable faith. In some way, shape or form, this is going to work out. I don't know when, in what way, but hopefully, I'm going to end up getting my music out to people. I really felt strongly, so I admire 10-years-ago-me.
Over the course of the last decade, you have tested different genres with your music. From folk to more of a soft rock influence to a stripped-down, acoustic sound more recently, how do you feel you have evolved in sound and as an artist?
I was always a singer-songwriter; it was me and my acoustic guitar, and I played rhythm guitar. Over the years, translating that raw structure and sound into a "genre" has been interesting. It's been largely a product of the people that I was writing with and who were producing and playing on my record who had a huge influence on the sound… it's been remaining open-minded and collaborative. It's hoping, too, that the thread that runs through all my music is, of course, my voice, but also there's a straightforwardness and a real emotional vulnerability to my lyrics that I hope has remained consistent.
The way collaboration, specifically with the pandemic, has changed quite a lot as well as the way we are exposed to new music. Back in 2008, it was MySpace. How has social media and the digital sphere played a role in music for you?
It has its strengths and weaknesses. I'd say for me, because I was able to at least get established on the front end of streaming, it worked to my benefit that I was able to rise above the sheer volume of options… I think it's just morphing by the day. The positive is that, if an editor of a streaming service playlists you, overnight you can have thousands, if not more, ears on your music. There's a lot of opportunities for people... to discover you without having to go out of their way to. But then, on the downside [is] the sheer volume of what's out there. I feel like I don't even listen to music anymore because every single thing that exists is at my fingertips at all times, and I get option paralysis.
On Spotify alone, you have over 715,000 monthly listeners. How does it feel to know that music that was coming out 10-12 years ago is still making such a great impact on literally hundreds of thousands of people now?
It feels awesome in this sweet spot of a career I've forged where it's like, no, I'm not a household name, but I'm able to feel like I can do what I love for a living and do it hopefully with some integrity. I think that sort of speaks to the quality of the people who support my music. It seems like they've really stuck with me, and they keep going back to my music time and time again. So, I credit that to having a really supportive listener base. Hopefully, there's an honesty and a vulnerability in my music that I even think in these times, if I can help people feel their feelings while they're struggling… adults in America have anxiety disorders through COVID. I don't know if people seek out my music and it helps us to feel and heal and process, then hopefully I'm offering that for people. But it was hard to see myself in that way.
You mentioned this vulnerability and helping people feel things. What does the songwriting process look like for you? Has that evolved from record to record? Or do you go into this studio setting with something more formulaic in mind?
It does change. I struggle with that because there are a lot of people who debate that question of the tortured artist. Do you need to be in the throes of some sort of heartaches to write really good, honest music? I would say probably not. You can use your imagination and draw on past experience. But for me, I feel like some of my most heartfelt stuff has really been stirred up in the throes of something that's emotionally challenging: breakups, times when I felt lost or stunted or unsure which direction to go in.
It's usually from those kinds of periods of distress that most of my drive — now that I have an iPhone, which I didn't use to have, a lot of voice memos, a lot of melodies and words that'll pop into my head in fleeting little chunks that I'll get on my phone so I don't forget them. Then the ones that stay stuck in my head are the ones I'll end up sitting down and pursuing on my guitar or taking to other songwriters as ideas.
"Where I'm at emotionally right now is very similar to the frame of mind I was in when I created Catching a Tiger."
I don't think it's changed so much for me in how I get inspired, because I think it's just the stuff that just pops into my head as I'm feeling. But I do a ton of co-writing, so it does take different shapes depending on the stage of life, what's going on and then your collaborators, who can bring a lot of personality to suggesting chord progressions or whatnot. Where I'm at now, ironically, with the 10-year anniversary of Catching a Tiger… where I'm at emotionally right now is very similar to the frame of mind I was in when I created Catching a Tiger. So once I can travel and collaborate more again, I feel like I'm going to have a lot to say.
So, you're releasing "Just Because I Can," which feels like a very fitting title considering you recorded the song in 2008, What inspired you to release this song 12 years later?
So, to mark the 10-year anniversary of Catching a Tiger, also combined with the fact that in the past year, I actually got the rights back to my first two albums; for an artist, that's a big deal, it doesn't always happen. The idea was, in getting the rights back to my music and the 10-year anniversary, that we would issue a reissue that would include four or five of the songs that we've recorded for Catching a Tiger that just didn't make the cut. Due to COVID, as we're all saying these days, it seemed like that was going to be pushed back, the 10-year anniversary show I was going to play at the Oslo Opera House was postponed to next year. It seemed like we weren't really going to be able to pull that together this year. And in the meantime, I just thought it would be really nice for me personally to take that trip down memory lane and revisit those songs that I hadn't really listened to in a long time and just provide more content — as much as I know that word bugs me, but provide content in this in-between phase so that maybe every couple of months I could be putting out an unreleased track from that era, just to keep the spirit of this celebration of my debut album's 10th birthday alive for the people who that album meant a lot to.
In terms of the other unreleased songs that you are resurrecting in the next couple of months, what can fans expect from that music?
To be honest, I was almost a little hesitant to release these songs if it weren't in the context of "these songs are 11 years old," you know? I don't think it's necessarily reflective of my songwriting style or my music style today, but it's a shame. So many artists could tell you like, "Yeah, I have all these songs that mean a lot to me that just never saw the light of day." So in releasing them, I think it's just for posterity. And what people can expect? There's an earnestness, for sure; there's a wide-eyed innocence and earnestness to the songs that'll be coming out.
"Just Because I Can," for example, I wrote that in the same space of time as "Everywhere I Go." And it was a time when I felt like I was trying to have all of this faith and belief in things unfolding and going well and working out, but that faith was tested. It's not necessarily a specific kind of faith, but there's a spirituality to it of trying to surrender. I have to just have radical acceptance and apply myself and I feel like there's some force or something bigger than myself that I'm hoping and thinking might be directing me in whatever direction I meant to go in. It was a time where I was really trying to figure out my place and where I belonged and my purpose and not wanting to squander opportunities, and saying "Just Because I Can," it's when you're in a position to have this choice of "Am I going to go for it?" But there was really a sense of longing, maybe feeling slightly lost, but also willing to say, "I'm going to give it up to God here and just hope that whatever my purpose on this earth is will start to unfold and make sense if I can just believe in it."
Looking back on you as an artist in this Catching a Tiger era of your music, really, what advice would you give yourself as an artist 10 years ago, knowing what you know now?
I almost sometimes wish that she would come and give me advice now. There was an earnestness and a real strength… Through life, you can get a little knocked around and you can start to build up walls, and I didn't have very many walls then. Not that I do now, but I have more. If I could go back, I would probably tell her to quit drinking, because I probably have missed out on some things. I'm being very candid with you in telling you that, but I don't know. I think everything just happens how it's supposed to for a reason, as dorky as that sounds, I don't know if I could have given her any advice; I think she did a good job. She really tried her best to stay true to herself. I'm proud of her. I think she did what she could.
"Through life, you can get a little knocked around and you can start to build up walls, and I didn't have very many walls then."
Now that we've looked so much into your past and who you were and who you are, do you think these unreleased tracks have the opportunity to draw new fans back to that first album, too?
I hope so, and I hope within the context of it being part of revisiting that body of work, too. And I hope that part of the story is told because that first album was really important in some people's lives. Even just now going back and finding my old songwriting books, journals and old photos, it's just been a ton of fun for me… If some new people discover me through this old song, [hopefully] it draws them to that first album and then to my albums following up to present day, as well.
… I think I've tried to always, with my career, remain very cautiously optimistic, because sometimes the things that you hope will really make an impact may not. And sometimes the things that you do off-the-cuff that you don't think twice about end up being the things that suddenly blow up. So, I try to really approach everything with a level of cautious optimism and not have too many expectations. Maybe that's just some sort of self-preservation mechanism.
Looking forward, what do you think is next for you as an artist?
In terms of the future, I just think right now because I can't travel and I can't tour — I also was in a two-year relationship that just ended pretty shockingly and pretty painfully, and it's been very humbling and scary, to say the least. Even today, I was reading the news and just thinking like, "Oh my gosh, this cold world. I'm all alone in this cold world," which is very dramatic. But I'm just trying to hone in on this [being] a time where I can't make any decisions and I just have to take life a day at a time.
I haven't really been home for a long stretch of time, and I live on this farm in Northeast Iowa. I spent four hours weeding my garden yesterday. I have more tomatoes and zucchini and cucumbers and broccoli and food than I could ever eat, so just trying to find creative ways to give the food away or cook it or can it. I have this dog, Olive, who is a year and a half, and it's the first time in a long time where I've been able to spend just every day and night with a dog.
I definitely am constantly singing things to myself. I'm doing a livestream this weekend with my band on an actual theater stage, although there'll be no audience. [I'm] trying to get creative with doing livestreams [and] in the meantime, trying to get my home life dialed-in and organized… And so I'm thinking this time to really be in nature to find that gratitude and peace and faith. I just have to take it a day at a time. I have no idea at all what the future holds. Every aspect of my life feels like overnight was just changed drastically and rather than lose it, I'm just trying to focus on what I can control. So, I'm writing songs as I go, I've got a lot of voice memos. I recorded some covers actually this past weekend, just to keep my chops up. I guess right now I have no idea. I feel like the future is literally wide open and, as an artist, I'm going to really have to be reacting to the events that unfold globally in the coming months and year.
Is there anything I missed that you feel is really important to include?
Within the context of Catching a Tiger, that it's really such a delight for me to reflect on that time and this debut album that really gave me this beautiful career, particularly in Norway, where it went gold and in the UK, it went gold, and to this day I have these wonderful fanbases in those countries.
It's a very special album to me. It kicked things off in a big way in my life, so it's really fun to revisit it and to share this unreleased stuff, as well as probably be sharing little journal entries and songwriting blurbs of the books that actually have the lyrics as I was actually writing these songs for the first time. For the people that are interested, there's hopefully going to be a lot more to share about the making of [the album].
Photo courtesy of Lissie