Lissie - Image by Lili Peper

In conversation with Lissie

It’s been a while since the honey-tinged voice took to the airwaves; not a lot has been heard from American artist Lissie since the release of 2018s Castles. Now she’s back with a new record, Carving Canyons, due for release on 16th September.

“Obviously the pandemic happened and so for the first 5, probably about 6 months of that I was really just, y’know like everybody else in some state of shock,” said Lissie, adding that like everyone else it took time to adjust to a “more isolated life”. In the early days of the pandemic she had been living in Virginia, later moving back to her native Iowa in May 2020. A romantic breakup had also taken place in the early days of the pandemic, one of the narrative themes of the incoming album.

Describing of that time Lissie comments: “It just felt like there was so much pain everywhere” – suggesting there was something almost palpable about the mix of politics, the pandemic, the breakup – something experienced as “so much intensity personally”. Like everyone else who experienced the onslaught of varying lockdowns across the world, she could be found gardening and walking – a time she since reflected allowed her to heal, to grieve. Lyrical metaphors transported themselves from seeing, observing the change in seasons, and plant life growing, perhaps best alluded to in the lead single Flowers. “As the seasons started to turn into fall, really felt just inspired and comforted by the… time really does heal. And there’s so many metaphors for hope and strength.” Said Lissie. Carving Canyons was recorded in chunks of time, contrary to previous efforts, beginning in early 2021. She also reflected that she was in a “different place emotionally” by the time finishing of writing – and that, as a result, “the arc of healing is definitely in this album.”

A lot has changed since, and not just because of a pandemic; every human being has had to adapt and take on new responsibilities. “I have lots of projects,” she says, illustrating this by explaining she has 15 acres of woodland. (And perhaps not what you would necessarily expect from a member of the music industry.) This land has been entered into improvement projects, such as where invasive species like Honeysuckle would be removed, with a view to improving the land. She expresses how she wishes to “reset the balance.” Of damage caused by the invasive nature. Along with this she also runs a popcorn company, enough to show sample packaging off on Zoom with the words “we have a store now, in town”. “Anyhow – I digress,” redirecting herself back to the question. To record in chunks of time was perhaps more edifying, adding “I also felt like I didn’t just want the whole album to be like ‘I’m so sad and angry about my break up, y’know, I’m pissed’!” There it is again, the honey, sultry laugh. Anger gives way to sadness, and sitting with that feeling in the knowledge it will pass leads back to hope. The “grief cycle of that relationship” Is explored on the album she said, noting “Carving Canyons really shows kind of the entire journey, I’d say”.

Asked if she is happier now, she says yes – with an interesting caveat. “In theory I’m happy but I am like just so scared about everything that’s going on with the Supreme Court over here. It’s so unbelievably scary…” Lissie muses, adding she feels that this has overshadowed so much. (We are speaking in the aftermath of America’s Supreme Court striking down the landmark ruling of Roe vs Wade, rolling back the right to abortion for millions of American women.) The conversation turns to the topic of activism as a result. She laughs: “I have a lot of opinions about things that are going on in the world for sure”, while also suggesting it is not an easy topic to articulate in music, while in the hope of trying to avoid sounding “preachy”, “holier than thou” or as if you are “trying too hard.” Previous lyrical topics had included environmental issues in the song Mountaintop Removal, for example, or feminism in Daughters, a song inspired by the documentary Pray The Devil Back To Hell.

She muses further, with the caveats she knows this is oversimplifying the issue. Lissie suggests that individuals have already made up their minds on particular political issues, and that “ I think my response to that has been to write, I think that it’s still activism to create music that makes people feel emotional.” She further adds that those who are angry or perhaps acting out in revenge, are not as emotionally in touch with themselves as they could perhaps be. She laughs: “All of these people who are going around fucking everything up are, are at the root!” Music is a form of activism, she suggests, if it creates an emotional response, by encouraging an emotional openness to tap into. “If we’re responsible for our feelings and our emotions, I feel like we’re less likely to project them onto other people and create problems.”, adding, “I think there’s a lot of people [who are] hurting” – such as proponents of the incoming abortion ban, those involved with the January 6th Capitol storming, and others. “Instead of taking responsibility for their wounds”, she muses out loud that humans look for others to blame, often for reasons of a shortcut. “Emotional intelligence is a really important part of peace.” She intones somewhat prophetically, noting that it is incredibly easy to find someone else to blame as humans.

Is there still a place for the arts post pandemic? Of course, says Lissie – but how do we process the collective seismic changes of the last few years, in order to be able to create? “I think the processing is still happening.” She says, thinking out loud. The impact of music, movies and art is all too real to her. “My grandpa who was in World War Two, who was this tough guy…” would be moved to tears, weeping, such as if she and her sister would sing, or if listening to a particular piece of music. There is a power that is “so helpful” in the arts, she expresses, as there is an emotional release, preventing the bottling up of feelings. The first show back after lockdown had me “Choked up”, because of the impact of people, a “collective sigh”, just freely interacting. “Witnessing that joy is contagious.”

Carving Canyons is out on 16 Sept. Lissie is also expected to tour the UK, with a Brighton date on 25 Feb 2022 at Chalk

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