“All that you lost/You get back/And all that you want/You can have” – “Wild West”
‘My Wild West’ begins with an overture, by definition an “introduction to something more substantial”. In this case it is Lissie’s 3rd studio album and her most personal one to date, a fitting tribute to Lissie’s life in California, from her arrival as a fresh-faced singer-songwriter til now, leaving for the Midwest wiser and more self-assured. Bookended by the songs “Hollywood” and “Ojai”, it brings out the two extremes of the past decade — the dashed hopes and heartbreak of the former and the “stability, joy and peace” of the latter. ‘My Wild West’ represents both a new beginning and a return to Lissie’s Midwestern roots.
‘My Wild West’ was recorded with producer Curt Schneider in his Studio City home — he oversaw the project as a whole, produced 8 tracks on the record, and pulled together the additional material from Lissie’s time recording with her band in Ojai and with Bill Reynolds in Nashville. As the album unfolds, we see a more confident Lissie, self-assured and coming into her own power. “I want my 40 acres in the sun,” sings Lissie on “Hero,” written before she had made the decision to leave California. It details Lissie’s struggles with life on the West Coast and the inner strength she gained from overcoming her problems to forge her own path: “I could have been a hero, I could have been a zero, I could have been all of these things.”
After being signed by Sony U.K., Lissie’s two previous albums, 2010’s ‘Catching a Tiger’ and 2013’s ‘Back to Forever,’ came out on Columbia in England and prestigious indie Fat Possum in the U.S., both scoring in the Top 20 of the U.K. charts and Top 5 in Norway, the former going gold in both countries. Stateside, the two releases hit the Top 5 in Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, peaked at #5 and #11, respectively, on the U.S. Folk tally and went Top 40 on the Indie chart.
“There was always a bit of commercial compromise, like pressure to make the charts and sell units,” she recalls of her experience on a major label. “I just wanted to be able to move people with this gift I’ve been given… my voice.”
What emerged was a cohesive, conceptual, musical whole, which belied the rather unorthodox manner in which it was created. “The songs turned out to be more personal because I wasn’t adhering to a strict set schedule,” she realized. “In writing ‘Hero’ and ‘Wild West,’ I had no idea at the time I was going to leave California and move back to the Midwest. I feel like their very creation was predictive of the changes that were coming. The moment I decided not to make an album was when I really started to make the album. That took all the pressure off!”
Lissie’s tales of triumph and self-propelled adventure were inspired by strong females close and far from home: “Sun Keeps Risin'” was inspired by an aunt of Lissie’s who passed away from ALS, while “Daughters” is a pro-feminist call-to-arms that took its cue from Liberian peace activist and Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, subject of the documentary, ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell.’ The funereal, dirge-like “Shroud” and the upbeat “Go for a Walk” shed light on the yin-and-yang nature of Lissie’s personality, the first a meditation on depression and isolation, the latter a heartfelt affirmation of nature’s power of renewal. “Stay” and “Together or Apart” detail the pain and pleasure of relationships, while “Don’t You Give Up On Me” is a spiritualized self-pep talk, urging those around her: “Don’t you give up on me/As I dive into the dark/And slip into the endless sea.”
Having recently purchased a farm on 10.7 acres in a small Iowa town, Lissie now boasts her own personal “Field of Dreams”, just across the Mississippi River from Rock Island, Illinois, where Elisabeth Maurus grew up in possession of a strong rebellious streak surrounded by the memory of steamboats and railroads of past. Concentrating on converting the barn into a recording studio, getting used to her new pick-up truck and setting up beehives, Lissie is visibly content in her new life, eager to take on each new adventure and challenge that presents itself.
With a career that has seen her open for renowned artist Lenny Kravitz (an early supporter), Tom Petty and even been asked to perform at Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s wedding, Lissie has had a wealth of incredible experiences that have made her the confident and determined artist she is today. “I have a loyal, passionate fan base that every day is growing through its own power, not just an aggressive marketing campaign,” she says. “I want to be an artist with longevity, which is an exciting prospect for me. I feel I’m in a really good place. In fact, I’m already planning a follow-up album, ‘My Mild Midwest,'” she says with a laugh.