My relationship with Lissie’s music stems from some rather nebulous roots. Back in 2009, an anonymous source slipped me a copy of her Why You Runnin’ EP. Approximately one listen later I was hooked, enraptured by her soaring yet whiskey-soaked vocals and hymnal-like deliveries. I remember it was a song called “Wedding Bells” that sealed the deal, a harmony-filled and solemnly delivered number about a failed relationship that still gives me chills some three years later. Since then, Lissie has gone on to release a strong — and undeniably bigger sounding — full-length debut, 2010’s Catching a Tiger. She’s also signed with Fat Possum Records (Band of Horses, The Walkmen), won over 130,0000 Facebook fans, and played nearly every festival from here to Glastonbury. According to my officemates, she’s best known for her spine-tingling rendition of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness.” (It’s worth a Google search — trust me.)
Still, Lissie seems to have a pretty level head about the whole fame thing. Three years ago she ditched her L.A. digs for a quieter, slower life in nearby Ojai. And in recent months she’s been laying low there, writing material for her next album and settling in to life off the road. This Friday, August 17, she takes to the stage at Ojai’s Libbey Bowl for a benefit concert in support of Changing Tides Orphanage in Haiti. Below, she chats about the show, her next record, and some of her favorite Ojai’s hotspots.
How did you get involved with Changing Tides? I’ve been living in Ojai for the past three years, and I’ve become acquaintances and friends with this woman Taffy Lowen who owns a shop in town called Julia Rose. She showed me this book of pictures of what she and this guy Vance Simms are doing at the orphanage. Vance actually went over to Haiti on a family vacation after the earthquake and decided that he was going to open up an orphanage and school there. Kathy introduced me to Vance, and I got to know him and his wife, and we decided it would be cool to do a fundraiser and have all the proceeds go to Changing Tides. We’ve been organizing for the last month or two; there’s going to be three bands — George Stanford, Todd Hannigan, and myself.
Can you tell me a bit about the work they do? It’s a base of Ojai people that go to Haiti once a month, and they’ve done great things. There’s a little Haitian girl who’s now in Ojai and has her visa to study here. I think there’s still quite a bit of work to be done in Haiti since the earthquake, and even problems from before. There are all these kids who were in real bad shape who are now getting an education. [Changing Tides] is providing the surrounding community with clean water, and they’re housing and educating people. It’s been a real big success and they’re really passionate, so we’re honored to be a part of it. … I think as we move forward we want to start tying in various causes that we support. As a musician you can get people to come together and you can have this captive audience, so why not use that opportunity to inform them about something you believe in.
It seems in the last year or so Ojai has started to become this hub for young indie music artists. Have you noticed a change? You know, when I first got here it was in July of 2009, and it didn’t seem like there was a whole lot going on, but I also didn’t leave my house much, and then I was touring a lot. But this last year I’ve been home quite a bit and there’s been more talk, like, ‘Oh, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros guys are in town.’ But I don’t really see them, so I haven’t noticed it too much. There’s the Deer Lodge, where there’s been some cool shows in the last year, but I think they’ve been having cool shows for a while. I think Ojai just stays under the radar, and I think the people that live here really like it that way. And I’ve gotten that way, too. I don’t want a bunch of scene-y hipsters moving up here, but I wouldn’t mind a little more nightlife. [Laughs] I also think it’s such a beautiful place that it’s a no-brainer if you’re looking for a little bit of peace and solitude.
And I hear you’ve been working on a new record. Well, I haven’t really, totally started it. I’ve written a bajilion songs and I’ve done a bunch of demos, but the actual proper recording of the album I’ll start in a couple of weeks in Topanga Canyon. Hopefully it will all be done and ready to release in early 2013, but we’ll see.
Do you have a producer picked out? Yeah. I’m working with a guy called Jacknife Lee. He’s worked with Silversun Pickups, U2, Snow Patrol, I think he just worked with Two Door Cinema Club — he’s done a lot of cool stuff. He’s really versatile and kind of done everything. In the time we’ve spent together I feel like he’s good at figuring out what it is you’re trying to do and helping you do that, but better. It will be fun.
You’ve spent a good chunk of the past three years on tour. Now that you’re home, do you feel like your songwriting process has changed at all? Before I was signed or had any timelines for releasing a record, I would really just write by myself when I felt like it. That’s changed just because now, knowing that I need to accomplish a certain amount [of songs] by a certain time, I’ve started cowriting a lot more. … What else changes it is just where you’re at in your life, though. When I was heartbroken, I had a lot of inspiration for writing songs, but when I was busy and working a lot and there wasn’t anything particularly exciting in my personal life, I maybe didn’t have as much to say. It just depends on what’s going on.
What prompted you to release the covers EP, Covered Up with Flowers? Well, we never realized as a group how popular our covers would be. It was always just us saying ‘hey, this would be a fun song to do,’ and then performing it at a concert and putting it online. Because we had such great feedback and because a lot of our fans found us through our covers — and because it was taking me so long to put out another record — putting out Covered Up with Flowers was kind of a way to tide people over. And a lot of people were going online and grabbing the audio off the YouTube clips, and I thought it would be better if it was mixed as good as it could be. It was just a way to give people the songs and give them something so they don’t forget about me.
Finally, for those of us venturing up for the show, what are some must-do Ojai activities? Well, I don’t want to expose my secret swimming spots, but I suggest going on a hike, maybe checking out the river, Suzanne’s is a really nice fine dining restaurant, The Farmer and the Cook is a great restaurant with all local produce that they farm themselves, and [they have] really good, fresh, quality organic food. There’s a place called Knead where I love to get egg sandwiches in the morning. The Casa Barranca has a tasting room, and it’s fun to go in there and get a wine flight. It’s also fun just going to the park that the Libbey Bowl is in; you can go and sit under an oak tree and kind of chill. Meditation Mount is another really great place to see; there’s a view of the valley, and it’s really quiet there.
Lissie plays a benefit concert for Changing Tides Orphanage at the Libbey Bowl (210 S. Signal St., Ojai) on Friday, August 17 at 6 p.m. George Stanford and Todd Hannigan open the show. Call (805) 207-6817 or visit libbeybowl.org for tickets and info.