It’s no secret: we here at HelloGiggles love Lissie. One of the most talented (and most underrated) singer-songwriters out there today, she’s effortlessly cool and incredibly down to earth – not to mention ridiculously good at what she does. While we chatted with her almost two years ago, I sat down to catch up with Lissie again recently ahead of the release of her sophomore album, Back to Forever, to see what’s changed. As per usual, she only cemented her place on our list of favourite ladies ever.
A lot of artists, after the success of their first album, really feel pressure to deliver on a follow-up. Did you feel that anxiety?
“Well, I’m proud of Catching a Tiger and it did a reasonable amount of success but it didn’t put me in a position where I had a number one single and I was in this kind of corner where I had to match or top that. I feel like the amount of success I had and the fact I was just learning how to play with other people – I went from being a solo artist and making an album to then meeting my band – really out me in a healthy place to continue. It was a gradual climb and I was only just becoming comfortable with learning what all the instruments should be doing. I felt really capable of topping what I’d done or at least not disappointing people.”
Back to Forever is a really nice continuation from the first album. Has your sound evolved over time or have you always had that vision of your sound in your head? “I think it’s hard because I’m almost sort of flaky. I work hard but I don’t always know exactly what I’m doing. I try to keep things natural and spontaneous, so going into making the album, I knew I wanted my band to play on it and what songs I wanted to do, but I wanted to be open-minded to letting whatever needed to happen, happen. None of it was intentional. I think that I naturally do what I do without thinking about it. Back to Forever does have a good bit of variety – it’s a bit more cohesive than Catching a Tiger, but there’s a variety since I grew up with so many influences that I’ll never be one thing or one sound. It’s fun to give the songs the treatment they’re calling for and not overthinking it.”
Was there a split second in time when you realised you were ready to get started on recording?
“Well, I think I was wanting some time at home. The first month or two that things wound down and I wasn’t touring, I was working on writing but staying close to home. I needed a good month or two to not really think too much about it. If I wrote, I wrote and if I didn’t, I didn’t. I needed to get to the point where I was bored again and feel nuts because I’d been sitting in the house being relatively alone and not necessarily lazy, but quiet and a homebody and getting my energy and adrenaline back into balance. When you tour, it can really tap your adrenaline. I never thought that was a thing, but you’re in fight or flight when you’re in travel mode and I needed to get balanced again. Once I was bored, then I was like, okay, I’m full of creative juices and ready to go.”
Was it all a bit easier the second time around?
“It wasn’t too much different. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it wasn’t any harder. There’s always a certain amount of anxiety and expectation when you’re trying to create a body of work. There were stops and starts with the first album, so it was similar. It’s all about assembling the songs you think go together and that explore a good cross-section of topics.
One thing that was different was that I had the band come in and play on the record, so recording was more fun. I was surrounded by people that I really knew, laughed with and relaxed with and felt comfortable. I didn’t know the people the first time around well enough to say that I didn’t like something or whatever. I could say what I wanted this time around. The producer this time was a lot more laid back – they’re both enormously talented, but this time around the producer was more jokey and encouraging. He was also complimentary even when I probably wasn’t singing my best. he would think it was beautiful and great. I was surrounded by a lot of positivity and encouragement. Now I’m 30 but I was 25 when I made my first album. Now I’m an adult – I know what I’m talking about and people are trusting my vision.”
You’ve said that you weren’t actively going through a heartbreak while putting this album together, unlike Catching a Tiger. Is it easier to write about things in hindsight or are they both equally as valuable?
“Well, I think they’re equally as valuable. It’s cathartic, so when I was heartbroken and a bit younger, it was important for me to tell my side of the story and I think a lot of people can relate to that one-sided thing. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started taking a look at my behavior in relationships where I’ve been the victim or I’ve been the one causing pain. It’s nice – not better or worse – to be more of an observer so I can tell both sides of the story instead of just mine and give more of an examination of common conflicts between people who are trying to be in a relationship together. I like being able to write with the perspective that I earned. It’s not in my imagination – it’s true and literal, but I had to go through it and get some space from it before I could say okay, this is what I did. I put someone through what I’ve been put through and saw how they reacted and then I could be more compassionate, you know? It was fun to write with that in mind, but both things are great.”
There’s a really nice mix of songs, topically speaking, on the album. Are there any particular tracks that stand out to you, that feel really close to you? “Well, of course I love all of them and I go through phases with them as well. I like different ones for different reasons. I love ‘Further Away’ because it’s fun to play live and I respect my guitar players so much – they’re so talented and it’s such a group effort. But ‘They All Want You’, I’m really proud of that one and connected because it’s what I’m saying about seeing both sides of a situation. I did date someone who I felt like I was always the last person to be considered, but we do that to people we love. We take them for granted and think, they love me unconditionally and love me enough that if I’m going out of my way to please everyone else, they’ll understand.
I was in a relationship where I felt like I was the one giving too much and then so then later, and I was dating someone, I could see that I was sort of doing the same thing. I’m giving my energy out to everyone else, to strangers, and at the end of the night he gets the last of my energy, I’m distracted and probably drunk. I wasn’t giving him what he was giving me. I’m proud of that because I really remember feeling both sides of that and I also think that songwriting-wise, the little details in there, it’s a visual and descriptive song where you can picture being in the bar and him talking to some girl with a braid in her hair, you know? I’m glad I can write with more detail so I can paint a better picture of what’s happening.”
There’s a musical richness to a lot of the tracks, and it’s not always the lyrics that people connect to – sometimes it can be the musicality. ‘Can’t Take It Back’ is one of my favourites for that reason. “It’s fun hearing what people like! When you say it, I think, oh I like that, too! ‘Can’t Take It back’, musically it’s catchy and strong but again topically, I’ve been the one saying I hate you and I never want to talk to you and I’ve also been the person someone said that to, just because you’re angry, not because you meant that. Not even just relationships with our partners, maybe friends. Sometimes we do thins to see how people react and see if they’re still invested. ‘Sleepwalking’ was fun, as well, and that’s our new single. Every one of them is special. I love hearing what people like because it’s always something different.”
What’s the next year look like for you? More touring, I imagine?
“Well, I try to take things one day at a time and not look too far ahead because I get overwhelmed. Fingers crossed we’ll get to do some TV shows and I’d like to sorta step up in my career. It’s a huge huge dream of mine to be on Saturday Night Live. I’m hoping we get some good promo opportunities, TV shows, etc. I think touring is where we feel we’re really representing ourselves, as well. This month is the UK and Europe tour, November and December is a US tour and in the New Year we’ll start all over again and hit the cities we missed last time.”