The Piano Retrospective: An Interview with Lissie

Photo courtesy of Reybee inc, by Bill Reynolds

Photo courtesy of Reybee inc, by Bill Reynolds

Elizabeth Maurus, more widely known as Lissie, the Americana singer-songwriter from Illinois, first introduced us to her music with her debut ep Why You Running in November of 2009 followed by her first full length Catching A Tiger in the summer of the following year. Since then Lissie has released three more records including the 2016 critically acclaimed My Wild Wild West and has toured globally.

On April 5th 2019, Lissie released When I’m Alone: The Piano Retrospective. The album is a brilliant, re imagined collection of her greatest songs all presented in piano and vocals arrangements and also includes her captivating covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and The Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away.” On Wednesday, May 1st, at The Largo in Los Angeles, Lissie will be begin taking this album on the road to share the raw emotion that it’s stripped down set displays. But before she embarks on this tour, we were lucky enough to catch an intimate set of these new renditions in a private setting and get a few questions on the new the album answered.

The third track on the new record, "Everywhere I Go", which was originally released as part of your debut EP Why You Runnin,' was first introduced to us in November of 2009. What inspired you to release this retrospective now nearly a decade later? 

“Everywhere I Go” continues to be one of my favorite songs.  I feel like, all these years later, I can still access the emotion from which it was originally created.  I hadn’t had a chance to perform it with just a simple, yet beautiful piano arrangement.  I feel like it has many lives, one of which was to be presented this way,  with a lot of space.  This piano retrospective was created almost as a supplement to my existing albums/ songs.. Not a replacement, a continuation.  Why not? :)

I know you lived in Southern California for some years before returning to the Midwest in 2015. Where were the majority of these re imaginings written? Has living on a farm had any impact on how they were written?

Creating this album was different from what I consider to be more like my “newly produced” albums. [It’s] a subtler release. All of the songs already existed.  My trusted collaborators Martin Craft and Jo Dudderidge composed the new arrangements alongside my voice in a studio in Berlin, far from either SoCal or Iowa.  I wouldn’t say that my farm life had much of an impact other than being at a place in my life where I wanted to indulge the itch to reflect on my past decade of songs and to contemplate where I was, all of that came from the events that made the songs and the way my voice has developed.  


“…I wanted to indulge the itch to reflect on my past decade of songs and to contemplate where I was…”


Were there any tracks that transitioned to vocal/piano only in a smooth and natural manner? Any that weren't? Did you have a favorite approach or experience in how you touched back on your past work? 

Going into making this, I knew what songs I wanted to do.  Generally, the bigger, more well known tracks from each of my 4 studio releases along with some other favorites.  I loved that, in my opinion, these songs worked well without the other instruments and production.  So, I feel like they all went smoothly! Haha, I’ve performed these songs in so many ways for so many years.  Band, duo, solo acoustic and now piano, I remember what I wrote them about and where they came from and I get to keep growing with and exploring them.  I particularly liked how “sleepwalking” and “in sleep” translated.  There’s definitely some different emotional angles being brought out from what they were originally. 


Was there a certain narrative you were trying to share with us in these specific tracks and the order they're presented in? 

For me, I’m always singing and performing and creating.  This was a fun exercise to be considered for those who are interested and now to carry on!

What was it like to return back to your past songs? Were there many take aways in your personal life through the years that brought new life into your songs? 

I realized in performing these songs with a piano last month in Norway, how cool it is to see how a painful event in my life could lead to the creation of a song that could create work that would bring so much joy and adventure to my life!  I use a gardening metaphor.. how literal shit becomes beautiful food and flowers.  It helps lend perspective to how I view my experiences and ups an downs.


In a 2018 interview regarding your album Castles, you mentioned every new release coincides with a chapter in your life. Such as My Wild West accompanying your move to your farm in Iowa, and Castles being a hopeful farewell to someone you love. To quote you from that interview "You have to go into your darkness to find your light sometimes." Have you found that lightness? How has your chapter surrounding Castles transition into that of When I'm Alone

Castles really allowed me to work through a lot of the romantic relationship baggage I had been carrying.  Patterns, an inclination towards drama, poor decision making, and behavior.  And it actually has changed my approach since.  A lot of toxicity went away after that album came out. Each album has been very healing to make and I find that I quickly move on.  This retrospective is similarly a good chance to reflect and reset, while I find balance in my home and work life and consider what is next! 

Now that we have this collection of re imaginings of your greatest songs, what comes next for Lissie? I know you had a bit of a digital flavor in Castles, will you be experimenting more moving forward? Is there anything you're excited to tackle next? 

I have an idea of a few producers I’d like to work with but I’m hoping to take some time to be at home and start writing about what my present thoughts and feelings are!  I’ve got a lot of them! 2019 is jam packed with tours and travels, so I’ll see what 2020 brings.  I feel like there’s some kind of reverse hindsight metaphor in there! 

Photo courtesy of Reybee inc, by Bill Reynolds

Photo courtesy of Reybee inc, by Bill Reynolds

Lissie will be kicking off her tour for this record in Los Angeles on May 1st at the Largo with a second date on the 3rd! After that you can catch her on the following dates! Don’t forget to get your tickets!


May 4th - Berkeley, CA - UC theater

May 6th - Washington DC - City Winery

May 9th - New York, NY - City Winery

May 10 - Evanston, IL, Space (2 shows!)

May 15th - Ardmore, PA - The Ardmore Music Hall

Reporting and photos by Hector Vergara unless stated otherwise