American singer-songwriter, Lissie, has been gracing the airwaves with her infectious brand of folk-rock for over ten years. As of last Friday, the artist has now released new album When I’m Alone: The Piano Retrospective. A record that combines her past works with a stripped back, vocal-piano led sound.
We spoke to Lissie about the new album, touring and her Guerrilla gig in St Pancras Station.
Hi Lissie, When I’m Alone: The Piano Retrospective is out now. What inspired you to re-release your previous works on a more stripped back album?
Well last year when I was promoting my most recent album Castles, I was doing some piano and vocal performance showcases with Joe Dutteridge, who is a British piano player I work with a lot. It was so freeing and pleasant to be presenting all of my old songs in that context. My voice has lived with these songs for ten years and just being able to have all this space to kind of embody what the songs feel like now in my throat. Having minimal instrumentation just seemed fitting because I have done these songs so many times live with the band and in the studio, it just gave me a fresh perspective on the past decade of my work.
The last time we spoke was after the release of Castles last year. What have you been up to since then?
Well you know how it goes when you put out an album, you tour it for about a year. I wrapped up the band performances of promoting Castles in the fall. When the holidays came around, I was working on this album, which I primarily did in Berlin, between European tour dates and the rest of the winter.
I’ve been doing a lot of solo stuff again. Just around the US primarily so far this year. Doing the piano album kind of got me back to my roots a little bit, starting out as singer songwriter and just having my guitar.
So I’ve just been on the road a ton! Never really been home but it’s all been so positive.
It’s nice to hear that you’ve been having a good time. As you recorded When I’m Alone: The Piano Retrospective between tour dates, was this a different experience compared to when you recorded Castles?
With Castles, I was sort of writing and recording the songs simultaneously. Which differed from my past albums, as I would go and do all these writing sessions and then start the album once the songs are finished. But with Castles I was able to record when writing. When writing a bunch of new songs, you need that space to live and process, so you have a clear point of view with what I’m trying to say.
So recording songs that have already been written a long time ago was a lot easier haha! It was fun and it wasn’t as serious compared to when writing new material.
Being able to just show up and work with Joe Dutteridge and a guy called Martin Craft, who I do a lot of writing with, it was more just of a fun hangout than anything else! My voice has gotten so used to these songs and has become stronger through years of performing them. So it wasn’t a super tedious body of work to create. If anything, Joe and Martin worked on piano arrangements and I would sing along, then they locked down their part and I’d go back to sing to it, then they would replay the piano to my vocal. I didn’t have to be there for everything either haha, it was like I just showed up ‘here’s a bunch of vocals, and I’m going back home!’
It was a pretty natural and easy album to make and the mixing was done in the states by a good friend of mine. So I was able to get all my buddies together and have a smooth process of making the record.
It sounds like working with your friends really heightened the experience.
Yeah! Even now I’m headed to Norway tomorrow and Joe and I are going to do a few shows there. It’s also a different travel experience, two people who aren’t travelling with any gear. The venues we are performing in all have grand pianos. So we can just show up with the clothes on our back and that’s about it. I don’t want to sound lazy but it’s nice when you can simplify your life and just bring it back to what it’s all about, which is my voice and words.
Don’t worry about seeming lazy, you’re not at all!
Haha, thank you.
I saw on social media that for international Piano Day, you went to St Pancras Station and put on a completely unplugged show. How did it go?
It ended up not being exactly what we wanted because the deal was to get the word out before the show…but there were some safety concerns. The London Transit Commission was concerned if there were crowds forming, if I had given notice to my fans, that it would potentially be unsafe.
We didn’t end up getting permission to do it haha, so we did a Guerrilla styled show. We went into the less crowded shopping area of St Pancras. It was cool and funny! Actually, I shouldn’t even tell you this but I had an experience when I was younger, of busking, and not a lot of people stopping. There were some people who turned around and smiled so that was fun, we didn’t really draw a big crowd. People were on their way to places. It was kind of humbling to just show up, even if people do know who I am, they don’t realise it’s me. But we had some little crowds. There was a woman who didn’t speak English and she was dancing whilst I was singing, so that was pretty cute haha.
It was good, and again, it was sort of getting back to basics. You know, showing up and being humbled by the fact that it’s not your core audience and you have to try win people over again. It was pleasant and made me a little nervous and embarrassed for some reason. I didn’t want to be that person who is like ‘i’m going to sing really loud in a train station’ haha.
It is fun to see that it put smiles on people’s faces.
I think it can really brighten up someone’s day, seeing a truly talented person busking. It must of been nice seeing people stop briefly and smile.
Yeah, music is about shared experiences. Getting into an environment like that reconfirmed sharing feels good.
Are there any particular songs on the new album that you feel sound potentially better than the original versions?
I wouldn’t say better but it was really cool to see the songs transition. For example the song ‘Sleepwalking’ which has a solid groove from beginning to end and doesn’t have a ton of dynamics, it was cool to see how well that song translated as a piano vocal. I wasn’t expecting that one to make the cut. In my opinion it ended up sounding great.
I wouldn’t say any of them sounded better than the original versions, but it was definitely heartening to see this experiment worked. That these songs work in a more stripped back approach.
You’re on tour with Jack Savoretti next month! Including a support slot at Wembley Stadium. Please tell us about what the UK audiences can expect from your live shows this time round….
I’m so excited! The majority of that Jack Savoretti tour will be just Joe and I, as a piano duo, as we continue to promote the new album. For the Manchester and London shows I’ll be performing with my band.
But rather than it being a big, loud, rocking show, we are going to try and imbue it with that piano-vocal spirit. It will be more of a mellow and minimal band version of reinterpreting these songs as ballads. For this Jack tour, I think it’s an extension of promoting this duo, piano-led sound.
Would you say that by revisiting your previous works and approaching them in a different way, has helped you better your song-writing capabilities? You’ve approached them in a totally different way, so it must of been an intuitive experience..
Yeah, even this week I’ve been doing some radio stuff and we are asked to do covers. Anytime you do a cover of someone else’s song, especially if it’s just me and a piano, it shows me how big of a difference dynamics make with my voice. So when I go into writing, recognising how I use my voice, that I can really make a lot out of a little by how I choose to push the vocal note. Or if I keep the verses gentle and then by the time the last chorus comes, I’m really belting, it’s going to be more of an exciting listening experience because it’s very dynamic.
When I move forward with song writing, there will be an awareness now of how the dynamics of my voice can make a song more interesting and make it pop.
Finally, can we expect a UK tour this year at all?
I haven’t booked it yet, so I can’t really announce anything… but I’m coming to the UK in October, my friend is getting married in Exeter. And so I’m planning on going to her wedding.
That is one thing that has been good about getting to this stage in my career, where I know what I am, you know I’m not a huge star or anything but I’m fortunate enough to have a good thing going. So I can plan tours around when I’m going to be in my garden and when I’m going to my friend’s wedding haha!
So I can try and find that work-life balance. So because I’m going to this wedding in October, we are going to book a UK piano duo tour. People can look out for me in late October and early November. I’ll be over playing some headline shows, for sure!
That is really exciting, there is a lot to look forward to, thanks for speaking with us Lissie!
You’re welcome, thanks for the opportunity!
When I’m Alone: The Piano Retrospective is out now.
Read our previous interview with Lissie by clicking here.
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Featured image by Bill Reynolds.