Q&A with Lissie before her sold-out Òran Mór gig
Elisabeth Maurus, or Lissie as she is known to her fanbase, is fresh off the back of releasing her fourth album, Castles. It has seen the Iowa based singer-songwriter tweak her style ever so slightly, basing this record around a more synth-driven sound, compared to the acoustic nature of her previous three albums. I managed to talk with Lissie a few hours before she played a sold out Òran Mór and on the change in sound she says, “It kind of just came out that way. It’s also a result of the people I was choosing to work with. It’s the best of both worlds – it’s not overproduced but it still has that quality sound to it.”
The advocated approach has clearly paid dividend with Castles being the first of the four albums to chart inside the UK Top 10. As ever, she was perfectly candid when discussing what some of here harsher critics would call a lack of mainstream success. “I never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to make the music that I wanted to and earn a living doing it. Society’s definition of success is that you need more, you need to be better and you need to be number 1. I never really cared about that shit, to be honest.” The interview we shared was hardly any length of time but the Illinoisan provided hugely refreshing insights into an industry that is so often awash with overly-glamorised depictions of fame and all that is served with it. She is perfectly qualified to dismiss them as well, when it becomes apparent that she is all too familiar with the unseen side of music management. “With my second album, (Back to Forever) I felt like I didn’t have a lot of control and I was frustrated and then I got dropped from my label.” It is apparent off the back of Friday night’s set however, that this redundancy had the inverse effect of what was desired by the bosses of Columbia.
Setting off from Finnieston, my flatmate and I are bathed in balmy Spring air. Having listened to a catalogue of Lissie’s material, it fits the billing perfectly. We get there in time for the support act, Mumbai-born acoustic guitarist Nikhil D’Souza. He’s given a meagre thirty minutes to impress but a sizeable crowd has already amassed by the time he takes to the stage. This is the first I’ve heard of him, so all expectations are null and void. D’Souza is purely a solo act but his voice resonates around the intimate setting of The Venue, a quality which will rear its head so often tonight. Like myself, I doubt many of the crowd would have come for D’Souza, but he’ll leave that gig with many a new suitor won.
We are given a brief reprieve before the main act makes her first appearance on stage, backed by her four-piece band who we are told are only two days out of Minneapolis. Opening with ‘Blood and Muscle’, the second single from her latest work, she sets the tone for the rest of the night. Due to her habit of switching set-lists from gig to gig, nobody is quite sure what to expect but we are all left satisfied by the opener. While she has been praised for her vocal talent throughout her career, reviews don’t quite do her justice. Her voice is simply stunning, especially on this particular rendition. If D’Souza resonated, Lissie shattered the room before her, but that’s not to say that it’s overbearing or unpleasant to listen to. She has been compared to Stevie Nicks in the past – “I’m totally flattered and honoured, but I don’t really fit into one genre, I’ve always just tried to be myself.” – but to my ear, this is unjust. While Nicks has a doubtlessly unique element to her vocals, Lissie’s are much more powerful and when she is performing live, they are in full flow. My flatmate remarked that “it’s effortless for her” and that sums it up pretty aptly. The show continues with seamless switches from sultry ballads (Oh Mississippi, Peace) to tried and tested crowd pleasers (When I’m Alone, Don’t You Give Up On Me) before testing out some of the newer material, of which Castles itself is a definite highlight.
Throughout the show, Lissie’s vocals are complemented by the all-female front three manning the helm. Both her lead and bass guitarists have minimal chance to show off their vocals, but they never fail to accentuate when called upon. Furthermore, the lead guitarist was simply fantastic. She played around 5 or 6 solos throughout the night and each time, the crowd stops to appreciate, a rapturous applause following each passage of play. While one could say that the show would have benefited from a more rigid and conventional set-list, the changes in tone were quite frequent from song to song, the frontwoman’s interaction with the crowd is a fantastic addition to what would otherwise have been a plain old gig, never ceasing to thank her fans, giving a bit of context to the song she was about to perform or indeed just telling a story, it’s a trope that can easily make a crowd restless. However, the some 400 that were in attendance reciprocated with no problem whatsoever, displayed by the couple of shots of tequila that made their way to the front in the second half.
While Lissie will never be my favourite artist, there’s no accounting for personal taste, faulting this gig would be a case of splitting hairs. Musically, the audience was presented with five massively talented performers who each had a chance to showcase their individual capabilities. Of course, the show itself revolved around Lissie’s vocals and show persona. However, when this particular capacity has been utilised by artists as successful as Lenny Kravitz and Robbie Williams, should it really be any different? While one may only recognise Maurus off the back of 2010’s When I’m Alone, one would also be sorely mistaken for thinking that she is a one-hit wonder. If this performance is anything to go by, a Glaswegian crowd would be sure to welcome her back with open arms.