Hometown: Rock Island, Ill.
Album: Why You Runnin’ EP
For Fans Of: Emmylou Harris, Neko Case, Band of Horses
Two years ago, Lissie Maurus moved from Rock Island, Ill., to Los Angeles, then escaped L.A. for nearby Ojai. She lives there with her Lhasa Apso, Byron, in a little bungalow where she writes songs and plays house. “I’ve been being super domestic and making pies and cooking a ton,” says the cornsilk-haired 27-year-old, who performs under her first name. When she saw signs for a recent chili cook-off in town, she thought, “You know, I might as well enter that,” and then spent weeks rigorously testing her recipe. “I would take chili to the grocery store and have the guys at the butcher shop taste it and tell me what was missing,” she says. “Like, ‘It needs more garlic. It needs more spice.’”
That’s pretty much how Lissie approaches music, too—headlong and with a little help from her friends. She started playing in Rock Island coffeehouses as a teenager and later gave college a try, but writing songs had her snared. Then, through an ex-boyfriend, she met Band of Horses bassist Bill Reynolds. At home in Ojai, in London with Ed Harcourt and with some of Reynolds’ bandmates in Asheville, N.C., the pair recorded her first EP, Why You Runnin’, released in November. The five tracks revel in pure, countrified sorrow, with Lissie’s glorious voice steeped in whiskey and reverb on raucous lead single “Little Lovin’” and plaintive hometown ballad “Oh Mississippi”—a haunting glimpse at what’s in store for her full-length debut, coming in 2010.
Her maiden chili-cook-off attempt fared less well (she didn’t even place, and suspects local nepotism) though she stuck with a tried-and-true formula. “You start with something kind of basic that’s an expression of yourself,” she says. “And it’s the little, tiny accents that make it really good.”