Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
A few months ago, I was given the distinct pleasure of penning the official "biography" of Lissie Maurus for her first release on Fat Possum Records. A lot of thought was given to this incredible young woman as I sat down for this full afternoon of writing - the first time she stopped by our studio two years ago, the many times she's been back visiting town since then - and you'll read here who I think she is/was on that day. Since then, she's been back through to eat the signature pizza and ice creams that originated in the hometown that she's certainly grown fonder of in the years after her escape from it. We've learned that she has a new pre-show drink and if memory serves, it includes tequila and tomato juice. She's a woman who has finally found her calling and her voice, putting out one of the most sensational records of last year - whether we were rooting for her or not. It's a short five-song EP that sounds like the reminisces of a 100-year-old woman who has lived in plains country her entire life, watching the railroad tracks being laid, the tornados squaring off with the wood barns and windmills and making cherry pies with hardened hands. It sounds as if a life well-lived is being looked back on with the eyes of the young woman decades earlier. Lissie Maurus is from here, this rounded part of the Land of Lincoln that most people still believe to be another part of Chicago, for their mental maps of Illinois end at the suburbs, as that Aurora outlet mall fades into the eastern distance. Rock Island, Ill., probably gave her those carameled freckles that dot her cheeks - the July sun here kissing her by the backyard Slip-n-Slide-side. The blue collar town that shares the Mighty Mississippi River as a border with Iowa, definitely fused into the young, natural blonde her sass and her inability to be phony, to be anything other than a talker, a good hug, a warm and affectionate sweetie pie, a light-hearted sprite, a girl who hits the municipal pool or the freshwater lake frequently when the weather's right, a girl who eats cheeseburgers, drinks when she's happy and is sort of a son of a gun in sundresses and with a smoke between the fingers. Here is where the winters make you seek shelter for months because there are near unbearable situations like wind chill factors of 50 degrees below zero and summertime often brings with it such a thick humidity, fat with mosquitoes, that it melts people in half. The floods that come down the river in the spring are epic. All of these details and more are Lissie and the songs that she writes. Lissie couldn't be more enchanting here, or more of a person explaining the mystery of how she came to be full of that muddy river water, which along with it come the whiskered muskies, the bass and the bullheads that all swim through her body like the dark clouds and the passing driftwood. The songs are stacked with the kind of billowing and rustic sentiments that come from broken hearts that have been patched as well as they can be, gaining that scar tissue that never makes them like new again, but gives them a refined personality, one that's subtle and powerful all in one fling. She has all kinds of love in her heart and it comes out in resplendent and oaky waves, like the insides of a campfire doing a lot of talking, a lot of jumping - leaving its smoke burrowing into your skin and clothing, where it reclines for days. There are all these things that make these songs and her spirit possible, some of it in deference to that spirit: having a grandfather who was an international barbershop quartet champion, having a great grandfather who was a train-jumping hobo on this famous Rock Island Line (the Cash song of the same name Lissie has played in hometown gigs), a father who delivered her at her birth, getting kicked out of high school, singing at Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's wedding for some reason, selling honey for living money upon coming to LA and an inability to separate herself from this Midwestern city where many just raise their families, get fat and die satisfied. She lives by herself, with her dog, in a farmhouse in Ojai, Calif., where she tends to drink wine and will, on a whim, go to the store to buy paint for her rocks so she can construct a medicine wheel in her big backyard. She has all the time to listen to what's happening in her inner chambers, what's turning on and off her lights, what's giving her goosebumps and where she thinks she'll be led tomorrow.