You know a female singer means business when she’ll take a slug of liquor straight from the bottle and wipe her hands off on her shirt. Lissie (née Elisabeth Maurus), a freckled blonde in jeans and cowboy boots, did just that during a recent performance of her single “When I’m Alone,” the YouTube video of which has garnered thousands of clicks. “I don’t dance, I can’t act and I don’t have crazy fashion sense,” says the 27-year-old singer-songwriter. “But when I’m on stage, I’m telling the story of my life.”
Lately, she’s been living on the road, first touring with Ray LaMontagne, A.A. Bondy, The Low Anthem and Joshua Radin, and then making the rounds on the British music festival circuit to promote her debut album. An appealing mix of blues, folk and country, “Catching a Tiger” (Fat Possum Records) dropped in the States this week, but the tracks “In Sleep” and “Bully” already have been in heavy rotation on airwaves in the U.K.
For all her appreciation in England, Lissie’s roots lie in Rock Island, Ill., where she grew up as the youngest of four kids in a “good Midwestern family.” She always loved to sing and eventually taught herself to play the guitar one chord at a time “partly because all the guys did and I thought it was cool.” But she had a mischievous streak — she once got kicked out of high school for mouthing off at teachers. “I think I was misinterpreted as a rebel,” she says, “because I always spoke my mind and wore my heart on my sleeve.”
By the time Lissie went to college at Colorado State University, she was turning her emotions into music, playing coffee houses and recording the track “All My Life,” which got picked up on the television shows “House,” “The O.C.” and “Veronica Mars.” She ultimately left school after two years and moved to Hollywood, where, while working at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market and Urban Outfitters, she landed a manager and a record deal.
Now Lissie has settled in Ojai, Calif., which she says is more her speed. “My life [in Ojai] makes me sound lazy. I sleep in as along as I want, make my coffee and sit on my back porch and check e-mail,” she says. “I’ll make a pie with fruit from my yard, cut flowers, go for a hike, walk my dog, hang a picture. I’m just really domestic. If I wasn’t a singer I’d have to be organizing things in people’s homes.”
She’ll be away from home when she tours the U.S. in the fall, but Lissie plans to return to Ojai to work on her second album. “I’ve had enough stimulation and experience being on the road,” she says. “There will be a lot for me to draw from.”