Hi Lissie! Thanks so much for talking to me today! So this is an exciting time for you with your new EP Thank You to the Flowers as well as your song Surrender To Be Free being included on Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place album. How did it feel for your song to be featured on such a positive project and how did this come about?
Yeah I mean it felt great, it was such an honour when Fearne asked me to take part. You know I started coming over to the UK back in like 2007 around the release of my first album. I met Fearne and did some things with Radio 1 and Radio 2 so I had run into her but we also had mutual friends so her and I have stayed in touch over the years. When the pandemic started, she reached out directly to say ‘I’ve got this exciting project I’m working on; would you like to be a part of it?’ I, of course, said yes just tell me what you need from me! I had written this song in the early weeks of reacting to and adjusting to this new world we all found ourselves in collectively so it was really wonderful to be a part of something positive. Fearne does a great job with her podcast too; whatever the problems in the world are, each of us as individuals just being able to talk about mental health and mental illness and having conversations about vulnerable topics and giving people a space where they can explore those things and hopefully get some mindfulness techniques is really, really important especially in these times. So, I felt honoured to be a part of it and the song came to me pretty quickly in the midst of processing this new situation we are suddenly in.
Your new EP Thank You to the Flowers Is an interesting concept in that you have chosen to cover a collection of songs that are important to you. What was it that made you want to release an EP of this format?
Well over the years I’ve done a lot of covers and I love it because there’s so many songs and some of the things we go through that feel so specific and personal are universal; everyone knows what it’s like to have a broken heart or to feel fear or existential dread. I’ve done covers a lot in the past anyways and right now I’m not able to tour and not able to record and write a new album of original material. I had gone through a break up in May and it was under pretty awful circumstances and with everything else going on I really kind of had a nervous breakdown. Listening to these playlists on Spotify these songs would come up that I love by artists that I admire so over the course of the early summer I was listening to all this music and feeling like these songs are about me and what I’m going through. I’d pick out these songs and learn them on my guitar and was just playing them at home just because it’s what I do; I like to play music and I like to sing and express myself; so as I was learning them they were healing me through my break up and the pain of the world at the time. I like to do gardening a lot and I had been growing some flowers and they were so beautiful this summer so I had this idea of Thank You To The Flowers because watching them grow and bloom gave me hope for tomorrow; it kept me serious and engaged to see that the flowers are going to keep moving and being beautiful in cycles. So, I was inspired by the flowers and then its sort of a metaphor too because I was wanting to cover all these songs by these amazing women that I admire so it’s also Thank You To the Flowers being these beautiful, passionate artists that wrote these songs that were getting me through the summer. I recorded them with a friend up in Minneapolis and then a producer I work with in LA added some other instruments and musicians and produced them remotely. It’s a really great collection of songs and in these times its good to just continue to put out stuff for people to have. I wanted the people who follow me to have something to tide them over until my next album. I’m just in the mindset of continuing to create and put stuff out in the world and hoping people get something from it.
On the EP there is a cover of Martha Wainwright’s Bloody Mother F*cking *sshole – an extremely powerful and almost stubborn song with the sentiment that ‘I can be angry if I want to’ and encouraging us to show our true emotions. How crucial do you think this sentiment is in today’s society where many feel the need to hide their feelings; especially the line ‘I will not put on a smile’?
Yeah, when I was learning that song it was very much about this break up that I’d had but the more that I loved the song and listened to the song it felt like it was about Donald Trump. It felt like Mother Earth could be singing this song to us like ‘Why are you abusing me?’ It felt like it was so much bigger than just me and my heartbreak; it was about anyone who felt dehumanised, shut down, invalidated or gaslit which is a term we are seeing a lot now. Even in my break up it was like ‘I’m not going to say I’m ok, I don’t have to feel guilty’. So I really felt that message and it is important for women especially; there aren’t really a lot of stories about like women being angry and if there is they’re often compared to some sort of witch. So there’s a lot, with women in particular but men too, where I feel like it’s not good if you are lashing out at other people all the time but anger is usually only masking sorrow so you need to get to the sorrow. You should feel empowered that it is ok to be angry so that song in a healthy way allowed me to feel that I’m allowed to be angry, speak my piece and stick up for myself and not just hide in a corner and be sad. I’m going to stand up for myself. I feel like a lot of people in the face of politics and the abuse of the planet there’s a lot of that collective ‘Enough is enough, I’m going to stand up for myself’ so I felt like it was important to put that energy out and it felt really good getting to sing that title. My friend then made the music video which made it to be a bigger thing than just my feelings but also about the Earth.
Have you had any correspondence or contact with any of the artists whose songs you are covering? If not, what would you hope they feel when they listen to your versions of their songs?
My manager is actually a friend of a friend somehow of Paula Cole so I’ve seen an email that she had heard the cover and she had liked it, so we followed each other on Instagram and I was very excited because I’m a huge fan of hers, she’s amazing. She approved, I don’t know if any of the other artists will know about it but it is a delicate thing. When I covered Martha Wainwright’s song I know it’s very personal to her so you really want to have reverence and respect for these artists because you are embodying their personal work. I always try to approach it with a lot of appreciation and reverence for sure, and I would hope that they feel good knowing that the art that they created is helping me and so many people get through rough times. As an artist I feel very honoured when I get to hear from people who say that my song helped them through a tough time. Hopefully they’d be glad to know they’re helping people.
There’s often questions about whether cover songs can be authentic in that the sentiment is written by someone else; I think your EP definitely helps to disprove this notion. What kind of emotional experience did you have throughout the process of interpreting and recording these covers in your own way?
My confidence got beat up; I struggled so much at the beginning of summer that I actually ended up checking in to a psychiatric hospital for a week and it was awful, like being in jail. I did get a lot of help and therapy and it reminded me too that I never want to come back to a place like this, I need to take care of myself and I need to get better. So it was off the back of getting out of this hospital and knowing I’d made plans to record these songs so I was like I need to pull it together; I didn’t drink for a month and was swimming, taking vitamins and meditating and got really intentional about taking good care of my body and soul. Making these songs was a huge step for me because I’d reached a point in June and July where I didn’t feel like I could even take care of myself. Even after the recording I was still self-conscious like I wasn’t sure if my voice sounded good or any of it did but luckily, I’ve got a great team around me who reassured me it’s beautiful how it is. The producer I work with in LA stepped in and produced them to a point that by the late summer I was in the house blasting them like 'Wow this is really good'. I never really love stuff I do to be honest but I did feel proud of this and I wanted other people to hear it; I hope it moves them because music helps us feel and I think that’s what we all need; to move through our emotions instead of avoiding them.
As well as the covers in this EP you have also in the past covered songs from the likes of Kid Cudi, Fleetwood Mac, Lady Gaga and Metallica; if you were given the opportunity to collaborate on a project with any one artist who you have covered in the past who would you choose and why?
Fleetwood Mac – learning their songs you come to realise that the chord changes are pretty simple, like as a songwriter you realise that these amazing songs are actually in a way quite basic. There is just something about their sound; Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar playing and the harmonies; just all of it. It would be a dream to write and record with Rumours era Fleetwood Mac for sure but I mean I could also say like ten other artists that I’d love to work with, but Fleetwood Mac is the simple answer.
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name their top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
1. Jimmy Cliff – I Can See Clearly Now
2. Sarah Buxton – Little Bit Better
3. The Weeknd – Blinding Lights/Pixies – Where is My Mind?