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A Hillside of Sunflowers

Sam Bennett
Lissie 1 teewyn

Last month American singer songwriter Lissie released Thank You To The Flowers EP, a collection of stunning covers written by female artists she admires: Martha Wainwright, Miley Cyrus, Paula Cole, Lana Del Rey and Sinéad O’Connor. Each song has been recorded as a form of therapy, using her powerful voice to infuse every track with her own emotions to simultaneously lift her spirit and celebrate the women that inspired her to do so. We caught up with Lissie to talk pain, politics, and positivity.

How are you doing and how has this challenging year been for you?

I’m doing alright today. It’s been one of those years, personally and collectively, with the pandemic and politics, and I also had a pretty painful breakup. I feel like I’ve really had to build on my distress tolerance; accepting things I can’t control, having to be more present, and all sorts of spiritual and mental exercises I’ve had to practice – just to not completely lose my sh*t. I hope someday it’ll be like, ‘yeah, that was a time of growth, not just for me but all of us.’

Other musicians we’ve spoken to have found their creativity lacking this year – time to write didn’t guarantee songs.

I would agree. Throughout all of this I haven’t really been writing because there’s been so much going on. Where do you even start? A huge time – so many emotions and problems – but I live on a farm, so I channelled my creative energy into gardening, planting flowers and trees. I try to put my creativity into things like that, or just rearranging the furniture or doing dishes. Little things can be creative, in a weird way, too.

Flowers of course inform the title of your new EP, which at some point you found time to record so congratulations!

Thank you. In July I had this breakup, so I was listening to Spotify, or maybe I’d put on ‘Bloody Mother F**king A**hole’ by Martha Wainwright. I was just listening to all this music, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ or ‘Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?’, would hear a song and think, ‘oh, that really feels close to home, I can relate to that. Even though I wasn’t writing, I wanted to sit down and learn these songs on the guitar. Once I learnt them, I went to Minneapolis – a couple of hours north of where I live – and was able to record these vocal covers, not really knowing what I’d do with them – it just seemed good to stay active and creative. A producer I work with in LA got some other musicians to add guitars and percussion and I thought, ‘this is really nice, I should put these out.’ Hence, Thank You To The Flowers. As the summer went by, there were days when everything felt so heavy, then I’d take a walk down my driveway and my neighbour had planted this whole hillside of sunflowers. I really felt the sentiment: ‘thank you to the flowers.’ I was struggling but could walk my dog down the road and see all the flowers… and when you’re planting, you’re having hope for the future. You put a seed in the ground, then you have to wait, but then it turns into something beautiful. That metaphor was really comforting to me this summer. Also, the feminine could be interpreted as floral, so it’s thanking all these wonderful women whose music I wanted to cover, because they got me through a really hard time.

Our January edition is all about optimism, of which this EP has plenty.

I think being vulnerable takes so much more strength than being strong, and there’s so much optimism when you can really go into your feelings and truly process them. This EP was a way to really settle into uncomfortable feelings, to then come out the other side like, ‘ok, I processed that, I don’t have to carry that around with me anymore. I dug myself deep into it and now I’m letting it go, clearing some space for whatever comes next.’ That’s a part of being human, and with each struggle you overcome, you get more tools for the next hard thing that’s inevitably going to happen. Life is going to be really up and down for as long as you live. When you embrace that, you can appreciate the happy times and good fortunes even more.

Speaking of happy times, good news to come out of the States recently, politically.

Absolutely. It’s been a nightmare. For these poor people already so traumatised by the pandemic, to have Trump on TV, tweeting, and talking every day, just being cruel… he’s been triggering everyone’s trauma. We can’t look away, he’s just there being mean, ignorant, selfish, and greedy. I was a Bernie Sanders supporter so Joe Biden wasn’t my first pick, but I still feel he’s a compassionate person and hopefully his calming presence can turn down the temperature a little bit, so people don’t have to be paying attention to the president every second of every day, thinking, ‘what’s he going to do next for shock value?’ It’s been exhausting and we all need a break from that. I think that’s crucial in clearing a little bit of space for us all to heal from this journey we’ve been on for the last four years.

What have you been listening to recently?

I don’t listen to a lot of music because it makes me feel and concentrate too much. A lot of people can put music on in the background, but I want to listen to it; I can’t help but be like, ‘oh, what’s that?’ I tune into it so much. I’ll put on Schitt's Creek or The Office – I like TV shows on in the background. But the new Miley Cyrus album is so good, and I have a girlfriend named Sarah Buxton who’s put out a new EP – so spiritual, comforting, and gorgeous. When friends of mine put out new music, I like to listen. There’s also two podcasts I really like: Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us and On Being with Krista Tippett.

You’re on Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place album, born from her podcast of the same name, with an acoustic version of your original song ‘Surrender To Be Free’.

I’ve met Fearne over the years, I consider her a friend, she’s lovely and such an inspiration. I was familiar with her podcast for sure – exploring mindfulness, presence, mental health and spirituality – right up my alley. So, in the early days of the pandemic when she reached out like, ‘hey, do you want to contribute a song for this?’ I jumped at the chance. I wrote the song in quarantine that I thought fitted the mood of everything that was going on.

What else is on your agenda?

This year I spent a few weeks in Nashville and wrote songs, half of which I think are pretty great, so I’m in the practice now of writing for a new album and hopefully I’ll be able to put something out in 2021 – and get back out on the road when it’s safe to do so.

Thank You To The Flowers is out now


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