Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

issie Mau­rus takes the stage and the mem­bers of the stand­ing-room crowd im­me­di­ately be­gin to sway like old friends

they hear her raspy, bluesy voice. "I could've been a hero, I could've been a zero,"Could've been all these things."

This con­cert in Chicago is a homecoming of sorts for the singer-song­writer, a na­tive of Rock Is­land, Illinois. Many fam­ily mem­bers are in the au­di­ence, and she's glad to see them af­ter months on the road.

Still, though the en­ergy that is high, the lyrics of many of her songs tell of loves lost and a ca­reer that hasn't quite turned out the way she'd ex­pected or hoped. "I could've been noth­ing, I could've been some­thing, "Could've been all these things."

Lissie, as she is known to her fans, was well on her way to mak­ing it a decade ago, when she was in her early 20s. She had a deal with Columbia Records UK and a first al­bum that went gold in the United King­dom and Nor­way. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple bought that al­bum. Crit­ics raved. But af­ter her sec­ond al­bum didn't sell as well, she found her­self with­out that record deal and at a cross­roads.

What kind of artist did she want to be? Was her pur­suit of fame re­ally worth it? What would it now mean to "make it"?

She opted for un­charted ter­ri­tory: She left Los An­ge­les, bought a farm in Iowa and set her­self up as an in­de­pen­dent artist. It can be a more vi­able model in this time when singers can reach po­ten­tial fans more eas­ily via mu­sic stream­ing ser­vices and on­line sales. But there cer­tainly are no guar­an­tees for her or any­one else who takes this route.

"Un­der­neath the table, "Hope for gold, Where it stops, no­body knows." Even as a child, the sassy tow­head with freck­les had some pipes - and Lissie liked the no­tion that her tal­ent could lead to fame. In third grade, she landed the lead in the mu­si­cal "An­nie" at the din­ner the­ater in her home­town. "My mom would say that my eyes would light up as soon as I got on the stage," she says.

The daugh­ter of an ob­ste­tri­cian and an in­te­rior de­signer, she had plenty of op­por­tu­nity, but she was re­bel­lious, cut­ting off her hair, pierc­ing her nose and be­com­ing more of a loner. Af­ter a runin with a teacher that landed her in jail briefly, she fin­ished high school in an al­ter­na­tive pro­gram.

But she never gave up on her mu­sic

She spent a cou­ple years in col­lege in Colorado, then ended up at a per­form­ing arts pro­gram in LA. There, she honed her skills and ma­te­rial on Wed­nes­day nights at a bar with a group of per­form­ers who dubbed them­selves the Beach­wood Rock­ers' So­ci­ety. And gigs started com­ing. It was at the South by South­west fes­ti­val in Austin, Texas, that a big break came when Mike Smith, then an ex­ec­u­tive with Columbia Records UK, hap­pened upon Lissie.

Pour­ing rain had prompted him to duck for cover in­side a dive bar and he heard her voice from a back room. Her tal­ent was still raw then, he says. But he heard some­thing her voice. He watched her stamp her foot to keep the beat, her tou­sled hair wav­ing back and forth. He liked her rocker vibe and blues edge. "I was just re­ally taken with her," he now says.

Columbia signed her in 2006, and four years later, she fi­nally re­leased her first al­bum, "Catch­ing a Tiger." It so­lid­i­fied her fan base in Europe and also in her na­tive Mid­west af­ter Fat Possum Records re­leased the al­bum in this coun­try. But then Smith and another of Lissie's cham­pi­ons left the la­bel, be­fore her sec­ond al­bum came out - un­for­tu­nate tim­ing, he now con­cedes. Al­ready, the lyrics on her sec­ond al­bum were hint­ing at dis­il­lu­sion­ment:

"I don't want to be fa­mous "If I got to be shame­less. "If you don't know what my name is, "So what?"

The new regime dropped her. And Lissie, who was then liv­ing in Ojai, Cal­i­for­nia, out­side LA, let the news sink in. "I was a lit­tle bit afraid, and I felt like I'd failed a lit­tle bit," she said. Mostly, she says she felt re­lieved. Yes, she'd learned at the la­bel, with its ex­po­sure and re­sources. But she also was frustrated by a process - de­mands to write more, de­lays in get­ting a fin­ished record out, be­ing told her songs weren't good enough. That be­came "soul-de­stroy­ing," she says.

Her long­time man­ager, Peter Leak, who's rep­re­sented such artists as Dido and 10,000 Ma­ni­acs, said Lissie thought he would "freak out" when she de­cided to leave LA be­hind. "But ac­tu­ally, I thought it was a great idea," he says, not­ing that go­ing in­de­pen­dent suited her some­what re­bel­lious na­ture.

In mid-2015, she took her sav­ings and bought that farm in north­east­ern Iowa. The farm, sur­rounded by fields of with­ered corn­stalks, is slowly be­com­ing home. Lissie has put her per­sonal touches on the house, in­clud­ing funky wall­pa­per with birds in the kitchen. She's also started a mu­ral with a big red heart on one of the smaller build­ings, and talks about turn­ing the barn into a record­ing stu­dio. She rolls up for the in­ter­view in her pickup truck with her dog, By­ron, in tow. Her com­pan­ion at home, he stays with her par­ents when she's away. When she first ar­rived in Iowa last year, she had al­ready writ­ten some new songs. So she called pro­ducer and bass player Curt Sch­nei­der, with whom she'd de­vel­oped a good chem­istry. To­gether, they wrote the ti­tle track on her lat­est al­bum, "My Wild West." "I think she tried or a long time to be how the es­tab­lish­ment wanted her to be," Sch­nei­der says. "What's not com­mon is for some­one to be brave enough to say, 'I'm done try­ing to sat­isfy other peo­ple.'"

The al­bum came out in Fe­bru­ary, with more good re­views. (Lissie also re­cently re­leased a live acous­tic al­bum, recorded at Union Chapel in North Lon­don.) Smith, the for­mer Columbia exec, says Lissie's new work is, in many ways, "melod­i­cally, the strong­est record she's put out." She's been tour­ing in the United States and Europe much of this year, and she ac­knowl­edges the trav­el­ing can be bru­tal. But be­cause her over­head is low, most of what she makes in ticket and mer­chan­dise sales is hers. Fi­nan­cially, she says, this could be her best year yet.

A re­cent show in Min­neapo­lis, for in­stance, was sold out at a venue that holds about 625 peo­ple. In this case, it was just Lissie, her acous­tic gui­tar and a mi­cro­phone - not un­like those early days. Her work has been get­ting ra­dio air­play there, and many mem­bers of the crowd sang along:

"Don't you give up on me" "As I dive into the dark" "Slip into the end­less sea." "Don't you give up on me." Back in Iowa, she walks down to the pond at her farm and stands on an old bench to sur­vey what is now hers. She'd love to have a cou­ple of big­ger hits to sus­tain her ca­reer over the long run, she says. But fame is no longer the end game; her ver­sion of suc­cess is dif­fer­ent and she says that's fine. Here, she en­vi­sions writ­ing some of her best work. "It's been free­ing," she says. "It's been fun again." — AP

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