Lissie is an American country artist from Rock Island, Illinois. Originally performing in a three-piece band with bandmates Eric Sullivan and Lewis Keller, Lissie amicably branched out alone after moving to Iowa in 2015 from Ojai, California. Lissie has four studio albums, and released her first EP in 2009. This was closely followed by her debut album in 2010.
Many of us are familiar with her from her role playing at The Roadhouse in Part 14 of Twin Peaks: The Return, but before this Lissie had already been picked up by Sony Music’s Columbia Records, had voiced a track used for a UK tea commercial, worked with Snow Patrol on their album Fallen Empires, and featured on the TV series Loudermilk.
She was interviewed by our very own Andy Hageman back in 2019. Ever since discovering Lissie’s song ‘Wild West’ in her Twin Peaks performance, she has been a firm favourite of mine.
Here are her perfect ten.
1. ‘Don’t You Give Up On Me’, My Wild West (2016)
One of my favourite songs of all, this song is a beautiful balance between emotion and reason. There is, as the title suggests, a need for the belief of an other to be accepting; in this context it seems aimed at God. This is emotional and wrenching, but at the same time it feels strong. There is no weakness in the request, only an acknowledgement of personal value and a wish that this value is also seem by others.
This song is the perfect introduction to a Lissie playlist. It is full of life and power, and its upbeat nature welcomes you into the world of Lissie’s music with open arms.
Sometimes I hear this track as a note to oneself—a request that its creator not give up on themselves. Hearing it like a pep talk, although I am sure this is not the way in which it was written, makes it seem sadder but gives it more depth to me.
This track is also great to sing in the car.
2. ‘Wild West’, My Wild West (2016)
The track that guided me to Lissie, ‘Wild West’, features in a Roadhouse scene during Twin Peaks: The Return. Another very powerful track, this song is magical in its expression of strength and self-dignity. There are traces of self-doubt laced through it, but they are confronted by defiance, “I’ll be fine”, “I’m going rogue in the wild wild west”.
I loved this track immediately and enjoy everything it stands for. A song about courage, about living on the edge, and about the personal strength it takes to live for yourself, ‘Wild West’ embodies the spirit of individualism and self-love. It makes me feel powerful without distracting me from the emotions underneath. The track is gentle and doesn’t cover up vulnerability, instead using vulnerability to express growth.
The music video for this song depicts a group of children running through fields and enjoying what looks like a beautiful summer evening. The rawness and the authenticity that these images manage to capture is nostalgically poignant. A very differently creative video from the style that most of us are used to.
3. ‘When I’m Alone’, Catching A Tiger (2010)
This track feels emotionally heavier than many of Lissie’s tracks, but is somehow instrumentally lighter. The melody lifts and crescendos and the guitar is upbeat and passionate.
It is a very beautiful song about spending time around somebody who makes you “feel”. I believe this track was intended to be a comment about an absent love, but I have never heard it that way.
I find a lot of peace in the tone of this track. There are the typical traces of sadness that often come in a song about love, and, in the lines that do express vulnerability, “next time you leave, don’t go without me”, “and when I reach out I only grab air”, there is something deeply moving.
However, there is no dwelling on these concepts; the focus is always on the rhythm and the spirit of the music and the way being around certain people makes you feel alive in a way that you cannot replicate in their absence.
I am also reminded that, whilst being around somebody can be breathtaking, when they are absent you will be okay.
4. ‘Castles’, Castles (2018)
The title track of Lissie’s 2018 album, this song is fun and tells a story. It highlights a hope for a relationship that doesn’t crumble like sandcastles do, and looks toward the future. “Heart strong as steel” describes someone who is ready to give love another go, someone who recognises that you can fall down a few times but not every time. Another song written about love, the lyrics still find compassion and individuality. Lissie is using yet another metaphor and it gives such strong imagery, and is unique from the rest. I picture the innocence of childhood sandcastles and I am left with this image influencing how I hear the rest of the track.
The connotations of the song’s imagery create a fresh, tender impression of this track. After I finished listening to it the images in my head stayed behind, lingering longer than most do. In addition to this, the backing instrumental is very strong and makes me want to turn up the bass on my CD player. I am a fan of the way this song is put together to be both gentle and nurturing as well as punchy and loud.
‘Castles’ was the perfect choice to title this album.
5. ‘I Bet On You’, Back To Forever (2013)
This track cut the deepest for me emotionally. Perhaps it is simply that I first heard it at a time that was impactful to me, but this depiction of brokenheartedness left me in pieces. I’m sandwiching it in the middle of the playlist to give you good preparation and recovery buffers. The song is unique in its suggestion that love is a bet, a willing agreement, a decision to wholeheartedly commit yourself. There is no implication that the love was fate, that it was inevitable—the song describes the active choice made by the artist to enter such a relationship. This creates a larger sense of betrayal in the loss of that love. It was no accident and neither was its breakdown. Lissie’s lyrics emphasise the damage done when romantic relationships disintegrate, whilst also reminding us that we make our own decisions, and these can make or destroy us.
This track uses the phrase, “I bet on you”, to indicate that, with this love, all the eggs were in one basket. It tells the story of somebody who believed hopelessly that they had found their person, only to be left disappointed and distraught.
The bet was lost, and I love this analogy.
6. ‘Together or Apart’, My Wild West (2016)
This track is one that grew on me, but didn’t make it into my initial playlist. The title is a little cheesy and I don’t find it as catchy as other Lissie songs. That being said, the lyrics touched me in places the tune couldn’t quite reach, and I found myself listening to it again and again.
There’s something about the way that this song captures the feelings of loneliness and frustration that make it very difficult to listen to casually. I was particularly struck by the lines, ‘I’ll touch you with my mind’, and, ‘distance cannot finish what we start’—the latter of which took on a deeper meaning when we were hit by the pandemic.
Although the title initially made me think this was going to be a corny depiction of love and romance, it is actually an exquisitely written track full of pleasing sentiments and poetic imagery.
7. ‘Boyfriend’, Castles (2018)
‘Boyfriend’ is a moody, empowering track that emphasises the importance of the relationships you choose. Containing the lyric, ‘I don’t want a house made out of sand’, in a throwback to ‘Castles’, this song upholds the narrative present throughout Castles of independence and yearning for stability. The repeated refrain, “I don’t want a boyfriend”, is followed by, “I want a man”, in what sounds like an attempt to separate bad relationships of the past from the anticipated positive relationships of the future.
Something I love about this song is how easy it is to get absorbed in it. This track doesn’t have the emotional depth of others in this playlist, but there is something about its message that stays with you even if it doesn’t strike you immediately.
The musical rhythm and the energy of the track is upbeat and this is a very easy track to get stuck in your head.
8. ‘Cold Fish’, Back To Forever (2013)
I really enjoyed the ferocity behind this track the very first time I heard it. I love the defiant calling out of those who try to take what they’ve not earned, and the energetic way Lissie punches out her lyrics. The mood of the track stands out immediately.
As a person who appreciates a little bit of defiance and ‘stick it to the man’, I got behind this track straight off the bat. I was singing along on my first listen and it remains one of my most played Lissie songs. The high energy and the hint of bitterness is excellent for bad days when your mood is falling a little flat. A great pick-me-up as well as a great social metaphor. ‘Cold Fish’ is lyrically pristine and musically a lot of fun.
9. ‘Hero’, My Wild West (2016)
A stunning song filled with honest feeling and relatable self-doubts, ‘Hero’ is a perfect track. Written for My Wild West, the song unpicks luck, success, love, and consequences. With arguably the catchiest chorus on this list, ‘Hero’ takes some beating when it comes to popular appeal. This song has always been my favourite track of this playlist.
There is something very special about songwriting that conveys such realistic and common emotions in a very clear-cut way, whilst keeping hold of a strong sense of personal storytelling. Whilst I find it very easy to relate this song to my own life, there are very clear references to Lissie’s own. It manages to be entirely accessible without flinching away from the very real-life details of its creator. We all wonder what different ways our lives could have turned out, and here we see Lissie’s interpretation of her own story.
This track fits naturally as the penultimate track of this playlist, as it speaks in the past tense. As a listener it feels like looking back on the journey this playlist has taken us on, and the reflective notes fit well here.
10. ‘In Sleep’, Catching A Tiger (2010)
Why not go out with a bang?
This track from Lissie’s debut album stands the test of time with all the grace given to it by its soulful and passion-infused writing.
‘In Sleep’ is a song about the breakup of a relationship and the subsequent feeling of waking up each day and having to remember the heartbreak all over again. The line that cuts the deepest, “why am I so terrified of waking?”, reminds us what a terrible period of time it is when you are hurting so much that you dread to wake up each day.
There are a lot of references to dreams in Lissie’s music, and in an interview with Songfacts, Lissie stated that her dreams, “really influence [her] moods and [her] decisions”. It makes sense that she would have a track dedicated to sleep specifically.
This track is high energy, classically honest, and breathtakingly raw.
I love this at the end of the playlist, because, as a listener, I don’t want to wake up from the bubble of music I am sitting in. We started with a track that asked us, “what kind of world will it be when I wake up from this dream?”, and now we are going to find out.
Overall, I have always been a huge fan of Lissie and her music. I love the way the strength and power of her voice complements the rawness of her emotions, without detracting from them. I greatly enjoyed her stripped-back album of last year, which contained covers of her previous work performed with a simple piano accompaniment. I am excited to see what the future brings for Lissie.