Country rock singer Lissie discusses latest album before Iowa City performance

Lissie, an alternative-rock-country singer, talks homecomings and healings ahead of her performance at Wildwood Smokehouse and Saloon on Friday.


Wyatt Dlouhy

Lissie performs at the Kum & Go stage during the 2019 80/35 Festival in downtown Des Moines on Friday, July 12, 2019.

Charlotte McManus, Arts Reporter

The alternative-rock-country singer Lissie begins her latest album, “Carving Canyons,” with a heartbreaking lament about the last time she and her ex-lover spoke. However, the titular song, a larger-than-life anthem about making your own way, ends with the recognition that “pain is just a river flowing through me.”

Lissie will perform the album on Friday at Wildwood Smokehouse and Saloon in Iowa City.

Since her first EP in 2009, Lissie has earned a steady spot in the music scene, amassing 740,165 monthly listeners on Spotify and opening for names like Lenny Kravitz and Tom Petty.

She said she’s been performing for as long as she can remember, taking the lead role in school musicals and playing open mics in her hometown.

“It was my way of sticking up for myself,” Lissie said. “Because I’m the youngest of four kids, it was also my way of getting attention.”

Her latest album fuses her hallmark country vocals with folksier guitar. Still, the rock remains in its powerful choruses and strong beats. The album, the child of a “blindsiding” breakup and a lonely lockdown experience, draws a line from grief to acceptance.

She spent the first six months of the pandemic just “processing like everybody else,” gardening, and taking her dog on walks on her 45-acre farm in northeast Iowa. Then, she drove to Nashville, where she wrote and recorded the album.

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“I couldn’t tour, move, go on vacation, or see friends — I was just alone with my dog for months on end,” Lissie said. “So, I had to face and deal with all the things I’d put off dealing with. By the time I finished the album, I had come out the other side of this very intense, emotional time.”

Nora Corry, Wildwood Saloon general manager, said that so far, the set up for the show has gone smoothly.

“Everybody’s really excited for the show,” she said. “I think it will be a nice change to the kind of music we usually have here — we have a lot of metal shows, but she brings such a fresh vibe.”

A native of Rock Island, Illinois, Lissie is connected to Iowa City through her brother, who lives in the area. Her parents also attended the University of Iowa. She said playing at Wildwood will practically be a “hometown show” because so many of her family and friends are attending.

Lissie also said she feels “most at home” in the Midwest. She moved to Los Angeles for fifteen years to jumpstart her music career, but missed the seasons, her friends, and the people, and was “called back” in 2015.

She’s also proud of the balance she has struck here in Iowa. While she enjoyed her time in the West, she keeps her family and hometown friendships close.

“It hasn’t always been an easy road, because the music industry is not a kind one,” she said. “I just feel fortunate that I’ve been able to sustain a career in music and also stay true to myself.”