Lissie’s new covers EP was self-produced by Lissie and her band in their home of Ojai, CA. “We were approached to cover “Mother” by Danzig which led to a fun week in the studio that inspired us to lay down some other covers we had either been playing live already or had been wanting to do,” explains Lissie. The songs covered on the EP are re-worked versions of Danzig’s “Mother,” One Direction’s “Story of My Life,” Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye,” Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona.”
Lissie explains her song choices: “I chose “Story of My Life” because it was a current hit with lyrics I could identify with. “Electric Eye” because a friend suggested I check it out after a conversation we’d had about the Internet and privacy. That song was ahead of its time! We’ve been performing “Hold On, We’re Going Home” live and I think it’s a really beautiful song. “To Ramona” I’d covered as a solo artist and its message still speaks to me. We’ve jokingly called what we’ve made “roller rink folk metal” but as silly as it sounds I think this work is indicative of what’s to come. Raw and tough, yet still tender and vulnerable.”
To be honest, I have to begin this review by stating that I’ve never been a huge fan of Lissie. I know she’s a huge sensation — at least on the internet — but I simply wasn’t very impressed by much of what I heard from her. Her debut album, Catching a Tiger, was almost too laid back and left me feeling like it would be so much better if it had more infectious hooks. Her second album, Back to Forever, certainly had catchy hooks, but it felt super commercial, as if some record company executive told her that she’d better change it up or she was going to get dropped. I doubt that was actually the case, mind you. That’s just how I felt about it. That being said, I’ve probably listened to it seven or eight times, so part of me must like it in spite of its commercial sound. (Besides, I do love many super commercial artists, like Kylie Minogue and Christina Aguilera.) And, guess what, I’m totally in love with this new covers EP.
The EP opens with her cover of Danzig’s classic anthem “Mother.” She begins it quietly, simply accompanied by guitar and bass. And the way she sings it, she cooly turns it into something of a folk song. You don’t even have mild percussion until she’s roughly halfway through the song. But at 2:37 the guitar suddenly gets louder and the song intensifies. Then boisterous drums begin banging away and she starts singing it angrily, turning it from a folk song into heavy metal, totally rocking her ass off in a way that makes you want to get up and bang you head and pump your fist as though you’re at a hair band concert circa 1988. And the outro guitar solo is true to the original version of the song and totally killer, guaranteed to have you flashing metal horns. From the very first time I heard this, I decided that I’m a Lissie fan now. It’s just brilliant. She sings it superbly and I love the way she lets you think it’s simply going to be a mellow version of the song sans any rocking, waiting until she’s already gone through the chorus a couple of times before she kicks it into metal mode and rocks your ass off. It’s awesome.
“Mother” is followed by her cover of One Direction’s “Story of My Life,” a song I’ve never cared for. But then I’ve never liked anything I’ve heard by One Direction. I know 20 million plus fans can’t be wrong and blah, blah, blah, but they’ve just never hooked me. So, I thought this cover would be mediocre because, you know, how could you take an overly commercial song that’s quite bland and turn it into anything impressive? Alas, she actually manages to pull it off, totally changing the arrangement and, transforming it into a nice and down-tempo, folk-ish song that’s ripe for playing the next time you’re sitting at a campfire. And not only does she turn it into something that’s nice to listen to, she actually renders some of the lyrics thought provoking with the way she pours her heart and soul into it. “I’m empty for days,” she sings and you feel her pain.
Next up is her cover of Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye,” a song I never would have expected her to cover in a million years. Partially because it’s a metal anthem and partially because it’s not even one of Judas Priest’s most famous songs. As you could probably guess, she changes this one up, too. It starts off sounding like a country song but eventually the heavy drums and blazing guitars come in and it blows you away. And I must say, her delivery of the lyrics is superb. As with “Story of My Life,” she pours her soul into it and makes it rather thought-provoking. And it’s quite eerie because the song was ahead of it’s time, like she said, and it makes you think about cameras on every street corner and drones flying around and big brother otherwise spying on you. You listen to it and think, we’re completely fucked. “There’s no escaping it, I’m watching all the time,” she sings and a chill runs thought your spine as you realize that we’ve lost all privacy.
I wasn’t surprised that she chose to cover Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” because it seems to be thee song to cover lately with everyone from Arctic Monkeys to Pia Mia to Savannah Outen delivering their own distinct versions. (My favorite of those is Savannah Outen’s. She’s something of a cover song queen and her rendition of this one is flawless.) What does surprise me about Lissie covering this one is just how very different she makes it. It starts off mellow but before you know it, it’s rocking along with the loud drums and mean electric guitar. Then it settles down a bit until… it goes full on METAL. Listening to all of these songs, I found myself thinking that Lissie really wasn’t trying to be commercial on her second album, that she’s actually quite the rocker at heart, so I’ve made a note — literally — reminding myself to listen to it again soon.
Finally, we have her version of Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona.” I wasn’t sure I’d like this one because I’d never even heard the original, but I’ve heard enough Dylan to decide that, to me, his voice is just terrible. I’ve respected him as a songwriter though. And that’s why this song works, apparently. Dylan’s lyrics are as pensive as anything any of the country greats have ever written. Listening to Lissie do this song, I could imagine Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash or even Springsteen doing it and making a big hit out of it. What does Lissie’s version actually sound like? Well, it’s a bit like the material on her Catching a Tiger album. It’s kind of folky, kind of country. But I’m talking about old school country. Merle Haggard kind of country, not Blake Shelton kind of country. And while she keeps it mellow throughout the song — sorry, no metal here — the way she communicates the lyrics to the listener makes you want to listen to it. “I heard you say many times you’re better than no one and no one is better than you,” she sings, making you think a bit, but mostly you’ll be swaying in your seat, perhaps finding yourself hypnotized by the song’s rhythm. It’s another one to listen to by the campfire. Or when you’re simply at home chilling out. And it ends the EP perfectly. First she rocks your ass off, getting you all amped up, then she slowly lets you come down and relax.
Bravo, Lissie, bravo. You’ve turned me into a fan. Here’s hoping this EP gets you thousands and thousands of fans.