Lissie records acoustic session at The Magic Barn

Lissie tuning her guitar before recording a stripped down version of her track ‘Crazy Girl’ in The Magic Barn recording studio — Video Still by Jason Smith

It’s the day after Christmas and singer-songwriter Lissie begins pouring a glass of Castle Rock Pinot Noir and pairing it with a variety of Harry Potter references. She’s prepping for what will be a two day acoustic session at The Magic Barn recording studio just outside of Solon.

Lissie heard about the Magic Barn from her friend Sean Moeller owner of the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel in Davenport, Iowa and ever since then wanted to find the right opportunity to visit. Lissie grew up in Davenport and after being away from the Midwest for 15 years has recently moved back to Iowa.

“Moving back to the Midwest, being closer to family, now owning a farm and having a quiet space with a small tight knit community has really grounded me” Lissie says about her new Midwest life.

Lissie’s purpose for visiting The Magic Barn is to record a three-track session featuring songs from her upcoming album “Castles” but in a more stripped down fashion. The song’s, “Best Days,” “Crazy Girl,” and the title track “Castles” were recorded acoustically at The Magic Barn studio by owner/producer Steve McIntosh and producer/engineer Pete Becker. The studio is famous for its vintage 56-channel 80 series Neve recording console that came from the famous Magic Shop recording studio in New York City, which closed in 2016.

The console was used to record David Bowie’s final album “Blackstar.” Other artists such as Lou Reed, Suzanne Vega and Duran Duran recorded on this console. The studio has been carefully rebuilt piece-by-piece in its new home, just outside of Solon.

56 Channel 80 Series Neve recording console at The Magic Barn — Photo by Julie Staub

“Castles” is the fourth studio album by Lissie and will released on March 23 in the U.S. by Thirty Tigers and in the U.K. by the independent label Cooking Vinyl Records.

“Sonically it’s a lot different than what I’ve done to date.”

She began working on “Castles” in the fall of 2016 with friend and fellow musician Nick Tesoriero. Nick made the trip from New York to Lissie’s makeshift studio on her farm in Northeast Iowa to collaborate on this album. Lissie generally plays live with a band or she’ll re-track everything live with organic elements. However, by using synths and a beat, Nick was able to produce vocal tracks with Lissie that quickly turned “Castles” into “a piece-meal of international collaboration,” Lissie says. Tracks on “Castles” were produced by in London, Nashville, L.A, and Berlin using the vocal tracks that Nick and Lissie created together. A handful of writers and producers contributed to tracks on this album, including Liam Howe, Daniel Tashen, Ian Fitchuk, AG and Curt Schneider.

The title “Castles” comes from the idea of Lissie standing in the tower or castle of her own mind and being an observer of her thoughts and her life. Lissie says her latest album is inspired by “romantic relationships gone bad.” The album is filled with longing, fear, and striving that ultimately is about what is possible in our own lives. Lissie describes her songwriting as “a form of therapy to write about the tumult that I’m in”. It’s this theme of self-awareness that is prominent in “Castles”. It’s a journey of becoming less self-obsessed and at the same time being more self-aware. Lissie describes peace as being the ultimate goal.

Lissie during an interview in between takes at The Magic Barn — Video still by Jason Smith

For someone who has made music all over the world, Lissie comes off as a very humble, down-to-earth artist, “As a single woman in my 30’s I’m feeling empowered to be my own boss. Whether that’s growing food, wanting to keep bees or using power tools to try and build things to feel like I am capable and I’m enough for myself. To think that I can be for myself what I’ve sought in other people.”

It’s statements like this that exhibit growth and showcase a powerful sense of self that in turn shows up in her music. In “Castles” she asks, “Wouldn’t it be good if we could rule together”? Lissie mentions wanting to be a part of a world where people can share resources and get along and respect one another while living harmoniously. She states, “There’s a freedom in considering others. If you just live for yourself it just seems lonely and kind of awful.”

After a tweet in 2010 from director David Lynch, it was obvious he was a fan of Lissie’s music. Lynch eventually attended one of her shows and the two stayed in touch. Lissie reached back out to David after going to Fairfield, Iowa to learn Transcendental Meditation(TM). Lynch is a graduate of the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield and TM instructor. In 2016 Lynch asked Lissie to perform with her band in an episode of Twin Peaks: The Return, “When I got the email that he wanted me to appear on Twin Peaks, I had to pull the truck over and freak out! Working with him was awesome. He’s very encouraging, upbeat and enthusiastic” Lissie said about the experience. Lissie appeared in Part 14 of “Twin Peaks: The Return” which premiered on Showtime on August 13, 2017.

Lissie said she loved her time recording at The Magic Barn. She’s using the session as an opportunity to provide additional content for fans who also want to hear the more produced versions of the songs on her album, but in their bare-essence.

Lissie is hoping the stars align and she will have the opportunity to record an entire album at The Magic Barn. “I do think the porch picking’ country album will exist someday, but this record is definitely not that!” Lissie says about the contrast between this and her previous work.

Only time will tell how Midwest-living will impact her future work, until then, she’s giving us plenty of music to enjoy in the near future. Look for her latest single “Best Days,” which will be released later this month along with her new album “Castles” on March 23.

Lissie performing an acoustic version of her track “Best Days” at The Magic Barn recording studio

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