We chat with Lisa Mitchell
With the release of her second stellar record, Bless This Mess, beginning to flood the airwaves, Lisa Mitchell is months away from having any time off…
The busy Melbourne songbird has quite a schedule ahead of her. With her national tour due to conclude early November and a packed out Falls crowd to prepare for over New Year’s, it would be unforgivable not to catch a glimpse of the quirky songstress somewhere around Australia this summer.
In a chat with Tone Deaf, Mitchell pleasantly enlightened us on her journey over the last 12 months, most notably, the blood, sweat and tears that came about as a result of her second full length masterpiece, Bless This Mess.
The obvious opening topic was the process that led to the new album, and the songwriting progression Mitchell took in following up such a huge success in her 2009 debut, Wonder.
“In a songwriting sense, I felt like a horse shying at a show-jump when I got ‘home’ after a few years of touring my first album. I read a book called The Artist’s Way and that really helped me re-think where a song comes from. The main idea in the book is that we are the channel for creativity, not the sole creator.”
Observational inspiration is undoubtedly a talent we all desire, and it seems Mitchell has mastered the art. “Inspiration is all around us, if we seek it then we naturally express it in another form.”
Sometimes that comes out in humour, poems, or even tap-dancing, but in Mitchell’s case – the outlet is obviously her songs. “This concept cleared a lot of anxiety about the role song-writing has become in my life,” she confirms.
It was evident that Mitchell had taken a very naturalistic approach to creating the new album, from the lyrics themselves to the overall sound and instrumentation featured on the record; a true display of a woman with a plan.
“The songs I’d been writing were asking the big questions, ‘why am I here?’, ‘what is my purpose?’ So the instrumentation is very strong to assist the soul on that brave journey of searching,” she explains. “There are big vocal sections, which gives it the feel of ‘many’ and ‘oneness’.”
Bless This Mess enlists the help of some familiar faces, with Dann Hume, who also lent a hand on Mitchell’s breakthrough debut, returning to “add some pizazz” to the mix.
Mitchell was adamant that her old friend was to be the person to get her songs to jump right off the paper, sure that the pair would once again be a knock-out studio combination.
“Leading up to deciding on who to work with, I had a dream of going to the States or the UK and setting up camp with someone I’d only heard of and never met and just see how it went. But then I spent a few days with Dann and the excitement and ease of working on my new songs together made it so obvious that we had to make this album together.”
When asked about her recent tour to Europe, Mitchell revealed very little was written for her new album while travelling, but more so in the period of change-over between albums.
“I did a bit of songwriting while touring UK and Germany. But for the album, a lot was written in that period of questioning what my purpose was after the Wonder touring died down a bit.”
Clearly, Mitchell is a workaholic; writing, touring, writing, touring (repeat as necessary).
It’s the schedule Mitchell has been working on ever sine Wonder debuted at #26 on the Australian charts, when Mitchell was just a fresh-faced 19-year-old. Platinum sales, and an AIRA nomination for Best Breakthrough artists followed (which went to Ladyhawke for her eponymous debut).
Though it’s been three years since those heady times, Mitchell’s ethic has slackened none.
Perhaps the pressures of following up such a hugely successful breakout album, instated a newly found work ethic for Mitchell, one that is proving dividends. So, was there any pressure in following up her killer debut album?
“There was definitely pressure… but it was completely just pressure from myself”, admitted Mitchell. Luckily for us, she was able to dodge her way around her self-criticism, recruiting some assistance instead.
“I just had to work on how to think about creating music in a relaxing way,” she says, “and then I kept coming back to inspiring things like yoga, The Tao, beautiful books like The Alchemist and The Little Prince to keep my chin up and hold onto [my] perspective.”
It seems there are other things for the songbird to enjoy outside of her busy music career, “I love to go to the country regions of Australia, we are so lucky here, living in paradise.”
In true Melburnian spirit, she also announces her love for her hometown: “Paris and New York are my two other favourite cities after Melbourne. Travelling is such a humbling experience, especially travelling by yourself.”
Earlier this year, Mitchell released her Spiritus EP, and although of the songs were destined to not be featured on the new album, it provided an insight into the significance of all her songs, whether they are for her own satisfaction or her fans.
“I released Spiritus with a few other acoustic songs that I knew weren’t album songs but that were really important and needed to be released,” she explains. That being said, two tracks did make the journey to Bless This Mess, including and ‘Diamond In The Rough’.
So, such blissful songwriting and character must have come from somewhere, so what inspires Lisa Mitchell? If you’re a 90s kid, you’ll surely relate to Mitchell’s earlier years.
“My favourite things when I was 10 were watching Video Hits on the weekends,” she remarks jubilantly. But the folk influence is just as strong an influence from her youth
“Going to local folk festivals and slipping into that magical world of music!” she bubbles, “I was inspired to write music and perform by folk acts like Kate & Ruth, Tiffany Eckhardt and The Wailin’ Jennys. My dad is Scottish so I feel the Celtic music in my blood!”
As for what else is getting a spin on the tour bus for her upcoming national sojourn, Mitchell confessed her love for another fellow Australian female performer.
I am adoring the new Clare Bowditch album,” she says of The Winter I Chose Happiness, “it’s such a brave open-hearted album!” Though she’s also quick to name-check Sun, the new album from Cat Power (“so cool and real”), as well as the Melbourne band who are supporting her on her current tour, “I’m adoring the new Alpine album as well!”
When asked about her live performances, Mitchell confirmed that she too was a believer in the mystic powers of superstition, revealing her secret on-stage weapon.
“I have a spoon that my friend Clare, of The Spooning Society, gave me that is my lucky charm at the moment – I also travel with a little shrine; Patti Smith’s Horses [on] CD, a postcard of Frida Kahlo – my girls.”
Bless This Mess is out now through Warner Music Australia, read the Tone Deaf review here. Lisa Mitchell is currently on her national tour, full dates and details here, and plays Queenscliff Music Festival and Falls Festival before year’s end.