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Lissie’s Carving Canyons finds the acclaimed singer-songwriter digging deep to carry on through life’s many uncertainties. The singer-songwriter’s fifth album is her most personal expression yet, with twelve songs that chart the ripples caused by heartbreak and loneliness as well as what happens when the soul perseveres amidst pain. Carving Canyons is as deeply felt as Lissie’s music has ever been, with sumptuous production and indelible melodies that will surely stand the test of time.
Carving Canyons came about at Lissie’s own pace, following tour outings behind 2018’s Castles and the piano-based retrospective When I’m Alone from 2019. “It wasn’t a time where I felt like I had a lot to say,” she recalls, “and each record typically comes from a shift in my life where I need to share things.” As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, Lissie was also dealing with an impactful breakup on her Iowa farm. “It was such a heavy time—not just for me but for the world, of course—and I needed love, support, and connection,” she says. “Because there was so much isolation, it was an important period of time for me to explore some of my dark places and process it all.”
As Lissie took in the nature and observed the seasons changing around her and within her, the songs that would make up Carving Canyons started to flow from her. “Sometimes, as seeds begin to sprout, you have to thin them out so that the ones you keep have enough space to grow and thrive,” she sagely states while reflecting on this time. “It’s a metaphor for making space for what matters, a brutal, beautiful cycle that can also be very healing, and it all comes from surrender. Furthermore, with the right amount of time, so much can grow and change so quickly. The garden was a helpful reminder to have hope for the future.”
Throughout the early days of the pandemic and her breakup, Lissie was home more than if she’d been on tour. “I was able to deepen my friendships with women in my community,” she remembers, “and during the summer of 2020, I found myself with this incredible intergenerational female friend group. I think I pulled a lot of strength not only from their friendship but from observing the seasons and stages of their lives—where they’d been, what they’d overcome and where they were going. We lifted each other up.”
Lissie traveled to Nashville and co-wrote much of Carving Canyons with a majority of female-identifying songwriters—including Bre Kennedy, Madi Diaz, Morgan Nagler, Natalie Hemby, Kate York, and Sarah Buxton—who also contribute additional vocals throughout the album. “It felt like we could pool our collective experience into sisterhood, self expression & support.” she says. “There was definitely a theme of relying on my network of women and gathering strength from knowing that they, too, had been through the ringer in some way, shape or form—and had come out the other side! And whether it be in a song or in the garden, we took our pain and turned it into purpose and beauty.”
Near the end of 2020, Lissie started studio work on Carving Canyons with producer and frequent collaborator Curt Schneider, kicking off a year-long recording process. “Curt was open to me writing and recording these batches of songs over the year as I was shifting perspectives,” Lissie says. “The record ended up following the process of grief, as well as addressing how things are always eventually going to change.”
Her independence within the context of the music industry—which she’s maintained since releasing 2016’s My Wild West on her Lionboy label—also enabled her to write straight from the heart, without feeling rushed by deadlines: “I really only write when I’m bursting at the seams, and it’s such a therapeutic thing to do. These songs become the listeners’ songs too, and hopefully it helps them deal with their emotions as well. It’s all universal.”
First single “Flowers” sounds expansive and wide-open, as Lissie sings about the process of grief and what it takes to push ahead. “The prettiest blooms literally come from shit, it’s a fertilizer,” she says while talking about the song’s lyrical themes. “I wanted to claim my right to feel my feelings. As I grieved—not only for a relationship, but for the world in the midst of a pandemic—I felt like my anger made people uncomfortable, but I came out the other side empowered and ready to step back into my light. I can grow my own flowers and make my own joy.”
The Diaz co-write “Sad” came about after Lissie was drawing from anger surrounding her relationship’s dissolution, and finding out that her songwriting partner had similar feelings she was able to tap into. “There’s hints of compassion, too,” she explains. “We wanted to draw that feeling of a person hurting you and never having to answer for doing that. You feel like you want to punish them.” Meanwhile, the glowing benevolence of “Chasing the Sun” was inspired by the early sunsets of Iowa winter: “I was driving and I felt like I was almost keeping pace with the sun. It’s about keeping your eyes on the horizon and having that hope for the future—looking for a bright spot to keep you going.”
“Night Moves” conjures the lush, nocturnal pop of Fleetwood Mac as well as Jenny Lewis’ recent work, while the gently stomping “Unlock the Chains” zooms in on, in Lissie’s words, “Having to understand what I want out of life, as well as who I want to be.” Carving Canyons’ winding, expansive title track explores the ways in which our own emotional experiences are forming new topographical textures to explore and reflect on: “There is beauty in pain,” Lissie says while talking about the song’s thematic focus. “It’s a part of life and our life story. What we go through creates the landscape of which to view a lifetime. If I’d never broken myself open, there’d be nothing to see.”
Then there’s “Lonesome Wine,” which finds Lissie examining her own relationship with alcohol in one of the most plaintively beautiful melodies she’s sung in her career to date. “For a lot of years I coped with things that didn’t feel good by opening up a bottle of wine,” she ruminates while discussing the song’s thematic bent. “But I realized that what I’m looking for isn’t in this bottle.”
Overall, Carving Canyons is about looking within while dealing with the uncertainty of the future—finding hope in personal and worldly adversity, no matter what the forecast might say. “Some days it was so terrifying that I didn’t know how to carry on—and then I realized, ‘How exciting. What a gift,’” Lissie recalls while discussing her frame of mind while making the record. “The road in front of me is wide open.” Accordingly, Carving Canyons is another step in an impressive career that opens up endless possibilities for what’s to come.