We interviewed Lisa Mitchell at the Corner Hotel in 2022. Lisa discusses how she wrote the songs for her latest album A Place To Fall Apart, and also delves into the details behind some of her earlier songs.
What was the first song you wrote?
I was about 11 in my garden shed out the back of our family house in Albury, where I grew up and yeah, it was pretty basic.
Were you hooked from the beginning?
Songwriting was definitely a way for me to just sit with myself and you know, feel how I was feeling and kind of understand how I was feeling and what was going on, and then yeah make something with that.
And I think I also really enjoyed that I had something to show my family or my friends, and I loved that. The depth of that interaction.
Any big influences as an 11 year old?
I think I was probably listening to Tracy Chapman. Dad would always have that playing. My dad’s Scottish and we came over to Australia when I was about three or four from London. We had, I guess a bit of a like UK kind of influence in our childhood.
Dad would take me, and sometimes the rest of my family, but mainly me because I was playing guitar, to local folk festivals. There’s an Australian artist called Tiffany Eckhart, who’s kind of like alternative folk, country folk, and yeah, I think that would’ve been playing a lot in our house.
There’s also a Canadian trio folk trio called the Wailin’ Jenny’s. Their songwriting was so beautiful and also their voices and their musicianship was so established as well. I think, yeah, I just loved that world.
Which styles have influenced your new album?
I feel like I’ve definitely gone back into my roots, like the traditional stuff a lot more. On my most recent album I actually found an Irish pipes player in Melbourne to play some Uilleann pipes. To kind of connect these new songs that kind of have a little bit more Celtic melody, and also this country, Wurundjeri country to my homelands, which is Isle of Aaron and Scotland.
I’m sure a lot of people have Irish heritage and Scottish heritage, that felt really important for me to kind of connect the two.
How did ‘Summoning’ come together?
My manager actually put me in touch with Jess (Hitchcock). He had worked with her in the past and we ended up spending a day together and got along like a house on fire, and ended up writing this song on the same day.
It’s very much about having that kind of deeper sense of connection to land and your culture and the older ways of being that I feel like in the west… you know, I think there’s so many good things about things becoming a bit homogenized in the sense of like the English language, for example, that we all have this language to communicate with. I get that, that facilitates so much togetherness.
But then I think with that has come a bit of like, you know, forgetting about the wisdom of the complexity of the different cultures as well.
How is your experience with co writing?
It’s a really useful way to meet other songwriters and even just to feel a bit more normalized in your craft because, you know, sometimes it can be really hard to find other musicians and songwriters. Especially when you’re like up and coming and you’re a bit young and stuff.
I did a lot of co-writing when I was 18, 19, which was really great, but I also didn’t really appreciate it. Cause I was a bit young and I was a bit kind of like ‘you can’t tell me what to do. Like I’m an artist’, whereas now I really appreciate co-writing and getting to see how someone else’s mind works.
Are your songs finished before you head into the studio?
For this album, I made a real effort to work with a band that I would record the album with, you know, a few years prior to actually recording it.
That meant that we had the entire arrangements and everything completely finished before we even went into the studio, which for me is a really, really big deal because I think in the past, and there’s, you know, no shame on people that love working like this, but when it’s just a songwriter and a producer, you kind of have no limit. It can be really hard to actually find a world for those songs, because you can just follow each song to its enth degree.
Whereas, because I was working with a bass player, Jesse Warren, and a drummer Kishore Ryan, the three of us would rehearse in Jesse’s shed every Wednesday for a couple of years. And we played these like little secret residencies to try and kind of get our vibe together.
Because we had each other, we had that limitation. And therefore there’s a real continuity that I feel maybe hasn’t been as much on my previous albums- being able to add a horn section and like some crazy synths that don’t make sense to the rest of the record, but they’re really fun! You know what I mean?
How did your covers EP come together?
I was living in London at the time and I just wanted to create just a nostalgic EP of nineties and a couple of classic songs. So we had Stop by the Spice Girls. We had like the OC soundtrack song, Phantom planet, ‘California’.
It totally teaches you a lot about their style of songwriting and I often think ‘oh, wow, they’re going to that chord. Interesting. Like I would never go to that’. And maybe next time I’m writing, I might try something similar.
How did learning covers inspire your own songs?
Is it so natural to grow up, you know, busking or playing other peoples songs. I used to play ‘My Island Home’ and like Jewel songs and, and Dido, like all these classic songs and of course. Absolutely. They get in there.
Are upbeat songs easier to write?
The Zombie, that definitely feels more upbeat. A lot of the songs on the new album are kind of more like stories and sounds, rather than feeling happy or sad.
There’s one called ‘Dreaming Swimming’, that’s a piano one and it’s definitely more melancholic. It’s more, you know, based in a breakup, but then there’s a song like ‘She Is Of The Earth’, which is very trancy.
When I’m writing, it is quite a particular head space and kind of state that I go into. And I do find it quite difficult, you know, say that if I’ve, written a verse, I find it quite difficult to find that state again.
That’s where music really helps though. Like if I’ve already written some of the music, the act, the music itself will help me get back into that space.
Once I’ve kind of started writing, like once it’s kind of come to me, I will really make an effort to really try and sit there for as long as I can in that session, in that one sitting, with my little voice recorder on my phone and try and keep going and see what’s there and you know, do like these long 20 minute recordings.
Then I’ll go back and listen and kind of go, ‘oh yeah, that was good. Yeah. I dunno what that. Oh, I like that bit. Oh, I’ll do that bit again’. You’ve had a bit of time away from it.
It also has that test of, you know, what stayed with you. Like sometimes I won’t listen to anything and I’ll just see what has stayed with me. In the kind of concept that whatever has stayed with me, must feel quite meaningful or kind of strong or special about it. So I’ll kind of do a bit of both.
Does alot of effort go into your lyrics?
I went through a time where, you know, I’d do lots of voice recordings. And then maybe one day that week I might be at a cafe with my laptop and I’ll open a word document or like some other document and listen to them in the cafe.
I can’t be doing anything else and I can’t keep working on it, and (I) write down all the lyrics. I find that when I type them out, it almost becomes like writing poetry cause I can kind of see the story a bit more, and be like ‘oh that would make more sense to have that concept coming in a little bit later’. And ‘that’s a bit unnecessary to say that again’. Kind of start tweaking it from like a purely lyrical point of view.
Any songwriting routines?
I definitely find if I’m journaling more, I’ll be a bit more in touch with my kind of more subconscious, you know, meanderings and feelings and wonderings.
When were these latest songs written?
The main writing period for these songs was about 2018 to 2019 (with) maybe a few exceptions, either side. There was definitely a breakup that some of the melancholy ones have come from.
Then I was studying at Uni, and some of the subjects had to do with Australian indigenous studies, some of the history and politics, and other cultural studies in music. Different cultures and how their traditional music has, you know, informed. Really fascinating stuff.
Did you write during lockdowns?
No, I think I was in like a subtle state of just survival. Which I didn’t even realize until afterwards. Yeah my partner wrote like a whole album and I was just like, ‘what, how do you?’ It was all really pushed down for me. I don’t know. Maybe I needed a break. I’m not sure.
When is a song finished for you?
I just know, like a feeling.