Lisa Mitchell wowed us on Australian Idol at the tender age of 16. Now ten years later, she’s about to release her third album Warriors – a inspired and a reflection on her younger years. I sat down with Lisa and spoke about cats, growing up and country towns.
Why did you decide to make “The Boys” the first single?
“The Boys”, it’s a light beginning and one of my favourite songs. I think it’s also got a similar theme in being a bunch of friends. One of my boyfriend’s mates’ Dad passed away, so they all wanted to hang out with him. I unexpectedly got stuck out on the beaches, where they were hanging out, and a bit of a public transport dead zone and I was like, “Oh shit. I’m totally going to have to crash this gathering”.
They were just driving around listening to good music. I loved getting reminded of how gentle and passionate guys can be towards each other in their own way. Of course, they didn’t talk about anything, they were just playing footy and drinking beers but it was really nice. Their energy were so great.
Do you prefer being one of the boys?
Sometimes. It can be easier.
Where do you live now?
I split my time between Melbourne and Sydney. Because I grew up in Albury, Melbourne’s the natural, closest, awesome city. I’m a bit biased [as] I’m definitely big Melbourne fan in general. Melbourne’s great … I freakin’ love Melbourne! I’m always up in Sydney doing music and I’ve been traveling a lot – I’ve been living in London, about five months ago, for six months. I was doing some just European touring, and I did some support for London band, Bear’s Den.
Did you do anything else while you were there?
I [spent] a bit of time in Paris. I’ve got a mate who lives there and she often needs someone to look after her cat, so I was just like, “Pick me!” I got free rent. It was one of those things you read about and I’m like, “It’s happening to me!” I’m so jealous of me… past me.
Do you have a cat yourself?
I don’t – but my sister is obsessed with cats. We had a cat growing up. I like animals in general. I’m vegan. I’m all non-cruelty up in da house!
How was it going back to Albury after being away?
I’ve not been living there for a long time, but I’ve got a few friends that live there. It was really special. I wanted to film “The Boys” in Albury just because it seems like this album has a bit of a theme of my younger years.
Why do you think now is the timing [for] all those childhood feelings have come out?
I think as you’re approaching … it could be something to do with being 25, because I’ve been writing this album for the last three years. That sounds really intense, but I’m very opportunist when I write; I’m not really someone who locks herself in a room and does the Nick Cave 9-5 thing, so just naturally I write when it bubbles up.
Being 24, 25, 26 and just going, “Wow! I’m getting further and further away from 20 and then my childhood. Like, wow! Wait a minute…” It’s that feeling of getting older. Because I started music really young, I was always the youngest always at everything. As I’m sailing away from my early 20’s, I’m reminiscing and appreciating my childhood. I feel like a lot of these songs, it’s almost like I’m just revisiting my childhood and just remembering my younger self.
Then kind of being whisked away quite young, like 16. I find also that age quite fascinating – before you leave the nest, you’re very naive and your dreams are way too big – but that’s good to go back and think about it. What did you want to do before you went out into the big wide world and why, what was inspiring you? I find it so interesting.
You competed on Australian Idol at 16. Was there a difference between pre-and-post-Idol Lisa?
For me personally, not really to do with the external or anything, was I had always played guitar and I was always musical. From about 11, I picked up the guitar. My Dad was teaching me the guitar and naturally started singing – so that was just always part of my life and I loved it! I always imagined being a singer one day. Then, I sitting there in the line [for the Australian Idol auditions] and I was just going, “Why am I doing this? This is so not me! This is crazy!” [My sister and I] sat there and I just kept getting through.
I just turned 16 and I was meeting all those people, range of ages, who were taking music very seriously who were actually doing it full time. That was the most amazing thing! I remember just thinking that felt like a fireball catalyst of, “Oh my god! I can actually be creative and be a storyteller”. That was so massive, and for me at that age to really realise that that’s possible, that was so powerful for me.
Did you find that you had to take a break and rediscover yourself after being on the show?
I’d always been a songwriter musically – that was my main thing and I knew that. I was like, “I’m not going to sing covers, that’s not me. I wouldn’t be doing this to do covers,” so that was really obvious to me. My first management were really encouraging with my own style and that was also really powerful. I did do some co-writing, which is interesting, I don’t think it’s necessary but it can be good to meet other songwriters too.
I remember being 16-17 and just the emphasis on co-writing was so massive and so annoying. I was just like, “Leave me alone, let me be”. Which I think, when you’re younger I’m sure I got a lot out of it, but I remember what I did get out of it mainly was just meeting all these other songwriters. They were always 30-40 and they were doing a lot of songwriting, co-writing sessions like, “You’re much older than me and you’re still doing this.”
Also realising how powerful it is to have your own voice and that’s something that no one else can teach you. I’m much more supportive of my own sound, my own voice. In the creative world, as a young person, you often can get side barrelled if you don’t stand up for your own songwriting so that was also what I learnt.
How does your new album Warriors differ to your first release, Coin Laundry?
It might be a little more neutral. A lot has happened. A lot has changed. I found it quite humbling, which is not always comfortable, but I think it’s really healthy. I feel blessed to be able to do music full time. It might not always be like that, but for now it’s totally incredible.
I recorded [Warriors] with Eric J, who is based in Sydney, so first time I’ve ever worked with him. He’s awesome – really modern, beautiful pop analogue sounds [and a] really good contrast to my private personal little songs.
Recording an album, there’s a level of openness in terms of the lyrics – but I imagine performing such personal songs is different on a whole nother level. Does it feel like that?
It does feel intense. I, as a listener and as a person that loves art, get so much out of art when people are vulnerable, and, performers, I appreciate it so much. I know that I’m safe to be vulnerable and to express myself.
Why did you decide to name the album after the song of the same name?
The archetype of a warrior is so many things. It’s that setting of into the unknown which I think is so brave and powerful. When I was writing “Warriors”, the song, the chorus I wrote it as almost like sarcastically, but I was like this is not a song that I would write. I could hear Aussie hip hop over the top of it. I was going to send it to some Aussie hip hop artists and I was like, “No way, I want to try and make it into a song.” The lyrics are, “We were the kids from the country, keeping in real in the suburbs.” Keeping it real in the suburbs was a bit tongue in cheek, but kind of true.
I see the smoke in the night sky is the warrior archetype, but then it gets more visual and then more traditional. It was inspired by that setting off that everyone at some point when they leave their family unit, or like every millions of times in their life. That unknown, “Holy shit, it’s just on me; it’s all on me – I just have to set off again.”
The initial inspiration for that was just about myself and the people I went to school with all of us moving to Melbourne and the sense of moral I feel with them. If you’re from the country, you’re probably going to leave. I just had this realisation where everyone feels like that, a lot of people still live in the city that their parents do. Which is awesome and they’ve obviously experienced that setting off feeling in other ways but, when it’s absolutely inevitable, especially when you’re 17-18, I think it breathes a real sense of independence and kinship between the country kids.
How are you feeling about hitting the road and letting people finally hear the album?
So good. It’s really really cool [and] exciting. It’ll be so great to get out there again and play and bring the songs to life!
Do you ever get fed up when people say “Lisa Mitchell is back” because you essentially have been working at this for a long time and didn’t go anywhere?
In terms of what the outside world sees, it does feel like that and I totally understand that. I’m interested in lots of things and music is part of my life. It’s one of the things in my life that I love so I don’t really sit there everyday and write. I’m more out living and learning participating, and then when the inspiration comes, I will write. I guess, the way I do it, sometimes it takes a little while, depending on what’s happening.
Warriors is out October 14th.