After leaving the Quad Cities area for the fast-paced lifestyle in Los Angeles, Folk-style musician Lissie discovered an Iowa farm was better for her soul than the fast lanes of Southern California.


The rolling hills of rural Iowa suit Lissie well.

Her blond hair blows in the wind as she sits outside her 10-acre farm, sipping a craft beer and discussing her cross-country move from the bustle of Southern California to a more serene Iowa. Donned in cut-off jean shorts and a white T-shirt, she looks like she belongs. Like she’s home.

But, for this internationally celebrated and award-winning independent musician, things weren’t always as peaceful as on a sunny Iowa afternoon.

This songwriter’s move back from the industry-laden Southern California, where she launched her career, to the modest Midwest, where she was raised, didn’t come without an emotional toll. Experiencing anxiety around her next album (what would eventually be 2016’s “My Wild West”), pressure to find a new label and turmoil over her next step, she reached a mental climax that landed her in the hospital, thinking she was dying.

The moment caused her to re-evaluate and make a life-changing decision.

“I, very quickly and kind-of impulsively, said: ‘I’m movin.’ I’m going to buy that farm in Iowa,’” the 33-year-old performer said.

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And in summer 2015, she purchased her own slice of hilly acreage tucked away on a gravel road, which she asked to be not disclosed due to privacy and safety concerns. She described the farm as something she always romanticized. It's far enough away from any city to see the stars at night, but close enough to still feel connected to society.

Her 'Wild West'

A Rock Island, Ill., native, Elisabeth “Lissie” Maurus gave way to what she called "teenage rebellion" at 18 and left the Quad Cities for a life in Los Angeles, where she spent five years before re-locating to Ojai, Calif. During her time away from the heartland, she released multiple records under Columbia Records in the United Kingdom and Fat Possum Records in the United States. She toured and gained heavy popularity overseas, notably playing the famed Glastonbury Festival, winning the iTunes U.K. “Song of the Year” award in 2010 and earning millions of streams on Spotify and YouTube.

Months removed from the described attacks, sitting in her front yard and looking out at the barn she hopes to eventually turn into a home studio, Lissie reflects to 2015. Before the decision to move, she didn’t want to go through the motions of being recruited, signed to a label and launching a record.

“I felt like there were a lot of ideas — whether real or imagined — where I felt pressure from the people I was working with,” Lissie said.

As a result, Lissie’s latest record, “My Wild West,” almost never happened. She said she was convinced at one point that she wasn’t going to put out the record.

“It’s an album that happened in the midst of making the decision to move,” she said. “I wrote ‘Wild West,’ which I almost felt was this subconscious predictor, lyrically, that I was getting ready to leave. I didn’t know yet, when I wrote that song.”

But fighting through the emotional anchors, the record — a moving, blissful 12-song collection personifying the power of independence and prosperity — lived to see daylight. Critics across the globe responded to the release: The Guardian described the release as "heartfelt songs of pain, solidarity and rural retreat," while The Wall Street Journal said the record reflects her "ultimately falling out of love with the whole process of chasing the rock-star dream."

Looking back, she labeled the writing process cathartic and therapeutic.

“I think if I set out to conceptually do (a ‘leaving California’ record), it wouldn’t of worked,” she continued. “The whole thing was a happy accident. … I’m leaving California after 12 years and it’s sad; it’s bittersweet. But it’s time to move on and I had the benefit, being a musician, to get to use music to process the experience.”

Tracks like “Daughters” and “Don’t You Give Up On Me” stand out for its scenic escapism, while the closing number “Ojai” proves a subtle end to a chapter in the singer’s life. Lissie notes the album’s fourth track, “Hero,” as one she wrote while packing for Iowa.

The chorus to “Hero” booms: “I could've been a hero/I could've been a zero/Could've been all these things.” A verse line sings: "I want my 40 acres in the sun/Bitter winds come in from the north/My spirit dims, but I feel the force/No longer in my hands,’ I say to you.”

The lyrics represent apathy, Lissie said.

“Being apathetic is such a big gift because you can live your life without any expectation of an outcome.”

Back on the farm

The decision to leave California came from a mixture of the aforementioned career uncertainty and childhood dream of owning an Iowa farm, she said. While she admits there are strange moments, she also appears content with her decision.

She spent much of her first year on the farm renovating the nearly 1,000 square-foot house.

“There’s days where it's so weird to be here,” she said. “But I don’t feel like that a lot. For the most part, I feel good here. More than having this big successful career, it’s (about asking) ‘What’s my place in this world?’ For some people ... that’s (about staying) where you grew up, for other people it’s (about traveling) the world. It’s different for everybody.”

The transition to Iowa hasn’t solely been an emotional journey for Lissie. Calmly and with confidence, she explained the move is also a spiritual adventure.

“I have this feeling … the way the grass smells and the way the air feels … it’s like the closest I’ve ever felt to God,” she said. “Growing up Lutheran and my Swedish heritage being important, it’s nice to have those traditions. I associate the way that I feel when I’m outside in Iowa with my understanding of all the good being Lutheran is. Sitting by a lake … walking through the woods … that’s where I feel spiritual.”

On the farm, Lissie enjoys outdoor things, like planting flowers and bonfires with friends. She invites her guests to play pingpong. There are plans to turn the old dairy barn on her property into a recording studio and guest home.

She may even throw a small show in the barn one day. But she knows she’s got a long journey before fully embracing a life in Iowa.

“I need to stay on the road so I can afford it, but get off the road so I can figure out what I’m going to do with my land and get to know what this life is,” she said.

Lissie released a live album,"Live At Union Chapel," on Sept. 30. She performs at Schwiebert Park in the Quad Cities on Oct. 15 and is scheduled to tour the United Kingdom and Europe in December. For more information, visit

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