The world at large got its first glimpse of Lissy Trullie by virtue of an arresting image taken by Ryan McGinley for his groundbreaking 2002 Whitney Museum exhibit, The Kids Are Alright. A young Lissy, balancing brashness and innocence, leaped past a graffiti-ed bathroom wall, a pale, freckled sprite with strawberry blonde hair, serendipitously snapped as she dashed through an otherwise gritty tableau. Trullie has matured a lot since then, turning slimmer, more angular and intriguingly androgynous, her hair cut in a severe bob that Audrey Hepburn might have sported if she’d hung out at the Mudd Club. But the music she has created, with the help of producers John Hill (Santigold, M.I.A., Shakira) and David Sitek (TV On the Radios, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars), for her self-titled debut album is a lot like that famous McGinley photo. Dirty guitar sounds and driving, new wave-tempo-ed drums are countered by swirling synths, brass, and layers of heavenly vocals, a beguiling mix of the earthy and the ethereal -- with the riveting figure of Trullie at its center.
A Washington D.C. native, Trullie came to New York City to study art at Parsons, but her real passion was music, which has obsessed her for as long as she can recall: “My earliest memories are of listening to music on the radio or seeing a band on TV and knowing that I wanted to do that. I didn’t come from a musical family, so I had to beg, beg, beg my mother to buy me a guitar or get me piano lessons. Finally, when I was eleven, she got me a guitar, but the deal was that I had to learn classical guitar - - and I did. And I never put the thing down. I went home every single day after school and played guitar and wrote songs, which I think is kind of unusual for a little kid. I wrote a ton of songs.” She laughs. “I still have some of them. I wasn’t learning the guitar so I could play wailing solos or do stuff like that. It was more like, now I know the basics, I want to write songs.”
At Parsons, Trullie found musical co-conspirators among her fellow students until she gained the confidence to venture out on her own. Her striking looks complemented the seductive, don’t-mess-with-me swagger in her songs and that brought her a lot of attention on New York City’s downtown scene, where she performed with her band and also took on DJ gigs. In 2008, tastemaker Paper magazine declared her one of the year’s “30 Most Beautiful People.” Chloe Sevigny chose her as the face for the clothing line she’d fashioned for the avant-garde Opening Ceremony chain, and designer Herve Leger tapped Trullie to showcase their collection, which she wore in a music video for Trullie’s smart, rocked-up cover of Hot Chip’s “Ready For the Floor,” shot by perennially provocative New York photographer Richard Kern. This interest in Trullie throughout the fashion/art world was a direct response to the raw talent and gleaming confidence she brought to her songs and to the stage. Unlike most young female singer-songwriters the way she tackled familiar themes of love -- twisted, unrequited, longed-for, betrayed -- had an air of invincibility rather than vulnerability. Check “X Red Carnation” and “Spit You Out” for the most up-to-date evidence.
Her debut EP, 2009’s appropriately titled Self-Taught Learner, was made hastily on a sparse budget, but it garnered encouraging reviews and attracted the attention of the highly regarded Wichita Records in the U.K. and Downtown Records in the U.S. Trullie also gained support from fellow musicians, touring with such acts as TV On The Radio, Blondie and the Cribs. (“Johnny Marr, oh my God,” she enthuses, “My hands were probably shaking when I did my first show with him and the Cribs.”). In the two years since the release of the EP, Trullie honed her live skills and began to develop the material that would comprise her first album. The making of the long-awaited disc became a lengthy but illuminating learn-by-doing process, starting with tentative sessions in London and Stockholm. It wasn’t until Trullie began to collaborate with producers Hill and Sitek, though, that she knew she’d found the right combination of people, environment and attitude to realize her vision.
Lissy Trullie, made in the L.A. studios of both Hill and Sitek, is coolly confident in feel, its mostly brisk punk foundation yielding to memorable pop choruses along the way, especially on “Big Heart” and the reggae-tinged “It’s Only You.” Trullie’s voice and presence is commanding throughout; with her elastic singing, she comes across at times like a modern-day Chrissie Hynde. But the artful precision of the arrangements belies the more spontaneous nature of the sessions, as Trullie reveals: “I think the benefit of working with John and Dave is that there was no mention of pressure, and they had zero rules. It was just free-form creativity, any wacky suggestion was taken, and that’s how the sound of the record happened. That style of working just suits me very well.”
And while the planning set her off down her road, it was the out-of-nowhere diversions that created the most exciting results. “We did track a lot of the band live, but when we did, it just happened; it was spontaneous. Our approach allowed for more accidents to happen that ended up being amazing. Dave is like a mad scientist – he has a house where his studio is located in one of the canyons and it’s a crazy wonderland. John was more the contained mad man – soft spoken, contemplative, and wildly talented. We had a real yin-yang situation going on.”
The more unorthodox the idea, the better, Trullie says: “We did a lot of vocals with different mics. John fell in love with this tape recorder microphone from the sixties and it’s on everything - -the drum kits, guitars, my vocals. He would hang it like a light from the ceiling. Its sound is kind of gnarly but amazing at the same time; it made the drums sound thin and dirty. We would layer that track over the proper drum track and it created an interesting texture, so we did that with the vocals as well. We tracked lots and lots of vocals; they had me in there every day.” There was an open door policy to go with their open minds: “Anyone who walked through the house somehow ended up playing on the record.” Special guests included Jaleel Bunton of TV On The Radio, XL Recordings artist Holly Miranda, and Florence + the Machine’s guitarist Robert Ackroyd.
"I write so I can find something new and hopefully keep growing," says Trullie. “This was the first time I got into a real studio with real producers and by the end of the recording process I wound up with what I wanted from the very start – to make music that has evolved.”
Now Lissy Trullie is ours to discover.