Lillie Mae Isn’t Just For Honky Tonks Anymore

Our interview with Lillie Mae: Lillie Mae discusses her second career with Jack White, her family band and how her solo record came to be.
Lillie Mae photo by Laura Partain

Lillie Mae has probably been on your headphones for the past few years, even if you didn’t know who she was. Playing and singing on Jack White’s last two solo records as well as touring with him she’s already released her own record, Forever and Then Some. Using the strong and pained alt-country tones that permeated White’s last two releases and taking it in a totally different direction, her music speaks to country and alternative fans alike. What you may not know is that Mae has been playing since she was three, playing with her family in one way or another up until now. We caught up with Mae on tour to talk about her strange career trajectory, working with Jack White and how she’s stayed true to her roots.

Northern Transmissions: Even though this is your first record, you’ve been kicking around the industry since you were 3 in your family’s band called Jypsi (aka the Risches). How did you get from there to playing on Jack’s solo work to having your own record?

Lillie Mae: I started out in our family band when I was three. With my brother and my three sisters, and our dad was our bass player. We hit the road full time when I was three, went to South Texas. We had started playing in Branson, Missouri. We were a full time outfit for many years and then moved to Nashville in 2000. A few years after that, my eldest sister had been playing with a girl downtown and ended up playing in a honky tonk called Layla’s. So we started playing down there, having a steady gig for many many years. Playing there is where I met my friend Josh, and he ended up recommending me and my sister for some session work. Jack ended up continuously calling me and that’s how I ended up going on the road with him. It all goes back to Layla’s.

NT: I know you’d done a single on Third Man Records before so how did this record come to be?

LM: When I was touring with Jack I was always playing backstage, and I ended up playing this song and Jack said “You ought to come and record that.” So the first thing I ever recorded was part of the Blue Series. We toured for some time and then he had offered me the opportunity to record with him. He was very patient with me. I really wanted to record it and was looking forward to it so it was such a cool opportunity.

NT: Considering all your time playing with jack in the past, what was it like to have him producing your album and what did he bring out of you?

LM: That record just wouldn’t have happened if it were anyone else, that’s for sure. So many of the songs, I wrote on the road with him or were inspired by that time. It was close and where I needed to be for that record. He’s incredible in everything he does and I felt like we work so well musically together so it just fell into place. It was really natural, having played in a band with him and playing with someone on his level.

NT: How did this compare to recording Jack’s albums?

LM: Of course it’s different. But it just went hand-in-hand. Just having somebody that’s pushing you that much is just good. Rather than just paying somebody to help you, he’s pulling for you.

NT: How did you approach writing this album compared to your single and previous work?

LM: I hadn’t thought out anything. Naturally songs will be different than when you write them. Whatever’s influencing you at that time, you might be influenced a little more to go that way. If you write all those songs together you can hear the stream that you were feeling at that time. I got to record some older tunes, a lot of them were real current. The songs that we were leaning towards were those newer ones.

NT: On this note you actually brought your siblings onto the record and perform as well?

LM: Right now my brother Frank is here, and everyone’s always doing different projects. We’re always playing together, me and my sisters or my brother. Through the years, my family band Jypsi broke up as what it was, but we’re all playing and stuff. I got to bring in my favourite musicians, they’re people that I play with all the time. There’s something to playing with people that know you so well. It’s cool to go in and record with people that you never met but for this project it just worked out that way.

NT: Speaking to people you were less familiar with, how did people like Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age, Dead Weather) and Carey Kotsonis end up appearing on the record?

LM: Dean and I have recorded together a few times. But we also played together on tour with Jack when Ikey Owens passed away, and Dean took over keyboards on tour. That was just something that when I thought, “We should put some organs on this,” he was right around the corner so let’s see what’s available.

Words by Owen Maxwell