Images and Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“My older siblings had purchased a Beatles album
and my folks broke it. They purchased
a Beach Boys album and it got broken too.”
— Lillie Mae
Lillie Mae (born Lillie Mae Rische on June 26, 1990), is an American Country/Americana singer, songwriter, and fiddle player based out of Nashville, Tennessee. Mae and her family toured as a family band until her parents divorced when she was 11. The family then settled in Nashville and she began playing the local bars and honky-tonks with three of her siblings, Frank, Scarlett, and Amber-Dawn, in the group ‘Jypsi’. They signed with Arista Records in 2007 and had a Top 40 hit on Hot Country Songs the next year with “I Don’t Love You Like That”.Mae began doing session work for Third Man Records after Jypsi broke up, which led to her playing fiddle on Jack White’s 2012 and 2014 tours. In 2015 she released her first solo album, ‘Rain on the Piano’ on Southern Shift Records. In 2017 Lillie Mae released ‘Forever and Then Some’, her first album on Third Man Records.
John Anthony White (né Gillis; born July 9, 1975), known professionally as Jack White, is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. He is best known as the lead singer and guitarist of the duo The White Stripes, but has also had success in other bands and as a solo artist. White has enjoyed consistent critical and popular success and is widely credited as one of the key artists in the garage rock revival of the 2000s. He has won twelve Grammy Awards, and all three of his solo albums have reached number one on the Billboard charts. Rolling Stone ranked him number 70 on its 2010 list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
At age three, Lillie Mae was touring bluegrass festivals with her family band—living out of a motorhome, surrounded by gospel music, and bound by religious conventions. Now she’s beating her own path as part of a new, grittier generation of country singers. Her second album, Other Girls, was produced with Grammy-winner Dave Cobb in the historic RCA Studio A, and came out on Jack White’s Third Man Records. Lillie finds time amid her Raconteurs support tour to chat about her early musical influences, human kindness, and playing with legends.
Where are you from?
When did you start making music?
My family had a family band and we started full time when I was three. So, I started making music at three.
Who did you listen to growing up?
A very limited selection of music. A lot of gospel, very few Brooks Garth songs, but some Marty Robbins, Hank Williams Sr., Patsy Cline and George Jones—kind of very limited.
How did your influences and playing music evolve for you?
I was around so much music from growing up in a musical family. Also, we lived in a motorhome, so we were constantly traveling from festival to festival, and show to show. I had tons of live influences from bluegrass festivals to late-night jams and got to hear a lot of that thankfully.
“My older siblings had purchased a Beatles album and my folks broke it. They purchased a Beach Boys album and it got broken too.”
– Lillie Mae
I’m the youngest sibling in my family. My older siblings had purchased a Beatles album and my folks broke it. They purchased a Beach Boys album and it got broken too. I know that the Beach Boys and the Beatles were a huge influence, but it wasn’t until later on that we heard it. Harmonies and everything Beach Boys are a huge influence for sure.
When did you start evolving on your own?
I’ve always written songs. I’ve been writing songs since I was fourteen probably. I was writing before that but I wasn’t finishing anything. I think I naturally always wrote and I always played guitar, so it was always there even if I just did it for myself. Then, almost ten years ago, the family band broke up as what it was and I continued playing some gigs to hold the fort down or to still eat. It was a natural progression and not something I set out to do—It just happens. I write songs, somebody’s got to sing them and nobody else is singing them. It’d be cool if they did.
Did you decide at any point in time like, “Okay, this is what I’m going to just continue doing through adulthood?”
No, it’s just always been set. It’s been a set destination road since day one.
And you still have siblings in your band?
Yeah, I’m very lucky to have them out there. My sister Scarlett, who I was playing with today, she does a lot of gigs with me. And also, we have a family band too and that’s a separate thing.
We play for fun. We’ll play for fun for as long as we can play, probably. I have another sister, McKenna Grace, who’s an amazing singer and songwriter and she does her own thing too but the family gets together and plays for sure. My brother has been out playing electric guitar on most of my shows. There are gigs that he doesn’t make, and he plays with a lot of people. So I’m blessed to have them when I do.
What felt like your first break on your own?
I was playing fiddle for Jack White for several years and Jack really gave me a lot of opportunity. He produced an album for me and he really believed in me and believed in my music, and he really gave me a platform to dance on. He definitely was a big push in that way, for sure.
And now you have your second record Other Girls coming out, what can you tell me about that?
I guess I’ve heard people say, “Hey, your songwriting has really progressed” or whatever. I’m like, “Well, thank you.” I feel just like all songs are different. There are times, you know, when you can write a batch of songs and then the second time you write a batch of songs, ten years later, they’re not better, they’re just different—or maybe they suit something else that’s better or different. I don’t think that is necessarily like, “Oh, it’s getting better.” I don’t see that, but it’s me, also. It’s just everything changes.
“We have a family band too and that’s a separate thing. We play for fun. We’ll play for fun for as long as we can play, probably.”
– Lillie Mae
What are some things that are important to you that you like to address through your music?
Okay, great question. I think as fucked up as it is out there in this crazy, crazy world, what’s important is when you’re loading into a show or something and there’s somebody there holding the gate open for you to pull your vehicle in and you say hi to them. Like, “Hey, thank you, I appreciate it.”
So many people are just ‘zoom’. It’s like, “Oh yeah, we’re here. Here we are, open the door.” Instead, it goes unnoticed. That kind of shit’s crazy. There’s a song on the new record… I have a friend who’s transgender, and one song was really influenced by him. Or actually, just by the place that he worked. He worked at a record pressing plant and they laid off forty-something people. Literally two and a half weeks before Christmas.
And it was like, okay, cool. There’s a big percentage of people that worked there that are already homeless. They live behind Walmart, behind Walmart in Nashville. Like, behind a particular one there’s a little homeless community. That’s messed up. The actual workers that are producing vinyl records that we so love and listen to and care about, they’re homeless and they’re getting laid off by the seconds because there’s a plant opening overseas or whatever.
I think it’s really important to do whatever you can to keep things, keep shit local or whatever. Obviously it’s so expensive, nobody can do that. It’s like you can’t. So I would rather not purchase something that was like…I’d rather purchase something thrift that’s already been done then.
So my buddy, my transgender friend…a new song that’s on the album, ‘Crisp & Cold’, it’s very influenced by him and his circumstances. It’s “don’t be scared, be more scared” that that’s the last line of the song. It’s crazy out there.” We’re just humans. There’s no kindness. We’re not kind.
What would you most like to collaborate with and why?
Man, I’ve been so blessed with collaborations in my life. I swear, I’ve gotten to play with some unbelievable people. If I never get to play with anyone else again I’d be set. I’ve been so blessed. I collaborate with some friends, the Howlin’ Brothers, they’re awesome. They’re an amazing band. They travel worldwide.
Later on this year I’ll be playing with Robert Plant. That’s an unbelievable collaboration. I mean, I don’t know if he would call that a collaboration. But that will be so amazing. I’ve gotten to collaborate with Jack on loads of stuff from playing in his band or him supporting me or being on his label or whatever. That’s always been amazing.
“I’m golden, man. It’s like I don’t need to collaborate with anyone ever again. I’ve been so blessed. I’ve had enough collaborations to get me through.”
– Lillie Mae
Then the American Epic Sessions that we did, we did them right down the road here and I was a part of that. I got to play with Steve Martin and Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.
I’m golden, man. It’s like I don’t need to collaborate with anyone ever again. I’ve been so blessed. I’ve had enough collaborations to get me through.
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
Sadly, not many. I used to bake before I was vegan. I baked a lot. I can’t really afford to bake anymore, nor is it as interesting or as good or anything. I crochet, so I make like, hats and blankets and scarves and stuff, which is really fun.
I enjoy that. I like making cards or little things like that. I’d like to get into making jewelry—good things to do while you’re riding along in the van.
What’s your favorite book, film and music right now?
Couldn’t even say. I haven’t read a book in ages. I’ve read like, two books in my whole life and it’s been years so no book currently. Whatever is happening at the coffee shop, whatever magazine was at the coffee shop that I’ve picked up.
Movie: I’m super not into films. I watch stuff now with my boyfriend for the first time, almost for the first time. Really.
Natalie Jean Prass (born March 15, 1986) is an American singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. Her self-titled debut album was released in 2015 through Spacebomb and Columbia Records. It was recognized as one of the Best New Albums by music review website Pitchfork. In June 2018 Prass released her second studio album The Future and the Past on ATO Records.
It’s always just like, whatever, somebody else’s watching. I really dug—we were talking about this last night, and it’s been several years since I saw it—‘Boardwalk Empire’. I thought that was awesome. It was great.
Don Knotts, Jackie Gleason, anything. Honeymooners, Barney Fife, Ghost and Mr. Chicken and Mad Men. Great. I don’t know anything that’s current right now. Music: I probably, let’s see. Logan Ledger is a buddy. He’s got a new record coming out. He’s great. Probably one of the best of our generation for sure. Natalie Prass humbling.