Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Scene [Print without images]

Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: February 6, 2:03 PM ET
'Pursuit Of Happiness'

By Joel Rice
XGames.com

In May 2010, Elisabeth Maurus -- a folk-rock singer based in Ojai, Calif., and better known as "Lissie" -- performed at The Great Escape, a music festival held annually in Brighton, England. Lissie remembers the serendipitous evening well: A film crew was following Ellie Goulding around, and Lissie had just sung a duet with the British singer. Lissie's full-length debut album was still several weeks away, she had not been with her band that long and her guitar was at times out of tune. Nonetheless, she presciently asked Goulding's film crew to remain on stage for her own grand finale, when she and her band would again have the stage to themselves; they planned to perform a new song for the first time.

It was fortunate the film crew honored her request: Lissie proceeded to deliver a soaring rendition of a Kid Cudi song called "Pursuit Of Happiness." (Watch it here, but be warned of the sometimes-raw language.) More than two years later, the performance has become something of a calling card for Lissie, garnered more than 1.5 million views on YouTube and, not incidentally for readers of XGames.com, secured her place in skateboarding history.

This climactic live version of "Pursuit Of Happiness" is, of course, the very same one that accompanies Guy Mariano's equally climactic closing part in the Girl/Chocolate video "Pretty Sweet."

As is the case with all great skate-video parts, there is a so-perfect-it-was-obviously-meant-to-be quality to the musical accompaniment, but as with the recording of the song itself, it was not always a sure thing.

XGames.com recently spoke with singer Lissie, "Pretty Sweet" director Ty Evans and skater Guy Mariano about the winding path "Pursuit Of Happiness" has led them all on.

(What? You thought picking a song for one of the greatest skaters in the world was supposed to be easy?)

Singer Lissie gained a whole new legion of fans when Ty Evans chose her cover of Kid Cudi's "Pursuit Of Happiness" for Mariano's part in "Pretty Sweet."

1. Lissie.

It's safe to say that Lissie is now forever associated with Guy Mariano in the minds of thousands, if not millions, of skaters. Like Danny Way and Big Drill Car's "Take Away," Stevie Williams and Big L's "Size 'Em Up" or Jason Lee and Milk's "The Knife Song," it's about more than just a melody.

It's a mission statement.

"Pursuit Of Happiness" was indeed an inspired choice on the part of "Pretty Sweet" director Evans. (Neo-folk covers of hip-hop songs are not the most common pool skate videographers draw from.) When Lissie screams with primal intensity, "Tell me what you know about dreams / Tell me what you know about night terrors ..." it surely conjures poignant images of Mariano -- the child prodigy who burst onto the scene in Blind's 1991 classic "Video Days," then battled substance-abuse issues and other personal demons before mounting skateboarding's most celebrated comeback in Lakai's 2007 video "Fully Flared."

Whether or not every viewer could read the multiple subtexts, having a song so prominently featured in "Pretty Sweet" -- a video comparable in importance to a State Of The Union address -- is no small matter.

It seemed only natural, therefore, for XGames.com to call Lissie at her Ojai home seeking comment.

"Millions of skaters now know who you are and love your music. How," a reporter asks, "does it feel?"

"Well, you know what? I don't even really know about this. ... It was in a skateboarding video?" Lissie says with a laugh. "OK, that's exciting. You know, no one tells me this stuff. I had no idea. But awesome, thanks for the good news ... I feel like it's funny that I don't even know that that happened."

(Not that "Pretty Sweet" is the most unexpected place Lissie's music has appeared. Her song "In Sleep" can be heard on an episode of the reality television show "Mob Wives." "I've seen it a couple of times," says Lissie. "I thought, 'Geez, these women are being so terrible to each other, but it's so entertaining.'")

But if Lissie -- who grew up in Rock Island, Ill. -- cannot explain precisely why her music paired so well with Mariano's switch tre nosegrind, she can speak with singular authority as to why that particular performance of "Pursuit Of Happiness" was so stirring.

A word she often arrives on when trying to pin it down is "defiance."

"My best friend, Sara, and I were driving around at 3 o'clock in the morning in my hometown," says Lissie. "And she put on [the Kid Cudi original version of] 'Pursuit Of Happiness.' It sort of captured the way we were feeling in the moment. [When] I lived in Rock Island, I was a bit of, you know, a rebel. So I really related to the song. I thought, 'I'm going to cover this song.' ... And when we did Great Escape, the band and I had only really practiced it once. It really, in that moment, felt very cathartic. It really was me, kind of, being me in a very natural way.

"[T]he song is defiant," Lissie continues. "I think it's also that Kid Cudi wrote an amazing song. The song itself sort of makes you feel like a bada--. 'People tell me slow my roll ... ' Everyone always wants to sing it with you. So it's kind of a real act of defiance just to go up there and say that. ... Skateboarders are people who have carved out their own path in life, are rebels, and I could see how that would appeal.

"I am going to have to go hang out at the skate park today and say, 'Hey, do you guys know who I am?'" she says, obviously joking with a gregarious laugh.

Though Guy Mariano, right, and Ty Evans make filming a video look like it's all fun and games, picking a song for Mariano's closing part in "Pretty Sweet" was no laughing matter.

2. Ty Evans finds 'Happiness.'

"Pursuit Of Happiness" also possesses special significance for Ty Evans, known for pairing technical polish with emotionally charged music supervision. Having spent 13 prolific years with Girl/Chocolate, he recently announced that he would be amicably parting with the brand, thereby making "Pretty Sweet" his last full-length video for the company. Of course, the last thing he had to do before completing this eagerly anticipated last film, he told XGames.com, was pick a song for Mariano's all-important last part.

Expectations for Mariano's chapter in "Pretty Sweet" ran particularly high given how moving his widely hailed comeback part in "Fully Flared" had been. There, too, music -- Band of Horses' "The Funeral" and "Is There A Ghost" -- had been key. That video had touched on themes such as cycles of death and rebirth, youth and lost innocence, the price of greatness, etc.

To be sure, an implicit question hanging over the entire video was whether or not Evans and Mariano would be able to do it again.

How hard could that be?

All in all, it was a lot to ask of any one director, skater or song.

"I actually had [set] 'Pursuit Of Happiness' to Cory Kennedy's part," Evans says. "It was cool. It worked for that. But we were like, 'Guy's part needs something.' It was super-down-to-the-wire. The last thing we needed to do was figure out a new song for Guy. It was just driving us crazy. Rick [Howard] was the one who said, 'What about the Lissie song?' ... Cory Kennedy and Elijah Berle would always blast it, almost like it was their anthem. Even someone like [Brandon] Biebel would be like, 'I love that freaking song.' ... At first I was like, 'I don't know.' But then we did an edit of all Guy's footage to the Lissie song, and we all kind of looked at each other and we're like, 'Yeah. That works.' So much pressure was relieved at that point. You listen to the lyrics. And Guy's story. It just made sense.

"The next scary thing was would Guy even be into it?" Evans goes on. "I had like 20 different emails from 20 different people giving their opinion about what would be the perfect song for Guy. I had already edited his part to a song called "Common People" by Pulp. It was cool. But it didn't feel like it had that emotional impact. It wasn't as powerful as it should have been. Spike [Jonze] was really into that song and he really wanted Guy to skate to it. But once we switched it to the Lissie song we were like, 'OK, now we can show it to Guy.' So Guy came over at midnight."

The rest, as they say, is history.

3. Tell me what you know about dreaming.

"I had no doubt that it was the right song," Guy Mariano wrote in an email to XGames.com. "There were so many parallels in the lyrics and how I've lived my life. I've been in the pursuit of happiness on and off my board, and I've been pretty open about it. Some things I've gone through could be described as nightmares and one could only dream to come back from them.

"Lissie has a beautiful voice and Ty Evans is one of the best skateboard cinematographers/directors out there. The whole collaboration captured the emotion and made that video part."

As for Lissie, she feels that everything happens for a reason.

Perhaps, by those lights, it was no accident that Ellie Goulding's film crew happened to film Lissie that night in Brighton when she wanted to perform a certain song for the first time.

"I feel like life kind of has a plan for people," she says. "As cheesy as that sounds. I don't know if that's true. But it's what I believe."

4. Postscript

Upon conducting interviews with Lissie and Evans, XGames.com was able to help connect the singer with the filmmaker. After Tweeting at one another, Evans placed copies of "Pretty Sweet" in the mail. "Guy Mariano just blew my mind!" exclaimed Lissie over e-mail. "It's incredible he can do that. That is some serious skill! Skateboarders seem to have this really strong and exciting culture, and I am very honored that my and my band's music can be a part of this amazing film!"