Lindi Ortega’s Tin Star swirls and sways with effortless elegance. CMT Edge talked with the Toronto native about moving to Nashville, her songwriting influences and her seamless new album.
“I’ve been on this trend of releasing an album every year, so I was pretty sure it was coming,” Ortega says, laughing. “Which is fine. I’ve been writing like a maniac and never have a shortage of songs.”
CMT Edge: Describe the common lyrical theme on Tin Star.
Ortega: This time around, I was really keen on telling the story of being a musician and some things we have to deal with as struggling or touring artists. I put a number of songs on the record that speak to that.
We ended up using this wonderful producer named Dave Cobb, who’s worked with some great artists like Jason Isbell and Secret Sisters, and I really loved his production on those records. We were in the studio 20-odd days and even wrote some songs in the studio.
Explain the struggles you face as a musician.
Well, the lead track is called “Tin Star.” It speaks to moving to Music City, which can only be likened to actors and actresses who move out to Hollywood to try and make it as an actor and maybe win an Oscar. A lot of musicians move here to do the same thing musically. There are so many out here, and you start to see these parallels in a city that’s all about its musical stars, especially on Lower Broadway. You have cover bands playing Top 40 country hits for the tourists, and then around the corner, you have a band playing originals for years and years, and they’re amazing and they’re playing for 10 people. That struck a chord in me.
“Gypsy Child” follows that theme, too.
A song like “Gypsy Child” speaks to the sacrifices you make by living a life on the road. My mom actually calls me “gypsy child,” which is where the title comes from. You know, you miss out on family life. Both of my parents live in Toronto, and I’m touring constantly, and we never really get to celebrate those special holidays with them. You miss out on your friends’ birthdays. You have to have people who understand what you do and why you do it and not be angry at you for things like that and know you appreciate and love them regardless.
How did “All These Cats” come to you?
That speaks to the intimidation factor in moving to a new city and having people wonder what you’re all about. You know, sometimes you get people who stare you down and try to intimidate you from creating music. I guess that song is saying that that doesn’t work on me. I have a path to follow, and I’m gonna follow it regardless.
How has moving from Toronto to Nashville impacted you as a musician?
I think the biggest way is on a productivity level. I have a tendency to be slightly complacent when I get back from touring. I just want to stay in my pajamas all day and eat cereal and watch movies for a month until the next tour comes around. (laughs) When I get back from tour here, I give the people I know around here a call and see what they’re up to. Everyone’s busy songwriting or working on records. That inspires me to want to be productive. It kicks my butt into writing songs, and this is a city that lends itself to inspiring that work ethic.
At the same time, there’s a lot of great talent here, and when you go out to shows, there’s a lot of inspiration. I’ve witnessed a lot of great artists making music here. When I go to a show, when someone’s really inspiring, the first thing I want to do when I go home is write music. It happens a lot here. It makes me be a very productive person.
You’ve said you like to work with different musicians every time. Explain.
Yeah, I might change my mind at some point, but with the last three albums, I like the idea of a new energy being brought to the music that I make. When I write new songs, it’s just the guitar and me. They’re very bare bones. It’s always interesting to see how a different group of musicians will interpret the songs I write and how their parts speak to the songs I write.
I find it brings a fresh, new feel to every record if I have different musicians. That being said, I tour with a really wonderful guitar player who I’ve developed a great chemistry with, and I’m dying to see how that would translate to a record. That might contradict my claim. I might recruit my live guitar player for the next record.
How does this one represent your evolution as a songwriter?
I started listening to a lot of different music again. I was getting more into the blues and rockabilly, and all those things — whether I realize it or not — come into play in my music. I think touring itself, being on the road, has also inspired me. I’m always exploring the world of country and blues and soul and getting more involved in artists I find really interesting and inspiring. Townes Van Zandt was someone I was listening to a lot during this record, being more of a storyteller.
What drew you to Townes?
He seems to have this great honesty in his music that I can relate to. He has written some songs that really speak to me like “If I Needed You” and “Don’t You Take It Too Bad.” There’s loneliness there like Hank Williams that resonates with me. He’s a poet, I believe.
I watched that Be Here to Love Me documentary [about Van Zandt] and how he was aiming for perfection in his songwriting. As a songwriter, I think we all try to aim for that, as well. I mean, it seemed to come in a natural way for him. He was a genius, as far as I’m concerned, so it’s a little harder for people like me to attain that level of songwriting. (laughs) He’s someone who inspires me to try.
Townes really bought into the idea that you have to suffer for your art. Do you?
I think everybody’s different, but Townes certainly did suffer for his art. I don’t think everybody does. There are people out there who write songs of great joy. I, myself, definitely have encountered my own struggles. And I’m inspired, oddly enough, by people who have struggled and have gone through a lot of suffering.
There’s a song on my record about the painter Frida Kahlo called “This Is Not Surreal,” and there’s a line: “One must always suffer for the sake of their art.” I think she believed that, as well, but I don’t believe it’s true that you have to suffer to make great art.