Interview with Lindi Ortega

Living now in Nashville Canadian singer songwriter has forged her own path over four albums which have blended a mix of country, soul and blues influences together to create her own vision of contemporary roots music. She is a regular visitor to Europe and retuned this time with a three piece band to accompany her fiery and individual vocal presence. Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to talk to her before her show in Dublin 

On Faded Gloryville you used three different sets of producers. Two of who you had previously worked with. Was that expediency or the plan?

It was a suggestion from my manager when we were trying to figure out who we were going to get to produce the next record. He suggested that instead of just having how about having a couple. I never had thought of it and I was apprehensive at first because I was worried about continuity and a little nervous. But then I sat and thought about it I realised that I had heard other albums done that way that sounded great. So I though of it worked for them it might work for me. Then I got attracted to the idea as it was something I’d never done. The idea of going down to Alabama to record a few songs was really cool to me. Muscle Shoals is so filled with such a unique musical history. I’d recorded in Nashville before but never in that area. Say in the end it was “why the heck not.” It was three sessions with technically four producers because it was Ben Tanner and John Paul White in Muscle Shoals. They did the three more soul leaning songs.

Did you then pick the songs for the different sets of producers?

I did. I’ve always been a fan of not just country music, I mean I love country music obviously, I also listened to old blues, Motown and soul. I love voices - Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Solomon Burke, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Otis Redding. I love all that stuff. It has always crept into my music and especially into my live repertoire. we had done a song like the Bee Gees To Love Somebody before we recorded it. My manager was the one who said you should put that on the record. You always take a gamble when you do that however as people are often married to the original version. There give you hell if they don’t like it. Sacrilege! Foe me it was a song that meant something to me lyrically. When I first heard it it was Nina Simone’s version. I’m a huge fan of hers. She does a lot of covers but always makes them her own. I knew it was a cover and of course when I checked it was the Bee Gees. All I’d know of their music before that was the disco songs.

What criteria do you use to pick a song to cover?

Nine times out of ten, as I mentioned, it’s the lyrics. How they relate to things I’m going through and how I can emote those feeling through those songs. Sometimes I feel that the songs is reading my mind or heart in some way. It can be a way of dealing with things I’m going through. To Love Somebody was at a time when I was going through a serious unrequited love. A deep yearning for something that will never be reciprocated. I try to do them my way so if people don’t like it they don’t like it. It’s neither here or there, it’s really just me getting something out. (Laughs).

Have you considered at some point releasing a covers album?

Yeah, I’ve always really wanted to do a covers album and down the road I’m sure there will be one. I just don’t know when.

After four independent albums and with some signs of a slightly broader outlook from some labels do you think that you might get an approach from a major label?

I don’t. I actually don’t think so. I feel that, even with Chris Stapleton, those things are an anomaly. A lot of people are talking about how things would change Nashville but unfortunately I don’t see that. Last year people thought that Kacey Musgraves would change everything - but it didn’t. it really only happened for her. That’s fine, but it’s not really something that I’m still chasing myself. I love the freedom that I have to do what I want how I want. If I had someone breathing down my neck telling me what to do it would change me.

They might well put your in a pre-labelled box.

I don’t like boxes … unless I was a pigeon. (laughs).

So where to you see you music heading?

I love music and I’m inspired by so many different things and I imagine that I’ll want to experiment with different styles and sounds. I hope too that I would grow more as a songwriter, a singer, as an artist. I’ve been writing some new songs as of late which are a little different than what I’ve normally done. I’m using my voice a little differently. For the longest time I though that in order to prove myself as a singer that I really had to belt it. That was how I got people’s attention when I was playing in loud bars and no one was listening so I said ”listen to this” and I was just wailing. Then they would pay attention. But now I’ve got an appreciation for soft approach to sing in a more whispered way. I kind of love the nuances of aching, hushed, slow kind of lullaby tunes. So I started top experiment with writing songs like that. So I hope that I’m going to evolve more. Who knows if it’s the right direction or not. I just do what I do.

In your writing you have both written solo and with co-writers. How does that work out for you?

I don’t actually find it easy to co-write. It depends who it is. It’s very much like going on a date, a cliche, but true. You have to really connect with the right person and they have to understand where you would naturally come from and almost be a mind reader in a way. There’s definitely a certain style that I have that’s dark and quirky. If they don’t get it it’s hard. Nashville has that side where it can be formulaic where they’re trying and aiming to get that hit song. One that’s going to connect with radio. What I do is not at all what makes radio. I’m ok with that as I’m not particularly a big fan of all that - the stuff that makes it onto the radio in the new country scene at the present time. I’m not wanting to be that at all. 

There are songwriters in Nashville who want to make money and I can’t fault them for that but sometimes you find someone who is making good money but can still do the other which is their true passion. They are able to connect with me. They’ve gone and listen to music and understand where it’s coming from. It’s nice when that works out. There’s one songwriter that I always work with in Nashville who has been on every record I’ve put out except for the first one. Some of my quirkiest songs have been with him (Bruce Wallace). I do love writing on my own though and sometimes it’s just a timing thing. I don;t have the luxury of having six months to write, I’d love to have that luxury to sit down and be like “don’t bug me for six months”. It would be interesting to se what would happen if I could concentrate and focus like that. But in reality it’s that you have a small chunk of time when you’re not touring and being a crazy woman and you have to write a record. So sometimes it’s easier to come out with something when you get together with people as you can spark ideas more quickly. 


Are you able to write on the road or do you need a quieter location?

Well I wrote a song yesterday on the road. So, yes I can write on road. It really depends. Also I don’t have a formula.The lyrics don’t always come first. Yesterday it was before the soundcheck and we had a lot of time to kill and I was just sitting strumming the guitar and a whole song just came out. I don’t know where it came from and to me that’s magic. The closest thing to it that I can imagine. Lately I find myself writing a lot about space. I’m on a bit of a space kick. The galaxy and traveling through time.

Do you find that once you have been labelled as an Americana artist that’s no matter what you do musically that’s where you’re filed?

That’s true but again there are some serious purists who would never say I was country and then others say that’s what I am. I don’t know. Who knows what to call it? Country music is a huge thread in what I do but should and blues also have a part a you see in the live show. It’s interesting to me in that when I was reading a reviews of a record by a friend of mine that say that soul was this current trend that everyone’s following. and I thought wasn’t like I was trying to follow a trend as I actually just genuinely like the music. This review was looking at it like it was a bad thing. But I think it’s great. I’ll be trying all sorts of things for years to come.

When your up onstage how easy is it to read the mood of a audience?

Well you know when they’re enjoying themselves or they’re not. Tough sometimes I think they’re not and it turns out that they are. Some audiences are quiet and very respectful and some are rowdy and hollering. If they talk really loudly and talk through there whole set that gets to a point where no amount of wailing is going to turn them around. Usually we do alright though. 

After this European tour what are your plans?

There’s no official release date for a new album. I’ve been inspired in my writing so I’m not sure when we’ll do the next album. But I haven’t retired yet! (laughs). 

Could you live in Faded Gloryville?

Well the song was inspired by the film Crazy Heart and it worked out for him in the end. The opening scene in the bowling alley makes me think “Am I going to end up like that?”. That’s what I call ‘faded gloryville’ that questioning if I would end up like that. The truth is unless you have had a big radio hit to give you a financial cushion that at this level your future is uncertain and you do have moments when you go “maybe I should get a real job.” I think though that I will always love music but to think that i might be touring this heavily in my 60s is somethings don’t know about. As beautiful as it is to create music and to be onstage and perform  -  which is my absolute favourite thing in the world to do - and as wonderful as that is there is a huge sacrifice that I make everyday by being here and not in a place where i’m rooted. I feel that I’m missing out on some things. Like my parents are getting older and my Dad had cancer a couple years ago and he was going through chemo and I was on the road. So You feel guilt ridden and that’s something that’s not talked about a lot. Being a musician get’s glorified a lot and there is beauty and glory in it and that can’t be denied. But there’s definitely a very lonely side living out of a suitcase every night. it is so hard to maintain a relationship with one party on the road. It takes strong character and disposition to be able to handle that on both sides. In the end if I don;’t feel that what I do is not good for my soul or I stop liking being up there onstage then I’ll stop doing it. 

There are a lot artists who made great music who now seem to have vanished.

Well I might still be considered an emerging artist but when I was in Toronto and I was spinning my wheels playing little coffee houses there were little independent records out that I loved. I’d have one record that I loved and then I’d never hear from them again. I’d often wonder “what happened?”. Yet I understand that people have their reasons. Some have families. I’ve always dreamed of having a side project that just about getting up there and doing something different. 

Your now living in Nashville do you feel that’s a better career base than Toronto?

When I left Toronto the country/Americana thing wasn’t really well know or a lot of bands doing that as it was much more indie rock driven. So it seemed that there was more for me to do in Nashville. Since then with the advent of shoes like True Blood and The Walking Dead that have been using Americana type songs I think that the whole genre has been elevated and it seems that the music is now accepted and being played a lot more. It’s a bigger genre as a whole so I feel if I did go back it would be a different story than when I left. But I don’t know if I would go back, it’s not that I don’t love Toronto, but I think i’d want to go somewhere different. I don’t know that I want to stay in Nashville either. It’s a great city and it’s done a lot for me but I also love New Orleans and I’d like to spend time there. Texas is great too. Vancouver is another beautiful place. 

Interview by Stephen Rapid   Photograph by Ronnie Norton