Q&A: Lindi Ortega
What was the first trigger that really turned you on to country music and set this whole thing rolling?
I think the seed for country music was really planted in my brain by my mom while I was growing up. She really loved Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, and Waylon Jennings, and she just had a really great collection of country music. It seemed like the older I got, the more drawn to the genre I was, and especially to the lyrical content.
One of the first songs I really loved was Hank William’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” I think I really liked it because I was the only child of two immigrant parents, and I was a bit of a latchkey kid. I was always home by myself while my parents were working and I had this constant feeling of loneliness, so that song really resonated with me.
You recently made the move to Nashville. Were you looking for anything particular, or was it more about being closer and submerged in the place, and really giving yourself a chance to heighten those influences?
Well, there’s just a whole lot of history here. So many country musicians were either born in Nashville, passed through it, or have a connection to it, so it was important for me not just to read about it but to be exactly where the action was. I needed to get the history, and sort of retrace the steps of some of my country music heroes.
I’m somebody whose very inspired by my surroundings, so just taking that leap and hightailing it across the boarder to Nashville, seemed like the logical thing for me to do.
There’s a real bluesy undertone to your latest record Cigarettes & Truckstops. Tell me a bit about reading the Hank Williams biography and how that sparked your interest in delving a bit deeper into the blues?
Well, I would never really describe myself as a straight up country artist cause I don’t think I am. I have a lot of influences, and the main thread of a lot of what I do comes from traditional and outlaw country, but yeah, reading that Hank Williams biography when I did and seeing that there was such a big connection there, I really felt that it was important for me to get my history lesson.
I went out to the record store and bought a bunch of blues records, and I just started to notice that I was becoming influenced by it. The cord progressions and the melodies I was coming up with were having an effect on my music, and it started tingeing my own brand of country and turning into a bit of a bluesy-country-thing.
I’m not really sure what you could label me as, but I definitely have an appreciation for other genres. I’m also a really big fan of soul music, and I guess just the “old school” as it were.
In the press you’re often likened to Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. Despite the references other people make, what is that idea of self that you work towards and that you hope other people perceive when they hear a Lindi Ortega record?
I guess I don’t necessarily think in terms of the genre of music I’m creating. When I’m making music I don’t set out to start a movement or anything, I just so happen to, in my own experiences, be influenced by what I’m influenced by and that comes through in the music I create.
I think the one thing I am trying to get across is that the human experience has its ups and downs. I don’t shy away from the downs of life, but at the same time I’m not one to try and make people dwell in those downs. I try to show that there is a silver lining.
I think sometimes I get misinterpreted as being this really dark character all the time and people are a little surprised when they come see a show, they say, ‘Oh wow you’ve got a lot of energy and you’re spunky’ I think they kind of expect me to be brooding or something. I just have this thing about relishing in the absurdity of life, even when things get dark I try to find humor in bad situations.
As someone whose been out there doing their thing as an independent artist for a long time, when you take a step back and look at the way the music business works today, what do you see? Is it still intimidating, is it still an artist’s main goal to get signed to a major label, and how do you as an independent artist approach being an independent artist today?
Well, I actually was signed to a major label for a year-and-a-half so I came away from that world of things, and I’ve definitely learned a lot since then. Early on I was signed to Cherrytree, which was a sub-label of Interscope, and Lady GaGa was also signed. At the time her record had just been made and nobody knew who she was. I remember them handing me a copy of her record, listening to it and thinking ‘this doesn’t really fit with the other artist on the label, it’s way more dance-pop, but hey, cool, whatever.’ Then the next thing I knew she had exploded into this phenom, and all the other artists sort of just fell to the waste side.
I totally got the reality check when I had the deal and the whole thing went bust. Now, being signed to Last Gang Records, it’s a completely different experience. I’m not a back burner artist, I’m much more of a priority for them and it really feels like I’m part of the family. They have made so many great things happen for me, so it’s been a really wonderful relationship.
My outlook on being famous and making money has changed drastically; I guess I’ve really been humbled from my earlier ideas of the music industry and what I would become. There’s no longer this ‘is this going to be the year I break?’ I don’t think about that and I don’t mind being this sort of underground artist. I don’t have any shame about it, and I like the fact that I can carve out this little niche market, get my own little following, and build upon that in a really organic manor. It’s a nice lifestyle.
I feel really successful now, and I’m just content to pay my rent and feed myself, as long as I get to do what I love for a living.