First Published August 2020
ONLY ONE WAY TO GO THROUGH LIFE
Everybody needs a LINDSAY ELL in their life. It’s really as simple as that. And because it is, I hope that everybody – literally everybody – either has right now, has had in the past, or will at some stage not too far into the future, have someone in their circle who brings the same kind of positivity, energy, gratitude, loyalty, and excitement to their time on Earth as THE Lindsay Ell does, both through her music and just by being herself. The more Lindsay Ells we have around, the better.
Of course, there can only be one actual Lindsay Ell. And for her, we should be grateful, because there’s no doubt in my mind that having the woman from Calgary singing, writing, and playing her guitar is making the world a better place, filling it with love, laughter, kindness…and OUTSTANDING songs. As Lindsay herself says at one stage during our chat, “there’s only one way to go through life.” More on exactly what she was referring to by that in a little while, but first, let me expand on that thought and add this…if the way you go through life doesn’t include the presence of Lindsay and her music, then you, my friend, are missing out.
Lindsay’s story is pretty amazing. And just like much of Clare Bowen’s a few week’s back, it reads like a movie script that’s patiently waiting to be made into a Hollywood blockbuster some day. Lindsay has been performing since the tender age of just six years old when she began playing classical piano. A couple of years later, inspired by her country-woman Shania Twain, she picked up the guitar for the first time. Her destiny had called to her, and Lindsay heard its whisper. Nothing would be the same again.
Once referred to as, “A young, female Chet Atkins”, by Randy Bachman, Lindsay toured with Buddy Guy at eighteen. Nashville, though, and country music, called out to her heart. And Lindsay heard that whisper too. Showing the kind of steel that her usual good natured happiness belies, Lindsay spent a year and a half travelling to and from Music City from Canada, working to earn enough money for the ticket, then staying there until that money ran out, writing with everyone she could, whenever she could.
Now thirty, and celebrating ten years of actually living in Nashville, Lindsay Ell has become one of country music’s most exciting new stars. And she’s earned every single word of praise that is coming, and will come, her way.
Getting a chance to speak with Lindsay was on my wish-list of interviews for a long time, and when it finally came my way recently, it didn’t disappoint. Lindsay in real life is every bit as charming, sweet, vibrant, and fun as she always comes across when you see her speak anywhere else or on her social media. As far as everything to do with her music goes, Lindsay Ell is the real deal. As far as everything about Lindsay the person goes, she’s real. And I don’t think there’s a higher compliment I can pay her.
The reason Lindsay and I were talking was because her new album – HEART THEORY – was only three weeks away from its August 14th release date. A few weeks before Lindsay and I spoke, I had watched her Instagram ‘live’ video where she stayed up until near midnight just so she could pre-order her album in real-time with her fans as they did so, too. It’s fair to say that Lindsay, understandably, was pretty excited that night about how close her sophomore collection finally was to being out in the world. So I began our chat by asking Lindsay how she was feeling about it all right now, and to share with us what her life is like in the countdown period to such a momentous milestone in her career…
“Ya know, I have been waiting to release this album for three years! So it feels truly amazing to be able to finally be so close to releasing this music into the world! [laughs].I feel like I’ve written a record that is so vulnerable and so honest, and I really hope it can help a lot of people. I feel like music has that power to heal and to bring us all together. I’m just so excited for everybody to hear it, and hopefully, connect to it and be able to get some healing from it.”
I wondered if there comes a stage over the next few weeks where Lindsay’s excitement shifts to nervousness, or if it will stay as excitement all the way through to August 14th?
“It’s mainly always excitement for me! I don’t really get nervous too often. It’s more like a good feeling of adrenaline, like happiness! And I can’t wait to hear what everybody thinks of this music. Especially when you work so long and so hard on something, it definitely is more of a feeling of excitement than nerves.”
I was curious about Lindsay’s unfinished arrow tattoo, one that she got when she was on the road touring with Sugarland. As you do! One of the reasons she said she left it unfinished at the time, was so that she could add to it for important events in her life such as marriage, children, and of course, new albums! So I was wondering if Lindsay had added to it yet for Heart Theory, or if not, had she been considering what she might get done?
“Oh yeaaah! [laughs]. I love this question! I have not added to it yet, but I definitely do need to add to it! Obviously releasing another album is definitely going to go on to that tattoo, as well as I probably want to get another one! I mean, getting tattoos is just so contagious. So yes, I definitely have a few in the works, and in my mind that I want to make happen. So we’ll see. If you do get to see me in a few months, then who knows, I may have a bit more ink than before. I haven’t had any more done, but I’ve wanted to get another one. I just haven’t gone there yet. But it’s only a matter of time, I will say, it’s only a matter of time [laughs].”
One thing that I’ve heard said about Lindsay over and over again is how lovely she is in person, that there’s just this amazing energy that always seems to emanate from her. And anytime you actually listen to or see her being interviewed, you can actually sense that, too. From doing little things like taking the time to send people thank-you cards or Christmas cards, to going out of her way to say hello to people she knows if she sees them at one of her shows or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, even in that Instagram ‘live’ video she did which I referred to at the start of our chat, Lindsay was still thinking of her friends in the music world by encouraging her fans to follow and also look out for new music from fellow artists like Lauren Alaina, Cassadee Pope, and Tenille Townes. But the music business, as many will testify, can be a messy place. Real messy. And hard, too. So what would Lindsay say has been her trick or secret to remaining as one of the loveliest people around, even as she becomes one of THE biggest names in country music right now?
“I’m just so grateful to be able to do what I love for a living, and call it my job. And through that, I feel like we get to spread joy and spread love to one another. The fact that I can be able to work with some of my favourite people on the planet, and truly look to my co-workers as my peers and my friends, I just feel so blessed about it, ya know. And I feel like there’s really only one way to go through life, that’s to surround yourself with the people who can help you be more yourself, and help you connect to that deeper level. I really feel there’s only one way to live life, ya know, and that’s being kind, and generous, and wanting to bring everybody together! And wanting to create these special bonds as human beings. Sometimes we just work so hard and move through life so fast, that we lose sight of what’s truly important. And even, I think, times like this global pandemic that we’re in the middle of, it really helps give us perspective. And helps us know that we’re in it together. It really helps us evaluate our priorities, the people, and the things that are truly important in life.”
Speaking of perspective and the way we see things, I remember reading how Lindsay once said that when her song Criminal was starting to climb the charts, she could actually notice how that track was beginning to change things for her career, because she could see that change being reflected in her audiences. Since then, and that time period, have there been other moments which have had the same kind of impact? Her recent duet with Brantley Gilbert, What Happens In A Small Town, probably being one such moment, I guessed?
“Absolutely. There’s been so many moments in the past few years that have just been so defining, and so INCREDIBLE! [laughs]. I mean, I’ve been living in Nashville for ten years, and even [over] the past couple of years I’ve been able to share stages with Brad Paisley, and Keith Urban, and celebrating my first number 1 with Brantley, getting my first number 1 in Canada with Criminal, and to be the first girl to do that in ten years! And of course, to release my sophomore album – the ‘legendary’ sophomore album! [laughs] – and wondering what is this gonna be like?! [laughs]. I’m so excited, more than I’ve ever been in my life to release this music. I know that this album is going to be a huge defining moment in my life and in my career.”
Lindsay mentioned Brad Paisley and Keith Urban in her answer to my previous question. Now whenever I think of guitar players who make me feel like I’m witnessing some kind of magic when they play, there’s those two guys, there’s Vince Gill…and…there’s Lindsay Ell! I asked Lindsay if she has any sense of awareness of how, years from now (and right now to those already in the know!), she’s surely going to be viewed with the same kind of reverential awe that’s been reserved for THE greatest guitarists in the whole world? In other words, is Lindsay aware of how awesome a guitar player she actually is?
“Well that is very sweet of you to say! [laughs]. It’s hard for me to really view myself in the same light as idols I have looked up to on the instrument I play. But to watch Keith on stage and to be so inspired by his passion and his fluidity as a musician, and THEN, to be able to be compared to that, it’s still something that like, kind of stops me dead in my tracks! I’m like…[sounding unsure of herself], ‘Aaah…thank you?’ [laughs]. So, I don’t know. I keep doing my thing and keep wanting to raise the bar and get better at what I do so that I can inspire more people to connect to who they are. And if, in that process, wonderful, incredible human beings like you say those things about me, I will be forever grateful. I will be forever grateful! [laughs].” *
Lindsay has recalled how she used to put in ‘triples’ [three different co-writing sessions in one day, 10am-1pm, 2pm-6pm, and 7pm-10pm] when writing in Nashville on her trips down from Canada back in the day. I wondered if she writes through anything that might be happening in her life? Or does she find that every now and then ‘pause’ periods are required, whereby she can just let herself absorb life and different life experiences before picking her guitar or pen and paper back up again?
“Yeah, you know, I’m not good at pausing in life [laughs]. It’s something I’m definitely trying to work on a lot more! And I will say that this global pandemic has been the best blessing in disguise for that, because it’s just caused us all to pause, and to stop for a minute. This year, 2020, has been a pivotal moment for that very reason, to be able to truly take a minute and reevaluate things, and make sure we know what’s important. What we’re spending our time on, who we’re spending our time with. So I think I’m going to be a lot better at this [pausing in life] than I’ve been in the past! It’s my goal at least [laughs].”
There’s one particularly special song on Heart Theory, one that’s already available as a single, called Make You. Lindsay has also launched the Make You Movement to help make a difference in the lives of sexual abuse survivors. Looking at that song from a songwriting perspective, however, and emotionally speaking with the subject matter being so personal to Lindsay, I wondered did she open up completely when it came to writing Make You with Brandy Clark, or was it more a matter of stepping herself away from it being her story so that she could focus on the crafting aspect of writing the song?
“When I finally decided that I wanted to write a song about my story, Brandy was one of the first people I called because she’s just such a wordsmith and so incredible in her own life. It took her two seconds to say ‘Yes, absolutely, I want to write this song with you, I’m so impressed that you have the courage to say these things.’ It was definitely a …difficult song to write. I tried to write this song so many times, and it always just ended up being darker and heavier than I wanted it to be, and how it ultimately turned out, which is uplifting and positive. It’s saying that whatever happens to us in life does not define our future, it’s how we react to it, and how we take those moments. Those things are what truly make us who we are. ‘What stains and bends and breaks us, is truly what makes us,’ to quote a lyric from the song. I just felt like, with Brandy’s help, we were able to truly sit there and have a conversation, like a real conversation, of how I felt. And through that conversation, the song just came out.”
Lindsay has often spoken about how getting home to Canada and to the mountains of Banff is something that’s always helped to recharge her. I wondered when was the last time – or when might be the next time – that she gets back there, especially with the way the world has been over the past few months, and not forgetting how busy she’s going to be over the next few months when Heart Theory meets the world!
“That’s a good question! I love Banff so much! Gosh, I’ve grown up there and it just has so many wonderful memories. I probably won’t get back to Canada until the end of the year, it looks like. With travel right now, everything is so crazy. But who knows, I may be able to get up there sooner rather than later. But I cannot wait to get back to Banff! I cannot wait!”
* I most definitely did blush down the phone!
~ Lindsay’s brand new album, HEART THEORY, is available on all platforms from AUGUST 14th (this coming Friday). Since our chat, Lindsay was announced as a nominee in the Female Artist of the Year category at the 2020 Canadian Country Music Association awards, and as the cover star of the latest edition of the American Songwriter magazine.