On the Edge: Lindi Ortega

On the Edge: Lindi Ortega

Originally published in the August 31, 2015 issue of Country Weekly magazine. 

For Fans Of: Dolly Parton, Cat Power, Etta James

After Lindi Ortega saw the Jeff Bridges film Crazy Heart, she had a startling thought. Could his character, the once-great but down-and-out musician Otis Blake, be an example of what kind of life awaits her in 20 years? It’s an idea she explores in the metaphorical title track of her new album, Faded Gloryville.

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“I asked myself legitimately if that could be me, if I could wind up like that,” she explains, seated in the greenroom at Nash headquarters. She’s dressed a bit like she could be attending a funeral, with lots of black lace, a veil a severe dress—all on top of red boots. “And I started to realize that the ideals and the sort of romanticized notion of my career in the music business was not at all how it happened. You kind of reach a point as a musician at my level, and you go, I guess reality comes down and hits you like a ton of bricks. And you can either let yourself be buried by that ton of bricks or you can build something from it.”

For Lindi, that meant not staying too long in her own “Faded Gloryville”—she had to figure out what it was about making music that mattered to her enough to keep going.

“For me it was about reassessing what my goals and my ambitions were as opposed to maybe when I was starting out,” she says. “I would think, oh it would be nice to have a song on the radio or a gold record or whatever. Those are the things I would gun for: radio play, or selling lots of records, or some sort of industry recognition.”

Since none of those things has thus far been a reality for the critically acclaimed native of Toronto, Ontario, Lindi realized her priorities had shifted significantly since she first started putting out albums.

“I started to realize it was about the people. It was about what I’ve built and the people that come to the shows and that appreciate the music that I make. And those [people] are who I make music for, and it’s not about anything else.”

Faded Gloryville finds Lindi reaching beyond the reverb-laden balladry of earlier albums Cigarettes & Truckstops and Tin Star to incorporate flashes of soul, blues, rockabilly and more. That’s partly due to a three producer setup, with some tracks produced by Colin Linden, others by red hot Dave Cobb and another set by John Paul White (of The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Initially, Lindi wasn’t sure if it would all hang together as one album.

“I thought my goodness, is it gonna be cohesive? I’ve never done things this way,” she admits. “I don’t know if it’s gonna work. But ultimately, the cohesion lies in the fact that we had it all mixed by the same person, which I think helps, but also the way I sing. I do certain inflections with my voice that I utilize in all the songs that I sing that I think make it unique to what I do.”

Among those Muscle Shoals selections are the hopeful “Someday Soon,” which she wrote with John Paul, and the gospel-inflected “When You Ain’t Home.” The biggest surprise of the lot may be Lindi’s gritty cover of the Bee Gees chestnut “To Love Somebody,” complete with chirping B3 organ and heavenly horns.

“When we started talking about who was gonna produce and the fact that we were gonna use different producers,” she says, “and John Paul White and Ben Tanner agreed to be on board for this, it was like a no brainer for me, it was like they’re the guys to do the Bee Gees song. They have to do it.”

But elsewhere she slips into character as one half of a dysfunctional-but-crazy-in-love couple in “Run-Down Neighborhood,” then dismisses boring, clean cut suitors with a wave in the dreamy “I Ain’t the Girl.” She can play the wronged woman as well, as she does on the raucous “Run Amuck,” pleading for her no-good fella to change his ways.

It’s perhaps why you’re more likely to find Lindi on tour with a punk band like Social Distortion or playing at a rockabilly festival that celebrates tattoos and motorcycles than you are to hear her opening up for Cole Swindell. Even though her voice has shades of Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, her individualistic approach to songwriting and making records sets her apart from the current country mainstream. The crowds at punk-oriented shows appreciate that.

“There’s a great appreciation for individuality and people that have conviction in what they do that aren’t trying to be like other things that are out there,” she says. “I think they respect that.”

But beyond that, there are some similarities between classic country and punk: simple musical progressions and truthful messages.

“There’s a lot of love for old Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Waylon and all that,” she explains. “Really even the whole outlaw country movement is a punk movement in and of itself so I think that’s why it resonates with that crowd.”

And those crowds, whether they’re at rockabilly festivals, punk shows or country ones, are the things that matter to Lindi. The relationships and connections she makes with her fans proved to be the exit from her Faded Gloryville.

“Do you ever really escape it. Do you fully move on? Do you get to a paradise? We don’t know,” she muses. “These are all unknowns. It’s very philosophical, and it’s more like, what’s the journey teaching you, and not the destination. So that’s why I say you have to pass through ‘Faded Gloryville’ in order to get to paradise.”

Essential Listening:

  • “Faded Gloryville”
  • “To Love Somebody”
  • “When You Ain’t Home”
  • “Run-Down Neighborhood”
  • “Someday Soon”

All songs from Faded Gloryville.

For more information, visit lindiortega.ca

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