Sam Roberts once sang “there’s no road that ain’t a hard road to travel on.” That’s especially true for the life of a musician. That struggle to persevere in the industry has influenced much of country singer Lindi Ortega’s songwriting over her nearly 20 year career. But she now finds herself more at peace with where she’s going.
“I think I have more of a handle of who I am in the industry. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and I’m going to continue doing it, and I don’t really feel any sense of fear.”
Ortega takes the stage at Canadian Tire Centre on March 19, opening for Chris Stapleton’s tour. The native of Toronto, who now makes her home in Calgary, is also recently engaged. Lindi tells the story of how she performed with JJ Shiplett at the Canadian Country Music Awards, and they made plans for JJ to come to Nashville (where Ortega was living at the time) to do some songwriting together. What Shiplett didn’t tell Ortega was that he would be bringing his guitarist as well.
“Then this crazy supernova happened, and life hasn’t been the same since.”
As a child, her father was the bassist in a latin band. Being able to play with his music equipment at all hours got the musical blood going.
“All the equipment for the band he was in would reside in our basement. I, of course, took a huge interest in it. When you have a mic system in your basement, it’s pretty cool when you’re a kid, to go down there and start wailing away, much to the chagrin of my parents trying to sleep at 4 in the morning.”
When she was a teenager, Ortega had already decided her future would be in the music industry. At 16 she started writing songs, and at 17 she lied about her age to book her first public performance at Toronto’s El Mocambo. She admits she overestimated how lucrative the industry is.
“I also didn’t realize when I was a kid how difficult the music business was. I got some harsh lessons in how to maneuver through the business. For better or for worse, here I am, still making music. Many times I thought of giving up, but I’m still here. The fans are my main reason for not quitting music. If I built it and they come, then I’ll keep building.”
Ortega’s songwriting has drawn on a variety of influences and inspiration. One of the inspirations she drew upon for her last full length album was that of Jeff Bridges’ character Bad Blake, from the movie Crazy Heart.
“The idea that, watching it, saying ‘hey, could I end up like this?’ Will I be calling my manager when I’m 50 saying ‘how come I’m playing a bowling alley?’ You just don’t know, because music is such an uncertain business. I guess in a way I could relate to the story of Bad Blake. He had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about this guy, Tommy Sweet, that he’d written songs for. He’d faded into obscurity, and Tommy Sweet had this big huge career and sort of superseded everything that he’d done.”
“I definitely know that feeling of, one minute somebody is opening for you, and the next minute they’re selling out bigger venues than you, and they’re getting some breaks that you didn’t get. I know what that feels like too. I felt like I could relate to that character. That’s what caused by to write the song Faded Glory.”
“I also didn’t realize when I was a kid how difficult the music business was. I got some harsh lessons in how to maneuver through the business. For better or for worse, here I am, still making music. Many times I thought of giving up, but I’m still here.”
“I was absolutely tired of the rat race. I was burnt out. I was working really hard, and I really wasn’t making any money, and I didn’t feel much incentive to keep going. I thought I was going to quit.”
“The thing about it is when you go through moments of despair, those experiences, you don’t erase them. You can always draw from them, and they’ll always be there. I think it’s important. We need songs for all sorts of feelings. If other people know that you’re going through something dark and you’re not afraid to talk about it, maybe they won’t be afraid to talk about it as well, and maybe it can help.”
At only 36 years old, Ortega has a long career ahead of her. But with 20 years under her belt already, she has plenty of advice to pass on to those just starting in the industry, and two points stand out.
“I think one of the most important things, as boring as it seems, the business side of music for an artist is really important to have a handle on. You could really screw yourself over if you’re not fully aware of how it all operates. I think a lot of people make the mistake of pushing all that aside to focus on their art and their creativity. When you’re a good business person, you become more successful.”
“[Secondly,] your fans, they’re the most important part of the equation, because they’re the ones who are going to keep you afloat, they’re going to encourage you, they’re going to keep you in business, they’re going to lift you up when you’re feeling down, like you want to quit. It’s important to listen to them. If you treat your fans well, they’ll support you for life.”
Stream our full conversation with Lindi Ortega, which aired March 14 on CHUO 89.1FM. Lindi Ortega opens for Chris Stapleton at Canadian Tire Centre on March 19th. Her show starts at 7:30pm. Tickets cost $50–70 and are available online at www.ticketmaster.ca.