Canadian songwriter Tamara Lindeman’s songs each offer a vivid yet fleeting mise en scène. Her specific, detailed visuals are not opaque, but rather offer a portal for the exploration of enigmatic emotional relationships: parabolas and possibilities and perspectives. They show, don’t tell.
Lindeman, who performs under the name The Weather Station, first found her creative footing as an actor. After playing in a number of bands in Toronto, she released her first solo album All Of It Was Mine in 2011 on Canadian label You’ve Changed Records, followed by What Am I Going To Do With Everything I Know in 2014.
This year’s Loyalty — released on North Carolina label Paradise of Bachelors — is The Weather Station’s latest, and the first with international distribution. She recorded it last winter at La Frette Studios in France with Afie Jurvanen (Bahamas) and Robbie Lackritz (Feist). The album is a lush and beautiful musical chapbook of lyrical prose poems, carried with clarity by Lindeman’s lucid voice.
In advance of her show at DC9 this Friday, I spoke with Lindeman via email, asking her about her musical evolution, her grandmother and the maleness of music, among other things. Lindeman responded from her tour van, somewhere in New England.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bandwidth: I was a big fan of All Of It Was Mine when it came out, and I’d been highly anticipating the followup. You seem to have settled into your voice on Loyalty. There’s a maturity and confidence that comes across in presentation, but also in the themes of the songs. At the same time, your style remains distinct, with threads and reference points — material objects, plants and herbs, female friendship, snow, travel — that carry across the two albums. How have you evolved as an artist between those two records and what remains inherent to your project?
Tamara Lindeman: Absolutely, I’ve evolved a great deal. I’ve learned so much about music and songcraft and become more bold and confident. All Of It Was Mine was written quickly and without much effort — in some ways it just happened. I was much more aware writing this record, more thoughtful, and more willing to allow myself to be myself. I was also much more in control of the arrangement and the choices being made.
But it’s still the same songwriting style — observational, thoughtful, philosophical. As you say, there are threads of follow-through. I’m looking forward to much to making the next one, because I feel lightyears ahead of where I was when I made Loyalty, even.
I love how female friendship and familial relationships are at the forefront of many of your songs. In “Running Around Asking” you “ask everyone you know,” and they are all women. The brief appearance of your grandmother in that song is particularly compelling. What is your relationship with her?
My grandmother is an excellent human — so dignified, resourceful and resilient. She’s a huge role model for me. It’s that thing where you don’t have to say much to one another, but her presence is very moving to me. I feel lucky to have her around.
There are a few lyrics on Loyalty that have stuck in my head. One — “I trust you to know your own mind as I know mine” — implies a self-knowledge and self-assurance that is prevalent in your songwriting. Your songs don’t yearn or pine or ask for anything, but are observant and analytical. They present the world as you see them. Was this a conscious decision in your writing, or is that how you tend to approach the world?
I think it is how I approach the world. It did take time, however, to realize I could write like that — that it was OK to write songs the way I did, songs without any big event or conclusion. Songs that weren’t like the classic songs.
I’m really careful in how I say things, how I portray things. I don’t want to lead anyone astray — I don’t want to contribute to a false idea about the way life is. And that’s for myself, as much as anyone. Your own songs can work on you, heavily, if you’re not careful. I think the way I write is highly conservative, in a lot of ways, almost coming from my shyness. I don’t want to be dishonest or sing something I don’t believe. And sometimes that means being very specific.
“There are a lot of performers who are entertainers, and I’ve never been able to do that. I should do it. I’d probably sell more records.”
Your songs are like little prose poem vignettes that depict material objects and ephemeral moments to get at complex and pervasive emotions. There is repetition but they rarely have a chorus. The lyrics are stunning, but the melodies pull equal weight in the emotional storytelling. What is your songwriting process like? Do you have a regular writing practice?
My process is freeform — kinda messy. I tend to play guitar and find a riff and a melody, and just sing whatever comes to mind. I record it and transcribe it, try to make sense of it, and return to it, over the course of months sometimes. Generally I end up with reams of half-finished verses and ideas, which I then edit and pare down — that’s the hard part. “Tapes,” for example, I had pages and pages of verses for, but in the end I just knew it had to be three sentences… And I went with the simplest, most obvious ones. I tend to let go of a lot of the more metaphorical, poetic stuff that happens when I sing.
Whose songwriting or writing or art serve as inspiration to your own? Whose work do you return to?
So many people. I really love the songwriters and musicians in my extended community — in the scene I came out of. I feel like there is a tradition of this thoughtful, philosophical songwriting in Canada. Many people come to mind, among them Richard Laviolette, Devon Sproule, Sandro Perri, Steve Lambke, Ryan Driver, Michael Feuerstack…. Jennifer Castle I love very much. Then there are the giants: Townes Van Zandt, Gene Clark.
But I listen to a lot — I love instrumental music — I love all the guitar dudes these days, William Tyler, Steve Gunn, Nathan Salsburg. I have a soft spot for country music: Roger Miller, Skeeter Davis.
You spent a lot of your youth as an actor. But your songs are almost on the opposite spectrum of that; they’re deeply intimate and personal and honest with a seemingly thin veil between narrator and author — though maybe that speaks to your skills an actor. I know you’ve said that part of your move to music was motivated by a desire to have your own creative agency, but is there is a connection between acting and performance in how you embody the same songs and emotions on stage each night?
Hmmm… I mean, I began writing music almost in reaction to acting, and that’s why there is a thin veil between narrator and author — no veil at all, really. I mean, I probably should create a veil, soon, for my sanity.
Every live show is different, and different emotions come up in the songs. I don’t try to embody what I felt when I wrote them, but rather what’s happening, or how they make me feel now. My goal is always to be present with what is happening — to not be caught up in some imaginary idea of the show. Except when it’s a really tough show.
I feel like people can always tell, you know? When people are putting something on. There are a lot of performers who are entertainers, and I’ve never been able to do that. I should do it — I’d probably sell more records.
“I grew up in rural Ontario. People were highly sexist in both directions — girls wore makeup, boys didn’t cry. I’m glad I didn’t have to live in that world forever.”
How do you feel about being one of the lone women artists on a label called Paradise of Bachelors?
I love the label and everyone on it. Though, it is funny. The name — being the only woman. Then again, the guys at the label are highly thoughtful, sensitive humans. And my manager is a badass woman, so there’s that, too.
I’m still the only woman on my first Canadian label — You’ve Changed Records — too. I don’t know why it happens this way. I’m not sure why music is still so overwhelmingly populated by dudes. I mean, I have plenty of theories. But I’m just so used to it at this point. I blend myself in.
In some ways, I appreciate the way that music has allowed me to travel with and be close with men in this different way than one would normally. I grew up in rural Ontario. People were highly sexist in both directions — girls wore makeup, boys didn’t cry. I’m glad I didn’t have to live in that world forever. I’m glad I get to travel with packs of men in a nonromantic context. Men are lovely.
I have a lot to say about the inherent sexism of the industry, of society, of sound guys who work in bars. But it’s changing, too. I think things are getting better.