On her fourth album under the Weather Station banner, Toronto-based songwriter and actor Tamara Lindeman steps into a new light. Though the self-titled LP is every bit as gorgeous and engrossing as previous triumphs like All Of It Was Mine and Loyalty, it’s looser, more enraged, and far more restless. “I had to get so ruthless, to cut right down to the quick,” she sings on “Impossible,” addressing the intentionality that drives the new record. Though the touchstones of her sound still linger here (the haunting lilt of Fairport Convention most especially), new reference points emerge on nervy, lyrically dense songs like “Kept It All To Myself” and the stunning “Thirty,” in which Lindeman evokes punk poets like Patti Smith and Jim Carroll, wrangling observations both personally and political into musical formation. The Weather Station‘s arrangements are less delicate and its melodies more sprawling, and it finds Lindeman tossing her voice into new context, singing over locked grooves and string arrangements she wrote for the record. At times, it’s as hushed as ever, but often the album blooms with a open-hearted swagger. It’s a set of songs about defining oneself, about recognizing the changing winds that swirl around us, and dedicated to poring over the words and ideas that bind us together. It’s Lindeman’s most accomplished and seems to reveal more brilliance with each listen.
Aquarium Drunkard reached Lindeman at her mother’s house in Aylmer, Ontario, to discuss the record’s blustery sound and the role setting plays in her songs.
Tamara Lindeman: Yeah, totally. [Laughs] I mean, I don’t claim to know what punk means, because people are very opinionated about that word, but totally. It was born from this very different spirit than my other records. I felt like I didn’t have the luxury of being careful like I had before. If felt necessary to just move forward and create something…you know what I mean? [Laughs]
AD: What were some of the conditions in your life that led to that different motivation?
Tamara Lindeman: I think being older. I’m in my 30s and being a musician is a strange thing to be when you’re a woman in your 30s. There are so many things. I feel like there are too many answers to that question. I just didn’t have time to be decorous. I was bored of certain ideas and sounds and also I was touring a lot. I didn’t have a lot of peaceful time. You know, touring is crazy. It’s awesome. [You are] thrown headlong into the world. That definitely brought out a different thing in me. And I think that the way…the world is right now makes me feel angry and reckless. I was like, “I don’t have time to be nice.”
AD: You wanted to make a record that reflected less niceness and more something else. Urgency, maybe?
Tamara Lindeman: Yeah, totally. For sure.
AD: There’s a lyric in “Power” that I focused in on. You sing about wanting “weight to throw around.” Were you thinking about that idea of “weight,” of a substantial sound, when you were thinking about the sonic character of this record?
Tamara Lindeman: It’s sort of a question of showing up: am I standing on stage in front of you and do I allow myself to make sound? [Can I] fill a room with sound? Is what I think important enough to say out loud? All these sorts of questions are in your mind when you’re creating something. The sound of the record was pretty quickly apparent to me. It was sort of like I had this idea in my head and I was just going forward with creating it. I think it was just a matter of dropping a bit of my politeness.
AD: It goes without saying that it’s still a very beautiful record and it’s still all the things that a Weather Station record would probably be, but there is a noticeable sense of a lack of restraint. There was a distinct sense of restraint on your previous records — it’s one of the things I loved about them — but how did it feel loosening that a little bit? Was it a charge?
Tamara Lindeman: Oh yeah. It just felt great. It was freedom and embracing freedom. I think I went into recording this record with this perspective that I think a lot of people I know automatically feel towards music, but I had just never allowed myself to feel. I did what I wanted to do and it had nothing to do with whether I thought it was “good” or “right.” It was just self indulgent. Desire played a role in making decisions.
AD: That hadn’t happened as much before?
Tamara Lindeman: It’s not that it hadn’t happened, but I just didn’t know how to do that. I hadn’t known how to allow that. Or what even I desired. People always say, “Oh, follow your instincts,” but I was like, “How do you know what’s what?” I’m just a complicated person and I think 20 different things at once all the time. For me, following this desire line was a fun and empowering way to create. At every turn, there was always someone who’d be like, “I don’t know if you should do that” or “I think this take is better,” but it was fun to be like, “You’re probably right, but I’m going to do what I want to do because I have to.” Loyalty was made in collaboration with another musician [Afie Jurvanen] and his ideas are on the record. His conception is a part of the conception of the record. And that’s awesome and I really appreciated that, but it was important to me at this point in making music to see what happened if I was the only decision maker. If you’re constantly being careful, you might never know whether someone likes you or not. If you lay it all on the line, you can own things in a different way.
AD: You arranged the strings section for this record. Have you done that before?
Tamara Lindeman: No, not at all.
AD: Through the process of arranging strings, did you learn anything about the kind of melodies you’re attracted to?
Tamara Lindeman: Yeah, it taught a lot. It was interesting because I just did it naturally. Some of the melodies, I had in my mind since I wrote the song. I had always planned to have strings. But when Mike [Smith, music preparer] went through it all with me, there was a whole bunch of times when he was like “You can’t do this.” [laughs] He’d be like, “You have these notes on top of each other” and “Did you mean to do this?” It was interesting because I didn’t realize my conception of melody and harmony was actually strange. To me, everything felt very natural.
AD: It sounds like you’re saying you took the thing apart and when you were putting it back together, you recognized that it would be okay for it to come back together… imperfectly?
Tamara Lindeman: Yeah, absolutely. It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t at times meticulous…but the decisions do come from a more open place. Not this idea of,“Is this good?” More of an idea of, “I like this.”
AD: There’s a real attention paid to scenery and setting in your songs; you’re always talking about your environment and surroundings. When you sit down to write a song, is that where your mind naturally goes, toward a set-design aesthetic? Or is it the other way around, where you start with that and the songs shape themselves from there?
Tamara Lindeman: It really depends. There’s definitely many songs that I can think of that I wrote where there’s a certain place I’ve been and that was the germ of the song. There’s a landscape I can picture in my mind and a memory of being somewhere. When I start playing guitar and play chords that are interesting to me, I’ll sing a melody and something like that will come up in my mind. I’ll draw on that and quite simply describe it. Sometimes, I’m writing a song and I feel like it’s missing something or it doesn’t feel grounded until I include some reality. Sometimes, I’ll add in a set piece to sort of anchor it, because otherwise it would float off into the distance. The song “You and I” is about my relationship and marriage and love, but the reason why I called it that was because of a memory I had of being in Australia in January with my partner, being on a beach while a thunderstorm was happening. Even though I didn’t fully end up taking the verses where I described that and leaving them in the song, that’s still where the song was situated for me.
AD: You sing “I love because I see” in that song. That was one of those lyrics where I was like, “whoa.” I admire the way you want to connect love to something solid. You don’t address it in abstract or floaty terms there.
Tamara Lindeman: I was actually thinking about that today, because I remembered why I wrote that lyric down. [It] was on New Years Eve and we were watching a friend of ours play jazz standards. It’s funny how [so many of the songs] have this refrain of “love is crazy” or “love makes no sense.” That idea never made sense to me. The loving part is the easy part. To me, the problem is when your eyes are open and you love everything and too much. That’s where the trouble begins; it’s not like a fairy landed on my shoulder and I fell in love and now the fairy is gone. It’s like what? That doesn’t mean anything to me.
AD: “Thirty” is such a remarkable song. When I read it in the liner notes, it feels like one big block of text. Like an essay. You cram a lot of words into a tight space. Was it a challenge to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” that song into existence?
Tamara Lindeman: It was really exciting. I have this thing where I always write way too many words for all my songs. I write pages and pages and pages of verses and half-finished verses and parts of verses and then I edit them. Editing is the part that sucks. Invariably, I wind up cutting out half of what I thought was good; sometimes it makes me sad. When I wrote that song, that was the first song I wrote for the record and it was the most exciting thing to realize, that I could [just] sing more words. I didn’t have to economize. It was so fun and enjoyable to be able to…play around with rhythm and cadence and singing.
AD: In “Impossible,” you sing, “Oh I guess I got the hang of the impossible.” How do you define impossible within the context of this record?
Tamara Lindeman: That song is one of those where I could’ve written it about so many things. I left it a bit open. “I guess I got the hang of the impossible.” I was thinking about climate change, to be honest. I feel incredibly sad and terrified about climate change every day. [Yet] I live life in society and I live in a city and I’m not an activist. I’m saying a lot of things in that sentence…it’s not that I think it’s good that I’ve got the hang of it. In a way, I think it’s bad. It’s bad that I’m not traveling the world trying to change governments. But I have got the hang of waking up in the morning and making coffee and going for a walk around my neighborhood and just being fine, even though there’s this massive thing that’s so wrong [with the world]. That’s what I was thinking of, I guess. Most artists have struggled with mental health, and at the time I was writing this, I’d come place where I was actually fine. Like, I’ve figured out a bunch of this stuff. I didn’t know how, but I had gotten the hang of it, even though there were times where it seemed impossible that I would. It’s sort of living with darkness, like [the way] you live with the possibility that your partner might die tomorrow. There’s just all these things you get the hang of.
AD: That’s no small idea.
Tamara Lindeman: No. And I really struggled with the verses of that song because there were so many things I wanted to say and I just couldn’t figure out how to. I was just like, “Well, I said it in that sentence, so it’s okay.”
AD: There’s a lot of light and darkness in that idea — but then again, the project of being alive and being a person is defined by a lot of light and a lot of darkness. I think so often that if you put a limit on art that it can be only one of those two things, then you’re probably making art that’s not going to last. It’s not going to work in people’s lives.
Tamara Lindeman: That’s the way so many things are; it’s good and bad and that’s our ability as humans: to be resilient. words/j woodbury; photos/Shervin Lainez, Rui Oliviera