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Lindsay Ell interview

The musician talks C2C, women in Country music, her debut album The Project and more.

Lindsay Ell
Credit: BMG

Lindsay Ell finally got the breakthrough she so greatly deserved in 2017 with the release of her chart-topping debut album The Project.

Last October she visited the UK to take part in the first ever Country Music Week where she stole the show with a headline performance at The Borderline. Ell will be back in the UK next month to perform at C2C: Country to Country 2018 and participate in the C2C Roadshow.

I caught up with Ell during her recent fleeting visit to the UK to talk about her upcoming UK repackage of The Project, find out about her experience with UK fans and to discuss the resurgence of women on the charts in Country music.

It took a long time for you to get to the point of releasing The Project. There’s been a phenomenal reaction to the record with it debuting at number one. How does it feel to finally get the album out and to be receiving so much praise?

It feels amazing. It feels so surreal in a way because I do feel like parts of this record have been 16 years in the making, the whole recording process from start to finish. When I met Kristian Bush, my producer, from Sugarland up until when we finished it, it was about eight months to officially start listening through songs and choosing songs, and then finally record it. I feel like to have your debut album finally released, there’s just so many parts of me that that are a part of this (holds the album in her hand) that have been waiting finally to be released so that fans can listen to it, see it and fall in love with it as much as as we have. I’m very grateful. It’s just been incredible to see the reaction from fans and from all of these outlets that I respect so much and I read all the time. To have them list The Project as one of the top albums, it feels so incredible.

I’ve listened to the album a lot and I remember after seeing you at The Borderline last year thinking ‘how is this woman not topping the charts everywhere?’ I actually don’t understand it…

You’re very sweet. Thank you for saying that, that means a lot. I just think the journey of an artist is different for every single artist you meet. Sheryl Crow is a huge influence of mine and she was Michael Jackson’s background singer for 10 years before she even got to release her own album. We all have our different paths and they all work for everybody in different ways. I’m just grateful that I have gotten to record this album and release it at this time in my life because I feel like over the past few years, even since I was 10 years old when I played my first show up until now, it’s the right time for me to release this record. I feel like I know who I am for the first time and I feel like I can share that with fans. It’s the most honest and most vulnerable that I’ve ever been. I think that’s when music really connects with people.

My favourite track on the album changes daily. Do you have a favourite?

I do. It’s hard to pick just one. I have favourites for different reasons. Waiting On You was obviously the song that started everything. When we got together as a team and Kristian and I were talking about choices, Waiting On You just felt like the first the first capital letter to that sentence, to start the discussion – it’s a little bit bluesy, a little bit country, a little bit rock and that’s that’s who I am. I just felt like that song was the perfect way to start it and to have it as a single, it just feels like it makes so much sense.

I love the song Castle. Musically it just makes my guitar heart happy being able to play that song live and lyrically I just think it’s a message that’s important for so many people to hear. I feel like in our society how fast paced it is we can lose sight of what’s important so quickly and we get fascinated about buying bigger houses and faster cars and cooler clothes, and all these things that in the big scheme of things they’re just so trivial compared to really focusing on what’s important and appreciating the people we love around us and the fact that we get to wake up and do what we love for a living. Castle’s definitely one of my favourite tracks.

Gosh this is the longest answer ever (laughs)! Also Wildfire just because it’s a song that Kristian and I wrote together. It’s the only song that I wrote with my producer and I remember us writing it in 15 minutes in the studio. Our last day of tracking we sort of had that one puzzle piece missing from the whole record and we are trying to figure out what it looked like. We heard this drum groove as the band was in the tracking room getting sounds and we were like, ‘that’s awesome. We need something that fits that drum groove’. We grabbed a guitar and walked into the back room of the studio and 15 minutes later I came out with Wildfire. It’s another exciting moment that whenever we play that song live it just always brings me back to that feeling.

Lindsay Ell

Credit: BMG

One of the things that really impressed me about when I saw you at The Borderline is the fact that you can stand there on a stage with just a guitar and hold an audience. That isn’t easy and not many people can do that. You said during the show that the guitar is an extension of you at this point. Do you ever feel nervous when you’re on your own or do you feel protected because you got the guitar there?

That’s an interesting question. Yeah I do feel like the guitar is another limb off my body a lot of times. I do feel like it’s a protection mechanism for sure because it’s me and I’m it and that’s how I’ve always played shows ever since I was a little girl. I even have had people say to me, ‘well why did you put the guitar down for a song?’ and I’m like, ‘well that’s just not who I am. I mean you don’t see Brad Paisley put the guitar down’. It’s not saying that I can’t loop some things and sing a verse here and there and fling the guitar on my back and just have a moment with the crowd but it’s who I am. It’s part of my my brand and my image and my identity.

I definitely think there’s a comfort thing in that as well as just being true to me. I don’t get nervous really at shows anymore. It is more of an adrenaline. I always used to get tight or stressed sometimes when there’s a full band opening for me and then I was by myself (laughs) but gosh look at Ed Sheeran, he can play the biggest stadiums in the world with him and a loop pedal. Music isn’t about numbers or the amount of people onstage it’s just about the experiences you create.

Now I’ve gotten much less stressed about that. I still love playing with a full band onstage too. I just love having different experiences and any time I come over to the UK and get to play for fans over here, I just want it to be a different experience every time. Sometimes it can be me and a loop pedal and I can just create a world of sounds, recording drum loops onstage or whatever. Then next time I’ll bring my full band over and that will be a whole other other thing but it’ll great in another way. I just think it’s about experiencing music and getting to experience the record from different perspectives.

C2C isn’t that far off now. You’re going to be playing a lot over the weekend and the week following…

I know! I’M SO EXCITED! To say I’m excited would probably be an understatement. I have been looking forward to getting to play C2C in London at The O2 for a long time. The fact that we’re part of the line-up this year, I’m just so honoured and I cannot wait. I am bringing my full band over so we’re going to have a full band experience and then we are playing lots of other shows around the weekend. I really hope that I can get to see a lot of fans and and let them see this music live. We’re also playing Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester as well and some of those markets I haven’t been able to see since my first tour ever to the UK about three and a half years ago with The Band Perry. I’m really excited to get to go back and see some fans that I probably haven’t seen in a few years.

What’s your experience been like with UK audiences?

I love UK audiences so much and I talk about them all the time wherever I am in the world, even in the states all the time I’m like, ‘you need to go over to the UK and see how fans experience music because you guys are unlike any audience around the world’. There’s just such a passion for music that you cannot find in other places. I remember my first few shows, even when were back last October for Country Music Week at The Borderline… that show, it’s crazy to me.

I’d just released some songs that people found online and I come to The Borderline and it’s a sold-out show. It’s this sweaty little club that’s so awesome and they pack people in there and it’s just got such a cool vibe to it. People were singing every word to every song, even to B-sides on the record and I’m just like, ‘how do you guys know this? Like how do you know this material that I would pray for audiences back in the states to be able to sing all the B-sides off the record to me!’. I love audiences in the UK. I wish I could just pack all of you up and bring you on tour with me wherever I go (laughs) because the way that UK audiences experience music is the best in the world.

You’ll definitely find at C2C that the audience will know your songs and they will have done their research…

It’s so cool to me as an artist to have an audience fall in love with your art. Not a single, not an excerpt of a song but they fall in love with you and your art and it’s unlike any other place. It’s amazing.

I recently spoke to Devin Dawson about about the challenges of getting people to actually listen to a whole album. What challenges have there been for you when we live in a world where people stream singles and that’s about it?

Yeah, you have a single on a playlist and that’s how people discover your name and they know that one song. It’s challenging, especially with the way the industry is changing and record sales are changing and now it’s going to way more of a streaming platform, which I think in all honesty is just exciting in a new light. I think any innovation is good innovation and it causes us to think differently and experience technology differently. I think it’s just going to bear great things but it definitely changes the way that we as artists need to think about recording music and releasing music.

But I still will say that UK audiences will go one step further than most people who will just listen to that one song on that one playlist. They will go click into your profile and be like I wonder what else Lindsay has and they’ll go one step further which most places won’t.

UK fans have been used to being starved of any Country music for years and now we get artists playing here more regularly, everyone is used to buying all the merchandise. Are you going to be bringing any exclusives to C2C?

Of course! Yes we are. We are officially releasing the brand new copy of the record (The Project) with complete new artwork just special for the UK. I will be having lots of signings throughout. We’ll be signing special exclusive copies of the record. If people are coming to C2C they can they can expect a very special experience.

Women in Country music is a topic that comes up time and time again. I know it’s been a battle for you, which again I just don’t understand, but it feels like the tides are finally about to change. What’s your view about the way things are going for women in the genre?

I feel like it’s a very good time. I feel like in any industry you can look at ratios and they may not be even for sure. If you look at the charts it’s not even male to female however, I feel like it is a great time for female artists. I feel like the music that female artists are recording is an all-time high. The bar of quality has just been notched up a couple a couple rings. I feel because of that fans are wanting to seek it out more. I do feel like every industry is cyclical. When you look at a few decades ago it was almost the opposite. There were tons of females on the charts. I feel like it’s only a matter of time and that circle is spinning, it’s coming around. There are just so many incredible female artists releasing music. I’m just so happy to be a part of that movement.

Lindsay Ell

Credit: BMG

I had a similar conversation with Cam when she was over last year and we were discussing how Faith Hill and Tim McGraw were struggling on Country radio because Faith opened the track. I find the whole thing absolutely crazy…

It’s crazy when you look at the so-called rules of programming on radio. How there are only a certain amount of females getting played in a certain amount of spots. I really just think that’s a matter of time before it slowly starts to change and as so many female artists are releasing great content, it’s just a fact of supply and demand. There’s going to be so much demand for it and it’s there. I feel like that the only change will be to play it more, which is hopefully what will happen. Cam is such a pure vocalist and she’s so into this strong woman movement and I love it. Some of my greatest role models – Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow and Shania Twain – they were just all strong females and they were able to have their artistic identity while still being a very strong female in their own right. I am all about the girl power movement.

The other thing I don’t understand about the attitude towards female artists, and I’ve read it in some of the stuff written about you, is that people seem surprised that women play guitar and you’ve written your own songs. Can women not do those things?

Oh absolutely. I know! They expect women to not really be able to play guitar and just to sing other people’s songs. Look at Kelsea, Maren and Cam – they’re just such great singer-songwriters. I remember walking into venues when I was just growing up with a pink T-shirt and I’d walk in with my guitar case and I’d get the eye roll. I was like, ‘OK. Here we go again’. I kind of like that challenge. I kind of like the stereotype of, ‘OK she can’t really play guitar’ and then getting up on stage and proving them wrong. Seeing that surprised look in people’s faces, I love it. I love being able to show that you know girls can play guitar too.

Have you ever considered maybe launching an app about teaching people to play guitar?

Oh for sure! I love social media. I love being able to talk to fans and just letting them know that it’s my voice on the other end of the phone whether it’s through Twitter or tweeting back on Christmas Day or Instagram. I used to do Facebook Live guitar lessons where fans would tweet in a song they’d want to learn and I’d teach it on Facebook Live. This year it’s my goal to get my YouTube page going again and I want to help teach guitar on it. I want to talk about health and fitness and fashion and all the things I’m passionate about in life and just really help fans to see that other side of me, other than touring and on the road although we’ll cover that as well. I definitely will be teaching guitar on that.

You’ve got a busy year of touring coming up and you’re on the road with Brad Paisley right now…

Touring with Brad Paisley has been incredible. He’s arguably one of the best guitar players in the world and I knew it was going to be inspiring, I just didn’t think it was going to be this inspiring. Getting to watch him do what he does every night, it’s next level. It’s so moving to me as a player. We’re out on tour with Brad till the end of April and then we start up with Sugarland in July, which I’m also incredibly excited about.

I feel like I was one of the last ones to know (about Sugarland reforming), even working with Kristian so closely. I had no idea it was happening until they presented that award on stage. I toured with Jennifer Nettles, the other half of Sugarland, a couple of years ago on a CMT Next Women Of Country tour and it was interesting just getting to see both of them work in their own elements. Jennifer is such a pure vocalist and she’s so incredible. Getting to work with Kristian in the studio, he is a mad scientist, I call him my studio Yoda because he’s so smart.

I was asking both of them, ‘when is Sugarland getting back together, when is this going to happen?’ and they both were like, ‘well you know we’d love it to happen but there’s just so much logistics’. When they were finally up on stage presenting an award I text Kristian and I was like, ‘how did you not tell this is happening?’ I was so excited to hear their record and hear the music they’ve been recording, let alone to get to see it live and to be going out with them on the road. I cannot wait. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

It’s good to know that you were also one of the last to know because it caught everyone by surprise…

I know, completely right! It’s nice to get surprises like that. I love when duos and groups and bands get back together. I completely understand wanting to do solo projects but there’s just a synergy when a group or a duo gets back together that fans just get so excited about it.

Have you started thing about the next album yet?.

You know it. It’s crazy, the minute you close the mixes on and album I automatically start writing album two because it’s like, ‘OK well that’s the first chapter and now I’m thinking about the next chapters’. I’ve been writing like crazy amongst the zigzagging schedule we’ve had. We’ll probably be getting into the studio in December of this year. In my mind I have between now and October/November to write the next record. I’m excited about it. I feel like now that I’ve figured out who I am and I have the first step, I’m excited about step two. It’s going to be good.

Lindsay Ell will release her album The Project physically in the UK on Friday 9th March 2018. Watch the video for Waiting On You below:

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