10 Questions with ... Lindsay Ell
November 15, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Named one of CMT's Next Women of Country, Lindsay Ell is a triple threat: accomplished musician, unique vocalist and songwriter. The 26-year-old Calgary native learned to play guitar while traveling with her father to country-bluegrass camps as a young girl. Ell honed her craft as a musical stylist and songwriter after being discovered by BTO and The Guess Who's Randy Bachman ("American Woman" / "Taking Care of Business") who discovered her at the age of 13. The multi-instrumentalist was soon opening for the likes of Luke Bryan, Buddy Guy, The Band Perry and Keith Urban. The Stoney Creek Records artist has been called "a true triple threat" by Guitar World; "Your coolest new girl crush" by Teen Vogue; and "a distinct figure in the modern country recording camp" by NASH Country Weekly. Ell received critical acclaim for her singles "Trippin' On Us" and "Shut Me Up" including being named one of Rolling Stone's "10 Artists You Need to Know." Ell's new single, the spirited and up-tempo "By the Way" impacted Country Radio on October 19th. One week prior to that, Ell raised thousands of dollars for Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt during her 24-hour "Busking on Broadway" event, in which she played and sang non-stop on the streets of downtown for 24 hours. Ell was assisted at times by a plethora of celebrity guests -- including Craig Campbell, Brooke Eden, Ashley Gearing, Kristen Kelly, The Raging Idiots, Lucie Silvas, Chuck Wicks, Charlie Worsham, and more.
1. So - a 24 hour busking session in downtown Nashville: There are so many questions. Let's start with this: Was it a no repeat playlist?
When I originally thought of it, I planned on playing for six or eight hours before, but I've never done 24 hours, I've never heard of ANYBODY playing for 24 hours. I figured I would make a six hour set list and then repeat it four times. And there were only about three girls who stayed for the whole 24 hours so they heard some repeats, but, man, I've never made a six hour set list before!'
2. Playing that long, did you end up with blisters or fingers that were aching - or something?
I was worried about that, you know. I didn't plan for the rain, which was the one factor that didn't think about. With hindsight I mean, it was windy and rainy and pretty cold but I think it worked for pity tips - for people like walking down the street being like, 'oh my goodness I feel sorry for all of them.' So they were just throwing money into that guitar case for the kids, which was amazing. But yeah my fingers actually weren't that bad. Playing electric it's a lot easier than playing acoustic, so I played about 90% electric the whole day.
3. Did you use a pic?
Yeah, I did use a pic, so that part wasn't that bad. So by the 22nd/23rd hour I could feel it in my hands for sure and in my back, but my voice was the hardest part for sure.
4. Yeah, I mean, the words "carpel tunnel syndrome" immediately comes to mind.
I was just like, 'nah, I'll be fine' and then I'm getting like shots of pain up my arm and I'm like 'ok, three more hours to go. We can do this!' I don't know if this will turn into an annual thing but we definitely did it, we got the t-shirt, it was a lot of fun and I'm just so thankful that all of the fans that came out to cheer us on and bring us coffee and donuts and donate to the kids, and I just felt very loved throughout the whole day.
5. So your new single is called "By The Way." I think it's safe to say there's a lot of sass to this record.
There is, you know. I think back on the women who inspired me when I was little. It's Shania, and Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt. All of them were such strong women who had something to say, but they had a little sass in there too, which is I think what makes it fun. I look up to them so much. I remember walking to the room that day to write with Luke Laird and Barry Dean. And I was like, I want to write a really empowering female song, you know? I came in with a couple guitar riff ideas and Luke started rapping on something and Barry was saying, 'Well what if we said something like this' and a couple hours later the song was created.
6. Just where does his perspective come from? Because that is truly from a woman's perspective. How are they so informed in that area?
I know! It baffles my mind all the time; all the talented male writers in town, talented as they are, especially like Luke and Barry, who can just tap into a female mindset so easily. And I guess through having wives, or girlfriends or daughters, sisters or whatever they may have, or just getting to write with other females ... I know both of them write with Natalie Hemby a lot, who is another great writer and I'm sure they get enough of the female perspective being around a few of us women.
7. You're in the process of finishing an album. So, tell me who you're working with and the production end, and finding the songs. You mentioned Luke Laird, but any other songwriters that we know of that you're collaborating with?
Absolutely. I've been working with Ben Glover. He's been producing this record and all of the music we have coming up, but I'm just so fortunate to be working with him because he embraces who I am as a musician, as a singer and as a player fully. I play acoustics and electrics on this record. I played banjos and mandolins. And Ben's just so great at letting me be me. We're picking the best songs that we can and I'm writing the best songs that I can. I feel really fortunate to be working with Ben. I've also written songs with Fred Wilhelm and Chris Stevens and it's been kind of crazy over the past year. I feel like I've really locked into a groove of what I want to say and how I want to say it. As an artist sometimes that's a journey, a process to really figure that out. Sometimes it takes a hot minute, but I feel like 'By The Way' starts a new chapter for me and I'm just so excited to show fans all this new music we've been working on.
8. You're a virtuoso on guitar, so I'm wondering when you're finding songs and then you get into the studio, how tempting is it to default to something that you can absolutely shred during a solo, because that's a real comfort zone for you.
Well, I've really focused on looking at a record as a record and looking at a live show as a live show. And some of the greats that I look up to that are guitar players and artists in their own right do it very very well, and they're different things. It took me a while to realize that, on a record sometimes you will play a different arrangement of a song than you will live and it kind of should be that way, because you're ultimately playing to an audience of people sitting in their cars or sitting their desk and that's a lot different than people in the middle of an arena floor or in the middle of a music festival and so even down to the guitar solos, like the way I play a solo crafting it for a record is a lot different than what I'll do live. Now live I'll usually take the solo that we did on the record and then I'll just add on to it and have double, triple guitar solos. That will give me the opportunity to go off and to shredding world as you say, but on a record I feel sometimes like it's more important to get the right feel; sometimes less is more, you know you want to say what you want to say and still have space to let the song breathe. So I've definitely changed my perspective on that a lot over the past few months.
9. Historically, we haven't really seen women as the guitar slinging front lady. We've seen them as fronting a band or fronting themselves as a solo act, but not the guitar slinger. But now of course you and Clare Dunn are kind of breaking down those walls. Is this a potential signature brand or is it something that is a good entrée for both of you to show fans the bigger picture?
I think it's time for female musicians in Country music. I'm so happy that we can sort of lead the pack in laying the groundwork that girls can play guitar too; girls can be musicians too. You know, when I was younger I remember looking up to Bonnie Rait for that reason. She was just such a badass - I don't even know if I can say that word - but she was so strong and yet so cutting edge and inspired me to really become great at the guitar. I've had a few fans come up to me to say, 'Lindsay, you inspired me to start playing the guitar' and that among everything is one of the nicest things that people can say to me because it shows that we're making a little bit of a difference in all of the stuff that we try to do and the blood sweat and tears it's actually getting through to a few people and I've sort of embraced Periscope, as crazy as it is. For people that don't know what periscope is, it's an app that's tied to Twitter. You can live stream wherever you are in the world, real time video and your fans can go on Twitter or Periscope and click on the link and see you. I've been doing live shows from my living room couch once a week as well as teaching guitar lessons to fans, just because I feel like it's an opportunity for them to know me better and for me to get to know them better. We can have that one-on-one interaction; they can ask me questions about guitar and I can answer them right on the spot. Or they can ask me to teach a certain song and I can start a guitar lesson and teach it to them. Technology has really made the world seem so small.
10. There's genuine interaction on this.
Exactly, so people can comment when watching a video feed or ask questions. And sometimes they speed by really fast, or people can send you questions on Twitter, so as long as you're looking at your feed you can read that too. Yeah, a cool way to interact with people. You know, I know fans that we've seen for the past couple tours to Europe, and they're logging on to some of my Periscopes, so the fact that we can't hop on a plane and go over to Europe every month - as much as I'd love to - I can still keep in touch with them; they can still keep in touch with me and hear the new songs that I'm writing and ask questions and keep that interaction going until the next time we can get over there.
1. You know, when you and I met a couple years ago, we chatted back then about new young female artists breaking through and I still feel like there's going to be a breakthrough. At the same time the format overall is wider and deeper than ever in terms of its sonic appeal. I refer to it as the Wild Wild West right now, so I wonder do you get concerned that the influx of things like hip hop, rap and R&B and everything else that's in there has overshadowed what you and other female artists of your generation have to offer?
I don't think so. In a day like today, our attention span is so much shorter, and so the fact that somebody likes really latching on to one song and staying on it, ok the probability of that may be a little bit less, but you have people reaching out to more and more different kinds music and just flipping that channel so quick, so yes they can get off of your song. But they can also get back on to your song very quick. The more people I talk to, the more I see they're listening to all different kinds of music at the same time. Streaming services like Spotify have playlists that are cross-genre and all that, so in a way I think it's just us really understanding how to deal with it and how to use it to our advantage. At the end of the day we're all just creating music for fans, and genre or no genre, you're trying to connect to a human being. As long as you're doing that then you're getting the job done.
2. Well, I know one guy that you've connected with in a big way, it seems like from the outside is Bobby Bones. Bobby seems like a real advocate for you and you guys have been out on the road, doing some Raging Idiots shows; Kelsea is another great example of that. How important has a nationally syndicated show and its host, co-signing on you as an artist? Have you seen that help move the needle for your awareness and interaction with fans?
I cannot thank Bobby and his whole team enough. The fact that they've just been so supportive to new artists and you especially new artists that sometimes have had a little trouble getting things afloat. He'll spin a song that he likes, that he believes in or an artist that he believes in and stand by it. That's very rare to see somebody do what nobody else is doing. The "Idiots" have had me play a bunch of shows this year, and we've just been having so much fun out on the road, watching all of their listeners come to their shows. They're just so passionate about everything that they do, and just singing along to all of their parodies. It's inspiring to me to write songs that will connect as well as their shows do.
3. I'm just assuming here that when you're out with the Raging Idiots that the musical heavy lifting is pretty much left to you? I mean, do they have any actual talent?
You know, Eddie plays guitar, Bobby will rap and crack jokes and then he'll start playing something and then segue into other songs and mash up stuff on the spot. So they have crazy talents that are beyond what you can just hear on the radio show, so it's been a lot of fun. If people haven't seen a raging idiots show they definitely need to come out and just see it happen, because it's just a whole different thing when you see it live.
4. You've been on tour with some pretty heavy duty artists, like Luke Bryan, Keith, the Band Perry. When you're around artists like that, what you can pick up by watching them or just being around them in that environment or in that context; what do you take away?
My favorite thing opening up for artists is to watch their show side stage every night, because I just feel like you learn so much watching them do what they do, and sometimes it's the same show and you can see the little differences and nuances that they'll change night to night just depending on the crowd. Watching the Band Perry for 50 shows in a row was just such an incredible learning experience to me because they're so great at what they do. And Luke, I mean Luke is going over to Europe for his first time and he is playing to different fans who can barely even speak English and yet all these girls are singing every single word to "Country Girl Shake It For Me." Then I would meet them at the merch table afterwards and they could barely say, 'hello, how are you?' They were just so passionate about the music and at this level of his career. To see Luke go over to Europe and want to do something like that is just so commendable. The fact that everybody that had the fortunate opportunity to tour with has been just so welcoming to us and has taken us in as part of the family, they're moments that I'll never forget.