Long before she imagined having a career as a musician, Tamara Lindeman was a self-described rabid music fan. “I wasn’t really connected to the music scene and I didn’t know musicians,” she explains. “I was just really into the local music scene in Toronto.” Her earliest forays into making her own music began with her concocting instrumental soundscapes in her bedroom in the mid-2000s. Hoping to share them on MySpace, Lindeman realized she needed a name, and settled on The Weather Station. “I said that these were the sound recordings of a woman who lived at a weather station in the Arctic,” she recalls with a laugh.
Though Lindeman’s music quickly evolved, the name stuck. The Weather Station – now a folk-rock driven, sometimes-solo project, sometimes touring band – has put Lindeman squarely on the map as a singer-songwriter to watch. Her fourth full-length album – self-titled and self-produced – was released in October to rave reviews, including those from Pitchfork, The FADER, Exclaim! and from the U.K’s Uncut Magazine, which has listed it in fourth place in their ranking of 2017’s top albums.
But Lindeman, whose third album, Loyalty, was long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize in 2015, still largely finds herself watching her success from the fringes of the music scene. “I have this problem where I feel like I will always feel like a total outsider,” she says of her success to date. “I can’t feel like any of this is natural, and I can’t take any of it for granted.”
While she sang in choirs and learned piano as a child, Lindeman – whose voice is frequently compared with Joni Mitchell’s – is still largely self-taught. She first ventured into writing songs when she realized she needed to have something more suitable than an atmospheric soundscape in her repertoire if she was going to begin sharing her music at open mic sessions. “From the beginning, I did have an instinct to sing,” she says, describing her learning curve as “swimming blind.”
“I’ll riff on an idea, or I’ll find myself singing about something and not know why, and then I’ll try to understand what’s going on.”
Lindeman, who has also worked as an actress, began developing a continuously evolving stream-of-consciousness approach to songwriting – which sees her developing a few strong riffs and melodies, then improvising lyrics afterwards to suit. “Basically, I sing and then see what I am saying,” she says of the process. It sees her recording everything as she goes, then sifting through it in search of stuff worth keeping. “I’ll riff on an idea, or I’ll find myself singing about something and not know why, and then I’ll try to understand what’s going on,” she says. She explains that it sometimes means singing very slowly, or leaving long gaps while she works out what to say next.
A self-described perfectionist, Lindeman admits the editing process can be a lengthy one, in which she transcribes her sung musings before settling on the words that seem to best capture what she’s trying to say. “The process of deciding is the craziest part,” she laughs.
The result is lyrics that often feel personal, with the occasional poetic non sequitur, particularly on her latest album, which Lindeman describes as “a lot more crazy than my other records.” “I think it’s my most forthright album,” she explains. “It’s definitely the most ballsy. My past albums are more subtle than this one.”
According to Lindeman, this is in part due to a desire to make a more assertive, rock-oriented album with stronger rhythms more suited to her current state of mind, as well as to this time in history. “It doesn’t always feel right to play subtle music – sometimes something else is called for,” she says, of songs that tackle subjects from politics, to climate change, to her parents’ divorce. “Based on where I was at emotionally, and where the world is at right now, it felt like playing beautiful, quiet music didn’t feel right to me,” she says. “I don’t have anything really beautiful to say about what’s happening right now”.
The other change with this album was Lindeman’s decision to take the lead on its production. While she describes her very first albums as “super self-produced,” her last two were made in close collaboration with other musicians, including Afie Jurvanen (a.k.a. Bahamas) and Daniel Romano, who, Lindeman explains, had experience and reference points that she didn’t necessarily have, and helped her to overcome her self-doubt.
By contrast, Lindeman says that when it came to producing The Weather Station, which features Ben Whiteley on bass and Don Kerr (The Rheostatics) on drums (both also make up the heart of her touring band), along with many others, she had a clear sense of how she wanted the album to sound. “I thought I could explain it, but realized quickly that nobody can tell what’s inside my head other than me,” she says. “So I had to learn how to take control and make decisions and be the guiding force of it.”
For Lindeman, it was an empowering experience, and one that continues to build her confidence as a musician. She admits she still has moments, oftentimes at her own shows, when she marvels not only that she’s performing for a full house, but that she’s found a career in music at all. “Music is so hard. It’s hard to succeed emotionally, or artistically, or at all, business-wise,” she says. “So to have all three happen is basically the best feeling in the world.”