In recent years, the romance of life on the road has been thankfully demystified. A new, more realistic picture has emerged, albeit an often black and white one. It seems you’re either the grant-dependent, bleary-eyed emerging artist struggling to make ends meet, or you’re among the impossibly successful and hard-working 1%. But somewhere in the middle you’ll find artists like Toronto’s Tamara Lindeman, singer-songwriter of art-folk project The Weather Station, who manages to revel in tour life’s ephemeral magic while keeping two feet firmly planted in reality.
We chatted about post-tour groceries, the hegemony of the English language, and not treading water in the stream of consciousness.
Rolf Klausener: Touring “The Weather Station” has seen you out on some of your most extensive routings. Right now, in the thick of it, what are you relishing?
Tamara Lindeman: I can experience a lightness of being on tour that I don’t necessarily at home - in constant motion, I have new and different perspectives. I see my life from a greater distance. Nothing feels as heavy as it does at home.
I really appreciate getting to see other places through this very small, specific window of playing shows for people. I have seen almost no tourist sites, but I know a lot about gas stations and highways of the world, and the ins and outs of bar and theatre culture. It is a strange and interesting thing to meet people in Spain or Germany or Australia in this very specific context of a Weather Station show. Everywhere we go, there are things that are the same. But there is also so much difference, which is always so intriguing.
I also really appreciate spending a lot of time outside of North America. In Canada, I feel we don’t realize how much of our perspectives are shaped by the United States...by specifically North American ways of thinking. Spending time in Europe and the UK reminds one of how there are other ways to think and talk and solve the problems of modern life, other ways than those practiced in Canada and the US. I especially love being away from the hegemony of the English language. To be on a street in Norway, surrounded by a language that I do not know, unable to read signs or listen in on conversations. It is a constant and humbling reminder of how we live in only one world, and there are many. It is also very peaceful to be undisturbed by the words of others in a public context.
RK: How do you recalibrate when you get home, if necessary?
TM: When I get home I love to go grocery shopping and make some nice meals, it’s such a beautiful way of settling into home life and something you can never do on tour.
RK: If you had the option of earning a living without the need to tour, would you? How do you feel live performance relates to creation?
TM:That’s an interesting question and I appreciate you asking it. Firstly, just to clarify, a lot of performers don’t make a living on the road. Trying to make a living as a touring musician is very difficult and only very rarely achieved, especially for the leader of the band, as you inevitably pay everyone and everything before yourself. Because we've been touring so heavily, I've needed to pay my band a real wage, so they can afford their lives, as well as paying commissions to my agent and manager, not to mention flights, hotels, cars, gas, etc. It's a very complex enterprise.
But, I do personally really love and appreciate touring. I love being out and engaging in the world in a non tourist way, in a working context. I also really love getting to actually meet and talk to the people who have formed a relationship with my music. It’s a constant reminder of how different people feel so differently about the song, and about the life your music can have beyond you. It moves past you and without you. That’s a beautiful thing. Beyond that too, the act of performing music has taught me a great deal about myself and about music. I don’t know if I would have become the artist I am had I not toured so much over the years.
I do wish touring was less relentless and compulsory, that it could be something you could do only when it worked for you. It is hard on health and well-being, on relationships, and sometimes on finances too. I would love if I could be home more, and put more time and energy into writing and recording. But I am glad also that I like touring, as it’s a huge part of the musician’s life now, and so I’m glad it is something I enjoy.
RK: I’ve read that you took more liberties with your lyrics on this latest record: sticking with improvised lyrics, going for the natural flow of those first stabs at vocalizing melodies, as opposed to re-writing/honing lyrics meticulously. Is that an approach you’d repeat? A year into touring, do you feel more or less attached to these lyrics, and why?
TM:I still really appreciate all those lines that just hit home strongly - there are some songs I’m still really proud of. Touring this very loose creation has been freeing as it’s been a constant reminder of the power of improvisation and openness.
But, in writing and creation, I always seem to be acting in opposition to what I have done before, and touring this album has made me turn my mind back to cohesion and clarity. It's whetted my appetite to going back to my more meticulous approach of the past. It's not something I could do if I hadn’t made this album though. I had to tear down all the fences to build them again.
RK: Your writing feels simultaneously more personal and more elusive on this record than in previous efforts. Is it important for you to be conscious of the meaning behind a song either in the short term, or after all is said and done, and why?
TM: Great question. When I’m writing, I definitely know what I’m writing about. I don’t dig lyrics that are nonsensical or total stream of consciousness. That feels like such a cop-out to me. I want there to be a philosophical purpose to the song, and that’s always what drives me to write or complete a song. That said, it’s always more intriguing when it feels like the song has a shadow element that is pulling me forward, something I don’t fully understand. When images show up and I don’t know why they’re there and I unravel the meaning over time. To me that's what gives a song depth, and keeps it alive for me over time. But I still want the song to make sense.
I do sometimes change details to protect the innocent or to leave out things that I’m not willing to reveal publicly. So sometimes details are left out that might illuminate the song in a more clear narrative sense - and sometimes I regret that when I realize the song went too far in an elusive and unclear direction. It’s a balance. I’m trying to walk that line where the song has some openness to it which leaves room for interpretation, but also makes sense, has a meaning that can be understood. If that clarity isn’t there I feel like I’ve failed in some way.