On the Edge: Lindi Ortega

photos courtesy Courtesy Last Gang Entertainment

Originally published in the Jan. 14, 2013, issue of Country Weekly magazine. In October of 2013 Lindi released a new album, Tin Star.

Country music has a long tradition of sad songs about relationships gone sour, or the isolation of a vagabond existence. But it seems like there are less of them in these days more preoccupied with good times in the backwoods. Thank goodness, then, for Lindi Ortega, who fearlessly trawls through some dark places on her 2012 album, Cigarettes & Truckstops.

Lindi, who was raised in Toronto, Ontario, credits her love of country music to her mother, whose sizable record collection included Merle, Johnny, Willie and others. As her musical aspirations developed, Lindi was drawn to the down-and-out stories in those country songs.

“I just noticed the older I got, and the more I got into making music, the more I was leaning toward country,” explains the striking young singer/songwriter. “I think it was that early influence from my mom and also it was the lyrical content of the genre. It spoke to me—especially early Hank Williams songs, songs about loneliness and heartbreak.”

Lindi’s path had to intersect with Nashville at some point, as did the paths of Hank and countless other country singers who left their mark on the city. Initially, she says, the city served as her touring hub while she was in the United States, but everyone thought it made sense for her to relocate.

“I started reading biographies on Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and realizing that a lot of my country music heroes have either been born in Nashville, lived in Nashville at some point, pissed off Nashville, who knows!” says Lindi with a laugh. “So I thought, you know what, I think I need to be there.”

Relocating wasn’t an easy experience, but it has paid off. Lindi’s profile is on the rise, aided by a recent appearance as a performer on ABC’s Nashville.

Her evocatively titled album Cigarettes & Truckstops is steeped in Nashville’s classic country sounds, the sighing title track capturing the feeling of being an itinerant musician. She filmed the song’s video herself, using only her smartphone.

Elsewhere on the album Lindi wails like a banshee on the rocking “Don’t Wanna Hear It,” one of several blues-influenced tracks. Lindi says she delved deeply into the blues, particularly Robert Johnson and Leadbelly, while she was writing for Cigarettes & Truckstops.

She also goes full-on Southern gothic in the chilling murder ballad “A Murder of Crows,” which she wrote with Matt Nolan. Lindi—who is definitely not a murderer—says it was a song topic she wanted to tackle from a female perspective.

“Something about females writing and singing about murder is quite interesting to me because I don’t think your average country singer is doing that so much.”

Equally unsettling is “Heaven Has No Vacancy,” which begins with the voice of a Southern preacher reciting from the Bible. Lindi casts herself as the tortured departed soul, kept out of heaven because of suicide. It’s seriously heavy stuff, but Lindi insists she isn’t unhappy.

“I have experience with dark things in my life, but now I’m at a point where I’ve beaten a lot of my demons,” she offers. “I don’t think I’m a dark and brooding person. I can certainly understand through the dark moments in my life how to relate to people who are going through those things, and that’s what makes me want to go back there and revisit those moments.”

After all, now that she’s a songwriter it’s her turn to reach young music fans who might be feeling something similar.

“For me, when I heard songs of darkness and despair it helped me feel like I wasn’t alone in my own feelings,” she recalls. “I write these things to show people that they’re not alone.”

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