A move to Music City results in a burst of creative energy 

What a difference a move can make—just ask singer-songwriter Lindi Ortega. “When I was living in Toronto, I’d come off tour, get into my onesie, watch reruns and eat Cheerios,” says the Canadian native. “Now, living in Nashville, I come home, see what people are up to, and that kicks my butt into being more productive and less complacent musically.”

That late 2011 change of address also jump-started her creativity on her new album, Tin Star, and is reflected in its title track, describing the no-man’s-land between glitzy Music Row and the local bar scene where musicians play for tips. Her lilting, Dolly Parton-esque soprano can quaver on the macabre, serve up the tender “Lived and Died Alone,” and occasionally break into a rockabilly rave-up like “All These Cats.” Ortega’s self-described “strange brew” of country, Americana, blues, rockabilly and gospel has led her to open for diverse acts including Social Distortion, Dierks Bentley and k.d. lang.

Where many artists prefer the comfort of employing the same producer and band, Ortega works with new personnel on every new record. For Tin Star, she sought out producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Secret Sisters). The strategy brings new energy to her music. “When I write, my songs are pretty skeletal, just me and a guitar,” she says. “The producer and I will go through each one and figure out what instrumentation works best. We used a Mellotron on this album, which is something I’ve never done. We also used a vintage drum machine that had samples of actual drumbeats—not digital, programmed drumbeats. We used that with a real drummer, so they were playing together—it sounded interesting.”

Recording live in the studio, Ortega finished most songs in just one or two takes. “I like capturing the excitement of the first few takes,” she says. “There’s a spirit there that might get lost if we did a song 20 times. And recording live makes it feel more like a show, and more of a full-band effort.”

Though Tin Star and its critically acclaimed predecessor, 2012’s Cigarettes & Truckstops, have launched Ortega to the forefront of the Americana scene, she does her best to ignore the pressures that come with rising stardom. “I don’t think I’d be able to write songs if I was paying a lot of attention to living up to others’ expectations. I focus on living up to the last thing I did.”

–Juli Thanki


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