The Weather Station has been Tamara Lindeman’s artistic platform for the best part of a decade. Four albums into her career, she’s an artist who has time and again bettered her own previous work and her recently released eponymous fourth outing is not only her best record yet by a long shot but one of the finest singer-songwriter albums of the past few years. It’s a superbly measured collation of emotion; an intricate tapestry of rich musicality and fascinatingly evocative lyricism that stands up to in-depth scrutiny and rigorous repeat listens but still manages to be the most accessible collection of songs Lindeman has penned so far. We caught up with her recently and talked about everything from the creation of her latest album to that of her very first.
How’s the tour been going?
Really great. They’re our first shows for the [new] record so it’s really exciting – actually getting to play the music out loud, other than just in our rehearsal space.
Do you tend to road test new material live before recording it, or is this tour literally the first time you’ve played these songs to an audience?
For the most part, yeah, it’s the first time. There were a couple of songs I had written before that I played on the road but [with] the rest of them, there wasn’t time.
How old are these songs? Are they all fairly new or have some of them been lying around a while?
They were all written from the end of 2015 on – none of them were from a previous era.
So you don’t stockpile songs?
No – I like when all the songs come from one little mental region.
It seems to me that musical arrangements are much more complex on the new album – with the introduction of string parts and such – was there a specific catalyst that inspired you go in that direction?
Yeah, I think it’s just that every album just had its own needs – you know? [With] this album, the songs were so much more dense and sturdy that it felt like they could handle more arrangement and I think just because it was exactly what I wanted to do. I wrote these songs and I was like “OK, this is what it’s gonna be”, so it didn’t feel strange to make that decision.
As you wrote those songs, did you envisage the arrangements at the time – or did they come later on, during studio time?
In some cases, I had a pretty clear idea of the arrangement and the drums and the way the strings would be. Sometimes, too, you have a pretty clear idea and then it doesn’t quite work but a lot of things that are on the record are exactly as pictured – and then there’s other stuff like little piano flourishes that we [did while] overdubbing, seeing what works.
You self produced the album, as well; what did you gain from doing that?
A lot, it was a really good thing for me to do.
You did co-produce your last record, right?
Yeah, [2015’s] ‘Loyalty’ was collaboration. But yeah, [with the new album] I was just ready to make all the decisions myself and, you know, I didn’t record the record – I had an engineer, [although] I did record some of the overdubs, though anyone can do that. It was actually really important to start making all the decisions because I did have a really clear vision for the record and I just realised pretty quickly that no amount of explaining could help anyone hear that and, you know, I was just the person that knew what had to go where. Also, I was less cautious with my work than other people would be – I was like “no, trust me, this song can be this fast or this song can be…”, you know, whatever it was.
The artist is always the one with the vision of their songs and it can be almost impossible to verbalise that.
Oh, yeah, you can’t. It was a good thing that I felt like I was ready to make the decisions and [that I] did have a clear vision, so it wouldn’t have made sense to hire a producer for this record at all. And it was nice to feel like I was ready to go “this is the take” or “this isn’t the take” and all that sort of thing, so yeah – super positive.
So how technical did it get? Were you, for example, mic’ing up snare drums and saying “we’ve got it! this is the snare sound I want”? Because I’ve got to say, I love the way the drums sound on the album.
I wasn’t mic’ing the snare but we had a pretty clear idea of the sonic template. Going into the studio with Howard who recorded the bed tracks, we had lots of talks about how we wanted the drums to be and how we wanted the bass to be. But I don’t say I self produced [because] I’m wanting to take credit away from people [who] did a lot for the record. On [2011’s] ‘All Of It Was Mine’ Daniel Romano really produced that record, he was like “this is what it’s gonna be, this is what it’s gonna sound like” and, at the time, that was a really welcome change, so I was up for it.
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Do you see yourself continuing to self produce going forward or do you think you may get to a point where you want to hire a producer again?
I can imagine [with] the next record wanting to do it again myself and then maybe after that. I think a lot of artists get in ruts where they can only hear themselves in one context and sometimes it’s really good to have someone else walk in and be like “I hear something you don’t hear” and in this case I was that person.
Going into your lyrics now, it seems to me that there’s a very strong sense of time, place and narrative in your songs – is that something you aim for when writing or is it less premeditated than that?
That’s the part that I do aim for and it is a bit premeditated, because I like when songs have a clear grounding in reality. Even though I think primarily I write songs to discuss ideas basically – they’re not just narratives at all, and the narrative is often less important than the connotations. Often when I write a song I do have a certain memory or a place in mind so I always try to touch on that.
As a listener it does strike me that your songs seem very personal – is that the case or do you sometimes sing from perspectives other than your own?
Yeah, they are [personal]. Sometimes I’ll change little details so that it doesn’t feel like I’m revealing someone else’s life but, yeah, they’re pretty personal. I still have never written about someone else – I really like the John Prine narrative classic songwriting and I just don’t do it myself for whatever reason.
Do you tend to write your lyrics before music, vice versa or both at the same time?
It’s both together at the same time. I’ve never written lyrics and then written music to them – I tend to write a part and a melody and then just start singing and see what happens and then over time I narrow it down to what the final lyric will be and, you know, sometimes I change the melodies but it’s different to trying to fit the melody to the words.
It can be really hard to fit lyrics to a melody if they’re been written in isolation of each other.
Yeah. It’s weird, I feel like I’m good at fitting words into songs – I’ve cultivated an ability to sing weird words in songs but it’s funny sometimes how even if I’m out and about and I’m thinking about a song and then I write down an idea for a verse or something and then go home and sing it, nine times out of ten it still doesn’t work. It’s like, “oh, it just doesn’t sound right”. That’s the nice thing about music, if it was just written on a page you’d probably over think it because there’s this restriction.
Do you tend to redraft lyrics or is it more a case of words coming to you and then first time the songs turn out great?
I wish that happened! That has happened, but for the most part, yeah, I have to edit and redraft and continue writing. Maybe I should just record the first draft but it doesn’t usually make a lot of sense.
Given that you are the driving force behind The Weather Station, have you ever considered just putting an album out under your own name?
Yeah, I feel like I consider that every time.
I mean, you’ve nearly done it by releasing a self titled album…
I know, yeah. When I made ‘All Of It Was Mine’, I almost did and I remember asking the guy who was going to put out the record and he was like “I don’t know…” I think I’m totally from that era where nobody put out records under their own name and I’m also from that era, too, where a girl’s name just sounded so ‘not cool’. You know what I mean? It was like “I don’t wanna go see so-and-so girl’s name”; I was totally of that mindset that if you just used your name it would sound uncool.
Do you think that’s changed now?
I do think it’s changed. There’s lots of women, like Angel Olsen, Julia Jacklin and when I hear their names I think “badass”, I don’t think [it’s just] girly stuff. I’m stoked that that’s changed. I think you just get to a point where, you know, by changing the name [The Weather Station] you just run the risk of losing…
People not getting the memo about the name change?
Yeah, totally. I know people who’ve done it but it’s certainly always a bit of a hassle so it’s like, well, might as well just keep on using this name.
What was the inspiration behind the name The Weather Station?
It’s not that cool of a story but I was 20 and I was making my Myspace profile to put my music up on [there] and [they] were these instrumentals, it wasn’t at all songwriting. So, The Weather Station really suited that and also I had this dumb Myspace bio where The Weather Station was, like, the lost recordings of a person who lived in a weather station; when a weather station was a place a person lived and looked at the radar and stuff – so that was the idea. It was kind of a concept band and then it wound up that I started playing shows and that was the name.
And it stuck?
Yeah, that’s really all it’s ever been. I like the name, so it doesn’t bother me. It’s not something embarrassing.
Going back to songwriting, one of things that really struck me about the new album is the strong sense of stylistic variety. We’ve already talked about how you write music and lyrics together but I’m wondering if the stylistic tone – tempo, mood, instrumentation – is something that you have in mind as a song is first being written or if it takes shape later on in the creative process?
In the case of this record – yeah. As I was writing [the songs], I was like “oh, cool, this is a song that’s going to have fast drums” or “this is a slow song”. I can’t think of any that really changed in the process.
Do you demo songs before going into the studio?
I haven’t yet – if I demoed the songs I’d just be like “OK, cool – just put that out”. I always fall in love with certain textures, you know? I have a lot of voice memos of songs [though].
Has it been difficult on this tour to strip back the complex studio arrangements and present the songs in a new way?
I definitely missed the strings at first but the live band is just such a nice, powerful thing in and of itself that it’s very rewarding.
Is it a trio on this tour?
Quartet, actually. That really helped, we added a fourth member, this guy named Will Kidman, who’s great and he did a really good job of picking up on the most memorable little lines. He’ll play a piano line on a guitar or a string line on a guitar; I don’t feel anything’s missing when I’m playing, it just feels great. And also, too, it’s good to let it morph – it’s good to feel like the live band is a whole new thing.
Would you say the live band has gained something not found on the record?
I don’t know, I feel like they’re kind of almost better with the [live] band, because it’s more powerful. But, for sure, having a fourth member makes it so much easier.
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When I saw you live last year, it was as a trio, did you add a fourth member because of the complexity of the new record?
Yeah, totally. And I was just stoked to have somebody to play guitar solos, it was such a relief [laughs].
Was there a point rehearsing with a trio where you just thought “the songs aren’t sounding full enough”?
No, I was pretty convinced that I was going to go for the four piece. But yeah, it’s pretty funny because it’s like “uh, we can’t tour in a station wagon any more”, and “suddenly we need two hotel rooms, dammit!” [laughs] But it’s so worthwhile; I’m not a comfortable guitar player so having another person play guitar or keys is so helpful.
Actually, speaking of guitar playing, I wanted to ask if you have any personal favourite guitar players? Was there anyone who made you think about picking up the instrument?
When I picked up the guitar, it was just utilitarian – “oh, it’s easier to write songs on guitar than on banjo”, which was my first stringed instrument. But yeah, honestly I’m totally a fan of Paradise Of Bachelors’ extended family of fingerstyle guitarists – you can’t go wrong. You’ve got Steve Gunn, I really like Nathan Salsburg, Will Stratton – who we’re playing with – I’m just a sucker for fingerstyle guitar; William Tyler, Ryley Walker is an amazing guitar player.
It’s an amazing time for fingerstyle guitar, isn’t it? It’s boom-time.
It was really great actually, the Steve Gunn record ‘Time Off’ and the William Tyler record that came out around the same time were great influences on me where I was like “oh!”. I started strumming on this record but I was always playing fingerstyle guitar and just didn’t quite know the potential of that and [those records] made me feel like I was doing something cool that’s not just based on my limitations as a guitar player.
You mention this extended family of fingerstyle guitarists and labelmates, do you see yourself as part of a modern scene? I don’t want to label it “folk” as that’s a limiting word, but…
No, I totally do. It’s really heartwarming, actually, the Paradise Of Bachelors extended world is actually getting to be pretty broad and it’s starting to feel like you have pals in every [city]. You go out west and there’s Gun Outfit, you drop through Nashville and Promised Land Sound is like “hey, stay at our house”. It’s a nice vibe and I really do feel that feeling of when I see those guys play – or the distant family of people like Joan [Shelley] and Nathan [Salsburg] – it does feel like a community that supports each other, and that’s really nice.
There’s also my scene in Toronto, [which] is super strong. It has also really affected me and it’s taken a while but it feels like the scenes are starting to merge because, you know, [bands] like Nap Eyes were never in my scene but they’re totally a classic Halifax band, which has always been a big part of my world, so that was really sweet.
I’ve heard you talk about growing up in rural Ontario, would you say that environment has had an impact on the music you’ve made?
Yeah, for sure. I grew up in a big chunk of land and I spent a lot of time alone and I think when you are raised that way, you spend a lot of time in your head, you know – imagination and focus is an element of growing up without people around. I think landscape is really important to me and always has been and I can kind of trace that back to having a strong sense of home in a particular physical place. I really did like growing up in the woods – I really did sing a lot. I remember walking around singing, which is pretty sweet when I think back, I must have been pretty cute. But, you know, part of my getting into singing was just, like, having the space to sing with nobody to hear.
So if you were singing a lot as a child, does that mean you grew up in a house full of music?
No, not really, it’s weird. My dad played a little bit of guitar but it wasn’t a big thing; we listened to Simon & Garfunkel and Peter, Paul & Mary but it wasn’t super musical.
I’d like to ask you about your first album as The Weather Station, ‘The Line’. It’s your only out-of-print album and I’m wondering if it’s a record you’d be interested in revisiting at some point, perhaps to reissue it, or if it’s something you’re happy to leave in the past?
It’s a mixed bag. I listen to it once every three or four years and it’s kind of amazing because I really did just make that on my own – I had people play on it but I totally just conjured it out of my brain. I taught myself to use the program I was using and I taught myself to record and everything was total trial and error, like: “this sounds good, cool.” This guy [said] “you gotta master it if you want to put it out” and I was like: “cool, what’s that?” and then I went to the mastering engineer and he [said] “who mixed this record?” and I was like: “what do you mean mixed? I’ve been listening to it and I think it sounds pretty good!”, he [said] “well, you should probably mix it”, I was like: “I don’t follow you” and [then] he taught [me the process]. He told me to go get some monitors because I was listening on my headphones and I didn’t know there were all these things I hadn’t heard. So then I learned to mix.
You must have learned a lot from making that album.
Yeah, I did – it was a couple of years of my life [where] I was constantly – well, not constantly – but on-and-off working on that record. So in that sense I’m really proud of it but the thing is when I listen to my singing I just think it’s terrible. I think it’s so affected and dramatic; I did revisit it a couple of years ago and I was like: “maybe I could re-sing it”, because the words are actually pretty good. It was so innocent, that record – I don’t know who I wrote the words for or what was in my head, but I just did and there’s actually moments on that record where I’m like: “that’s a pretty good line”. So, it’s a mixed bag. I was joking with somebody [who asked] “oh, do you have any CDs left?” and the final CDs were ruined in a basement flood a couple of years ago, I was just joking about how bad the font was that I chose for the cover. I was like: “maybe I’d re-release it if I could change the font and the vocals”.
There’s your next project, then.
There’s my next project – get rid of that font. But it was a pretty cool thing to do and it was a real baptism of fire; but it’s funny because that record and this record actually have a lot in common – they’re both about what happens when I give my brain free reign, so it’s kind of sweet to look back.
So was that literally the first record you were ever involved with, or had you played with any band who recorded previously?
Yeah, that was the first record. It took me four years to make the record, so in that four years [between] when I started recording and when I finished that record, I did join another band that did make a record but ‘The Line’ was already well on.
You’ve released three really well shot, striking music videos for the new album so far – is adding a strong visual element to your work important for you?
That’s a good question – it’s not something I think about that much but, for sure, it was nice to have a bit of a budget to do it properly. It wasn’t, like, a budget but it was more than $300; it was like: “OK, we can afford to get a nice camera rig”, so it was really exciting but to me [music videos are] always a secondary consideration because I feel like [they are] a compliment that brings out one aspect of a song but not others. I’m a big headphone listener, so I make records assuming that that’s how they’re going to be heard, but the music video is a great medium and I really like music videos – they’re pretty cool and it was fun to make them, for sure.
You mention being a headphone listener, I love it when you put on a record and it sounds great over speakers but then you listen on headphones and hear all sorts of small details that you don’t notice with speakers. Are those small touches something you put in your music?
Yeah, totally; that’s my jam. I like listening to vinyl in the living room but to me there’s something very special about when no-one else can hear what you’re hearing and it’s a personal experience that you’re having and you’re walking through the world. And that’s how I listen to lyrics, for the most part – when I have headphones on, that’s when I’m listening deep.
Speaking of vinyl in the living room, what’s it like to have your music released on vinyl? It must be great.
Oh, it’s great, yeah. The first time it happened with ‘All Of It Was Mine’ I was like: “oh my god”. I was so stoked, and at the time not everyone was doing vinyl yet so it still felt super special and that record looked the part. I was like: “man, someday somebody’s going to be at a garage sale and they’re gonna pick it up for a buck and be like: ‘what is this?'” and I liked that idea of making something that would still exist. It’s a pretty funny print because we used a matte stock and when we got them back I was like: “oh, I kind of look a bit jaundiced”, my face looked so yellow [laughs] – it was just the way the stock prints but we were like: “oops, oh well!”