It’s a clear, calm day in Toronto, Canada. Tamara Lindeman, aka The Weather Station, is speaking there from her home, a place she’s been largely confined in for several months as the long winter lockdown continues. How is she passing the time? “Just going for lots of long walks,” she smiles over video call, grateful she can appreciate the natural landscape close by. Lindeman, who grew up in rural Ontario surrounded by country and loves the natural world, feels “lucky,” she says, “to be releasing this album at all.”
That would be her latest, fifth studio album, ‘Ignorance’, which marks a startling about-turn for the acclaimed folk singer, whose music came to prominence around the local DIY indie folk scene in Toronto 10 years ago. Lindeman’s music is frequently compared to that of fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, her arresting and emotive voice a much-talked about standout. Overseen by Marcus Paquin – producer to Arcade Fire and The National – the album sees The Weather Station experiment with a new, linear time structure (Kraftwerk were a touchstone) and is much more hi-fi and pop-driven than any of her previous outings.
“It wound up being a pretty great partnership,” Lindeman says of Paquin, who started work on the album with her two years ago. “I actively sought out someone who thinks differently than me and has a very different aesthetic and a very different perspective. I wanted someone who would defend the things I would throw away.”
And defend he did.“This song really scared me and I wanted to leave it off the record but some people convinced me to leave it on,” Lindeman writes on the song notes to ‘Heart’. She smiles at hearing her words read back to her. “Markus definitely talked me off a lot of cliffs,” she laughs, explaining her nervousness in veering from her more traditional, folk roots to something that drew on, she says, “New Order, Roxy Music, Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac.”
“I definitely had 27 conversations with friends and family too about whether or not something was cheesy on this record. Obviously, you don’t adhere to the more DIY aesthetic without… thinking albums that sound good are bad. Of course, they aren’t – it’s just you have those ideas in your mind and I definitely had some funny feelings about the change. Sometimes I’d be like, ‘Wait, this is my music? This is awesome!’ I didn’t expect that. With this record, the things that initially scared me about it are the things that had to stay.”
Lindeman brought in a host of local artists and long-term collaborators (spanning a wide variety of genres from pop to jazz) and she wrote most of the songs on piano instead of her usual, favoured guitar. Part of the nervousness she speaks of also comes from the fact Lindeman uses the relative lightness of pop to explore challenging themes around the environment, something she feared may prove a mismatch.
‘Ignorance’ was written at the end of 2018 at a time when she became more conscious of the debate around climate change. As well as taking part in the Greta Thunberg-inspired ‘Friday for Future’ demonstrations in Toronto, Lindeman began to host a new live event series, Elephant In The Room, whereby she interviewed artists and activists about the debate around the climate. Then, at the end of her tour in 2018, she read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) lengthy, special report on global warming cover-to-cover.
“I’ve always cared about climate change and I’ve always cared about the environment, but I just hadn’t fully faced it,” Lindeman admits, saying her own global footprint as a touring artist began to weigh heavy. “It was like this oozing, festering wound that I was not acknowledging, in part too because I was literally spending every day driving a van and flying on tour. I felt like I couldn’t look at the climate crisis because I was a bad guy too.”
Never one to shy away from difficult themes in her music, from mental illness to mortality), she decided to tackle climate change head on: “Something just flipped and I just started reading about it and then it became this weird obsession where I was spending hours a day reading about climate change and climate solutions.”
On piercing album opener ‘The Robber’, Lindeman takes aim at those in power who have misled the public on climate change. “To put it straight, there are real human people who are literally robbing us and all future generations of…everything that matters right now,” Lindeman explains on the song’s accompanying notes. Wild, percussion and off kilter jazz reflect the disorientation of the song’s protagonist as they realise they’ve been duped. It’s echoed too on the upbeat, Springsteen-like ‘Tried To Tell You’ where Lindeman sings, “I’ll feel as useless as a tree in a city park / Standing as a symbol of what we have blown apart” over a crescendo of emotive strings.
“The Canadian government were like ‘We can continue mining fossil fuels and meet our climate goals’,” she says. “It was incorrect and mathematically wrong and yet that was what was put forward by our leaders. It took me a long time to unravel where we actually were and to understand it.” Once she did, she couldn’t contain her anger.
“This record is looking at darkness and acknowledging dark feelings”
“It fucked me up. It changed my whole perspective on life… on politicians and people in power. It changes you because I’d always cared about the planet, but there was a part of me that was hiding it from myself because it’s difficult to look at, that experience of excavating what was underneath it all.”
The process also taught her, she says, to not to be scared of making a dark record, realising that some of the most hopeful music can emerge from dark places. “There were a few songs where I didn’t realise how dark they were until I recorded them,” she explains. “Ultimately, this is the philosophy that I hold in life. This record is looking at darkness and acknowledging dark feelings, and that feeling them is actually so necessary. Many destructive ideologies in the world are based on an inability to feel dark feelings, an inability to feel sadness or vulnerability… We can’t seem to talk to each other about the things that matter most.”
Despite having five previous acclaimed albums to her name, Lindeman is frequently self-depreciating and can use this as a shield. “I’m not really the best musician, I’m super wonky” she says at one point; “I can barely clap in time,” she chimes at another. Where does this lack of self-belief come from?
“I had been reflecting on the way that I thought about #MeToo,” Lindeman says. “That movement did change my life; it changed me. It changed how I perceive myself; it absolutely gave me more confidence and empowerment,” she says. This is strikingly evident on her new album, if not in her more self-depreciating interview moments. “I was able to look back and realise like, ‘Oh, people weren’t correcting me because I was wrong, they were correcting me because of sexism.”
“I’d be like, ‘Wait, this is my music? This is awesome!’”
Lindeman made another confident move recently too, signing to Mississippi indie staples Fat Possum, home of Spiritualized and The Black Keys. Lindeman was the only female artist on each of her previous labels. “It just feels like the last couple of years with all the female artists who’ve been so successful and powerful… I poked my head above the ground and was like, ‘Now I can just be. I realised I knew more than I thought; I had more tools. I realised I could lead, I could make choices too.
“Sometimes it’s just I feel shy talking about [my music], because like with this [one], I don’t feel that I made a record that does a good job of talking about climate crisis, but it was just an honest depiction of where I was at the time.”
In reality, ‘Ignorance’ is the most confident Lindeman has ever sounded on record. As well as appreciating the natural world around her during her lockdown walks, she has been busy, too, revealing that she’s already made her next record.
When I ask if the in-progress album will continue her examination of her environment, she says: “It’s more connected than before. I’m just so grateful right now that anyone has room in their minds for music, let alone my music.” Lindeman laughs nervously, before heading out out on another long walk among nature.
– ‘Ignorance’ is out on Feb 5 via Fat Possum