A Lindsey Stirling Interview feels like having a chat with an old friend. She’s charismatic, warm and so down to earth that one has to question whether this was really the lady who is in the midst of a sold-out world tour, has a Billboard Music Award behind her name (for Top Dance/Electronic Album) and ranks as one of the most followed people on Youtube.
Known for her one-of-a-kind dancing-while-playing-violin performances, Lindsey Stirling has made quite the impression on not only her nine million loyal Youtube subscribers, but many more fans around the world who relate to her quirky and offbeat presence that reiterates the idea that ‘different can work’. Stirling had quite the (public) set back on America’s Got Talent, yet she took the motivation and passion she had for music and created a successful career for herself that is quite a remarkable story.
We sat down with the musician, whose third studio album ‘Brave Enough’ is out now, backstage at ‘the Apollo’ in London, before she was to go on stage to perform in front of an awaiting audience.
So you’ve been touring at the moment, is it tiring?
It is tiring, but I love it. I love getting to do shows, I love getting to see new places. We’ve been to so many different countries, and on days off, even though I’m really tired, a lot of the time I end up going out because you don’t want to just sit in a hotel room. You start to feel very stale very fast and so we’ll go out. Yesterday we walked all over London, we went to Abbey Road we went to Kensington Park, we did some window shopping just to get out and explore, it was awesome… we rode the tube!
Did you ever think that you’d get to explore the world, touring?
No, I remember when I first started putting videos up, I was just excited that people were actually listening to what I did, it was so exciting. I never really dreamed I would get to tour the world as a solo artist, as myself. I thought maybe I might be able to tour with another act or as a fiddle player or a violinist behind someone else, but it’s just amazing that I get to create a vision and it happens.
You have found so much success in something you love to do, what inspired you to learn to play the violin?
When I was really little, my parents loved orchestral music and they loved classical music and so they would take my sisters and I to orchestral concerts and they would play classical music in our home and I used to dance to it with my sisters. The violinists were always in the front of the orchestra, and they also get all the solos, the fast melodies and the violin just seemed like the star of the orchestra. I begged my parents for violin lessons when I was six years old.
When you were young, did you always know you could make a career out of your passion, or was there a backup plan and was music just a hobby?
It was just a hobby, I never really saw it as “okay this is my career”, it was “I love to make music, I love to play”, it was something I could express myself with. I actually went to college to be in film, but then I decided that I didn’t think it was quite what I wanted to do so I went into therapy. I was going to be a therapist, and I got a degree in therapy and then it wasn’t till half way through college that I realised I wanted to do music, so I was doing both college and… creating at the same time.
In 2010 you got to the quarterfinals of America’s Got Talent, (which is insane) but Piers Morgan said, that your music sounded like “rats being strangled.” Did this experience motivate you to do better, to prove you can do something?
Yeah, in a way. I mean at first I was just devastated, and heartbroken… I felt my dreams were so big I thought they were going to come true then they were just crushed and I thought for moments “gosh maybe he’s right, maybe they were right, maybe I’m not good enough” but I believe there’s something inside everybody that you can either crush and silence it or you can listen to it and that voice inside of me was just saying that it’s not time to give up yet that there’s so much more to be done here and to just keep going. So then all of a sudden it turned from humiliation into this extreme motivation of “I’m going to prove them wrong”.
So you then moved to Youtube which is now a big part of your life, how did you discover that you could really break out into the industry via youtube?
Well, I posted this one video on years before – I think I started my channel in 2007 – I didn’t know what Youtube was I just did it so I could post this one video, but I didn’t know you could have a channel, I didn’t know you could build an audience. Then it wasn’t until 2011 that I met someone that was a ‘professional youtuber’ and his name was Devin Graham and he had a Youtube channel, he was teaching a workshop for the film students and I heard about it and went and just thought “a youtube workshop, taught by a professional youtuber, this is really interesting I have to check this out”. And, as I sat there I, I mean I had started to get kinda discouraged as I had tried so many different things and nothing was working, I kept realising that maybe you just have to have a lot of money to ‘make it’, I don’t have that kinda money, I was paying for school, and then I realised as I sat in this class that “oh my gosh, I can do that!” I can start a twitter account, I can make videos and post them online, the whole thing about it was just like all the tools were there, you didn’t have to wait for someone to tell you that you’re good enough, you didn’t have to wait for someone else to believe in you, you didn’t have to have a million dollars, you could start with what you had and go from there and it was amazing to have that realisation in that room. I walked out and from that day on, I’ve been a youtuber!
Obviously you had the experience from America’s Got Talent, but was it strange/intimidating for you to go from performing in front of a camera to performing in front of thousands of people?
Oh yeah, it’s extremely different. You have certain ways to play to a camera then there’s very very different ways that you play to an audience. Live always makes me nervous, even the other day we performed live on bbc radio and I was so nervous. Being live makes me a little *eekk* you know doing the shows we’ve been doing across Europe is so fun, its unlike anything else when you get to do something you love. We worked so hard on this show bringing it to life, everybody adding their talents and arts to make it happen so then to go and put it on… whereas on youtube you put a video up and you see comments, you see numbers go up, but there’s nothing like being able to look out to an audience of people who are there, and see their faces light up and see them smile and see kids laugh and parents cry… it’s unlike anything else.
It’s hard in the creative industry to always have ideas, what gets you in the right ‘frame of mind’ to create and write?
It’s kind of different for everything, all the different art forms that go into this. When I write music I have to sometimes force myself to go in, its like going to work, go to the office and sit down until it comes – sometimes you can’t demand creativity and make it come on the spot, but, for writing (for myself) I have to just put myself in the situation because it’s kind of uncomfortable for me to write. It’s not the most natural part of it, but when I’m thinking of music videos, sometimes it’ll just come to me out of nowhere and I’ll get this really fun idea because of something I saw or something I heard and then I’ll write a song to fit that video. Then other times, for example the “love is just a feeling” video, I didn’t have an idea for it when I wrote the song so I just listened to the song over and over again, I would run to it, I would write emails to it, I would listen to it before I went to bed, just constantly, I would look at pictures online till finally I thought of an idea that I was in love with!
It’s so important to be different, or to be yourself even, how do you connect with your audience to help others feel comfortable in themselves?
There’s so many ways, I think one thing that gives me an advantage is that what I do is very different, and so just through my music and art form alone I can say “hey this is really different and look it’s working”. I especially love that part of my story has a very obvious, very public failure in it. Millions of people watched me, get ripped apart on America’s got Talent, but then to come back from that and do exactly what they said I couldn’t do, and the fact that it’s so different, I think that’s such a cool thing. Especially talking to teenagers about that (the failure), because I think everybody needs to realise that being different is okay. Also I think even just on my instagram I try really hard to not just post professional shots where I have a makeup artist to make me look really nice, I just post random stuff, sometimes I’ll have bags under my eyes, but I try to post real life moments to show that you don’t have to be perfect all the time.
You’ve openly spoke about your battle with anorexia, overcoming that, how did it shape the way you are today? Did it inspire you to talk about it in order to reach others suffering?
Absolutely, my battle with anorexia was so important, probably the most important thing that it taught me was that, you can change. I’ve always known that you can learn a talent, I learned the violin, I know you can go to school and you can learn (even if I’m not that great at maths) I can still get an A on a test. You can work hard to change your body or your mind, but learning the way I could actually change the way I think, and that I had control over my emotions was such a game changing thing, to think that I’m depressed right now, but I can change, I can work on this. It’s made me really excited about my project called “Happiness takes Work” that I’m going to be launching this June and it’s all about understanding your own need for help and understanding that you can manage it, you can’t ever control it, but you can manage it, you can guide it and you can create yourself into the person you want to be. I think that is such a powerful lesson that I learnt and that changed my life.
Your music is so moving and powerful, what songs would you say are most significant in your life?
I would say a song called ‘Crystallize’ was the song that changed my life, because it was the first time I tried dubstep. It was very different for me and also it was the song that exploded for the first time for me on the internet, that’s how so many of my fans found me and for a while I was known as the “ice dancing violinist girl” or the “Dubstep violinist girl” and so ‘crystallize’ will always be a very special song to me because of that. I think one of my favourite songs that I’ve ever written is ‘Shattered me’ because of the story to it, and the symbolism behind it and what this ballerina represented and the ability everyone has to just break free from whatever holds them back. I love this newest album because it tells a story of my last year and some of the things I’ve overcome. All my music, so many of the songs are so personal because I wrote them from my own life, like many artists, I think almost every artist does so that’s not unique but…
You’ve worked and collaborated with some amazing people, is there anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
I love collaborating with different artists, I think it’s really fun, it brings out a whole different side of you sometimes and you can create something together that is very unique to both of you, I love Ellie Goulding she’s one of my favourite artists from over here (the U.K) I would love to work with her some day. I love Hayley Williams from Paramore, I love Sia, Pink is my favourite performing artist, just her theatricality and the way that she is so acrobatic, I just think she is the coolest women alive so I would love to work with her someday!
Speaking of the future, what next for you?
Immediately after this were jumping over to Australia, so were going to be touring Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. Then were going home for a little bit and I’ll start writing my Christmas album, so I’m excited about that. I’m going to be experiencing christmas in July this year which is supposed to be a no no, but I have an excuse this year so I’m going to be probably watching christmas movies all year round, I’ll probably be so sick of christmas by the time it comes around i’ll be like “I’ve seen all these”. The plan then is to do a christmas tour and who knows possibly the next year, you guys love christmas over here, so possibly we’ll bring the tour over here the following year and do a christmas tour because I cannot wait to do a christmas tour.
Touring is a full on ‘thing’, you’re going to different countries everyday sometimes, do you ever get tired and think “I can’t do it” or do you ever just need a break?
You know what, this tour, this last year has been the hardest time touring that I’ve had to have done just because of my own emotions and my own personal life. When everything in my life was roses and peaches it was great it was like “I’m doing my passion, I love this” but life got a little harder a year and a half ago when my best friend passed away who was my keyboard player and having to come out without him being here, and being reminded constantly, having memories all the time was so hard when I first started. My dad also passed away a couple of months ago and being gone, going back and fourth on tour, created the moments that I just thought “I can’t”. It was really hard to feel like you can be there for someone else and go to meet and greets and smile and be there for your fans, some of these people have waited for months to come to this show, they’ve been looking forward to it, I wanna give them the best show I can and when I feel so emotionally depleted it takes a lot to be like “this is your dream, go out there and live it” and so you don’t necessarily feel like it, so somedays are hard but at the same time most days are awesome!
It must be so comforting to know, whatever your problem is, you have fans there to comfort you?
Absolutely, but also this show is kinda therapeutic for me because I go out on stage and I perform these songs that are about all this stuff that I’m currently going through and I talk about it and so even at night when I am really tired or just maybe I got off the phone to my mom, you know, a couple months ago hearing bad news about my dad, it was really hard to then throw my costume on and then go on stage but then I was able to cathartically release it (my feelings) and so it’s been very therapeutic and even though it’s been a little emotionally draining it’s been really good for me.