Lindsey Stirling is a violinist, a pop star and a pocket rocket.
She arrived at Disorder Towers a bundle of energy, charming all, despite flying in from the States only the day before and an early morning call-time with breakfast TV. Diving into the rail of clothes for our shoot, she displayed an appetite for costume, notably a dress with breastplate that was more than a little Game of Thrones. These things are supposed to be fun, right?
Do what you love is a familiar maxim that Lindsey has turned into an unusual career. Tiring of the classical violin scene, she developed her own music, mixing in hip-hop, pop and dance, her own look, became her own creative director, a genre-bender with a stringed instrument. Even as an established artist, she remains the source and action of her own stage shows. She makes videos that look like Lord of the Rings or The Magnificent Seven. Though signed to Universal Music, she is refreshingly independent and individual. Eight and a half million YouTube followers can’t be wrong.
Despite the talent and graft, the vision and success, Lindsey has endured her share of knocks. She wrote the book on anorexia – well, co-wrote a best-selling autobiography, The Only Pirate At The Party – and has been open in discussing the condition, like few sufferers have. Her song ‘Shatter Me’ is a reflection on the disease. Her bandmate and bestfriend Jason Gaviati died in 2015, after a battle with lymphoma, a type of cancer, a tragedy that influenced and shaped her latest album, Brave Enough.
“The themes that I’m presenting are about vulnerability and learning to face life with an open heart,” she says. “My last album was about breaking down the walls around you and for me that was my past. I overcame anorexia and depression and you know I had to break through these very thick walls and learn who I was inside.”
Lindsey’s speech is peppered with “y’know” and “kinda”. She puts a zesty inflection on words such as “joy” and “happiness”, so you have a real jolt of uplift when she drops one of these posi-bombs. The excitement she feels as a successful artist shine in the imagery she expresses, as when she says of her stage shows: “When the ideas start bursting in my head I can’t hand it over to someone else, I love it too much.”
Here is an artist that is working on herself as a good person as hard as she’s working at her craft and spectacle. “We cover ourselves with so many layers of protection in our lives, and it’s about learning which layers you can peel back, and not. I’ve learned that you can’t numb emotion selectively. If you numb the bad you’ll numb the good and life becomes a grey palette. But life is about feeling the full spectrum. It’s about dealing with the hard emotions and experiencing them and working through them. And that’s how you can experience the brightest joy in life,” she says.
While professional wanker Piers Morgan made her cry on a TV talent show, worse still were Lindsey’s issues with food and weight. She says: “I struggled with anorexia for so long because I was so used to the way my mind thought. That was my reality; that was how everyone thought. But when you realise there are other ways to think, that this doesn’t have to be the way it is, that you can actually change the way you think and change the emotions that you create, that these are practised patterns within ourselves… Then whatever it is you want to change within yourself, you can.”
The loss of Jason Gaviati happened just as she was beginning this realignment in her thinking, her journey of wholeheartedness, testing her commitment to opening up and to vulnerability. They had toured together for four years, him her keyboard player, spending a lot of time together, buddies, the bestest.
“I had never felt that sort of heartache before and that kind of loss,” she says. “And more than ever I wanted to numb myself because I’d rather not feel anything than feel that kind of pain. But I worked through it – everything from talking to a therapist to going and actually sitting and being with family and mourning the loss. And then it went from hurt and anger and just pure sorrow into starting to realise gratitude – wow, I had this amazing person in my life, y’know? How lucky am I that I got to spend years with him? At first when I started writing it was so sad. And then I was like, that’s not how he wants to be remembered! So I started writing about what I am learning from him. There is life after loss, and there is hope after loss.”
Listening to Brave Enough is a curiously upbeat experience, as is spending time with Lindsey. Despite all the heartache, she’s just so perky. Check it out:
“I love dancing,” she says. “That’s why I like EDM music so much cos I’m such a white girl that I have to dance to white girl music. I haven’t got enough groove to dance to much else than straight-up EDM.”
“I love a chocolate milkshake,” she says. “If I could only have one thing the rest of my life it would probably be a chocolate milkshake.
“I love Sam from Lord of the Rings,” she says. “I love Sam because he was the true best friend. No matter what happened he was true, he was there. He’s not the main character of the book, he’s not the one who gets all the glory, he’s not the one who carried the burden of the Ring. And yet he did. Sam represents the unsung hero that’s true and strong no matter what.”
Lindsey has a Samwise-ish resilience, and for a time the violin must have seemed like her burden. She’s played the instrument since she was six years old – classical training, orchestras, black tie n tails. On the eve of going to college, she had a revelation: she didn’t love it anymore. Playing classical music is playing music that’s hundreds of years old, the same way it has been played for hundreds of years. She quit, deciding not to study music.
But the music called. All kinds. She joined a country band. She joined an indie rock band. She jammed to electronic music. And she fooled around with dance: movement and violin, costumes and violin. All her hobbies were mixed together like pasta primavera: dance, costumes, videography, all the music. It went through her violin and her passion was reborn.
“Everyone said I was too different and that different was a bad thing,” says Lindsey. “But the reason I’ve succeeded, 100%, is the very reason that everyone told me I wouldn’t succeed. Why do people come to my show? They say, because it’s different, they had to see it. Why do people like my music? They say it’s unique, they’ve never heard anything like it. The message I love to share: you’re happiest, you’re at your best when you’re true to your authentic self.”
Despite the minor business of creating her own musical genre and rising to the top of the tree, Lindsey still has ambitions. She almost hyperventilates with excitement when she talks about one: “I’d love to do a Vegas show one day. For like a year. A residency. Partially because I’d like to have a family one day, get married, have kids. And the idea of being able to have a residence in Vegas is a very appealing, awesome idea.” Here’s an Arizona girl, barely 30, realising she has the power to pull a year-long gig in Las Vegas. To perform every day: “Being on stage, this is my purpose in life and I have this moment of such happiness and such excitement and I feel almost like I’m glowing cos I’m doing what I was created to do. And it’s like this is the truest form of myself.”
Above all, Lindsey emanates the sense of personal and professional development. She deeply feels herself recalibrating as a person, as an artist – can almost hear it, see it: “My biggest fear every time I do a tour or an album is, what if I’ve used up all my ideas? But it’s amazing that the ideas continually come and fans continually come. So that’s my biggest dream, that I just keep growing as a musician.”