Tamara Lindeman had a feeling that The Weather Station’s new album was pretty good. Recorded in 2019, and finally released in February 2021, Ignorance felt like a nice change of pace in her critically acclaimed discography of intricate, delicate folk rock. Sure, the move to disco-inspired rhythms and beefy basslines was a sharp departure from the ‘70s British guitar lines she brought to her debut, 2015’s Loyalty. But the critical response was deafening: 9.0 and Best New Music from Pitchfork, and a 4-star review from Rolling Stone.
“Honestly, it’s overwhelming. I’m kind of shocked,” Lindeman told GQ from her home in Toronto. “Obviously, we worked very hard on the record but I would not have expected the response at all from the world,” she adds. That’s not to say that Lindeman’s previous albums weren’t well received. But listening to Ignorance is like listening to a new band entirely: The acoustic guitars are traded in for icy synths, and her voice bites like the Canadian cold she experiences daily. “I thought my very sweet British folk fans are not going to be stoked on this record, but I’ll make another record, life is long,” she says.
The Weather Station is a project deeply informed by the climate crisis, and Lindeman began writing Ignorance after a particularly intense year of studying the depressing numbers around it. What emerged wasn’t nihilism, but a confidence in communal action: The odds are still against us, but Lidenman feels less alone than ever before. “Lots of people are talking about this and lots of people are sharing these feelings. I don’t feel crazy anymore,” she explains. Looking the future of humanity right in the eye is a daunting task, but studying activism helped Lindeman function as a better bandleader. “I’m not a good leader. I prefer to be sitting in the corner, listening, and not having to speak. It was hard, but activism helped me find my voice,” she says. Her perspective is jaded by stasis but hopeful that decisive action is on the horizon. With The Weather Station and with our planet, Tamara Lindeman isn’t satisfied with the same old, same old.
GQ: How are you feeling about the way people are responding to the record?
Tamara Lindeman: It’s strange because I’m still under lockdown here in Toronto, so it’s very surreal to experience this broad global response to something I’ve made while still under a stay at home order, not seeing any human beings. It’s kind of metaphysical. It’s very interesting because normally as a musician, you have the physical reality of playing a show and people respond to it. Now, it’s all very theoretical, but it’s astonishing. I just did not think people would have this response.
Have you been able to interrogate why people responded to this record more than your previous albums?
It has a lot to do with the production. It’s a much more approachable record, sonically. It’s more in line with the way music tends to sound in the modern time, which was a complicated undertaking because my taste is not that. I had to find a way where my taste could align with that, where I felt like it would still be mine. My records in the past have always been slightly esoteric in sound, because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’m often chasing a sound that is not considered the norm. I understand that the sound of this record is much more approachable in some sonic sense.
Beyond that, there were things in the record that spoke to a communal experience. Sometimes my songs come from my surroundings. I’m not always sure whether it’s my feelings or the feelings around me that I’m writing about. On this album, I did actively think a lot about how music moves in the world and what it does. I was actively thinking about giving voice to things in this blunt, emotional way, in a way that music through time often has done.
Is it related to lyrics?
There’s a type of lyric that I think of where the whole point of the lyric is to sum up in one small phrase something that everyone is feeling, but hasn’t put the words to it. I don’t think I was trying to do this while writing this album, but I think that’s why they have been able to travel because people can grab onto something in their experience or heart that they haven’t quite acknowledged, or that they haven’t heard in a song. That is what I love music to do for me.
You made this record before COVID hit. What is your relationship like to the music now that it exists in this entirely different space?
I’ve been looking back on myself because I’ve been rehearsing for this live stream [(a full-band concert experience that was streamed March 11]. I’m singing the songs essentially for the first time outside of the recording studio. It’s such a raw record. It’s like puberty. It’s like the moment when a lot of things are emerging that are a bit ugly and a bit awkward. That’s how I hear the record and remember the time of the record. I was entering a new chapter or giving birth to something new. I see the messiness of it, maybe, in a way that other people don’t. I’m definitely shocked at how blunt it is, but I like that.
I remember being very active in choosing to let it be that way. If I was less in the middle of this personal experience, I probably would have tried to be more intellectual about it because I like to retreat and philosophize. I’m glad that it came out of this tangled time.
There are some amazing players and collaborators on this record, like Philippe Melanson on percussion, Felicity Williams on backing vocals and Bernice and Owen Pallett handling the string arrangements.You mentioned you’re a bit of a perfectionist. Did those two things clash while recording?
Absolutely. It was very difficult. One of the most difficult things about rehearsing the record in particular is that I have never been a very good band leader. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve become a better bandleader since I started. At the same time, though, it was a really special band and it’s just a credit to everyone who was there, that they’re all the kind of people who can sit through your awkward mangled explanation of what you’re trying to say and smile and ask what you meant.
Strangely, everyone in the band was going through a tumultuous time while recording. We didn’t realize until we were getting close to recording, we were like, “Wait, you too?” It was this very funny thing where everybody was going through a moment. Everybody was entering the studio with a lot of laughter and joy, but all able to hold each other in the moment that we were all in. That was very special. Everybody was just holding up one little piece of the house. Myself included. In the past I’ve been trying to play guitar and lead the song and sing, and with this record, I was like, “I’m just singing.” It made recording a lot easier because I was like, “I just need these six colors and then it will be a rainbow.”
I think the sonic shift on this record is really remarkable. Was that something that you started plotting before recording? Or did it emerge naturally in the studio?
I wrote a couple songs before I wrote the main chunk of songs, which didn’t wind up making the record. In the summer of 2018, I wrote these early pop songs with a beat from a keyboard. Some of them were just fun, seeing what happens if I wrote a song like that. Those songs didn’t feel important, but they were a nice stepping stone. I said to people, “I want to make a broken, organic disco record.” People were like, “Okay, we’re not sure why you want to do that, but we’ll let you.”
I saw the concept playing with opposing sides. There are these very muscular drums and then very soft other elements. I wanted to see what would happen if you put these two things together. I was very curious and there were times in the mix where I was like, “I don’t think this is still me. This is drifting too far, we need to pull it back.” Ultimately, though, we landed somewhere in the middle.
Did you maybe even redefine what you thought the boundaries of The Weather Station were? You’re expanding the scope without alienating anyone.
Well, I did think it would alienate some people. I really did. I still love folk music, but the thing is, it really didn’t feel like a choice. I felt like I was at such an end of a road. Literally, I couldn’t pick up an acoustic guitar. It felt wrong. I just couldn’t do it, and I couldn’t make another record that was so neurotically focused on voice and performance and lyrics. It just felt like a cage. The self-titled was me running away from that also, so I just ran a lot further this time. I shouldn’t be revealing these things [laughs].
Your climate activism is very inspiring, and I associate it with The Weather Station, not just you as an individual. Do you view the two as part of each other or is your individual climate activism a separate project from what The Weather Station is?
I guess a bit of both. There was a whole year where I was off the road and I didn’t have a record out and I was making this record. I tried to figure out how to be an activist, which was quite uncomfortable, because I don’t have the personality. I had never really been all that politically active in the past. So, once again, I felt like a teenager trying to enter this new space and trying to show up and be there and I found it very awkward. I did, however, find a lot of events happening from talking on social media a lot about climate change. I put on these events and I became comfortable to the point where it was my thing. I made it my version of activism, and that was really cool. I was just using The Weather Station as a way to get people to come, really.
This seems to be a space where I can do something useful. With this album, it was interesting because I didn’t really plan to talk about climate change in interviews because honestly, it’s very scary. But it did feel necessary. I did actively think about how if it turns out that this is what I wind up talking about in Pitchfork or something, that’s good, because anytime you’re bringing the conversation into media where it’s not being discussed, you’re doing something right. It’s not real activism, it’s a step.
I’m sure you’ve struggled with this intensely, but how do you balance the importance of saving the climate from not letting it overtake your entire being? Or not giving into the nihilism?
In 2018, 2019, that thing happened to me that happens to people, where you start reading and you start learning and you just fall off a cliff. Everything that society is telling you about what the future will be and what you can expect and to save for your retirement, all of this is not grounded in fact. I did feel a bit of that and I did feel a bit like the guy on the street with the sign. Honestly, I felt like a bit of a freak. I was that person who was so upset and so annoying.
Also, symbolism matters. Biden talking about climate change in his inauguration speech, that matters. It makes you feel like at least the denial is starting to crack in a major way. Like, this veneer of, “everything will be okay” disappears. Once that veneer cracks, there’s a whole new world we’re confronted with. Many new conflicts open up, obviously, but at least that denial is gone. That’s the thing I find the least comfortable. When people are on my level, I feel much more comfortable as a human in the world.
I don’t personally feel nihilistic either. Following climate thinkers and reading their work, I learn all of these new thoughts about de-growth, value, and what it means to be alive. It encourages me. It takes me right to the heart of everything I care about. I actually feel a lot saner than I did when I was trying to pretend it wasn’t going to happen.