Human Dance Music: The Weather Station Interviewed

Discussing empathy and self-discovery through her profound new album...

Tamara Lindeman is building worlds.

The Canadian songwriter's catalogue to date is an exhibition in intimacy, with the sparsity of her arrangements set against the vivacity of her lyrical execution.

Known for her pensive exhortations, 2018's self-titled full length seemed to bring her work as The Weather Station to a broader audience, propelled by critical acclaim in the process.

An album that listeners came to know with intricate attachment, she's since signed to Fat Possum, before delivering new album 'Ignorance' last month.

A record that exists in its own universe, it finds the songwriter dealing with broader palettes, utilising a greater cast than ever before.

The results are startling – an undoubted career high from a phenomenally talented artist, 'Ignorance' brims with sincerity and conviction, propelled forwards by revelation.

Clash spoke to Tamara Lindeman on release day to explore the world she has created for itself – and one whose habitation we're enriched by.

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The album is out today – do you still get butterflies on release day?

Yeah! But it’s all very odd. I’m experiencing this really positive avalanche of attention but the whole time I’m still just home. I haven’t seen anyone! It’s this metaphysical experience of doing well… but you’re still just locked down in your house.

Did the creation of this album touch on lockdown?

No, we just got it finished in time. So it’s funny – it’s from the before time!

When did you finish it?

I think it was mastered and finished in December 2019 and January 2020.

There’s a gap between your self-titled and this one, but that’s more to do with the release schedule, then?

It’s not a big gap, actually. I finished it within two years of the self-titled. But we were between record labels – so there was that – and then COVID pushed back our original plans quite a bit.

This is the first album you’ve released on Fat Possum – did their support have a bearing on the way this record turned out?

Yeah. It has. The music biz is still a biz! I love Paradise Of Bachelors, and they honestly do so much with very little institutional support… I owe them a great deal, and being with them was awesome, but Fat Possum has a lot of resources. It’s hopeful. It’s still a business, so there’s the side of it that I feel – luckily – more and more that I don’t have to really engage with cos it’s just being taken care of, which is really nice. When I started out I did everything myself so it’s nice to move further and further from that time!

It must be a relief to focus purely on the art.

Well… sort of! (Laughs) 

Did this record feel different to the work you’ve released before?

Oh yeah it felt completely different! Everything about it was different. In the past, I made my first record entirely by myself; I made my second record with one person; the self-titled was just a trio. And this was a band, a full band! With a co-producer, and two engineers… just this team effort! And it’s really interesting to try to lead a team, and try to explain what you’re trying to do artistically. And also to have that support. It’s a lot of weight to try to be a band leader, but also a lot of support to have these musicians. I felt like they were carrying me, and I was just going with them. But also, I had directed the train.

And it was interesting. I learned a lot from recording that album. In the past, I had a vision but I had to do everything myself, because I couldn’t figure out any other way to make it come into being. And now I realise that when you have a vision that you can’t fully explain it – because it’s inside – so you have to direct people to lay all these little bricks in the wall. Until it’s finished, though, you can’t explain what you wanted to do. It’s been interesting. Even the reactions of people who were on the record, it’s like: oh, that’s what you were doing! That’s why you were giving us all these conflicting directions!

“Conflicting directions” is an apt phrase; the vocal is so singular, but there’s this mesh of sound around you. Were you purposefully guiding these dichotomous relationships?

Most of them were tightly directed. ‘Robber’ was a bit of an improvisation… in terms of dynamics. Each of the tapes, we would parlay the music a bit differently. We were just sort of flowing. But the feeling of it… I think because my voice is so soft and so gentle, and my songs are so vulnerable, I often have to be the one really actively trying to tell people to fight against that, musically. I’m really the one being like: play harder! Make it harsher! And it’s funny because people always want to surround my voice with softness.

The first thing that came into my mind when I was imagining this record was, what if it we tried to make dance music in a very organic way? Like, human dance music. And we kind of did that!

That’s an interesting concept, how would you expand on that?

People always ask artists for their influences, and it’s always a weird question, but there is an element of… I like to take one tiny thing from something. Like the structure of a dance song – or on a couple of these songs, I really tried to arrange disco strings. And also, I was really into Ethiopian music, and I really love the way there’ll often be a four count and a three count layered on top of each other. I was thinking about polyrhythm, and how many layers of rhythm you can lay on top. All these different rhythm parts, like little dots working into this cage of 4/4.

Why with this record have you opted for these larger arrangements?

I think on the one hand, I had that vision; it was an instinct that turned out to be driven by something real. Which is, I wanted a beautiful accompaniment for the songs, to make these big, passionate, intense arrangements around these small songs that are so full of longing and desire and despair. I think it’s a beautiful way to surround these emotions.

And then the other aspect of it is that I was too scared in the past to fully use all of these things. Too scared to work with a band, too scared to work in a fancy studio that cost more money. That pressure. I wasn’t fully ready. But with this record I was ready.

Did the self-supporting cast on ‘Ignorance’ make a difference to the outcome?

For sure. I found the right people. Everyone in the band is really empathic, they’re all supportive people. They’re people who are able to hold you and to give. They’re all people who have their own incredible project, but they’re all able to support and shine at the same time. That’s really wonderful. They made me feel really supported, and we really forgiving when I was super-annoying! I’m so grateful to them all.

I’m becoming a better musician since I started to learn piano. I actually started to learn the piano properly and get better, technically, and learn theory. But when I made this record, I didn’t have any real technical ability on any instrument except my voice, and that’s always been a handicap for me. But in making this record I thought I would just let people come in, and bring in their technical skill. Musicians who play on that high level, you can just tell them to play anything! You can hum a melody and they’re play it. And it really just came out of me respecting that technical skill that these people have and being able to use it. 

“Empathy” is a great word to use. ‘Ignorance’ is a hugely emotional experience, isn’t it?

I definitely am very critical about lyrics – my own and other people’s. And I’m critical about the idea of “all that matters is that the lyrics are true”. I don’t believe fully that a diaristic lyric is everything. I think there has to be a greater purpose. But I do also at the same time believe that when we express ourselves honestly it gives other people permission to feel their feelings. And that’s something that music has done for me. The music of others has given me permission to feel how I feel and to be who I am. I think specifically dark music has been a companion to me. I need it, and that’s in part why I make it!

But also, I was really ashamed by a lot of these lyrics. I was really ashamed of them. I wasn’t sure any of it was a good idea. There’s a stubborn part of me that forces me to do things, and I think the stubborn part of me that pushed those songs into existence, and being recorded, is the part of me that understood that sometimes those lyrics come from a collective place. It’s not just you experiencing things along in your bedroom. Some of these feelings were collective to me. So of course I had to put these feelings out into the world where they belong.

When you listen back to the record, do you ever think: I can’t believe I said that…?

Oh yeah. Lots of things! (Laughs) But it’s on vinyl now, so I can’t take it back. It’s just very blunt, right? On the self-titled I said a lot of blunt things, but because there were so many lyrics it didn’t seem to have an impact, so I felt kind of protected. But with this record people can hear the lyrics better because there’s less of them… so they’re really travelling! But it’s the way it has to be.

I think what’s frightening in the world right now is there’s not a lot of space for nuance, in terms of the way we discuss things on the internet. It seems like people seem to want artists to be model humans. And yet, of course, art exists to discuss our flaws and our darkness in life. So sometimes I struggle with that. Like, I wonder if people believe if I’m presenting myself as a superiorly moral person or something?

There’s a kind of poetry to this album existing on its own terms – there won’t be live shows, for example.

I think like everything, it’s good and bad. It’s nice, for one thing, to be able to release an album without also releasing a load of carbon. I’m appreciating right now that no one is pressuring me to get on a plane, and I can do my job without polluting the atmosphere. I love recorded music, personally. I’m a headphones listener. So often my connection to a performer or a song is very personal and alone.

Sometimes I’ve seen my favourite artist live and almost not been able to handle the communal aspect of the experience, as there’s a part of me that needs that one to one relationship. I really wish I could play the songs, but it’s also interesting… because the few times that I’ve played these songs I’ve found it very, very overwhelming. Actually. I played a few of them last night on Instagram and it was… difficult. I found it really strange to return to them because they’re a little bit less safe than some of my other songs.

My hope – that I keep trying to express into the world, as though I could make it come true – is that in this time when we’re deprived of so much, that recorded music can be as powerful as I believe it is. I’ve had very deep experiences with recorded music and I hope that other people have that, too.

It must have been beneficial to live in the space ‘Ignorance’ occupies in your life a little longer?

Yeah. The thing I’m most grateful for – honestly – is that I had the time and space to make the music videos. In the past, it’s been this rush, and it’s been a lot. I’ve had some music videos, but this time it’s like a second creative project. It’s a whole other artistic oeuvre that is connected but it’s another thing that I can create, and speak with. It was really cool to have that space… and it’s a lesson for the future. Music videos can accomplish so much if you understand the media, in terms of what it can and can’t do.

Alongside that, having more space within the project means I can see it more clearly, and see myself in there, too. You can have more empathy for yourself when it’s the past, and you’re no longer where you are.

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