INTERVIEW: Lindsey Stirling learning to slow down in a pandemic, show love with her wallet

Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey Stirling, Courtesy.

Lindsey Stirling is proud to show off the makeshift recording and video studio that she’s concocted for herself in her guestroom at her sister’s Missouri horse ranch.

She’s sitting on her bed, to which she’s attached a tall standing shoe rack with her dog Luna’s leash. A blanket is attached to the shoe rack. Together, the blanket and shoe rack double as a vocal booth. But the blanket is also connected to the window with dental floss—literally—which, when she loosens it, allows light to flow from the window and light up where she sits to record videos or take part in Zoom interviews such as this one.

“I’ve gotten really creative, if you haven’t noticed,” says Stirling, Luna sitting on the bed beside her.

Stirling, a violinist who turned semifinalist appearance on “America’s Got Talent” in 2010 into a platinum-selling, chart-topping career by infusing her violin into electronic dance music, became a New York Times best-selling author, and a role model for aspiring artists who didn’t fit into traditional molds along the way, has been sheltering-in-place at her sister’s home since returning from a thwarted South American Tour in March.

The second week of March, Stirling and her team were en-route to Colombia, where she was set to begin a tour in support of her fifth album, 2019’s Artemis. While she had been paying attention to the spread of coronavirus up to that point, she presumed her tour was safe because South America hadn’t had any identified outbreaks. Upon her arrival to Colombia, she’d already gone a day without any sleep because she was excited for the tour to start, so she didn’t fully comprehend when the text messages started coming in that the tour was canceled and that she and her team had to turn around and head back to the U.S. as soon as they landed, or risk getting stuck in Colombia.

By the time she was back in L.A., she hadn’t slept in two full days—and everything seemed different. She followed reports of business closures, shelter-in-place orders and empty grocery stores on social media. It all felt very apocalyptic to her.

That’s why she made the decision right away that she wasn’t going to ride out the shelter-in-place by herself in an empty apartment. Stirling decided early on that she wasn’t going to worry over what was supposed to happen and instead work with the situation she was given.

“Am I going to crumple up in a ball and cry in L.A.? Or am I gonna go somewhere where I can feel good?” she asked herself.

That’s how she ended up at her sister’s Missouri horse ranch, with her young nieces. Their mom flew out from Arizona as well.

“It’s been really nice, actually. I feel very selfish saying that because I know that this quarantine has been so hard and been so lonely for so many people,” she says. “For me, it’s almost been the opposite. I’ve been surrounded by my loved ones and family and getting to build a relationship with my nieces. Of course. a whole year’s worth of touring has been canceled, which is devastating. To me, that’s my love. But there is so many silver linings I’ve been able to find mainly by just being around family.”

Lindsey Stirling on working on her mental health during quarantine:

It’s this combination of feeling like you’re thriving at moments and then other days feeling like you’re just surviving. You’re just making it through. In the last few years, I had this realization that my emotions aren’t me. They’re not who I am. They do not define me. They’re just a passing experience. I’m the revolving door, that’s the constant, and then emotions will come in, and they will leave. Sometimes they stay there for a while. Sometimes they leave right away. And when I see my emotions and my moods as this, it allows me to not judge myself because I’m having a hard time with this; I’m having a hard day. It’s like, “OK, today’s a little harder than most days. I’m all right. I’m going to feel it, and I’m going to start to try to be grateful.” I start to try to focus on the good things and let it pass. Then when the good things come, I try to hold on to them as long as I can. They’re like a little gift.

It’s really helped me because I’ve struggled in and out of depression for years, and I used to define myself by that, and it meant that I was depressed. That was me, if I felt that. There’s a lot of shame that comes along with that, and when you don’t see it as who you are, it allows it to pass quicker; not accept it.

Stirling’s sister trains horses, so the artist has been able to explore and try new things that she just wouldn’t get to do otherwise. She’s stayed active by playing with her young nieces, riding horses, cooking with her sister and spending lots of quality family time—some of which she’s shared with her many fans on social media.

She also brought a bag of recording equipment, which she used to create her miniature studio. She has been working on several online collaborations with other artists to pass the time, taking their songs and rearranging them to include her violin; similar to her previous work with John Legend.

She reached out to her musician friends, and their friends, to find collaborators for the series, which she calls String Sessions and has begun posting on YouTube. The first one included Stirling performing with Andy Grammer and R3HAB on their new song, “Good Example.” She followed that up with a collaboration with friend Amy Lee, of Evanescence, on “Wasted On You.”

For Stirling, who built a career out of her vibrant, musically diverse videos on YouTube, it’s interesting to see other artists have to rely so much on social media because they have nowhere else to perform during the pandemic.

“My first video went up in 2007. It felt like it was this kind of a secret place where people that were the misfits in art went to YouTube because no one would accept me over here,” she says. “Now it’s like we all can do it, so there’s livestream concerts and this and that. I think it’s great that everybody’s doing it, but it makes an interesting challenge of how [to] stand out from the noise.”

Initially, she planned to stream live performances and post violin tutorials but decided against it and tried to come up with something more original, which led into her collaborative series.

Being quarantined, without the possibility of touring, has forced her to think outside the box, which has been exciting. It’s something she says she’s been afraid to try in the past because it deviated from what she knew already worked, which she refers to as her spinning hamster wheel.

Up next, Stirling says, is her first true hip-hop collaboration, with an artist she doesn’t name. Stirling was once dubbed “the hip-hop violinist,” but she’s never thought of her music as hip-hop.

“When you’re working with other artists on their songs, it gives you this permission to step into their world,” she says. “We’re kind of in the beginning stages of working on it.”

Being with family and continuing to create music hasn’t made life a breeze. Stirling, who has publicly shared her personal battles with mental health for years, said the pandemic has continued to take a toll on hers like she knows it affects others.

“Some days I feel like I’m thriving, and I’m on a horse, and I’m like, ‘I’m living my best life!’” she says. “Then, other days I’m like, ‘This is really hard. I miss touring. I miss feeling productive.’”

Still, she feels fortunate that she and her family are healthy, secure financially and have each other to rely on. She’s keenly aware how there are many people, including her fans, who have been laid off, have lost family or are otherwise struggling.

On writing “Lunar Lullaby,” a song for the Calm meditation app:

I personally like meditation … I always do it on tour before I go on stage. It’s just something that brings me back to a calmness and a peace and a trust of my own self, my mind and my own body. I think meditation is a really valuable practice. It’s helped me in my mental health. Even my physical health.

Calm is an app that has different sounds or ambiances, storytelling or music that can help you calm your mind. I think our world right now is so plagued by depression and anxiety and all these things that are caused by being caught up in spinning in your own mind. It’s really taught me the beauty of stillness; the beauty of being able to sit with myself when I’m not running around, not being busy, not thinking, and to learn to be OK with that. That person is who I am and she’s beautiful. And she’s fine without sprinting. It’s been a really good practice for me, being a busybody. I was excited to write a song for them to add my art to the practice of meditation.

I always use movement as inspiration for my music. I think, “How would I move to this on stage? Does the song make me want to run? Does it make me want to jump and spin?” It was a very different approach to think, “This is a song about being still,” and to rely on the tone of the violin … to find the perfect notes to go with the chord and the ambiance. It was a kind of the same as the practice of meditation. I couldn’t rely on fast notes and arpeggios, fun melodies and big beats. I had to rely on simplicity. … “Did I play it purely enough so that this single note that lasts for two bars holds its own, instead of trying to disguise it by dancing around it?” When we finished it, I lied down on the couch and played it, and it put me to sleep. And I was like, “I succeeded!”

That’s why she’s started her “Upside Fund” for COVID-19 relief. But Stirling isn’t fundraising for a good cause.

Instead, she’s giving her own money away to her fans who need it. There’s a simple form to fill out, and she reads each one.

Lindsey Stirling quickly tears up when talking about why she’s opened up her bank account to other people, even though she’s already lost a lot of her own money on the tours that she’s had to cancel.

“I was affected by it … but I am so grateful that I’m in a place where I’m OK. My family’s OK, and I know that all my loved ones will be taken care of. Why? Because my fans have made it possible for me to be here in this spot,” she says. “They’ve supported me, they’ve bought my music, they’ve bought my tickets for my shows.”

After making sure her family and relatives were doing well, she turned her attention to people she doesn’t know and is helping those who have supported her over the years. Eventually, she’ll allow other fans to donate into the fund to help each other. But for now, it’s just Stirling and her savings account.

“There’s a lot of people that are so afraid right now and that don’t know if they’re going to be OK,” she says, wiping tears rolling down her cheek. “Of course, I can’t help everybody, but I just have such a strong belief that if we all lift where we stand, then our country is going to be OK. The world will be OK if we all take the things that we care about, and the people that are in our circle.”

She’s also concerned for other artists, many of whom are struggling now. But the one thing she’s certain about is that people need entertainment outlets through the hardships. Music isn’t a necessity like food or a paycheck, but even during the Great Depression, entertainment survived because people needed to find joy, she says.

“That’s what gets me excited about the stuff I write,” she says. “The thought of going on tour again, someday—I’m excited to bring people joy again, and I’m excited to feel that joy myself of connecting with people on stage. Even though things might not be the same for a while, it’s going to survive; artists will survive. We’re going to get through this because it’s the way that people connect.”

Stirling plans to stay in Missouri until shelter-in-place orders are lifted. After then? She presumes she won’t be doing any touring for the rest for the year, but she’ll try to not overwork herself to compensate. If it’s safe to travel, she may go on some trips for fun; something she says she’s never done before.

“I’ve toured the world, like literally had been to every continent [but] I’ve only done it in and out of the venue, seeing the world through the windows of a bus,” she says. If that’s not possible, she’ll focus on being creative but will also continue trying to relax and enjoy life. “I’m not going to fight it and just try to workaholic my way through it. The world is trying to tell me something right now.”

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