Published Sep 25, 2012The singing voice owned and operated by Lindi Ortega could steal the attention of any man in the room, even more so than her looks or signature bright red boots. Until now, it's been the defining aspect in her music, but on fourth album Cigarettes & Truckstops, it stops doing the heavy lifting. The album is her moment of evolution as a songwriter and lyricist, where that voice finally gets the tunes it's always deserved. For the first time, Ortega is working out of Nashville, Tennessee. With that, things could have gone wrong. Frequently indebted to the history of country music, Ortega risked submitting to the genre's clichés. But Cigarettes feels organic and effortless.
The album title, Cigarettes & Truckstops, makes one think of the seedier side of touring. Is that just a romantic image or do you still play holes-in-the-wall?
I still play some of those places. I love it. I spent a year as a backup singer for [Killers frontman] Brandon Flowers and we were in double-decker tour buses, staying in beautiful hotels. When it came time to tour solo again, I got back into my hatchback car, staying in hotels with spiders, ants and broken toilets. I've always found that more inspiring. Romantic? I don't know, but there's character to it.
Do you smoke?
I have, I'm not going to lie, but not so habitually any more. I never was a heavy smoker, but it's the same with every vice: I've never had an addictive personality. I've just sought them in a binge sort of way to quell the loneliness that we all feel form time to time ― moments of darkness. But I can understand, in the moments where I reach for vices, why people use them to work through pain. But I am addicted to cheese! I could eat cheese 'til the cows come home.
Cheese & Truckstops...
Not a good title, is it?
Was Cigarettes & Truckstops written primarily in Nashville, your current home?
Mostly. Some stuff was written on the road, but mostly written and all recorded here.
Does the city still live up to its reputation as the base for country music?
There's definitely a lot of that happening. Walk down the street every night and you'll hear country bands playing out of every bar. But a lot of other awesome scenes are happening as well.
Homesickness seems to be a recurring theme for you, however.
Definitely for a few songs ― it's hard not to be inspired by the places you've left behind. There are other themes as well, your typical country themes of loneliness and heartbreak. Though I feel the heartbreak angle is different than on my other records. You go through stages of heartbreak: after sadness comes anger. So maybe I'm more irate on songs like "Lead Me On."
"Lead Me On" is an album highlight. It's not an angry song, really, but you still aren't resigned to being treated poorly.
That's exactly right; it's me being annoyed about being in that situation again. I've been led on a lot of times in relationships. I had this image of being a horse and chasing after a carrot that I never get. You want to get the carrot, but you can't! Whenever I perform that song live I introduce it like that: "This is a song about a man who made me feel like a horse!" Everyone's like, "What is she talking about?" But, yeah, the image just came to mind.
Are you drawn to other musicians in your personal life?
Yeah. It's just easier to relate to someone who shares your lifestyle. Others may not get what you're doing with your time. Someone told me once to stay away from musicians, but it's the world I operate in. I've never been a social butterfly, so the people I come into contact with are only through musical means.
You're frequently compared to classic country artists, but do you take inspiration from so-called "new" country as well?
I can't say I'm the biggest fan, to be honest. Anything I like from this day and age is usually inspired by the classics. I love the storytellers, the outlaws of country. I love the raw intensity and influence from blues. It's not that I think there's no place for [pop-country] artists, but it's not my thing.
Have you ever formed a songwriting partnership or at least thought, "I could really write an album with this person"?
Bruce Wallace, who I wrote two songs on the album with. I love writing with him; he has a quirky personality and he understands where I'm coming from. I'd love to do a full-on record, or even an EP, with him. Often when co-writing a song, someone will take on a certain aspect of it ― music or lyrics maybe ― but we both really write together step-by-step. He'll be on future albums, for sure.
This year, you toured with punk rock band Social Distortion. How did that come about?
I raised my eyebrows as well when the opportunity was mentioned. Our managers met to discuss another matter, but mine ended up sharing my music. The Social D guys really dug it and offered me an opening slot. I was nervous about playing to a punk audience, thinking they wouldn't get it or they'd throw tomatoes at me. But I thought about it ― they must have given me the opportunity trusting that their fans would get it. Why would you book an opener your fans might hate? I took that and said to myself, "I'm not going to be meek. I'll just be me." We rocked-out the set more, played the faster rockabilly tunes and ended every set with Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."
Punks love Johnny Cash.
Yeah! [My positive response] might have something to do with that. And I don't know how often they get women opening punk shows. Maybe they were appreciative of that.