Nominated for two JUNOS and riding the early success of her roots album Little Red Boots, the general consensus by critics is that the Toronto-born artist, who has drawn comparisons to Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, is the next big thing in country music.
When you first hear her effortless vibrato, fluttering guitar picking combined with her yesteryear storytelling, you could be mistaken for thinking you were listening to a seasoned rockabilly country artist with countless awards under her belt. Instead, it is the mesmerizing voice of 32 year-old Lindi Ortega. While hers may not be a household name yet, this singer is one artist you are going to be hearing a lot about very soon.
With her token red cowboy boots and swipe of red lipstick, Ortega is on her way up. She’s been nominated for JUNOS in the New Artist of the Year and Roots and Traditional Album categories at Canada’s Music Awards and yet, she is very humble and modest, oblivious to the fact that hers is a career that is about to take off.
“It seems cliché, but after growing up watching shows like the JUNOS and working so hard for so long to be recognized by anyone, it’s just all very surreal,” she states. In fact, she’s nervous about walking the red carpet, giddy to meet some of her musical peers and relieved she’ll have her mother by her side. And of course, there is the thrill of some exposure. “If anything, hopefully the JUNOS will be another chance for more people to become familiar with my music.”
And what a type of music to be familiar with for the many of us who have become unaccustomed to roots and rambling old-school country music amidst the newer pop-infused sound that rules the airwaves. Now based in Nashville, Ortega cheerily says she’s a “happy girl” if life means singing songs that might pay the rent. “I’ve got my record player and know a great little record shop up the street, so that’s all I need,” she says. “And the other night we watched some traditional old country cats who could really play live; I mean, they still wear the old vests and cowboy boots, and they’ll just get up there and play with anyone. They’re just as good as anybody famous.”
The striking singer-songwriter herself pens a tune those old cats have hummed for years, one that is far before her time and laden with Deep South twang despite her Ontario upbringing. Ortega got a little taste of everything before creating her own musical flavour – a traditional jangly style paired with bluesy stories that have always hit home for the Torontonian. Her music is a blend of milky folk vocals, reminiscent of Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, of quirky chords similar to those of the great Johnny Cash and her lyrics are Hank Williams-style stories of loneliness and heartbreak.
“I’ll never stop exploring new things — I’m a constant student of music,” she says. “But from a young age, those country stories of love and loneliness really spoke to me; not only as a language I understood, but one I would be capable of speaking myself.”
After independently releasing two albums in 2001 and 2007, Ortega signed on to be a part of Interscope Records where she released two critically-acclaimed EPs, leading to gigs on tour with fellow Canuck rockers Noah and the Whale, Keane, celeb-turned-hillbilly-rocker Kevin Costner and the Modern West, as well as a vocal spot on Major Lazer’s 2010 EP. After a little time brushing shoulders with some industry veterans, Lindi left Interscope for the indie label Last Gang Records – a decision she says has contributed greatly to the evolving success of her most recent album Little Red Boots, which has sold 20,000 copies worldwide so far.
“So far, this album has been so successful in my own determination,” she says. “I can’t wait to let it grow organically because for me as a listener, that’s one of the best things about music — feeling a sense of pride in discovering something and knowing you were a little part of that history.”
The album, a 12-track trek through the countryside featuring everything from the powerful and swaying Fall Down or Fly to two-stepping barnyard jams like Little Lies and I’m No Elvis Presley, to the forlorn Dying of a Broken Heart – which Ortega claims is very representative of her “bad luck with love.
During a long and grueling climb to releasing an album of which she rightfully is proud, it’s evident that the country darling has managed to stay connected with a refreshing appreciation of the little things. Amidst a slew of phenomenal musical opportunities and introductions, the laid-back pixie marvels most at the candid touring moments and raw talent of other promising artists who joined her at points during her recent European tour.
“I’ve seen incredible things on my journey. We went to see the Palace in Versailles and it was a real band-bonding experience. As we were rolling out, we saw the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen in my entire life where the clouds looked like a painting. I then realized it was very reminiscent of the painting in the Palace — the skyscapes, the angels and cherubs — and suddenly I could see the inspiration for the artists. They really were painting what they could see right in front of them the way we saw it, and I found myself humming that ‘They painted the skies in Versailles’…” she laughs and trails off. “Those things stick out in your mind.”
Such symbolism and imagination have undeniably played a large role not only in her folklore ditties, but also the crafting of her image and album title, which came after she was gifted her first real pair of little red cowboy boots during a song-writing expedition in Nashville. She isn’t sure what drew her to the boots originally — whether it was the colour of passion, her Mexican heritage (her father hails from Mexico), her childhood obsession with Wonder Woman or the bright shade of her apartment walls – but upon sliding into them and consequently hardly taking them off, fans began commenting on her footwear as much as her musical talent. According to Ortega, the next natural thing was naming the album and sultry title track after those red boots, where she croons: “You may not know my name, ‘cause I have not met fame, but you’re going to know me by my little red boots.”
“Lately I’ve been getting the audience to sing along at the Uh-huh part of the song at live shows and it’s the most beautiful, magical and special thing,” she gushes. “I’m really so happy that I named it that – and now I guess people really are starting to remember me and my little red boots.”
And with that, Lindi is finally starting to sound like she gets it. She is on her way to becoming a great star.