Lindsay White Is Ready for the Main Event
In the last few years, singer-songwriter Lindsay White has been on the ropes, struggling against life’s hits that seem to keep on coming. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t landed a few of her own punches; moments to celebrate and victories to cherish, one of which is the pending release of her first solo record in seven years. It is her first since her former band, the Lovebirds, disbanded. Lights Out is a meditation on emotional losses, an exploration of personal grief, and an exaltation of love’s depth. Lindsay White is a southpaw who can go the distance; she is a weaver of words who pulls no punches and is far from being down for the count.
Getting to this point was not easy. “Let’s just say I never really noticed wrinkles on my face until now,” quips Lindsay when I ask what the journey to releasing this CD has been like. “My grandfather died at the end of 2015. We were close, and my family was already reeling from a lot of tragedy the prior year, so losing him was really hard,” she explains. The tragedy she’s referring to is her mother’s brain cancer diagnosis in August 2014 followed almost immediately by the sudden death of her aunt, who was killed by a drunk driver on the way home from visiting the hospital. Lindsay recalls her mother’s circumstances, “My mom went to the ER with blinding headaches. She had been experiencing them for quite some time, but the doctors never ordered an MRI and always just gave her more pain medication. They finally did an MRI and noticed two tumors. They immediately went into surgery and removed her right temporal lobe. She was diagnosed with Stage IV Glioblastoma and given a prognosis of 18-24 months.”
Lindsay and her mother had been estranged since Lindsay came out in 2009. “After I came out, we barely spoke, and it wasn’t until her diagnosis that we were able to connect and remain in touch. As the cancer took hold of her brain, though, it all just got more complicated.” Unfortunately, this round in the boxing match of her life ends in a draw. “When she died, I was left with more questions than answers and zero more chances to make it right.” As many people know, Lindsay expresses and processes her thoughts through writing, whether it be in song lyrics or blog posts. This excerpt is from her blog post titled “Mom’s Face–Through a Lens of Loss”:
In one of our last conversations, you told me I wasn’t the daughter you wanted and admitted you weren’t the mother I wanted. It was more lament than insult, but it still presses into me like a dull knife. You said it like there weren’t 47 more days left to do something about it. For the record, you were exactly the mother I wanted. You were exactly the person whose acceptance I craved. Whose pride I solicited. Whose strength and character and eye-makeup I mimicked.
Lindsay lost her mom in February of this year, and the depths of her grief and how to muddle through it all is explored on her the new record. “I wrote ‘Deep Dark Down’ while mom was still alive; I was desperately trying to find peace through acceptance. I wrote ‘Lights Out’ just a few weeks after she died; this time I was desperately trying to see things from her perspective and come to terms with how much I love and miss her despite our issues. I honestly don’t know how I am getting up in the morning, let alone putting out an album. I feel like I’m watching myself act in a movie.”
Rolling with the Punches
In the midst of this familial chaos, her musical world took a hit as well when her music duo, the Lovebirds, disbanded. “The song ‘The Lighthouse’ [on Lights Out] addresses the loneliness and exhaustion that result from keeping up a faÃ§ade of stability. I wrote it while the Lovebirds were touring a few years back. I could sense our looming demise, and I didn’t want to admit it even to myself, which might be why it’s so steeped in metaphors and bird references.”
Bare-knuckled, Lindsay dove in to her writing and joined an online songwriter’s group. “One of my Kerrville buddies, Connor Garvey, invited me to join, and I participated from January to April of this year. I was intimidated by both the talent within the group as well as the pressure of a weekly deadline. Everything with my mom hit the fan at this time, so in some ways it was nice to have an outlet and built-in support system for that. I think I managed to squeeze out about 13 songs in four months. A couple of these tunes (“My Beast” and “Lights Out”) even made the record!”
Tossing Her Hat in the Ring
Lindsay started recording Lights Out while much of her world seemed to be taking a dive. She turned again to good friend Alexander Dausch at Studio Studios, who also produced her first solo record, Tracks. Lindsay tells me, “I love recording with Alex, especially now because I know him so well and feel so comfortable around him. He also lost a parent to cancer years ago, so the sessions were often quite vulnerable for both of us.”
Given that there was a lot going on in her life, she says it took about a year and a half from start to finish to complete the recording process. “I started recording with 13 songs in mind. While recording, I kept writing new songs. This record began to morph around a theme which made it easier to decide which songs to include. I ended up with 10 tracks, and only four of the original plan survived.”
Lindsay plays rhythm guitar and did all of the vocals, including all the backing work. Jamie Shadowlight adds violin on “Lights Out” and “Deep Dark Down,” and Alex provides all other instrumentation. “I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing producers, and Alex is no exception. He trusts my gut instincts and we listen to each other’s ideas, so the result is always something we’re both proud of. It also helps that he’s one of the most talented and versatile musicians I’ve ever met.”
Love in her Corner
Every fighter needs a good second. Lindsay feels she is fortunate to have many allies on her side. “Despite recent challenges, I feel very lucky. I am particularly inspired watching the tough-as-nails women in my family navigate the direst circumstances with such strength and grace. Women should be in charge of everything as far as I’m concerned.”
One of those women is her older sister, Haley, who lives in central California. “She’s my person. We both had complicated relationships with mom, but Haley always protected me. She has such a huge heart. I think she’s entirely responsible for my self-esteem and my desire to be a good person. ‘Surrogate’ [the first single off Lights Out] is a tribute to her strength and resilience, but it’s also me admitting how guilty I feel that she suffered greatly in her sacrifice for me.”
Another woman in Lindsay’s life is the one that she has promised her life to. “Audrie supported me through what now seems like an obvious realization that I deserve to be happy, and I’ve been bonkers in love with her ever since.” At their wedding in July 2016, which was held at Municipal Gymnasium in Balboa Park, Lindsay stood toe to toe with Audrie. They read their vows (Lindsay’s were full of spectacular basketball metaphors) and promised to love each other forever. Lindsay continues, “She keeps me safe and knows how to lovingly reel me in when my mind starts spinning out of control.” A particularly poignant moment on Lights Out is the song ‘Not a Boy,’ penned as an open letter to Audrie’s parents who don’t acknowledge their daughter’s sexuality [neither did Lindsay’s mom]. “I wrote a song saying all the things I’d say if they ever allowed me to speak to them.” The chorus speak volumes: “You won’t see her smile on her wedding day / Walk her down the aisle, give her away / You won’t know her joy, hear her vow / I am not a boy. That changes things somehow.”
These lyrics lead directly to one of Lindsay’s strongest allies: words. She’s a masterful songwriter, and her lyrics have garnered her recognition including:
– 2014 Winner Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Competition (competed with the Lovebirds but selected as finalist with songs “Boat Train” and “Crimson Love,” written by Lindsay)
– 2015 Honorable Mention American Songwriter Magazine Lyrics Contest
– 2016 Honorable Mention Mid-Atlantic Songwriting Contest
– 2017 Honorable Mention Telluride Bluegrass Festival Troubadour Contest
Her relationship with words started at an early age. She explains, “My parents taught me how to read before school, and my idea of fun was hanging out at the library with my best friend, Pippi Longstocking.” Her dad was an English teacher and after she and her sister were grown, her mom returned to school to earn degrees in speech pathology. The words of Shel Silverstein impacted her as well as the lyrics of Bob Dylan. “I loved Shel Silverstein. He was so rhythmic and he always reserved a profound or hilarious zinger for the last line. That skill comes in handy for writing choruses. I started listening to Dylan as a kid and have been ranking all lyricists on a scale of 1-Dylan ever since. Fiona Apple and Ani Difranco are high on the scale.”
It’s not for nothing that this article is laden with boxing references. Lindsay took to the sport as another way to deal with her depression and anxiety, battles she’s been fighting since she was little, (“When I was five, I freaked out when we had our first earthquake drill at school. I now know this was my first panic attack.”) She joined Title Boxing Club North Park a couple of years ago, and typical of her tenacity, she went at it full force. She describes what it meant to her in her blog post, “Fighting Depression with Boxing: A Thank You Card to Title”:
I could tell the depression was starting to take over when getting out of bed became the most excruciating decision of my day. Thanks to Title Boxing Club, I hung on by a tiny little thread. I now have a place where I can literally fight to protect my body from my mind. Each workout allows me to unpack all those emotions in a physical, tangible way. I may never completely knock out those negative feelings, but I get to walk away each day knowing I at least roughed them up and showed them who’s boss.
She also finds a certain connection to her musical life in the pace of the sport. “In many ways it’s like writing music; there’s a rhythm to it, it’s physical and mental, personal and communal.”
Of course, Lindsay is able to write songs about her anxiety and depression (“My Beast” and “Junkyard Dog” reflect these themes on the new record) in imaginative ways that might allow those listening to understand or even come to terms with their own psychological setbacks. And her live shows, a way for all her fans (more strong allies) to support her, are always part therapy sessions mixed with her unique brand of honest, self-deprecating humor. She feels her shows offer moments of healing for herself and for the audience.
“Whether I’m singing about a healed up scar or a fresh open wound, I try to be as candid and vulnerable as possible about where I’ve been and where I am now. That is very therapeutic, but nothing is more rewarding than listeners telling me how they relate to the broader themes of the music. Everyone knows what it’s like to love, to lose, to hurt, but not everyone can articulate those feelings. Forget fame and fortune; if I can help connect people to their own emotions, I can die a happy little songwriter.”
Coming Out Swinging
Lindsay has planned her first solo West Coast tour to bring her exceptional music to new ears and fans. I asked her what she’s looking forward to most about this upcoming tour that will take her up through central California (official CD release show is July 19 at Full Circle Brewing Co. in Fresno), Washington, and Oregon, then back down to Los Angeles. “I’m looking forward to getting out of my day job routine and having completely different experiences in completely different cities–time slows down in a good way on the road. I’m accustomed to taking turns and goofing off and carrying stuff with a bandmate, so it’s a little bittersweet, but I’m sure I’ll grow by facing all the things that make me a little apprehensive. I always do.”
On the other side of the tour, which brings her back home in mid-August, there’s still so much that Lindsay wants to accomplish, from a professional and a personal perspective. “On one hand, I want to travel all over the world, playing music in beautiful historic theaters. On the other, I want to stay home and have babies. A thousand other projects and ideas live between those extremes.
“Maybe I’ll have it all, and maybe I’ll have none of it. I am learning how to strike a balance between working hard for what I want, being grateful for what I have, and letting go of every expectation that life will go according to plan.”
The official release date of Lights Out is July 14, but Lindsay is still accepting pre-orders through iTunes for only $3.99. Her tour kick-off show, a house concert featuring her full band, the White Lies, is happening on Saturday, July 8. Visit www.lindsaywhitemusic.com to secure a ringside seat for what is sure to be a knockout performance.