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Watch & Listen
Lindi Ortega gives fair warning: “Don’t come any closer to my heart /If you’re afraid of the dark.”
However, that shroud is slowly lifted in Liberty. As the narrative unfolds in this concept album, a central character emerges – one who finally sheds the darkness of her past and emerges into thelight. As melodies and tempos change throughout Liberty, her journey carries her steadily forward. Listen closely and you’ll find Ortega’s experiences in the lyrics too.
“I think the most important thing for me was that I ended on a very positive note because I've had so many people tell me that my songs helped them through really hard times in their life,”Ortega says. “That struck a chord for me, because just like everybody else, I have had hard timesin my life, and continue to have pockets of difficult moments here and there. If I can provide some sort of solace with my music, then that gives me every reason to make music. I wanted this record to be all about helping people through the darkness.”
The melodies and arrangements of Liberty draw on the epic work of Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone, who became one of Ortega’s musical obsessions during the writing and recording of Liberty. Moreover she enlisted Nashville producer Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes Earle, Rayland Baxter) when she discovered their shared passion for Quentin Tarantino movies.It is fitting that NPR’s All Things Considered has described Ortega as “genre-defying in both hermusic and her personal style.”
During the sessions at Battle Tapes studio in East Nashville, Ortega and Wilson scaled back the boot-stomping, throwback country approach that she’s known for, instead polishing a set ofmusic that reflects her lineage. Her father is Mexican; her mother is Irish. The sonic landscape of Liberty is enhanced by Nashville band Steelism, known for their dramatic blend of pedal steel guitar and electric guitar, as well as Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy on harmonica.In 2017, Ortega opened select dates for Chris Stapleton and Dwight Yoakam. In addition, shemarried Canadian musician Daniel Huscroft and relocated from Nashville to Calgary. Liberty concludes with “Gracia a la Vida” from the pen of Chilean composer Violetta Parra. The title translates as “Thank you to Life.”
“Even though I always tried to have a silver lining, whether it's by making my songs tongue-in-cheek, or writing some dark lyrics to happy music, there's always been an element of balancing light and dark on my previous albums,” Ortega explains. “But this is a full story, and I wanted everybody to be able to take something away from it at the end of the day.”
Minor Characters is a rock band in the truest sense. As lifelong Chicagoans, the men in Minor Characters carry with them that very American blend of wistful angst and ever striving hope. After their last record, the full length Voir Dire released in 2014, they collectively experienced more of the former. “Getting that out was such a stressful moment in all of our lives that I think the band kind of imploded and deflated because of it,” recounts Andrew Pelletier, whose sharpened tenor soars above the band’s thick layers of guitar. “We weren't playing anymore and we decided to take a number of months off. In that interim, I did a little bit of traveling.”
That traveling took place mostly over 2016, during one of the most contentious periods of worldwide cultural upheaval in the last 100 years. As Shelby Pollard, lead guitarist for Minor Characters, points out, “There are so many threads in this record that definitely are very political and very current. How could they not be?” The result was a series of deeply personal travelogue vignettes, tempered with sardonic reflections on the band’s health. Songs like Kamakura, Memphis, and NOLA point on the surface to their geography, but underneath reveal a desire to escape the madness at home despite an inability to totally disconnect from Americanness. “The insanity of the current government would be...I wouldn't call it a source of inspiration, but certainly a source of disillusionment turned into inspiration,” quips Andrew, adding on a more personal note, “There are many things in my life that I put off, one of them being travel, especially to Asia because I've always wanted to go to Asia, and then also being in a relationship I put off for many, many years.”
In taking this potent creative material to SHIRK Studios in their native Chicago, Andrew, Shelby, and co-conspirators Thomas Benko (drums), Joe Meland (piano/string arranging), and a series of other instrumentalists, deliberately afforded themselves as much time as the record itself demanded of them. Rather than booking a sprint of sessions to bang out all the songs at once, Andrew and Shelby allowed the songs to morph with every taped iteration, giving them each a distinct feeling of life and uniqueness where they might otherwise feel too uniform. “We're doing string arrangements on this record, horn arrangements, there's organ,” says Shelby with retrospective amazement. “There's all of these components that, because we gave ourselves such unlimited amount of time to focus on, ‘Is this song ready?’ we were really able to figure out what each track needed individually and then it just so happens that it fits together.”
“To be honest, it feels like the start of a new band,” Andrew offers, showing the striving hope side of his Chicagoan nature. “It just feels like the start of my career, if that makes any sense. Like everything that I've done before this, even with this band, has been a demo for what is about to come."
The new album WE CAN'T BE WRONG will be released on April 6th, 2018. First single "Pimps of Freedom (Whores of D.C.)" is available now.