In her 2013 single “Tin Star,” Lindi Ortega sang a line that must resonate with every dreamer in Nashville and beyond:
“If the music wasn’t running through the blood in my veins, I might just walk away.”
Ortega had a moment last year when she considered walking away from the music business. She felt burned out. Her dues had long been paid and she was still struggling to make ends meet.
“I wasn’t able to pay my rent, I wasn’t able to buy groceries — simple, basic needs,” Ortega tells Wide Open Country. “There comes a point where you work really, really hard and you’re like ‘Oh man, I’ve got no money.’ I was really sort of disenchanted with my situation and the business.”
But when you’re a songwriter wondering which path to take, sometimes the only thing to turn to is your music. And that’s exactly what Ortega did.
“I drank a bottle of wine and I sat at my piano. I wrote what I thought was going to be my last and final song ever,” Ortega says. “Then I started to realize that I had a duty to the fans that had been supporting me for all these years to keep going. They all kept sort of reminding me that they wanted to hear new music and they wanted to come to the shows.”
Ortega says her fans’ support pushed her to write more and get back into studio.
“I was completely reinvigorated,” she says. “My whole love of music just exploded again.”
The result is Til the Goin Gets Gone, out on March 17, a stunning four song EP Ortega co-produced with friends Jay Tooke and Jason “Rowdy” Cope. The album was recorded at Nashville’s EastSide Manor.
The title track is an anthem for anyone with a dream and the perseverance to make it come true. Ortega sings of run down dirty motels and constant spinning wheels that sometime seem to go nowhere. Still, she keeps moving.
“I’ve gotta keep going, gotta keep goin’ on,” Ortega sings. “Keep on going little darlin’, til the goin’ gets gone.”
The album marks a turning point in Ortega’s life. She recently got engaged and moved from Nashville back to her native Canada.
And while she’s parted ways with Nashville, she makes it clear that she has nothing but love for Music City.
“The real reason I left Nashville is because my fiance’s Canadian and was living in Canada. That was the best way to be together…I never moved to Nashville in the first place to try and make it as a big country star. I think other people sort of wrote that narrative for me. It was never my own narrative. I went there because I wanted a history lesson in country music,” Ortega says. “I ended up staying because I loved it so much.”
The trials and tribulations of show business is at the center of Til the Goin’ Gets Gone. “What a Girl’s Gotta Do” derived from a conversation Ortega had with an exotic dancer while on a particularly bad date.
“That particular song was actually about a true experience I had when I was taken on a date to a strip club,” Ortega says. “Don’t ask my why I would agree to go on a date to a strip club.”
While it may go down as one of the worst dates in history, Ortega did get a great song out of it.
“It wasn’t the best experience so I ended up leaving and spending most of my time in the ladies’ restroom. The dancers would come in between their shifts and freshen up,” Ortega says. “I didn’t want to be disrespectful but I was genuinely curious and I said ‘Do you love your job? Do you enjoy what you do?’ and one woman just said ‘A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.’ I remember thinking in my head ‘That’s a line I need to use in a song somehow down the road.'”
The album also includes Ortega’s breathtaking cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting ‘Round to Die.” Ortega counts Van Zandt among her greatest songwriter heroes.
“Anyone who listens to my music knows that I have a penchant for dark matters,” Ortega says. “Clearly Townes Van Zandt had similar feelings. I’m sure he had more mental turmoil than I’ve ever had to deal with but I could relate to a lot of what he was saying in his writing. That song in particular was one of the first songs I’d ever heard and I just was devastated by it.”
Fittingly, the album closes out with “Final Bow,” which evokes images of a closed down cabaret, lights up and the audience gone.
“I can close the curtain if I want to,” Ortega sings in her stark, angelic voice. The song deals with the desire to step away from the spotlight, something Ortega knows all too well. “The path of following your passion and what you love to do and trying to make a living off of it is probably the most difficult path you can take,” Ortega says. “It is admirable for anybody who just continues to keep going for it.”
If there’s any justice, after this beautiful album, Ortega won’t be bowing out for a long, long while.
You can catch Lindi Ortega on tour with Chris Stapleton this month as part of Stapleton’s All American Road Show.