Lindsay Ell is the real deal, and on her first full-length record, The Project, she’s out to show the country world she has something to say.
Much of Ell’s early career revolved around blowing people away with her guitar playing — even her early mentor Randy Bachman (of Bachman-Turner Overdrive). But after touring the world as a multi-instrumentalist and gracing nationally televised stages as an axe-slinger, Ell is ready to show the world the depth of her talent. And the uber-educated 28-year-old Canadian does it in spades on The Project.
“On The Project, I really wanted to show fans I have something to say,” Ell tells Wide Open Country. “Yes, I love playing guitar, and it’s a huge part of who I am. But first and foremost, I’m an artist and songwriter. And I have something to say.”
Ell teamed up with label mate and Grammy winning artist/writer/producer Kristian Bush (of Sugarland fame) to produce the album. She certainly doesn’t understate his importance in the record. “I honestly don’t think I could’ve made the same record without him,” Ell says. “He was able to help me dive deep into my soul and help me figure out what I wanted to say. I’m so grateful to him for that.”
Plus, it helps to have a producer who knows what it feels like being on the other side of the record button. “He knows what it feels like in that crisis moment as an artist,” Ell laughs.
Sonically, the pair captured a record that delights the ears. All the elements shine when they need to and back off when they don’t. Ell’s various lead guitar tones flavor the tracks wonderfully, but it’s the understated moments of riffing and “vibe” that make the songs feel interesting.
Bush has an uncanny ability to make records feel slick and polished without making them seem overly waxy. And when it comes to Ell’s voice and playing, she serves it up best with a little grit.
Of course, much of that stems from Ell’s newfound voice and confidence, which took a little coercing from Bush. “Kristian asked me, he said, ‘Lindsay, what’s your favorite record of all time?’ ‘Well Kristian, that would be John Mayer’s Continuum,’ I said. ‘Great, go record that whole album.’ In two weeks he had me do all the instruments at the studio at my label. It was that first of many experiments that really helped me find the voice within.”
Bush encouraged Ell to tap into her vulnerabilities, and the move paid off in a big way.
“I’m just so much more confident with where I am,” she says. “I’m a different singer, guitarist and artist because everything feels more authentic.”
Ell co-wrote nine of the 12 tracks on the record. And the three she didn’t still came from the pens of some badass ladies — including Caitlyn Smith, Carly Pearce and Kelsea Ballerini. In addition to writing with bona fide hitmakers like Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, Ell wrote with other artists thinking outside the box, like Walker Hayes. In many ways, this record represents one of mainstream country’s new rising classes of artists.
“I really do respect the people who think the same way and do a little bit of everything but do it outside of the box,” Ell says. “Walker is like that. Kristian is the same way. I just really respect it.”
The record is full of cool moments. “Wildfire” is a song Ell wrote with Bush in the studio in 15 minutes with their last bit of tracking time. “It was such a crazy moment,” Ell says.
And despite this being her “first” record in many ways (she had two prior releases, but none with this amount of preparation and development), the bulk of the songs came together in about eight months. That’s not particularly common with the age-old adage that you’ve got your “whole life” to write your first record.
She also chose to start and end the record with songs that center around the theme of waiting. “Worth The Wait” is one of the most vulnerable, understated songs on the album, and it truly shines. It’s a compelling, if not unexpected, way to end the record.
Ell is the rare bird that might actually be overqualified as a new artist. Her talent, education and charisma seem much closer to those of a seasoned pro (like her current tour mate and inspiration Brad Paisley) than a “newcomer.”
And yet, she also faces a few notable uphill battles in the world of country music. Country still hasn’t warmed up to giving female artists primetime slots on the big stage, even if she can play and sing circles around some of the radio chart-topping fellas. And, oddly enough, sometimes having roots in the Canadian country scene can hurt as much as it can help (as ridiculous as that sound). And of course, there are pieces of her personal life that have affected her career. But in the end, she’s not worried about it.
“Now that I’ve made a record that I’m really proud of — and I honestly haven’t been able to say that ever — I just don’t really worry about that stuff,” Ell says. “I used to worry about it all the time. It encompasses you as an artist. There’s so much comparison in the music industry. But finally I’m just doing my thing and making music that I love, and hoping I find the fans who love it as much as I do.”
The Project is one of 2017’s strongest country records so far, so she shouldn’t worry too much about finding adoring fans, either.