For most of her life, Lindsey Stirling's pursuit of music has been an exercise in taking risks and breaking down barriers. A classically trained violinist who grew up surrounded by classical music, Stirling has also long enjoyed EDM music. Finding a way to reconcile those two loves was not easy, but marrying these styles of music together was the most natural thing for her to do. What followed was a journey that has led her to defy conventions and establish herself as a musician and performer in spectacular fashion.
Consider: Stirling has released a number of videos of her songs on YouTube, which collectively have been viewed well over half a billion times. Half a billion. Let your mind be blown by that fact for a moment. The Santa Ana, California, native has also played sold-out shows worldwide -- including significant portions of her Shatter Me Tour, which concludes at the South Side Ballroom on Saturday--reached the quarterfinals of America's Got Talent in 2010, and independently released two chart-topping albums. Not bad for an artist who at first glance would seem to be combining two niche genres into an even smaller niche genre. But then again, Stirling is not one to shy away from obstacles and challenges, as her new album Shatter Me -- which debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top 200 in April, and topped Billboard's Dance, Classical, and Independent Albums charts -- proves.
"If I had to tie up the entire album into one theme, it's breaking free," Stirling says. "I revisited a lot of the harder experiences, mentally, that I have had in my life in order to write the album. My [self-titled] first album felt lighter and I just wanted to create a happy emotion, but on this album I wanted to dig deeper into the hard stuff while also digging deeper into the freedom moments. I wanted the album to express a journey of going through hard things, breaking free and shattering the barriers around you."
Listening to Shatter Me, it is easy to see what she is talking about, despite most of the album's songs being instrumental. Just the title alone for "Take Flight" conjures up visions of winged creatures flying free. Add in pulsing dance music and epic build-ups before the song explodes into majestic dubstep sections and the effect is only heightened. "Roundtable Revival" is perhaps the most unique song, with its foot-stomping Celtic beat spliced together with a gritty electric guitar and Stirling's dirty violin to make this feel like a showdown at the OK Corral where the underdog is about to show his competition what's what. The feel of these tracks exemplifies the thematic undercurrent Stirling refers to, and Shatter, overall, does this exceptionally well.
So what are some of the difficult experiences she is alluding to? Fans will recall the way she was dismissed from America's Got Talent, with Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne essentially calling her a gimmicky one-trick pony who would not be able to command an audience. Stirling has also spoken about an eating disorder she fought to overcome some years ago. This second struggle is partially reflected in the album's cover art as well as the video for the title track, both of which feature a seemingly perfect-looking ballerina standing in the middle of a cracked glass globe, trying to free herself. It's symbolic of Stirling's efforts to break free from the weight of expectations and self-image issues.
"For Shatter Me, I wanted to write about needing the courage to fight and break free from [unhealthy situations]," Stirling says. "The ballerina, for example, thinks she is breaking herself when she is practicing. The idea is she decides to play and dance and she shatters, but instead of it being her who shatters it's the porcelain shell around her that shatters and the real her is underneath. It was all a metaphor for my own experience because my life was not actually the way it appeared to be."
And so we come to yet another interesting facet of Stirling's live performances: the dancing. Not only does she play the violin, but she also performs intricately choreographed dance sequences during her live shows while she plays. This is just as much her calling card now as her crossover musical style is, but it was something that did not come naturally to her.
"As a teenager, I remember doing a solo recital -- I was still doing classical music -- and my teachers would tell me, 'Lindsey, sway a little bit with the music and you'll feel it. Emote in your movements just a little,'" she recalls. "But I was a statue. I could not move while I played. And I'm just talking about the simplest things: stomping my foot on the beat, throwing out my hip to the side on the underbeat. It was so hard."
But now that she has been working at it for so long, the dancing element of her shows is as natural as the playing itself. Working on the choreography is a difficult process, but the idea of bringing this element into her concerts is no longer scary. If anything, it's now the only way she knows how to perform.
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"It's amazing how my brain has actually changed, because now it comes so much faster," Sterling says. "I had to practice non-stop for weeks to learn an entire show's worth of choreography -- with new music -- but when I [compare] when I first started to where I am now, it is amazing that something that seemed impossible is now just part of my performing. I have a hard time standing still when I play now. I can't do it!"
Achieving this kind of success has been a struggle, and certainly did not happen overnight, but overcoming the obstacles that got in her way has helped Stirling be thankful for where she is now, and makes all the hard work worth it.
"It feels very surreal a lot of times," Stirling admits. "I'm usually going, going, going, so sometimes I don't take time to stop and think about it. But every once in a while I'll force myself to look at what's happening, and when I do, it's mind-blowing when I think about how blessed I've been."
LINDSEY STIRLING performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 12, at South Side Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar St., southsideballroomdallas.com