The Weather Station Plants Seeds of Optimism Amid Today's Crises

"I have a certain negativity in my outlook — it makes me more hopeful because the dark stuff never surprises me"

Photo: Jeff Bierk

BY Kaelen BellPublished Feb 3, 2021

When asked to describe her outlook on life, Tamara Lindeman pauses before landing on the word: "Liminality." It's a fitting response from an artist whose music has always ignored easy outs — a concise term that rejects concision, an answer full of questions. "You're never living in one narrative or another," she continues. "I'm not a very black and white thinker. I tend to live in the grey."

Lindeman's 15 years as the Weather Station have been defined by the grey — from the fingerpicked majesty of All of It Was Mine and Loyalty to the ferocity of The Weather Station, her music moves in subtle shades, picking at the loose strings of life.

With Ignorance, her awe-inspiring fifth record, out February 5 via Next Door, she unravels the whole thing. It's a flickering world of mirrors and birds, a record that tackles climate disaster, capitalism, denial, love and loss with grace and clarity. While it provides few answers, the questions it poses are not easy to shake.

"I felt extremely worried about this album. Like it felt a bit, somewhat… almost destructive," she tells Exclaim! from her home in Toronto. "There was a huge part of me that was like, 'Why am I doing this? This seems like a horrible idea.' And it persisted. I mean, right up until mastering, for sure there was a part of me that was terrified of this album."

"But that's the way I've always been," she continues. "It's like the Georgia O'Keeffe quote, 'I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.'"

That air of risk — of free-falling into the unknown — permeates the record like frost, a sense of wild possibility that makes every note shimmer with life. "Every time I felt that discomfort, I just had to remind myself that that's also important ⎯ to feel that discomfort and to let some of those things out," says Lindeman. "Because if you weren't feeling pushed, maybe you would make something safe that wouldn't be worthwhile."

Ignorance is an act of kintsugi, shattering Lindeman's previous musical boundaries and piecing them back together in gleaming new forms. This reimagining extends to the record's visual universe too; in a series of self-directed videos, Lindeman dons a hand-crafted suit of shattered mirrors, a physical manifestation of the jacket described on album track "Wear." "It wasn't until later that I realized, 'Huh, I'm literally wearing the world like some kind of garment,'" she says, laughing. "The intuition — subconscious — is pretty strong. Things connect and lead you in beautiful directions."

That subconscious pull appears again in the shearwaters, robins, crows and thrushes that fly across the record. If Ignorance is about opening yourself to truth and feeling, then birds are its messengers, symbols of wildness and new perspectives. "No matter where you are in the world, there are birds. And it feels like this crazy gift," Lindeman says. "They redirect everything." It's a connection that she says manifested on tour and followed her home as she started work on Ignorance: "I have a room now, upstairs in my house that's on the third floor, and I spend a lot of time up here. And birds just hang out up here, 'cause I'm sort of on the top of these houses," she says. "I'm pretty fond of them. And I'm not a bird watcher or something, like, I have no professional bird interest. But I feel many things about birds."
Those delicate wings carry heavy burdens on Ignorance; as much as they embody freedom and life, they also act as unwitting harbingers of climate disaster. On "Atlantic," they circle above as Lindeman contemplates headlines and rising tides; on "Trust," she longs to hold their limp bodies, to clutch "everything that I have loved and all the light touches / While we still have time." 

"I mean, obviously it's pretty difficult to be hopeful right now," she says. "Seen through the lens of the climate crisis, it's a very dark time in human history that I think future historians, if they should exist, will look back on with utter horror. I mean, they won't understand why we did nothing and why we're doing nothing." But Ignorance is not protest music, nor is it even political music, really: "A protest song is a song that serves a purpose," Lindeman says. "And needs to be sung by a crowd, and needs to be clear and unambiguous in a way that my records are not." 

Rather than polemics, Lindeman tends to craft webs — delicate intersections of vulnerability and strength, precision and questioning, defeat and hope. For all the fear and betrayal on Ignorance, there's an electric current of possibility, a vision of something better. "I actually am a strangely hopeful person," she says. "And I think it's because I have a certain negativity in my outlook ⎯ it makes me more hopeful because the dark stuff never surprises me, I guess?" 

That seed of optimism is there, struggling to come up from under all the upheaval and doubt. "It feels like a liminal time, when a lot of things are breaking down. And a lot of that is sad, but some of it maybe doesn't have to be," she says. "But hope is a weird word. I don't know if I'm hopeful. I feel like so many people around me are sort of hand wringing about human nature, and I've never seen people as good. I don't see people as bad either ⎯ I see people as very soft and vulnerable. So there's room for change."

Ignorance is a record that holds softness as a virtue. It celebrates malleability and openness, the ability to accept pain and happiness in equal measure, to grow and stretch and wrap around that which we love. As Lindeman puts it, hardness and denial is death. "I truly believe that one of the most powerfully destructive forces in humanity and society is denial. And defensiveness," she says. From the self-implication of "Robber" to the brave-faced honesty of "Heart" and "Tried to Tell You," Ignorance rejects bliss in favour of steely-eyed acceptance: "The moment when you remove the many layers of denial — that's when you can feel, and that's when you can grow, and that's when things can change."

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