The Story Behind Every Song On The Weather Station’s New Album Ignorance

The Story Behind Every Song On The Weather Station’s New Album Ignorance

For the decade-plus Tamara Lindeman has been releasing Weather Station albums, she’s never stood still for long. From her earliest, more rustic material through country-tinged folk and onto the more muscular folk-rock of her 2017 self-titled album, Lindeman gradually built up from sparse, solo beginnings to a fuller sound. Those first several albums existed in a continuum, but each was different from the last. We already knew Lindeman as someone who was restless, who would not rest on one style for too long. Still: Nothing prepared us for “Robber.”

Last year, Lindeman released “Robber” as the debut single from her new album Ignorance. It was unlike anything she’d released before, a strange song flickering through shadows, elusive and unresolved and lacerated by ghostly improvisations. It was both apocalyptic jazz-rock and a slicker aesthetic than Lindeman had ever adopted, which over the course of subsequent singles “Tried To Tell You” and “Parking Lot” proved that she had also found a way to bring poppier material into her world. This is the tension that exists across the entirety of Ignorance: This is some of the most sophisticated music Lindeman’s made, carefully orchestrated and produced with a glimmering sheen, but it also contains hints of chaos deep within.

As the name suggests, Lindeman was preoccupied with the state of the world, though perhaps not in the way one might assume upon first glance. Ignorance isn’t so much one more missive from several years of tenuous global politics, but is instead more concerned with the literal state of the world. Lindeman became passionate about the climate crisis, and some of Ignorance reflects on wonder and the natural world on the precipice of disaster. Small moments feel all the more profound or portentous, Lindeman finding a way to depict people moving through a disorienting and anxious world that could cease to exist altogether before too long.

On a recent afternoon, we caught up with Lindeman over Zoom so she could walk us through all the dense musical and thematic DNA of Ignorance. Now that you can hear the whole thing for yourself, read along below to find out the stories behind the latest installment in the Weather Station’s stunning body of work.

1. “Robber”

As an opening track and lead single, this was a pretty big statement. It really made it feel like a new era for the Weather Station immediately.

TAMARA LINDEMAN: I didn’t expect that song to be the one that captured people’s attention. I thought it was going to be a late-on-the-record oddball. It was the fact that everyone that heard it was like, “It’s the first single, it’s the first track.” I was like, “Wow, OK.” It wound up being one of my favorites, too. Early on I thought it needed to start the record, I thought that would be a controversial opinion.

I’m really proud of this recording. I feel like it was exactly what I wanted. It walks this very fine line of emotions. It’s very menacing but it never fully arrives. It started out as just a drone. It’s just the two chords over an underlying other chord. I was playing it on my little toy keyboard with a ridiculous drum machine beat. That was essentially the song, and then in the studio it was a really nice opportunity to let the band run wild and see where they took it. Each time we played it, it had a very different dynamic range. It was one where the arrangement wasn’t super pinned down other than the drumbeat and some bass and keys. I’m really happy with this one because I feel like it showcases the band, and their instincts as well as mine.

I feel like it goes in a circle and it never arrives anywhere, and I like that. Something I think about with this song, or what I wanted to create in some of the songs, was the density of when you look at a patch of grass. The forms are not — it’s not clean. It’s not a human form. It’s a dense, organic form where a lot of strands go into it. One of my favorite moments was Brodie West, the saxophonist, he came to just one rehearsal before we recorded. He was playing stuff and I was like, “It’s gotta be more dissonant.” Basically we discovered I really liked when he played in pentatonic scales but not in the same key as the song. It just made this magic happen.

A lot of the other Weather Station music is a lot more solo. How much of the process happened with the band, in the studio, in terms of getting the songs to their final form?

LINDEMAN: It was different from song to song. “Robber” was a lot more loose than some of the others. Part of my original plan actually was to arrange the whole album by myself and then force people to play it. I did not finish that, because that was an astronomical amount of work. But there were a couple songs where I did manage to arrange a bunch on midi. In all of the songs, there is this interplay between the drummer Kieran Adams — who I tasked with being very straight, and playing these clear, simple drum parts — and then Philippe Melanson, the percussionist, who was free to improvise and play something different every time. There’s this nice push-pull between control and disorder. They have a really beautiful interplay as musicians.

2. “Atlantic”

There are strains of climate concerns here and elsewhere on the album, but that also mixes with these small, personal moments.

LINDEMAN: I think the theme was just what happened. I wasn’t actually intending for the album to be about climate, but then it just was. What happened more was I was writing a song about what was happening and I was trying to make it personal, or keep out jargon and lingo. I think the heart of it is the emotion. It’s not a political statement, it’s just feelings. I think more than anything the songs came out of that space and at a certain point I decided to embrace that instead of running from it.

I originally thought people would just hear it with whatever emotional context they had in their lives at the time. I think something that’s happened that’s interesting is that a lot of people have caught up to where I was, so it feels very relevant in a way I didn’t expect. I actually thought people wouldn’t really get this record, except for the few people I know who were in the same headspace as I was.

I think where I’m most comfortable as a writer, where I’m strongest, is when I can pin a big emotion to a small moment. When I can describe the moment in a detailed way, a clear and calm way. Then the emotion can flow out of the description of the moment. This is one of those songs. As much as it’s one of the most dramatic, intense songs on the album, it is just a description of a very small moment and thought within that moment. But, of course, that’s the thing about small moments. They hold enormous truths and realities in them.

That was something I loved about this song. And the fact that it’s specifically on the edge of the ocean, which I feel like can be a symbol of destruction and creation in equal measure. There’s a few other songs like that on the album — depending on how you look at them they could be dark or sort of more wondrous.

LINDEMAN: One thing I think about — I love the ocean, I love to look at water, and it’s something that’s intruded on my thoughts in the last few years. What will it be to look out at the ocean in 20 or 30 years? The level of destruction to the national world that will take place in the ocean is really intense. The ocean’s going to bear the brunt. It already has.

To look out at the ocean as a landlocked person, there’s always this excitement of “What is under there? What is going on?” You know it’s this place so full of life. So much happening beneath the surface. That’s one climate grief thing I still struggle with. When we look out what’s going to be happening under the surface, will there still be immense life? But the moment I’m describing [in the song] was a transcendently beautiful one. That’s the point. How do you manage having that knowledge and still wanting to love the world and appreciate it and see its beauty when you know what’s going to happen?

There’s a way that the music actually mimics this scene, too. The pulse of it sounds like wind coming in off the ocean.

LINDEMAN: One of my favorite musical moments on the record is in “Atlantic.” How Christine [Bougie]​ on guitar and Ryan [Driver] on flute just independently of even knowing what the song was about, they started following each other, where one of them would play a melody and one of them would play it back. It just reminded me of birds. Which is funny because the song has birds in the sky, and their playing is that. I wasn’t even singing those final lyrics when we recorded the song, and I just love that they touched on that in such a beautiful way. I really feel like I owe so much to the band on this album. They’re just people who can follow the moment empathically and change what they’re playing from take to take but can still do it with this immense skill.

3. “Tried To Tell You”

I’m thinking more about the video here but there were some related ideas with “Tried To Tell You,” right? Like these moments of natural wonder happening around this person and their failing to notice it.

LINDEMAN: Of course. I think originally it started out as a simple song about a friend who was ignoring — pretending that they weren’t in love, and they were, and anyone could see it. But because I put it on the album and put it in the context of these other songs, I did intend for there to be another layer to that. All of us, essentially. I guess the thing I think about all the time is the way our whole society makes no sense. It’s very ahuman, and we keep falling in love with and embracing things that don’t serve us and in fact hurt us while completely ignoring all the things around us that are healthy and well and caring. I think the depiction of the character as being someone who’s trying to avoid the mystery was pretty clear in the video. I just laid that out visually, basically.

Did your friend figure out he was in love before you showed him this song saying “I tried to tell you”?

LINDEMAN: I did not show him the song, but yes, I think so. [Laughs]

We already talked about how “Robber” was a surprise because it was this weird, sprawling thing. But a lot of these songs are also quite a bit poppier than previous Weather Station albums. The press bio made comparisons to albums like Avalon, The Color Of Spring, Tusk, the first two of which made a lot of sense to me because I did hear a bit of that sophisti-pop element to it.

LINDEMAN: Like anyone, I enjoy that music and I just hadn’t let myself include that influence, I guess. I actively was curious: What would happen to my music if I integrated some new wave stuff? Some drum machine-style playing. In a lot of cases I was asking the band to play robotically but at the same time be human in it. So it’s not dance music, but it’s stealing a bit of dance music. I was wondering what would happen if I did that and if it would still be me. And can I put lyrics over that music that’s different than you’d hear in that context? I just like a challenge, I guess.

You mentioned straight time earlier, and you have previously talked about the idea that by putting things in that kind of rhythmic box, the vocals could do more emotional heavy lifting. That’s curious to me, though, because I also feel like all these songs tap into different emotions partially thanks to those rhythms, whether the kind of glide of “Atlantic” or the catchy lick in the chorus of “Tried To Tell You.”

LINDEMAN: Rhythm was becoming increasingly important as I was touring, I think because I was playing for larger and larger audiences. My sense of rhythm is very esoteric. I want to push and pull the time as I play a song, I want to speed up when I’m feeling excited. I want to slow down and leave a space and have silence.

With the self-titled record, I really loved what I did to change melody and lyrics and how I approached trying to squeeze words into a phrase. Part of that was me trying to play all the roles within my voice, trying to do all the rhythmic and melodic ideas I heard in the song, but just vocally. Part of it [this time] was letting go. I’m going to let the band play a lot of these ideas I have. I’m going to let the band bring the emotion. And most importantly I’m going to let the band set the time. Because I’ve been trying to lead the time and failing, in a way. It’s difficult to follow my time because my time is bad.

Being in front of a huge crowd, it’s interesting: People need something to grab onto. The music I was making was headphone music, because that’s what I listen to. But there is something really powerful about the communal experience of rhythm. Steadiness and a steady beat. It’s a deep, innate, human thing. I was just excited to embrace that.

And part of it, too, was I started writing with this toy keyboard and having this drum accompaniment changed the way I write melodies. For the better, I think. It just made it so much more fun and exciting to write a song. I could divorce it from my playing or my voice. It became that my voice was being carried by the song rather than carrying the song. It gave me a sense of lightness, which is funny because the songs are so much darker than I realized when I was writing them. I think that was a good call, making the music lighter so the songs could be darker.

4. “Parking Lot”

This has this juxtaposition of this little bird scene and you saying “I don’t want to sing tonight.” It seems like a small moment like “Atlantic.”

LINDEMAN: 
Exactly, it’s just a description of a small moment. I was touring a lot. I spent a lot of time in parking lots outside the club. [Laughs] Black wall, black door, you hear the snare drum being hit over and over again. It’s not a very comfortable place to be. Birds are such a companion when you’re in the urban environment. I think the moment I’m thinking of was maybe in Germany, just watching this bird. I wrote a lot of songs about birds, and this is just the one that wound up on this record.

I guess I was thinking of the expression of: A bird sings the same song over and over again. What does that feel like? Is it different every time? I wondered about a bird’s perception of time. When it’s repeating this song, is it saying something different or is it saying the same thing? I don’t think I made the connection when I was writing it but obviously I’m doing the same thing. [Laughs] I think at the end of touring the self-titled, I was subtly burned out. This sadness was creeping in around the edges that I didn’t know the cause of. That song speaks to that moment, not knowing the cause of this feeling that was seeping in. I feel like I’m making this song seem so much deeper than it is. But it was a small moment that holds a lot of weight for me.

On this and “Tried To Tell You,” I was actively trying to make disco, kind of. Kieran was like, “Are you sure you want me to play this?” I remember him being very resistant on this song in particular. I was like, “Yes!” Also the strings on “Tried To Tell You” and “Parking Lot,” I was thinking Bee Gees. Disco strings. I didn’t realize what I was doing. I wrote those parts as these very jagged, staccato — I love that fierceness, strings can be so lush and emotional and then they’re just harsh. But of course I didn’t realize if you want string players to play like that it’s pretty hard to get them to do it because they’re used to playing orchestral music, which has no time. It was a very funny session. I really was actively trying to write a disco song, and for some reason I thought that was a good idea to pair with this melancholy encounter with a bird.

5. “Loss”

With all the fluttering synth sounds this songs builds off of, I was thinking about your pivot to writing on keys with this album. Was there a moment where you were like, “I just cannot write on guitar right now”?

LINDEMAN: Yeah, none of them were written on guitar at all. I think starting in the summer of 2018 I was trying to write songs on guitar and I found I was just repeating myself, going to the same chords as on the self-titled. I set it aside. My partner actually, was the one who handed me this keyboard. He was completely right. It was a game-changer. In the summer of 2018 I wrote a bunch of songs that didn’t end up on this album, only two of them did. I was writing on my back porch. I think part of it too is it pushed me in a simpler direction because I was pretty much just mashing my hand down on a keyboard like “Well that sounds nice.” I try to disguise this — a bunch of the songs I had to switch keys so they weren’t all in C, classic beginner keyboard style. But I think “Loss” is in C.

I find it interesting how the voicing of a chord can say so much, you know? A few of them, the bass doesn’t change for a long time even though the chords change. The way the two hands shift against each other is what builds the tension and keeps it going. One of my favorite things about “Loss” is this line I ended up playing on a Moog where it undulates. I’m proud of how this record is so simple and straight ahead but there’s a lot of subtle dissonance on it. A lot of the time I’m pushing against the chords even as I’m clearly delineating them. This song is like that: The bass and that undulating line don’t change, and when they do change with each other it feels so much bigger.

Daniel Dorsa

6. “Separated”

On first glance this sounds like more of a relationship type song.

LINDEMAN: It’s very silly but I honestly wrote it about Twitter. In that winter of 2018/2019, I got drawn into a certain level of activism. That whole world is just riven with conflict. The moment you poke your head above the crowd and you say anything about anything, so much anger comes at you. I was experiencing that. I was just thinking more generally about how people communicate in these spaces. It’s almost exclusively the language of conflict, it’s not the language of understanding. It’s funny, the whole point of activism is to build a community and an organization, and the whole point of an organization is trust, to have each other’s back. It’s not what tends to happen.

I can hear it now, maybe [the song] is about a relationship. I think it is. But at the time I was thinking about how we talk to each other, how politicians talk to us — we’re at such a critical moment, and it’s so rare for actual communication to occur. Actual understanding. It’s not that communication and understanding aren’t occurring, it’s that people actively don’t want to understand you. As simple as they say, if you wanted to understand me you could. You don’t want to. As weird as it is, my songs don’t come out of a rational place. It’s intuition. That image of trying to lay my hands on someone’s fear, and believing I could heal that. I think that’s a strange role I seem to play in life. It’s such a brutal weird little song. I wanted it to sound very sharp.

Even the melody, the way the word “separated” functions.

LINDEMAN: It keeps ending, right? It’s a conversation that keeps beginning and not going anywhere. That was one of the toughest ones to arrange actually. It barely made it on. We just couldn’t figure out the arrangement, with how that line just ends. I don’t remember how we cracked the code on that one. I think we just ended up recording it in a minimal way and the strings is where it started to make sense in my mind as an arrangement.

7. “Wear”

This begins with this line about trying to wear the world. Part of me thinks about the mirror suit you’ve been wearing in the Ignorance videos, but you’ve also spoken about becoming more keenly aware of yourself and being watched as you’ve been playing in front of larger groups.

LINDEMAN: I wrote and recorded this that summer [in 2018] as part of a charity 7″ and then I rewrote it. I changed a bunch of the chords, the structure, and some of the words. This is probably my favorite song on the record lyrically, because I think it’s a strong metaphor. “I tried to wear the world like some kinda garment” — I think I’m talking about several things at once. One of which is trying to understand the world and be a part of it. I think that was a place I was coming to of… not understanding the extent of my own alienation and discomfort in the world. I think when I was younger I was trying to be a part of the world, trying to make sense within it. I came to a place where it was like, “I don’t think the world makes sense to me, so I’m not going to try to be a part of it in the same way.”

That song’s at the intersection of those two things. You have to wear the garment of society to function in your culture, and use the words and move through the world in a way people understand. I’m good at doing that. I know how to flow in situations and be what I need to be. But I think there’s this discomfort and this gap, and I think that song is living in that gap, and also asking, “Is anyone else comfortable in this garment?” Do these ideologies keep anyone warm? Is it just me that feels so cold in this strange moment? Maybe this song is more true to the pre-COVID time. When I look back now, it feels like we were living in this strange Gilded Age that is predicated on nothing. Literally predicated on a destroyed planet. So what’s the end game?

Maybe this is a good place to ask: This is sort of a weird detail, but your lyric sheets are organized in a somewhat unusual way. They aren’t arranged as lyrics or verse, but as full paragraphs. It’s almost like you wrote these internal dialogues or notes to someone.

LINDEMAN: The paragraph is a stylistic choice. I write words singing them. I never write them down first. I tend to play piano and sing and improvise and when I pin down a melody I often record what I’m doing and go back and transcribe what I said and try to parse meaning from what is coming out of the song. In some cases the song is written right there and in some cases it’s many sessions of this improvising and going back like, “Maybe this song is about this” and following that thread. Sometimes it might be as simple as one small thing that’s the heart of the song and more deliberately writing to that idea.

8. “Trust”

LINDEMAN: This was maybe the only one on this record that was written all in one moment. My critical mind wants to come down hard on a lot of these lyrics, to organize these better. But I really insisted to myself to keep it as it was, because it is a rare gift when a song drops fully formed from the sky. Sometimes when I’m looking at a song critically I don’t see all the connections that are there and I take things out that actually are connected. That’s the case in this song. When I wrote the song it was in response to a political moment that occurred. But it is personal at the same time. I think it is the emotion of, what does it take to betray? Why betray? Choosing betrayal when you could choose understanding is pretty intense.

I’m terrified of this song. I don’t think I could ever play it again, it’s too much. This is one we recorded live and I sang and played piano in the studio. It was just like, “What did I do? Why is this here?” I think it has a purpose. The clumsiness of it is the way I’m presenting as evidence these petals and birds. The crux of it is how can you argue for the value of these things, which should be so obviously valuable, but are not valued. How can you argue for the value of intangible things within a rationalistic framework? This song’s intense, it’s just so vulnerable. Then I couldn’t figure out how to write the strings and Owen Pallett wrote the strings. I was very grateful, because then I didn’t have to listen to the song over and over again, which is what it took to write the strings for everything else.

9. “Heart”

LINDEMAN: I think this comes from the same place as all the others. The whole Side B feels very connected. It’s all the same idea in those four songs. This was another beautiful recording session. There were several songs where I let the band have free range and they’re just floating. There were several takes that just went on for a really long time. I loved how they were listening to each other and responding. I loved all the percussion and tiny sounds. My toy keyboard has this auto-accompaniment bass thing and I wrote the whole song around that. It goes all the way through and the chords change around it; I love the circularness of that, a chord at the center that never changes.

I felt like I needed to prostrate myself before the world and be so stupidly soft. I describe that in the previous song. I think it’s so funny because I’m expressing something that feels so childlike but is a throughline of my life. People are often just not very comfortable when you express passion. These aren’t things you can express in a social setting, love and softness and passion and care. It can be seen through this cynical gaze, of being uncomfortable or wrong. That softness felt really important to express. To just say, I don’t want to hide this part when I know it’s the best of me. It’s like when you come to the very heart of the matter with yourself emotionally, there’s always freedom. This is a through line of the whole album. You expend much more energy trying to hide yourself from yourself than to truly feel what you feel. I think at the heart of it, love is there, and it always was. I sound like a hippie.

Let’s talk about the title. Ignorance has a certain connotation to it. There are songs with fear, or grief about the climate. Ignorance could immediately seem like a gesture towards the timbre of the times we live in. But you also had this other meaning to it, right?

LINDEMAN: I mean a lot of things by that title. For me, as for anyone, it makes me think of conspiracy theories and QAnon and the normal use of the word “ignorance.” Sometimes a word gets stuck in my head and it becomes a bit of an obsession and I find myself investigating all the meanings of it. This word really caught in my head. It came to my mind as the title of this record before I even wrote it. That was just what I wanted the title of my record to be. Usually when I have something that clear as an instinct I have to at least hear it out. After it was finished, it was a perfect title. Throughout the record, people are refusing to see each other, refusing to look. It’s a record of trying to hide from reality, and yet the beauty of the record comes from when that’s released. When what’s beneath the ignorance is present.

I’ve thought a lot about humility. The problem isn’t ignorance. It’s when you believe you have knowledge. A conspiracy theory isn’t ignorance, it’s false knowledge you place into a space that you are ignorant of. It’s when you encounter a mystery and you choose to believe you understand, as opposed to encountering a mystery and having the humility to say, “It’s possible I don’t understand.” Then the moment you know you don’t understand, you might move with a greater softness and vulnerability and you might be slower and ask more questions. I think that’s the point of it.

This record, for me emotionally, is dusk or dawn. It’s the in-between where it’s dark and light at the same time. When you encounter dusk in a space where there aren’t streetlights, it’s actually quite interesting what happens to your body when you aren’t sure if you can step forward. You start to listen and you start to look in this deeper way than you do when you feel that you know what is around you and what you’re supposed to do. This liminal state of humility is what I was thinking of. Ignorance is obviously terrible. But it’s this throughline. I think part of a title for me is if I’m going to be asked about an idea or phrase I might as well make it something I want to talk about. It was a jumping off point.

10. “Subdivisions”

This was one of the songs you wrote back in 2018, and it was apparently much more uptempo. So tell me about how this one transformed from a pop song to what it is now.

LINDEMAN: It was the first pop song I wrote, and I think it was a bit of an ego thing. Like, “Yeah, I can do this too, don’t think I can’t do this.” We recorded a few songs that didn’t wind up on the record and this was one where I was like “Ah, we’ll just record it.” We did it in an hour. It wasn’t one of the songs I was certain that I needed to include and that we were going to work hard on. But the band was just so beautiful on it. [The song] just has this perfect quality of a band so deep in the pocket. It reminds me of classic ballad recordings. Ultimately I was just really proud of that. You know, it’s a good song! [Laughs]

It’s less entwined, for me, with the meaning of the record, but of course it is too. It’s leaving, and departing. It too is about denial. I think the part I like most — aside from the melody, which is so lovely to sing — is the second verse, the highway as this narrow thing, stretched across, the disappearance. I think I felt that so many times, where a road pulls you forward and it’s sort of this safe space between unknowns. A forward motion can sometimes be the only thing you have.

Daniel Dorsa

Ignorance is out now via Fat Possum. Purchase it here.

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