Some musicians are compelled to write a song after a lovers’ quarrel, an encounter with a great work of art or a particularly resonant overheard exchange. Tamara Lindeman, the 36-year-old Canadian singer and songwriter who records under the name the Weather Station, was recently driven to write one immediately after reading an article about the oil and gas corporation Exxon Mobil.
“When I say that, it sounds very esoteric or political or strange, but it’s very personal to me,” she said on a video call from her Toronto home one Monday morning in January, her sandy-blond bangs hanging as long as the fringe on her brown suede jacket. Call the songs on her piercing record “Ignorance,” due Feb. 5, anthems of ambivalence: Lindeman wrote most of them over what she calls “a weird winter where I was obsessively reading about climate change” and enamored of a particular toy keyboard with a built-in drum machine.
Around that time, she also began attending Fridays for Future demonstrations in Toronto and hosting a series called Elephant in the Room, for which she interviewed other musicians and activists about climate change.
“Her eyes are open,” said Ben Whiteley, who has played bass on her records and in her touring band since 2017. “She’s an incredibly nuanced thinker, very aware of the human emotional state. So she was like, ‘We need to address the emotional side of climate change.’”
Lindeman said she was experiencing “climate grief,” and it was related to other issues in her life. “I was born in the ’80s, and I was raised with the understanding that climate change is real. It’s something that people haven’t really understood is happening to younger generations.” She added that her generation was “born into this world that’s like, ‘Oh, by the way. The future’s going to be apocalyptic. But do your thing!’ It’s very strange.”
“I feel as useless as a tree in a city park, standing as a symbol of what we have blown apart,” Lindeman sighs on the poignant “Tried to Tell You,” which sets its poetic, observational melancholy to an insistent beat. (She found the band she needed to achieve the album’s push and pull between weight and lightness in Toronto, including two percussionists, the jazz saxophonist Brodie West and Tegan and Sara’s keyboardist Johnny Spence.) Atop that sturdy, percussive foundation, Lindeman’s nimble voice moves from airy falsetto to an earthy alto with the grace and daring of a diving bird.
When listening to the Weather Station, Joni Mitchell often comes to mind; Lindeman also cites the more recent work of the indie musician Weyes Blood for giving her “permission” to explore, in songs, her relationship to an ailing planet with an almost romantic intensity.
The song that was kindled after the Exxon Mobil article is “Robber,” the striking leadoff track. Newly flushed with feelings of anger and betrayal, Lindeman revisited a droning chord progression to which she’d previously written an entirely different set of lyrics. She began with a phrase that popped into her mind: “I never believed in the robber.” It meant a few different things to her at once — the lies at the heart of so many collective cultural myths; the ease with which individuals are blamed for problems caused by larger institutions — which was a sign that she was moving in the right direction.
“I think the metaphors or the emotions that lead me to want to write or finish a song are always the ones that are complicated,” she said. “When I can’t fully get to the bottom of an idea, that’s when I’m most likely to make a song.”
Though Lindeman’s music sounds nothing like Drake’s, their origin stories are oddly similar: Both are former Canadian child actors who managed to reinvent themselves, in adulthood, as respected musicians. Under the stage name Tamara Hope, Lindeman acted steadily throughout her teens, and her IMDb page is a slightly surreal trip — a role as Tilda Swinton’s daughter in the thriller “The Deep End”; the title character in “Guinevere Jones,” a Canadian-Australian TV show about a high schooler with magical powers bestowed by Merlin himself. “I think if I could go back in time, I would be like, ‘This is not for you,’” she said with a laugh, before suddenly turning more ruminative.
“I was grateful to it in many ways, but I think for me personally it was a dangerous profession, because it’s very psychologically strange,” she said, especially for an actor who isn’t the star. “You have to show up and say your lines and hit your marks, and people just come up and touch you, put clothes on you, touch your face. You have no autonomy. It made me very protective of my selfhood, because I did have that experience of it, being dissolved by my job.”
Music provided a more freeing outlet. By her early 20s Lindeman devoted herself to her first passion, singing and composing songs. She put out a series of increasingly bold and well-received folk albums as the Weather Station (“I’m lucky that the moniker I chose when I was 20 wasn’t terrible”) on Canadian labels.
“Ignorance,” her first album for the American label Fat Possum, is likely to bring an even larger audience. It also gave her an opportunity to make peace with her professional past by directing her own music videos. The results are dazzling and disarming: They restage banal indoor activities in the middle of a forest, as Lindeman’s finely calibrated facial expressions communicate a subtle sense of surrealism and unease.
“I forgot she had this whole other life,” said the bassist Whiteley, who also worked on the videos. “I was like, ‘She knows how to do this. This is her old world.’ As people get older and more comfortable with themselves, it’s easier to bring back old parts of you.”
While touring tirelessly for her 2017 self-titled album, with strangers’ eyes on her night after night, though, Lindeman had started to feel pangs of that loss of selfhood that troubled her as a young actress. She kept asking herself, “What can I wear onstage that would make me feel less exposed?” She went through a men’s wear phase, and toyed with the idea of making an outfit that looked like it was made of grass (“didn’t work”). Then, while scrolling Instagram, she saw someone wearing a suit made out of mirrors.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God! This is it!’” she said. “Because it makes you invisible. It felt like a visual metaphor for how it feels to perform and to know that people are, for good and bad, bringing their own emotions to you as a performer, and expecting you to reflect them back to them.” She made her own to wear in the music videos and on the cover of “Ignorance.” It is, however, about as comfortable as an outfit made of glass shards can be: “I can’t sit down in it. It’s heavy. It’s a pretty ridiculous thing.”
But the mirror suit is also a way of blending into her natural environment, becoming one with the flora and fauna that “Ignorance” longs to preserve. “I tried to wear the world like some kind of garment,” she sings on “Wear,” a sparse and slinky meeting of head and heart.
Making music has allowed Lindeman to feel like she’s gradually regained her artistic autonomy, but it’s also made her wonder if all songwriters are inherently somewhat selfless — walking mirrors dissolving into their surroundings and reflecting back the shared fears and joys of their times.
“Something I realized about classic songwriting throughout history, like Motown songs or Beatles songs, is that they take a feeling from the air that everyone is feeling, and then they just give it into a melody,” Lindeman said. “There’s something beautifully alchemical about that.”