You don’t usually make a big public deal about it, but I know your faith is tremendously important to you. Conversely, the music business, and entertainment business as a whole, is infused with a terrible amount of sleaziness. You’ve remained pretty much independent this entire time, to your credit. But have you encountered any circumstances or situations, working in this business, that you felt uncomfortable with, that you had to just walk away from?
“Definitely, and I think that can happen to anyone, regardless of your faith, in the music business. Sometimes you are in situations where you’re like, ‘This is not what I signed up for. This is not what I wanna be a part of.’ But I think for me, the biggest thing with faith is just reminding myself that this is a priority, and unless I keep it a priority, it will go away. It’s not gonna happen. For example, I still… I’m far from perfect. But I remember when I first started to see success in music, and it scared me a little bit, because I just know how the industry can change people. And I didn’t ever want to change, or become a diva, or become jaded. So, I remember, I knelt down and I said a prayer, and I told God, almost like a promise: ‘I will do everything I can to stay true to my values, and stay true to the things that I believe in that have made a foundation in my life. And in return, take me wherever you want me to go. And I will stay true.’ And I feel like that promise has blessed me so much, and I look back on that anytime I start to notice my values slip. Because it’s not even external. It’s not so much being in situations here and there – those things edge away at you little by little, and chip away at you – but I think that the most important thing is, it’s a personal thing to remind myself: you don’t wanna let those values slip. I don’t wanna let my standards slip. I do wanna continue to try to go to church every Sunday, because that’s something that continuously reminds me, that repetition reminds me where I stand. I’m not gonna stray too far if I continue to do those little things. I still teach Sunday school at my church. I teach the teenage Sunday school class every other week when I’m not on tour, and it’s something I love. Because every other week, I have to prepare a lesson, and I have to make sure that I know this stuff in order to teach it. And so, I’m really grateful for it. But like I said, it’s been a personal decision more than an external decision to make that part of my life.”
You got a lot of exposure from appearing on America’s Got Talent – a lot of people saw you that obviously had never heard you before – but you’ve pretty much carved your own path, it seems to me. You did your own thing on YouTube. You’ve bypassed many of the traditional gatekeepers of the music industry and found your audience organically. And they are very dedicated to you and what you do. To me, it’s clear that remaining original and independent has worked to your advantage.
“Yes, I didn’t know anything about the music industry. I bought a book. It was like, How to Make It in the Music Business. I bought that book! And I got halfway through it and I found it so depressing. You know, I was paying my way through college at the time – I didn’t have money – and I was workin’ a job and trying to go to school, trying to play these open mic nights, trying to write music, and… according to this book, I have no chance. So I was really grateful that I went to this random little seminar that a student taught at BYU. He was a graduate student, and he just decided that he was gonna teach a little evening seminar on YouTube – it was a one-night only thing, and I cancelled my plans so I could go to it. And it was Devin Graham, and he taught about how to be a YouTuber. And my mind was blown. You know when something is right, and it feels right, even though you don’t even understand it fully? You’re just like, ‘That feels right, and true, and good.’ As I sat in this little two-hour long class, I just knew that YouTube was what I needed to start doing. And this was, like, 2010, early 2011, and YouTube wasn’t exploded yet. And I started my YouTube channel like, literally, the next week – filmed a video, put it up, and it gradually started to grow. But the thing was, when YouTube exploded, I already had a very established channel with lots of videos, lots of content I was proud of. And I got to be one of the pioneers of music on YouTube, or even just a YouTuber… There’s all these young kids that are all over YouTube [now], and it’s a very different community than when I started. And we joke that the young kids call us the grandparents of YouTube! I’m 32! So, thanks! I’m one of the grandmas of YouTube. But I just was so lucky, and I just feel, again, due to that promise, God has really led me and guided me and directed me in ways that I just was not smart enough to have figured out by myself.”
I think you’ve probably made videos for more of your songs than ones you haven’t. You were a film student at BYU. Were you interested in doing video work before you had that YouTube epiphany?
“Yeah, I’ve been making videos since I was in high school. I got some really early editing software. Like, now everybody has it on their MacBook, you can use iMovie to edit stuff. But back when I was a teenager, that just wasn’t a thing. I had acquired some editing software… and I would make videos with my friends all the time. That’s what I loved to do. I’d make music videos and we’d make little sketches. So we were pre-YouTubers – there just was nowhere to put the content. I was way ahead in that regard, so I got into film school at BYU because I was able to showcase that I could do it, I could make all these videos. So I was in the film program, and ended up switching to therapeutic recreation – that’s what I graduated in. But – when I started my YouTube channel, I had all this knowledge of film. I had all these friends that I could reach out to, to help me film. And I knew how to produce, and location scout, and I knew how to edit – to this day, I still edit all my own music videos. To me, it’s part of the fun, it’s part of the art of it all. And it’s because I just love storytelling so much.”
Do you also do all the choreography, and do the costuming and all that yourself?
“I’m very involved in the costuming. I help design them. I work with a stylist now, but I’ll send full PowerPoints, like, ‘This should be this for the tour, and this is what the dancers should wear on this number.’ As far as choreography, I always work with choreographers, because, again, I am not a trained dancer. But I kind of tell them the concepts of what I want for the songs.”
It’s kind of amazing, actually – everything you did as a child and as a teenager, you’ve kind of made into your career. Playing the violin – you started at like five or six years old. You were doing music videos, and skits – which you still do with your alter-ego “fan,” Phelba. All these things you did as a kid, you’ve turned into a very successful career.
“Well, it’s interesting – I’ve thought about that before, about how all the pieces of my life seemed so much like their own lane, and like, ‘What am I gonna do with my life? I don’t know…’ ‘Because I had all these different hobbies. Even costume design – I used to sew my own prom dresses, and I always made my own Halloween costumes, I love design. And it’s interesting that all my hobbies have somehow come, like you said, into one thing. It’s just really interesting how the pieces of our lives that seemed insignificant, possibly, they’re all, I think, for a reason. And they kind of make us into this cornucopia type of person who we end up being at the end of the day.”
Is Phelba based on some particular nutty fan?
“No, no. I remember, it was when I was first starting, and I was really not used to self-promotion…and I was just a little bit sick of talking about myself. So I decided, I’m gonna invent a ‘number one fan’ that could talk about it for me. So every once in a while, she would be the one to promote the tour, and she would be the one to make posts. And I think, going back in my memory, I don’t know if you watched The Amanda Show with Amanda Bynes – she had a ‘number one fan’ that would try and meet her in every show. And so I think that I was really inspired by Amanda Bynes, who I think is a genius! I loved her back in the day when she was doing comedy.”
You do a lot of behind-the-scenes segments on YouTube, and meet-and-greets with your fans. It seems like you have a really strong connection with your followers. And a lot of them are kids, too, wanting to meet you and have you sign their violins. I think you really inspire a lot of younger aspiring musicians.
“It’s crazy to me to hear that. We were just in Mexico, and one of the cities, you could tell their English was not good, and my Spanish was ten times worse than their English, so I wasn’t even trying to communicate, but just to see what that moment meant to this group of meet-and-greeters, it was really touching. I even started to get teary-eyed, because I was like, Wow… here I am in a different country, where I don’t even speak their language, and it means a lot in this moment to both of us. How crazy is that? That’s just done through music, and through the internet. It’s a very humbling thought, to think that you’re somebody’s ‘idol.’ It blows my mind sometimes.”
So much of your music is instrumental anyway, so the language barrier isn’t so much of a factor. Although with music, I don’t think the language matters as much anyway – it’s how the song makes you feel – but it matters to a degree. And so much of your stuff is instrumental, so it’s totally the universal language.
You don’t have as many featured vocalists on your new album, Artemis. You have “Love Goes On and On” with Amy Lee from Evanescence, and then “The Upside” with Elle King. Those are the only two.
“Yeah, I feel like every album is kind of like, you know, you stretch the limits here, you try this there. My previous album, Brave Enough, was half featured vocalists, which was so fun – it was the first time I’d really written songs that were in that vein. That were geared toward more of a pop feel. And so it was a really good way to ‘stretch the envelope’ a little bit, push my boundaries. But at the core, I feel like I’m an instrumental artist, and so…on this album I really want to write it the way that the Lindsey that wrote her first album would’ve written it. If she was around today, after experiencing everything I’ve experienced, and having the resources I have now, and where I’m at personally in life, what would she write? That’s kind of where I went from. And I decided that some of the songs…actually, all of the songs were first written as instrumentals. And then I decided that ‘The Upside’ needed a little something more. And so, we have an instrumental version, but we also have the version with Elle, which is just so fun, and it really brought a lot to the track. Same with the Amy Lee one. That was originally gonna be an instrumental, and then I shot it to Amy and I was like, ‘I thought of these little lyrics for the verse…’ and then she came back with a whole chorus and melody and verse, and I was like, ‘Oh! Dope!’ So it all came from that spot of what I would’ve written on my first album, and then we just kind of picked and chose where we would add vocals. Rather than be like, ‘I wanna write a pop song!’ It was just a very different approach.”
Your songs with featured vocals often direct the focus to whoever’s singing. With your instrumental songs, the focus is on you and the music you’re making.
“Yeah, I get to really shred!”
Anyone in particular you’d love to collaborate with?
“Yeah! I love Brendon Urie from Panic! At the Disco. I’ve always loved Ellie Goulding. Hayley Williams is someone I just think is amazing. Honestly, I had always wanted to work with Amy [Lee], so it was so cool not only now that I’ve been on her album, but she’s on mine. Elle [King] was definitely on my list for a long time. It’s been so fun – the same with Brave Enough, a lot of bucket list artists were on that album as well. And, oh! – Michael Buble! I would love to work with Michael Buble! I just love him.”
Have you ever crossed paths, in the years since, with any of those celebrity judges on America’s Got Talent that voted you off the show?
“You know, I’ve exchanged some tweets with Piers Morgan a couple times, which has been kind of funny. Like, a little funny banter back and forth. But you know what? To be honest, I can’t be that mad at them. Yes, Piers Morgan did not have to be such a jerk about it. He was really rude, and hurtful. Purposely.”
He was trying to be Simon Cowell.
“He was trying to be Simon Cowell. And so he decided to be a bully and pick on me. However… you know, whenever people are like, ‘Oh, you showed them wrong!’ I’m like, well, yeah I did, but at the same time, what they saw in front of them that night, I wasn’t really good yet. It is really hard to dance around and play the violin, and it was a new craft at the time. If you look back at those videos, I wasn’t very good. So it’s not like there was this perfectly polished gem in front of them that they somehow didn’t see. No, I was a dusty little rock at the time. But, you know, thankfully I was able to realize that. All the commentary they gave me, they might have been close to the truth – which hurts to say. But the important thing was, it’s not that I wasn’t good enough, it’s that I wasn’t good enough yet. And I had to work, I had to earn my spot in this industry, just like anyone else did. And in a way, I’m very grateful that I didn’t win that show, and that I had to pave a different path, ’cause I would be in a very different place if I had gone farther… I would’ve been in a record deal that I didn’t actually want, there’s just so many things. I wouldn’t have started my YouTube channel, which I started, I think, just three months after that show ended, was when I discovered YouTube. So my path would’ve been very different, and I don’t think I would’ve been here today.”
Photos by Kellie Rauk.
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