Photo by Timothy Ma
Have you ever wanted to just pack up your life and move it? That’s what singer-songwriter Lindsay Foote did in 2019, pulling up her roots in Toronto, where she spent the last ten years, and moving back to her hometown of Boston. But as her latest single “New York City” explains, you can’t take every inter-city opportunity that comes along.
Taken from her upcoming EP Rollercoaster, the song takes an unusually direct and autobiographical tack for Foote, telling the story of a hypothetical move from her past; a few years back, she opted not to move to the Big Apple with her then-boyfriend.
Though she laments the lack of forward movement in her life, “New York City” uses that turbulent time as an opportunity for transformation. Here, she makes a sweeping change in sound, taking the folky acoustic guitar at the heart of her past releases and augmenting it with atmospheric electric guitar and a driving beat.
It lends pop punch and momentum to maybe her most pointed song yet. There’s a note of melancholy in her voice as she mourns what might have been, but there’s also a refreshing frankness as she takes a lyrical stand for herself and asserts her will to determine her own destiny.
Ahead of the full release of Rollercoaster in January 2020, Foote spoke to The All Scene Eye about fighting through writer’s block and forging new songwriting friendships.
You recently released “New York City,” the first single from your upcoming EP. When did you write this song?
It’s the oldest song that’s on this EP. I wrote this in 2017, and it was actually a few years after I had faced that decision of moving to New York with my boyfriend. I wrote it right before my old EP came out, but it wasn’t on that EP.
You allude to this real decision that you made to not move to New York City. How did that specific circumstance end up becoming a song?
I was thinking a lot about my songwriting, and I was really inspired by some folk, kind of pop, indie artists. At the time, I remember I was really into Donovan Woods, who’s a Canadian singer-songwriter. I loved his specific story-based lyrics, so I was in that headspace of trying to write a whole story and specific life events rather than more metaphorical stuff. I remember I was playing around on the guitar, and the first line, “Hey New York City, you’re far away,” just popped out, which is obviously sometimes what happens with a song. From that, I saw it could be a cool concept for a song–you know, facing the decision. It was an easy thing to draw from my own life.
Once you have that first line, you’re addressing New York City like it’s a person in the equation. Where did you draw that imagery and characterization of the city from?
I think it’s a couple things. I had been thinking about moving to New York for so long, for so many years, because I had been with this partner, and it was this big dream scenario that never seemed real–that you look off to in the distance. Saying, “Hey, New York City” was kind of saying, “Hey, this whole life.” It seemed representative of this life that I’d been picturing or planning for. Also, it’s kind of just talking to my partner at the time. All the things I’m saying about the city are parallel to things I would have felt about our relationship–it being distant, and–yeah. [laughs]
It’s been some time since that specific decision was a going concern. How does it feel to you to be releasing this song now?
I’ve been playing this song live for three years, so it feels a little less sensitive now. I know it’s a very personal story I’m sharing. That’s always a weird thing with songs, though. If you’re sharing personal songs, other people are involved in your life. A lot of people knew me and knew my partner, so [laughs] they would know what I’m talking about, which feels a little weird. Not necessarily for me, because I’m used to that, but for other people’s privacy. At the same time, I think that’s kind of what you sign up for if you’re dating a songwriter, right?
[laughs] Yeah. But it feels nice to have it out. It’s been one of my favorite songs; I play it at pretty much every show. People tend to grab onto it, so it’s nice to finally have it out and be able to tell people they can go listen to it.
What makes it one of your favorites?
It leans more towards pop in the way that it’s very hook-based. There’s a very, I would say, catchy hook that comes back a bunch, and it’s very clear and to the point, right? It’s not wishy-washy. You’re not trying to figure out what I’m saying–you kind of know. [laughs] Also, melodically and rhythmically, it’s more of a driving tune, so it’s fun to sing. I think people latch onto it like they’d latch onto any catchy pop song you’d hear.
How does this song fit into the larger project of the Rollercoaster EP?
You know, the Rollercoaster EP is about this time in my life over the past three or four years that has felt super unsettled and really transitory, which I think a lot of people experience at some point, and probably especially in your 20’s and 30’s. It’s about that feeling of trying to get somewhere, not really knowing how to get there, trying to build something career-wise and all the doubts that are associated with that, and then just not knowing where I want to be.
I struggled in the past three years because I was in Toronto for so long deciding where I wanted to live. My family is here–I’m from Boston–but I lived in Toronto for ten years, so my whole community was there, and then I was going to move to New York City, but I chose not to, so I think the story in “New York City” is a perfect example of this time period where you’re trying to make the right choices. “New York City” was a time when I realized I had to make the right choice for me, not anyone else, and take ownership of where I wanted to be, so I think it fits in that way.
I saw the video you made for your Kickstarter, and in it you said that you feel like these six songs are your most personal, honest writing. What allowed you to be more honest when you were writing these songs?
I think it was that after the Going Gone EP in 2017, I started getting more into the songwriter scene. I did a songwriting competition in Austin, Texas, and through that, I met a lot of really, really great songwriters. I sort of got into this community, I got a lot of feedback on my songwriting, and I started to really think about it for the first time. I always had, but I started to think more in terms of, “What am I trying to tell people?” as opposed to just, “Oh, this inspiration flowed out of me, so I’m going to put it on paper and leave it.”
I started to think about, “What do I want someone to hear from this song?” I started to try to be a lot clearer in terms of subject and lyrics. I’d always written about personal things, but I think approaching it from that made the songs more honest just because I was being way more specific and trying to describe, with no frills, things that I was experiencing, and hoping that people would connect to that because, you know, people experience similar things.
Did that change the way, practically, you approached writing these songs?
Yeah, it was really hard, actually. I experienced a lot of writer’s block–or just a lot of difficulty–because I was questioning everything I was writing. I’m also a perfectionist; I had this new idea of what I wanted my music to be like and I wanted to be amazing at it immediately [laughs] but it took me a while. That was in 2017 that I went to the contest and started that whole journey, and then I started work on the EP in earnest about a year later. When I connected with the producer, I still didn’t have all the songs written–I had been writing, but it was very stilted, but I had to get through it, which I did.
Do you have any tips for other people who are having that kind of writer’s block?
You know, it’s hard. [laughs] I still struggle with it sometimes, but there are a few things. I read the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and that helped me a lot. One of the tools that she uses is morning pages–every morning, you write three pages of stream of consciousness writing, and the point is to clear your mind of the negative voices that can take over when you try to be creative. And then sometimes I forget that it’s really just being able to put the time in. Sometimes if the song’s not coming easily, you have to grind through it and not give up on it. That’s another thing; just keep grinding away. Try to be positive and not get down on yourself, and try not to judge your writing while you’re doing it because that doesn’t work.
How did you connect with Joel Schwartz, who produced this record?
Joel was recommended to me by another musician, Peter Katz, who’s in the Canadian folk scene. I had already met three other producers, and I liked them, but I wasn’t sure, and then I got this last-minute recommendation for Joel. I thought, “Well, I might as well meet him,” and we clicked really, really well. I knew the first time that I met him that I wanted to work with him. I felt like we would be able to have a good collaborative relationship where I felt comfortable expressing my opinions, and he’s also an amazing musician apart from production. He plays, like, a million instruments, and we have similar instincts, I would say, musically. He played me some ideas the first time I met him, and I loved them, so it was like, “This is the right thing.”
How did things unfold from that first meeting? What was the atmosphere of those sessions like?
We decided to work together, and then we did pre-production, production, and post-production. Pre-production was a period of probably four months where we would meet up for three-hour sessions and we would basically just work. We were doing two things. There were a few songs I already had completed, like “New York City,” where we were just making demos–trying out new things, adding different instruments, and seeing where we wanted to go with them. There were a few other songs I was actively writing while we were in pre-production. I would bring him ideas, we would play them together, and he would help me. It was super fun, to be honest. He’s an incredible musician, so he’s really fun to play with. I always really liked my time doing that. It’s like getting to spend time doing your favorite stuff and also having someone amazing focus on your music, which is great.
Then for production, we were recording in the studio. We did all that in two days with Toronto musicians, a lot of whom I’d been working with previously in my band, so that was great too. Super exciting. They were all amazing. Afterwards, we worked a couple months on post-production, adding different things. Joel added a lot of instruments and textures that he could do in his own studio. It was a year of working with him, and now it’s been a year and a half until I released it, but it’s been done for a few months. There were just ends to tie up.
You’ve done a lot with instrumentation on this EP. “New York City” is a really clear example where you’ve got electric guitar, you’ve got a drum kit–things that you hadn’t worked with on past releases. What inspired you to shift into that more atmospheric and electric mode?
There were a few things. I’m not really tied to one genre in my taste, I would say; I really like pop music and indie–I don’t only listen to folk. “New York City,” that was by accident, honestly. The song just came out as a pop song. I was doing it with my old band, and I could never really get the right groove. I really liked the song, but I never felt like I was doing it right, the way we were playing it, and I think that’s because we were a folk band. We didn’t have drums, we were upright acoustic bass, and the song called for what we ended up doing with it, you know? So what started it in a way was just, that was the right thing to do for the song. It brought it alive.
Also, I was listening to some really great artists at that time. I got super into Henry Jamison, who’s an indie folk artist who mixes some electric, atmospheric elements into his music. I really connected to that, so I was in that head space when we started working on the EP, and Joel was super good at all that stuff because he’s an electric guitar guy, which is where you make a lot of those textures anyways. We were on the same page for that.
Who are some artists on the pop side of things that inspire you?
One of my favorite pop artists is Julia Michaels. She’s an incredible songwriter. She’s released a couple of her own EPs, which I think are amazing. I really like The 1975, too. Kacey Musgraves, she’s obviously more on the country side, but I would say still kind of poppy.
Tell about some of those Toronto musicians that you worked with on this EP. Who did you go into the studio with on “New York City?”
For “New York City,” Joel was on electric guitar. For bass we had Mark Mcintyre, and on drums we had Lyle Molzan. Those two came on just for the project; they weren’t part of the crew I usually played with, but they were very experienced in the genre we were going for. Chris Blachford is an amazing guitarist and singer that I’ve played with for a while now in Toronto. He sang backup and did acoustic guitar, and then Belinda Corpuz, she sang backup. She’s an amazing singer as well. Joel was sort of at the lead producing and playing guitar.
What has it been like fulfilling the Kickstarter rewards for people who donated to this project? You offered a pretty extensive lineup of different things.
The project has taken way longer to come out than I expected just because of different hiccups, so I’m literally just getting to fulfilling the rewards now. [laughs] I’m so happy to do it and it’s great that there are people I’m going to be sending my CD to and everything. I’m very excited about that. I would say it’s–I mean, it’s a lot of rewards to fulfill. It’s a little overwhelming, but I’m grateful for it, and it also built up a lot of momentum for me and, I think, for people listening. People who have invested in it hopefully are thinking about it and looking forward to it coming out, and they can feel like they had a part in it.
I read an interview where you were saying one of the biggest things for you to realize was that, things you wanted to happen, you had to do them yourself. Did that Kickstarter experience play into your perspective on what it means to be an independent artist?
Definitely. Once I started actually trying to do this career, I mean, you very quickly realize that you basically have to figure out everything on your own. This is the first time I’m working with a publicist, and that’s amazing to have. Usually I would be doing all of that on my own too, but I was able to afford that because I did the Kickstarter.
It’s like, you look at the indie artists that are really successful, you look at their track record, and you realize they’ve worked their butts off for years, and what they don’t have from a label, they just kind of make it happen. Even labels and managers, they want you to have built up so much on your own before, so I think that’s the way it goes for a few years. It’s really hard and it can be really stressful, but it’s also empowering. It teaches you that you can make things happen that you don’t know how to do–that you can just figure them out.
Earlier this year you did a three-week songwriter residency in Alberta. How did that come about?
That was amazing. I had heard about it through a few friends on the music scene in Toronto who had done it, so I just applied and was really happy to get in. Banff is such a beautiful place, and it’s basically this huge resort with all these facilities for artists, so you go there, and the point is that you’re supposed to have the time to focus on your art. They take care of everything else. There are great meals that they give you, you have your own studio space, you can go to workshops–I think probably one of the best things I got from it was some really close friendships with other songwriters, which I hadn’t experienced to that level before, so I’m really grateful for that. Some of my best friends are from that experience. I also got to have a successful co-writing experience, which I had never really had before.
What was that like?
It was with my really good friend Georgia. We didn’t know each other before this, but we were placed as roommates, and we became super close. We both really like pop country music, so, for fun, we decided to try to write a pop country tune. We made a couple attempts, and it wasn’t quite working, and then something clicked, and we finally got an idea that we really liked. It was honestly just so fun. So fun, and really a different experience songwriting than I’d ever had, because I always write alone and I’m often writing about my feelings, and, like, sad things, [laughs] so it was much more lighthearted. I want to do it more.
Is there a singular takeaway from that residency that you’ve started to apply to your writing?
I think there’s probably a few. I’m trying out a few different styles–I don’t really know what my style is right now. [laughs] I keep changing, basically, but I gave myself permission to try whatever I wanted when I was in Banff, and that was really great. I’m trying to do that in my writing just in general; if I write a song that’s completely out of my normal style and wouldn’t necessarily fit into my repertoire, I’m trying not to think of that as a waste. I’m trying to give myself permission to just be creative and do whatever I’m into, and I got some songs I’m really excited about in that head space. That’s probably the main takeaway.
You spent ten years in Toronto. How did you make the decision to move back to Boston?
That was hard. A big thing was that I felt like I wanted to spend some time in the states for my career because I’m American. The Canadian scene is very supportive of Canadian artists, which makes sense, but I feel like I would have to commit to being a Canadian artist to be there, and I felt like what I was doing there wasn’t translating to any progress here. It’s two separate scenes.
I knew I wanted to be closer to my family, so I figured, if I’m going to be here eventually, I should probably be putting my energy into building my network here. I also kind of just wanted a change. I adore Toronto–I think it’s an amazing city–but I was like, “I don’t know if I want to live here forever.” It seemed like the longer I stayed, the harder it would be to leave, and I hadn’t changed that up in so long that I wanted to shake things up.
You’ve been back in Boston for a little while now. How does the energy compare to Toronto as a city and as a music scene? What has it been like transitioning from one to the other?
It’s been kind of wild. It’s been really hard. A great thing about Boston is that they have a great music scene, especially folk stuff, so within just a few weeks of moving here, I’ve gone out to a few shows and I’ve already seen, like, three artists that I thought were incredible, that I was like, “Oh, I’d want to share a bill with all of them.” So that’s great and really inspiring. There’s definitely a lot going on and there are some really great venues here. In Toronto, comparatively, I feel like there is a songwriter scene, but I think not as much as here. They have a lot of other music going on. There’s some great artists in Toronto that I was very inspired by, but it does seem like there’s just a ton of gigs here.
What are some of those venues that you were impressed by?
Club Passim is a very well-known one. That’s where I’m doing my album release show on January 31st. The Burren–that’s where I played my first real gig when I moved here. They have a really nice listening room, and they have–it’s called their back room series. That’s great. Ooh, and Lizard Lounge. They have an open mic contest. I played it a few weeks after moving here, and I met a couple artists and some of my first friends that I made when I moved here.
Now that this single is out in the world, what’s next for you?
I’ll be promoting this single over the next few weeks, and I have some shows coming up. On November 13th, I’m playing at Aeronaut in Sommerville. They have a songwriter series. And then December 5, I’m playing at The Lilypad with Kaiti Jones and Liv Greene, which should be really great. They’re both amazing artists. I’ll be putting out two more singles before the release, and after the release, I’m going on tour.
It’s been such a long process for you getting to this point with the EP. What most excites you about having the full release?
Having something out there that represents me will be super great. Once you get a few years away from a release, you change so much as an artist, so when you point people to go listen to you, there’s not really anything that represents you anymore. It’ll be really nice to have that, and I feel like this shows a different side of me, musically, which I’m excited for people to hear. Also nervous. [laughs] I view it as another step in the process, so I’ll have it out, it represents me from that time, and I’m just going to keep chugging along.
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