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The past several years have been quite the whirlwind for Lindsey Stirling. Since reaching the quarterfinals of America's Got Talent in 2010 by fusing classical and dubstep music together, the world-renowned violinist has released an EP (2010's Lindsey Stomp), a self-titled full-length album, and created more than a dozen YouTube videos, all of which have been viewed at least 3 million times, with one, "Crystallize," collecting 90 million views.
Her self-titled record has sold more than a million copies worldwide and topped Billboard's Classical and Dance/Electronic Charts, and her new album, Shatter Me, released April 29, debuted at number two on Billboard's Top 200. All this has led to her being a very popular woman and, consequently, very busy. It's a good thing the Gilbert native has a place to go when she needs to recharge.
"I don't usually get to stay very long, but I try to come back to Arizona as much as I can, because that's where my family is," Stirling says. "I have a hard time relaxing. That's just the way my brain works. It's hard to turn off my work mode these days, but Arizona is the one place in the world that I can do that."
And fortunately, she is not the only one who knows about Arizona's restorative properties.
"There was a time when I was working way too hard and started to go into overload mode, and my manager bought me a plane ticket and just said, 'You're going home, because we know that's the only place you'll stop working!'" Stirling says, laughing. "So I love Arizona and am excited to come back for this show, because it will feel like a homecoming."
When it comes to Stirling's love of music, she has her family to thank. They always had classical music playing in their home, and after they moved to Los Angeles, they would often go to free orchestral concerts. This constant exposure to classical music motivated Stirling to ask to play the violin at age 6. But as she grew older, she started to sense that a career as a classical musician probably was not the way she wanted to go.
"I've never wanted to just get up and perform or impress," she says. "I love to entertain and see people smile, and I didn't get that from classical music. You're creating a different kind of entertainment there. I love to put on a show, I guess you could say, so that's why I really wanted to create something that was not only fun for the audience, but that made me feel alive inside."
Enter Stirling's love of dancing. If you have seen any of her live shows or videos, you know she has a penchant for dancing while playing her violin, sometimes with a lot of choreography. It looks like a tricky proposition, but she makes it look easy. The decision to bring the classical and electronic worlds together seems to have been spawned by a love of techno music that she could not shake, and considering how crucial a role dancing plays in Stirling's performances, it is easy to see why techno held so much sway over her.
"Dancing is so much fun," Stirling says. "It makes my soul feel alive. I listened to techno when I was in high school, even though in Arizona the electronic scene is not a popular scene. There was one station — I think it was 101.1 — but it was this really fuzzy techno station and I would listen to it even though it had a ton of static on it."
While Stirling loves to entertain — and her new album is certainly a dance music lover's dream — Shatter Me represents a shift in tone from the lighter, more upbeat feel of her 2012 self-titled record. Though not down-tempo or depressing, the album is marked by undertones of struggle and wanting to meet challenges head-on. The dance rhythms of "Roundtable Rival" are augmented by Stirling's harried and sometimes distorted violin as well as a gritty guitar lick that gives the song the feel of an Old West-style showdown at high noon between King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, while "Take Flight" is possessed by urgent playing from Stirling and a quick, swelling dance rhythm, as though accompanying a film scene where someone needs to jump off a cliff in order to make a daring escape.
Woven into the record is a feeling that something needs to be overcome, and this was a conscious decision on Stirling's part. She wanted to explore the more serious side of things this time around. The album might not be a direct response to the crushing way she was eliminated from America's Got Talent — Piers Morgan was especially brutal in his dismissal of her: "There were times when it sounded to me like a bunch of rats being strangled" — but it certainly has its genesis there. Stirling's foray into this world of hybrid music styles while dancing throughout was still new to her at the time, and being dismissed from the show so harshly did not immediately galvanize her to keep trying.