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.
"At the time, it did the exact opposite," Stirling says. "It just ripped me down. I was so humiliated, having that happen to me on national TV and having all these things said. I was so devastated, disappointed, and humiliated that I [thought], 'Okay, this was my first time putting myself out there. Obviously it was a mistake. I don't know if I ever want to get on the stage again.'"
Fortunately for Stirling and her nearly 3 million fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter, she did not let such thoughts dissuade her from continuing to chase her dream.
"I thought about it [some more], and realized, 'No, I absolutely love this,'" she says. "'I've just started. I'm not where I need to be yet. They might [be] right about some things, but I need to work harder — I don't need to give up.' So then it [became] motivation. Nothing motivates me more, especially after that experience, than when people say I can't do something."
Stirling has chosen to take that motivation and use it not only to prove that her unique talents and creative musical ideas are worth hearing, but also to prove, with Shatter Me, that her music is more than an entertaining blend of seemingly disparate musical genres. She believes Shatter Me — particularly the title track — can have a positive impact on people, since it comes from a very personal place.
"The album's cover — a flawless-looking, bland, almost personality-less ballerina — represents [me] when I was going through an eating disorder and was consumed with being perfect and not changing," Stirling confesses. "With 'Shatter Me,' I wanted to use the ballerina as a metaphor for someone who is stuck in a situation and is too afraid to change despite being unhappy. I wasn't who I wanted to be. I realized I wanted to be free from myself and so I had to shatter that barrier. It was terrifying. It was hard. But I wanted my music to show that you can break away from whatever is holding you back."
Four years after being shattered to pieces, Lindsey Stirling is looking stronger than ever.
Tue., May 27, 8 p.m., 2014