Lindi Ortega says she's no superstar. Or, more truthfully, she sings as much. âI know Iâm not legendary, Iâm nothing extraordinary,â the singer-songwriter trills in her Dolly Parton warble on âIâm No Elvis Presley,â a rollicking cut on the Toronto artistâs 2011 disc, Little Red Boots.
That record is up for a best Roots & Traditional (Solo) Album Juno this year -- and Ortega herself is being recognized with a Best New Artist nod -- two honours that arguably fall outside of ordinary. âOh, gosh!â says Ortega, over the phone from her relatively new digs in Nashville. âItâs completely unexpected to me, Iâm still getting used to the fact that I got nominated.â
Still flustered and giggly, a month after nominations day? Itâs believable -- especially if youâve sampled Ortegaâs Little Red Boots. Never mind what trivia you may know about her backstory -- a Pickering, Ontario-raised musician who released two solo albums, sang backup for Brandon Flowers and found herself on (then off) a U.S. record deal with Cherrytree Records before embracing her inner alt-country cowgirl and creating Little Red Boots. That album tells a pocketful of struggling-artist stories. Thereâs âFall Down or Fly,â for instance, a weary ballad about persevering with your dreams, no matter the knocks. Then thereâs the aforementioned âElvis Presleyâ -- and thereâs a career set-back origin story behind that one, which Ortegaâs happy to share.
âThere was a showcase in L.A. a little while ago, I guess it was a couple years ago now,â says Ortega, setting the scene. âShowcases are always weird things, especially in L.A.," she laughs, âwhen people show up from the industry theyâre always on their Blackberries. You donât know whether people are enjoying what youâre doing or not.â
But there was âone particular agent fellowâ who left his feedback, e-mailing Ortega his review after the show. âHe said something to the effect of âYouâve got potential, but I donât see [you] being legendary.â Which I thought was a really unfair thing to say! Thatâs a lot of pressure.â
Ortega laughs about it now. At the time, though, her reaction was different. âI just thought as a little response to that, just a little cheeky response, I would write âElvis Presley.â Because I know that a lot of artists that are going through those situations, and Iâm not just talking musicians, but anybody whoâs in the field of art. Itâs a very subjective thing,â she says, âI wanted to write an anthem for the fellow artist.â
âIâm no Elvis Presleyâ is gentle as far as tell-off tracks go. The snidest line youâll find is the chorusâ final refrain of âIâm no Elvis Presley, who the hell are you?â It did the trick, though. âEvery time I sing that song I feel good about it,â says Ortega. âI never had to say anything to that guy, and I find you can get a lot of things accomplished with song. You can avoid the situation and you can just get it out in song and make yourself feel better at the end of the day.â
By her recollection, Ortegaâs been singing herself through experiences like that L.A. showcase for, âgosh, over a decade.â She describes her Best New Artist nomination in one word: âhilarious.â (After the giggles dissipate, she adds a few more: âBut I get it! I totally get it! Iâve been around for a very long time, but thatâs all relative, right? Itâs who knows you.â)
âI was doing sort of the grind in Toronto,â says Ortega of her beginnings, âdoing all the coffee houses and open stages and little hole in the wall bars.â In 2001, she released her first album, A Taste of Forbidden Fruit. A second, Fall From Grace, followed in 2007 -- which sheâs previously described as an âalmost vaudeville cabaret type of album.â
âI guess it wasnât until I met my producer Ron Lopata (Tomi Swick, Jully Black) that real doors started to open for me. That really wasnât -- that was maybe four and half years ago that stuff started happening. Thatâs when I feel like I became more of a professional musician,â says Ortega, who recently came off a tour of Europe, and starts a North American trek, supporting punk veterans Social Distortion, in April.
âA lot of people wouldâve given up or whatever and thereâs that whole ageism thing where once you get older you hear âWell, I guess itâs time to throw in the towel or whatever,â but for me, I genuinely love to sing, as clichÃ© as that sounds. I couldnât stop. You know?â
Showcases like the one that inspired âElvis Presleyâ certainly didnât stop her. âYeah, you get stuff like that,â she says. âYou just sort of roll with the punches. At least, thatâs what I do. Iâve dealt with a lot of thisâ -- which has made her two Juno nominations so much sweeter.
âOh, gosh! Iâm very flattered about that, and itâs definitely a different side of the coin for me,â she says, adding that sheâs not expecting anything extraordinary out of her upcoming trip to Ottawa, but she does hope for one little thing. âCanada in general, in terms of me releasing my records and all of that stuff, was a little slow coming to recognizing what was happening,â says Ortega. âHopefully [the Junos] will get a few more Canadian folk to check me out. â¦ Thatâs all I want out of this.â
Lindi Ortega is nominated for Best New Artist and Roots & Traditional Album of the Year (Solo). The Juno Awards are broadcast live from Ottawa, Sunday, April 1 on CTV.