Lindsey Stirling: The Girl with the Electric Violin

Lindsey Stirling is unlike any artist you have ever seen. Her performances, which involve intricate dancing while playing the electric violin, have been viewed over 2 billion times on YouTube. Lindsey took the time to give me a call from the road, where she is touring to promote her fifth studio album, Artemis. She talked to me about the artist who had the biggest influence on her career, her time on America’s Got Talent, and how she picked herself back up after “the most humiliating moment of my life.” 

Katie Couric: Your video Crystallize has been viewed on YouTube almost 220 million times since you released it in 2012, and I read that your videos have racked up more than 2 billion total YouTube views. That is a staggering number! That is more than a quarter of the world’s population! What do you think it is about your music that resonates with so many people?
Lindsey Stirling: I often wonder that myself! When I first started performing, I thought this was a very unique style of art that’s not going to resonate with everyone. So I’ve been very surprised by how well it’s done. I’m so grateful for that. I sometimes joke that it’s easy to be the best at what you do when you’re the only one that does it. Since my music is so different, I’ve got my own little corner of the internet, and it’s just mine! If you like dance and electronic violin music, I’m your girl! I also think people like to see someone who’s comfortable in their skin, and who’s not afraid to try something new or think outside the box.

Your new album is called Artemis. Tell me why you decided on this title?
The first song I wrote for the album that I actually liked is the song Artemis — it was the song that made me realize I had found the sound of the album. The song really reminded me of a warrior, and it made me think about a daughter of life, or a breather of life. So when it came time to name that song and then the album, I started researching. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the moon and the goddess of the hunt, and the protector of feminine virtue. I was obsessed with all of those themes, and everything that she represents. So it felt like a natural fit.

You have essentially invented a genre of performance unto itself, and I imagine there are scores of young girls and women who look up to you. Were there any performers who you idolized or were inspired by when you were growing up?
Amy Lee from Evanescence. Hands down. I loved her so much. One of the first little music videos I ever made was one that I edited together of my friends and I listening to her music, and trying to be like her. It’s crazy to look back on that now, because her music is a huge part of the reason why I decided to become a musician, and now we’ve become friends! She asked me to be on her last album, and we recorded together for that last summer. She also sings on my album that’s about to come out. I can’t even imagine what the fourteen year old version of myself would have thought knowing not only would I work with Amy Lee, but that I’d be able to call her a friend! They say never meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed, but that couldn’t have been further from the case. Amy is the coolest person I know, and she’s also an amazing mom, and she’s a rockstar. Now that I know her, I idolize her even more. 

When you were on America’s Got Talent in 2010, the judges told you that your solo act probably wasn’t sustainable and that you should perform in a group, but now you’re selling out huge stadiums. How did you let that criticism roll off and say, I’m going to keep doing this?
People often say to me “oh they totally missed out on you,” or “they totally got it wrong.” But the funny thing is that if you go back and watch the video of my AGT performance, I wasn’t that good. That’s just a fact. It’s not like I was this perfectly polished performer and they somehow didn’t see it. I was a really young artist and I had never performed on a stage like that before. The whole art of writing music and dancing and playing was all so new to me, and I hadn’t earned my stripes yet. I think I was there prematurely. But it really hurt when they said I wouldn’t make it, and that I sounded terrible. That was the most humiliating moment of my life, by far. And so it was really hard to pick myself up from that. But there was this inner voice that said, “No Lindsey, it’s not time to give up. Maybe they said you’re not good enough, but really you’re not good enough YET.” So I worked my butt off. I honed my craft, I perfected my dancing, and I learned how to write music, actual music that was my own, not just covers. I had to earn my spot. I think that’s an important lesson. If someone says you’re not good enough, or smart enough, or talented enough, it’s up to you to determine what you do with that statement. I think you have to take it with a grain of salt, and then say to yourself well I may not be there now, but I’ll get there.

In your 2017 documentary Brave Enough, you spoke about grieving the loss of your close friend and bandmate, keyboardist Jason Gaviati, who passed away after battling Lymphoma. As someone who also dealt with a devastating loss while at a very high point in my career, I know how hard it is to try to mourn when you’re in the public eye. How did you make it through that period?
That was such a hard time for me because not only did my bandmate pass away, but my dad was dealing with cancer as well, and he passed away a year later. So while I was dealing with this extreme grief and shock and loss, I was also aware that these were probably my dad’s last months. I felt like two tidal waves hit me at the same time. I lost the two most important men in my life all at once. I definitely took a little time for myself to be alone and feel everything that I needed to feel, that indescribable pain, but then I went on tour. A lot of people have asked me how I could go onstage and do shows and meet fans at that time. Sometimes I would literally walk to stage crying, or do a meet and greet while wiping away tears, but once I got there it was amazing how healing it was. For a moment I got to focus on something else, whether that was my fans or the music. To forget everything for a second and just share love, or do a show, was actually quite healing. I know it’s what they would have wanted me to do. But it was definitely hard on tour, because that’s where I had the most memories with my bandmate. It was really hard to face those memories without him there for the first time. But there was something really powerful about going out there and sharing the album Brave Enough, which was all about loss. Seeing people cry, and connect to it, made it all the more healing for me.

Thank you so much, Lindsey. Artemis will be available everywhere tomorrow, and you can check out Lindsey’s tour dates here.

This interview appears in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.