Music can bring joy, it can bring sadness, it can empower and it can heal.
On her new album, Queen of Time, Lindsay Lou runs through all such emotions and more as she chronicles everything from a divorce and the pandemic sidelining her from performing, to the loss of one of the most influential figures in her life, grandmother Nancy Timbrook.
The Michigan born, Nashville based musician considers the album to have a throughline from her previous record, Southland; an heirloom passed down from her grandmother to her that informs this new batch of songs.
Further elevating that connection, Queen of Time offers a series of interviews between Lou and her grandmother that are interspersed at different points on the project, from ‘Love Calls’ to ‘This Too Shall Pass’, the latter an excerpt from a conversation in which Lou opened up about the fear of losing her grandmother shortly before her passing.
In it her reassuring grandmother proclaims, “I taught you so many things, and those things are my spirit; So my spirit is going to stay with you”, before acknowledging the grief that Lou will feel, reminding her that “this too shall pass”. It’s that message that resonates through all of Queen of Time, serving as a reminder to anyone that the tough times you’re experiencing are only temporary.
“A lot of my work is about self-discovery and knowledge,” Lou tells Holler. “When I first started interviewing my grandmother in 2017 she accurately guessed the reason I wanted to capture her life story was because to know her in a way was to know myself and where I came from. She was a huge mentor for me, so going through a divorce, losing her and dealing with the pandemic all in one year was a lot to handle.”
Calling in from her home in East Nashville, Lou spoke with Holler about the influence of her grandmother on her music, how hallucinogens have informed her creative process, collaborating with Billy Strings on ‘Nothing’s Working’ and more.
You mentioned starting to record conversations with your grandmother in 2017. Did you also begin writing these songs around the same time, or did that process not come until later?
The writing came far after that. ‘Silent’ was the first song I wrote and recorded in early March 2020, days before the tornado swept through Nashville and the pandemic closing everything down. Once all that started to happen it only brought the album into focus that much more. I wrote ‘Shame’, ‘Needed’ and ‘Nothing’s Working’ (with Billy Strings) later that summer, just before my divorce happened in September.
After that I returned to Michigan to stay with and care for my grandma. She had limited mobility and basically lived in the Lazy Boy in our living room. I needed her in the wake of my separation. I worked on a bunch of the album by her side before returning to Nashville in January 2021, two months before she passed away in March.
Regarding the conversations with your grandmother, how many hours of talks with her did you record, and how did you go about choosing which parts to include on the album?
I’ve got about 25 hours of audio. We recorded roughly 30 chats that were about 45 minutes each. I remember showing ‘Love Talks’ to a few friends of mine early in the recording process. At the time it had this expansive and unfinished jam that they said they wanted to hear more of me in.
That got me thinking about which version of me should go there, and I quickly realized it was the version of me that interviewed my grandma. I remembered the general spot of our talks I wanted featured there, which was her talking about this guy she met at a Rainbow Gathering, so I immediately went back and whittled it down to the essence of the story.
It’s always really interesting the way creating works. With ‘Love Talks’ I didn’t even see what that song meant to me until I put my grandma talk in it. Once I did that it gave the song, and the entire record, a new meaning and put everything into context.
Another event that has informed this album was a hallucinogenic episode you had a few years back. Tell us about that - how did it impact your creative outlook and process?
It actually happened just before I recorded Southland, but it was sort of the beginning of my journey to understanding this notion of the sacred feminine. I did two DMT trips in the summer of 2016 with Billy Strings. He’d had similar psychedelic experiences so I asked if he could join and be my guide. We sat down in my backyard with a couple of books and I began reading Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety.
The first time I tripped I didn’t really go anywhere. The second time I did it I still didn’t leave my body, but I did see a really intense visual of this cat figure that eventually morphed into this goddess. Afterward I tried drawing the vision out on a piece of paper, but I couldn’t do more than a couple lines. Then this line about an unattainable woman from the Watts book popped into my head that brought it all together, so much so that I nearly named the album Unattainable Woman.
A couple of days later I went to my friend Maya de Vitry’s house and told her about what I’d seen. She gave me this Sue Monk Kidd book called The Dance of the Dissident Daughter that further led me down this path of understanding the sacred feminine.
Then in 2021 I had another, drug-free, psychedelic experience where I saw this vision again and realized that I am that goddess. This whole record is a lot about self-discovery, understanding and knowledge, and it’s my purpose to see and embody that. The tripping experience set me on a course of understanding femininity within the scope of divinity. It’s a snapshot of where I am at this point in my story. It set me on this path to understanding myself and understanding the spiritual narratives that I lean on in times of both hardship and joy.
Speaking of Billy Strings, what was the writing process for ‘Nothing’s Working’ like and what made you want to put your own spin on the song?
We started writing that back in 2016 or 2017 not long after we both moved to Nashville from Michigan. We wrote the first verse and it sat in the voice memos on my phone for years before I finished it in 2019 when I was on a plane traveling to a benefit concert for Jeff Austin in Denver. In 2020 Billy and I got back together again, finally putting the words to music and adding a couple instrumental parts to it.
When it came to me wanting to record the song, I reached out to Billy to ask about recording a stripped-down duet version of it, similar to how we recorded early versions of ‘Freedom’ [a co-write included on Strings Grammy winning album Home]. He immediately replied, “Hell yeah!”. It feels nice giving people a look into how the song came to be and what it sounded like when it was being workshopped. Back in the day, if a song was great everyone would record it, but I feel like we’ve been getting away from that.
For example, on [de Vitry and Phoebe Hunt co-write] ‘Nothing Else Matters’ I really thought that song was written specifically for me, because that’s what a good song does. It’s nice to have different versions because it's reflective of the true nature of a song when it's doing its thing, living many lives. For that reason, I was glad that Billy was so encouraging in recording my own version of the song.
One of my favorite moments on the record comes on your Billy Swan cover, ‘I Can Help’. What made you want to include that song and how do you feel it fits into the album’s overall narrative?
Sierra Ferrell actually showed the song to me one day when we were headed out to the river. We were doing a lot of kayaking early in the pandemic and she put it on the radio. I may have heard it before, but hearing it then was just what I needed at the time.
My producer, Dave O'Donnell, was actually the one who asked about including the song on the record because he had recently heard me perform it during a live session raising awareness for musician suicides. I played the song there because I thought it would be an appropriate fit for the event and love how it fits into this album as well.
The song ‘Shame’ sounds different from the rest of Queen of Time. Was its angsty feel a result of your divorce, the pandemic and everything else thrown at you in recent years, or something else?
It’s kind of like my punk rock song. ‘Everything Changed’ was my punk rock song on [2015’s] Ionia. Punk was such a huge part of my musical experience growing up, so it feels proper to have that included in anything I do. As far as what inspired the song, I’ll leave that up to interpretation from the listener because I don’t want to ruin it. Sometimes it’s best to not know.
What has music taught you about yourself, especially in terms of Queen of Time?
It’s taught me that I'm exactly who I thought I was all along. I plan to spend the rest of my life continuing to figure that out in different ways.
Lindsay Lou’s Queen of Time is available Sept. 29 via Kill Rock Stars Nashville.