The Weather Station Battles Climate-Change Anxiety, One Song at a Time
Singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman talks about confronting the emotional fallout of looming environmental disaster on her new album, Ignorance.
As Tamara Lindeman stands at the edge of Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit, the sky stretches out behind her in a crisp sheet of blue. The clarity of the stratosphere matches her gaze as she navigates the human-made strip of land extending into Lake Ontario. A former industrial dumping ground, the Spit is now an unlikely site of environmental revival offering secluded respite from the city and a protected nesting area for birds. A lopsided angle of trumpeter swans flies over bare treetops, as Lindeman eases her way across a rubble of craggy breeze blocks and rebar. She pans her phone’s camera around to show a low ring of freshwater marsh reeds made dormant and slate-brown by winter’s deep chill. When a mink cavorts across the detritus, she is suddenly awestruck at witnessing the creature’s rare daytime scamper.
“I like it here because it’s the one place in Toronto that’s not sanitized, not groomed, not made beautiful for our consumption,” she explains, adding that the Spit was her go-to escape from pandemic stress last summer. Lindeman made her forthcoming fifth album, Ignorance, on the other side of the city, about an hour’s bike ride from her spot on the Spit. The record is a culmination of her work as the Weather Station so far, a compassionate survey of paradise paved and a world careening toward disaster.
From the time of her first record 12 years ago, Lindeman’s lyrics have translated inner-world details with flickering precision as she unravels her own knotted emotions: the red afternoon light spilled on living-room walls, the unknowable intimacy that scans as shyness to an outsider, the feeling of a hand on the small of a back. “All of the songs that I write in a given period are coming out of the same tangle,” she says. The specific thicket at the core of Ignorance is a doozy: reckoning with the emotional fallout of facing the consequences of climate change. For most of her life, the 36-year-old admits, it was an issue that she’d mostly relegated to the back burner. But in recent years, as she spent more time reading about rising sea levels, cataclysmic storms, and mass-extinction events, she’s grown increasingly horrified.
“I don’t think you can come into contact with the reality of what 2 degrees of warming means and not become radical,” she says matter-of-factly, referring to the Celsius threshold widely accepted as ruinous. “It’s so much worse than our culture really wants to admit.”
Before Lindeman committed herself to unpacking apocalyptic grief, she was a child growing up in a rural, conservative part of Ontario with atheist parents. While her dad spent his working hours in the sky as an airline pilot, her mom, a painter, stayed home and nurtured creativity in her two daughters. In her youth, Lindeman explored the outdoors, alone and alongside her older sister, with the freedom to run loose through thick trees and dense marshes until it was time to come home for dinner. She remembers the sound of the seasons: the calls of migratory birds in the summer, the roaring trills of frogs in the spring, the still quiet of winter.
Lindeman’s small-town Canadian upbringing imbued her with what she calls a “rural fatalism,” a defeatist resignation to work around challenges rather than facing them head-on. As she developed a relationship with activism as an adult, she didn’t always feel encouraged to join the conversation in the same way that peers who grew up in activism had. But over the last few years, as her climate awareness grew, she started attending local rallies and town hall events in Toronto, even meeting with a city councilor as part of a formalized effort to declare a climate emergency. She wasn’t sure if any of it helped, so she tried everything, sometimes explaining her progress online as she went along. “If we don’t start taking care of each other, we’re going to destroy ourselves,” she tweeted in 2019.
She noticed how quickly people on social media, as well as close, left-leaning friends, adapted defensive positions in conversations about climate change—rationalizing their consumer choices or otherwise turning avoidant. As a touring musician, Lindeman understood the ramifications of her own heavy carbon footprint, but she still felt compelled to act. As she wrote the songs for Ignorance, sifting through her own feelings, she set out to create a space to guide listeners out of the nihilism that thoughts of climate destruction can bring. “People have this apocalyptic vision of the future in their psyches,” she says.
The album offers comfort in explicit and implicit terms; she presents unadulterated truths to challenge the tedium of complacency. On the rippling “Atlantic,” flutes flit around Lindeman’s voice as she sings about trying to push morbid thoughts out of her mind. With “Robber,” she casts the ruling class as thieves, delivering an understated condemnation of greed and cruelty as she offers an exit from capitalist-confined thinking. When she sings about “the end of trust” toward the end of the album, she telescopes her view from a crumbling relationship to a loss of faith in institutions working for the greater good.
Through her songwriting, Lindeman names the threads of a profound existential crisis as she widens the emotional vocabulary available to process it day-to-day. Part of her commitment to a sense of coherence comes from her own seriousness. At this point, she’d rather strike up a conversation at the heart of a matter, a habit she recognizes can be disarming to those more comfortable with rose-tinted chatter.
As she’s expanded her technical abilities, Lindeman’s knack for making detailed examinations of the inner life’s ups and downs—delivered in a voice that’s cool and captivating, but never forceful—has remained a powerful throughline. “The steadiness of her singing makes it so compelling,” says fellow Canadian musician Basia Bulat. “She’s a vessel for these powerful emotions that don’t need over-delivery.” Bulat made a point to meet Lindeman after falling in love with the second Weather Station album, All of It Was Mine, and the two have stayed friends since.
On Ignorance, Lindeman’s affinity for detail becomes evident in her broadened instrumental approach, with a widescreen backdrop of piano, multiple guitars, strings, and horns bolstering her voice. She recorded its 10 songs in live-band sessions with a local crew at Toronto’s Canterbury Music Company, capturing the energy of players responding to one another in real time. Turning away from her favored acoustic guitar, Lindeman wrote the album on piano and enlisted three percussionists to play during the sessions in the spring of 2019, with bassist Ben Whiteley rounding out low-end melodies. “I liked thinking of the rhythm as a cage: Where do you put things in between the bars?” she says.
In emphasizing rhythm, Lindeman realized that she could maximize her own voice in the mix, allowing her room for high, breathy lifts and deep swoops inspired by the likes of Bill Callahan and Leonard Cohen. Amid Ignorance’s bustling arrangements, her lyrics have the impact of fireworks, sparks that zip upward and explode with scintillating brilliance. “I’ll feel as useless as a tree in a city park, standing as a symbol of what we have blown apart,” she confesses on “Tried to Tell You.”
Comparing Ignorance with her earlier work, Lindeman says her songwriting here is blunter and messier, something she’s still trying to get comfortable with. “What would happen if you lived life as yourself?” she wonders. “There are times where that means that you actually go against some social conventions. Trying to lead a more honest life is an emotionally complicated prospect.”
Lindeman began her investigative relationship with honesty from a young age. In her teens, she took on small film and TV roles under the name Tamara Hope. “I always felt like I was just passable,” she says of her acting. Though her work in front of the camera gave Lindeman the comfort and freedom of financial stability throughout her 20s, it left her creatively unfulfilled. It was just a job. Her credits include mostly made-for-TV movies and dramas, such as the snowboarder murder mystery series Whistler (tagline: “What secrets lie beneath the snow?”) and the Camelot-themed fantasy Guinevere Jones. She remembers bristling at the way acting demanded a total dissolution of her adolescent self.
One of her most notable roles was in the 2000 Disney Channel movie Stepsister from Planet Weird, where she played the titular extraterrestrial sibling. In the coming-of-age drama, Lindeman’s alien character struggles with the transformation from her natural state—a gas bubble—to her new human form, at one point delivering a morose lamentation: “I am grotesque.” “When I see that person, she’s so delicate and sensitive,” Lindeman says, thinking back. “I just want to protect her.”
Lindeman’s emergent musical dabblings in the mid-2000s overlapped with a period she calls “Torontopia,” where expansive, rotating local lineups gave her plenty of opportunities to sit in with bands, playing banjo and singing back-up. It was through the city’s teeming music community that singer-songwriter Bulat was able to first connect with Lindeman. “I had always seen or taken her project name as a perfect metaphor of a place of observation and measurement, a patient barometer of emotion,” Bulat says.
In a period Lindeman compares to a drawn-out romantic breakup, she gradually stopped submitting herself for consideration for acting roles during the first half of the 2010s. Meanwhile, she released a string of albums that had her singing about intimacy in a manner both frank and poetic. The artifices of acting, she says, made her prioritize sincerity in her expression, giving her a “scrupulousness with truth” that’s bled over to her work as a musician. She’s grown more open to the idea that the concepts of truth and performance don’t need to be mutually exclusive.ADVERTISEMENT
“In the beginning of performing [music], I needed to keep things very small, because that was the only thing that felt fully honest,” she explains. “Now I understand that there is a role of a performer that isn’t just completely personal and ordinary. You can choose to play a larger-than-life emotion.”
Lindeman appears in Ignorance’s first three music videos, which also mark her debut as a director. As with the emotional cartography of her songwriting, the videos feature subtle movements in the periphery of the frame, visual choices influenced by arthouse icons Agnès Varda and Andrei Tarkovksy. Again, she’s found herself committed to a sense of candor. “The camera wants to convince you that it knows everything, but it doesn’t,” she says. “I just wanted to open up a little portal for people to understand that there’s more to see.”
In the videos and on the album’s cover, Lindeman wears a suit jacket and pants covered in mirrored fragments—garments of her own design. Surrounded by trees and fallen leaves, she appears and vanishes with every move, attracting a gaze and immediately bouncing it back. As a performer, she says, “People project themselves onto you and want you to reflect back what they feel in their hearts, and that is a good and bad thing.” She adds that in the months since she shot the videos, her mirror suit is already starting to fall apart.
Though climate change somehow remains a political issue to this day, Lindeman doesn’t consider Ignorance a protest record. “I wish that I had the guts to do that,” she says, instead emphasizing that the record serves vulnerability and acts as a mutual acknowledgment of tenderness. “The sense of a little soul recognition is like spiritual food.”
It’s growth, not despair, that drives Lindeman’s efforts to alert her listeners to a crisis, and she even sees room for some degree of redemption for those who have struggled to face the truth about climate change. “I believe that people are fragile and delicate and complicated, and can be easily misled,” she says. “It’s not like a Pollyanna view of human nature, but I do believe that most people want to be good.”
Back at the Leslie Street Spit, water laps at the edge of the refuse, a quiet and ceaseless insistence of nature’s long memory. “We are connected to the nonhuman world in profound ways, whether or not we acknowledge that,” Lindeman says. She knows the rewards of undertaking a survival effort that seems impossible. In a few months, springtime will start to restore the area to a booming refuge for insects, waterfowl, and people alike, the sprigs of vegetation once again pushing through the concrete debris around her.