Lindi Ortega's boots were made for walkin' ... to the Junos
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, March 31, 2012 2:51PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:54AM EDT
TORONTO - You could say Canadian alt-country artist Lindi Ortega has been jamming since she was in the womb, when her dad played bass in a Latino band and was heavily immersed in the genre.
"I remember my mom telling me that when she was pregnant with me they went to a Santana concert and she recalls that I was kicking in her belly really hard during that concert," said the lauded Ontario-raised singer-songwriter, whose warbling honeyed vocals have drawn comparisons to Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.
No doubt, Ortega has been immersed in music a long time: she's recorded and released original heartbreak tunes on several discs, toured with Hollywood star Kevin Costner's band Modern West, and sung backup for Brandon Flowers (The Killers) on a year-long tour that took her through Europe and to the studios of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
Yet the stunning brunette -- known for wearing red lipstick and red cowboy boots -- is nominated for new artist of the year at this weekend's Juno Awards. Her 2011 full-length album, "Little Red Boots," is also a contender for best roots and traditional album of the year.
"I understand it because I think I'm new to a lot of people who hadn't had the chance to discover my music," Ortega, 32, said of being up for new artist of the year -- a category that also includes JRDN, Dan Mangan, Diamond Rings and Alyssa Reid.
"I didn't have label representation for a long time, so my music wasn't in the stores and it wasn't as readily available for people to discover. I was only really selling my records off the stage and I only printed maybe about 500 copies," added Ortega, who plans to bring her parents to Sunday's awards bash, which will air on CTV.
"So to most people I am a new artist because they hadn't really heard of me before."
Raised in Pickering, Ont., Ortega staged mini concerts as a child for her parents at home. On the urging of a fellow high-school student who heard her singing at her locker in the hallway, she performed at talent shows and taught herself to play her dad's classical guitar.
It was around that time that Ortega also started to write and record her own songs, which oftentimes juxtapose dark lyrics with upbeat chords as they detail the perils of love.
"I always wrote these kind of dramatic songs when I was younger and then I just kept doing it -- I kept getting broken up with and then I kept writing songs about it," she said with a laugh in a recent interview in which she was wearing -- what else? -- red lipstick and red cowboy boots.
It was Ortega's mom who introduced her to country music, and on her first self-released record -- the vaudeville-cabaret-infused "The Taste of Forbidden Fruit" -- she included an original twangy tune.
"The older I got the more that I felt the lyrical content of country music really spoke to me," said Ortega, who draws inspiration from the likes of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.
"I was the daughter of two immigrant parents (Mexican/Irish) and I was an only child and I was a bit anti-social and a bit of a loner when I was growing up in Pickering, and so I kind of really felt the themes of loneliness really resonated with me.
"And then also with the heartbreaks that I went through, that I continue to go through."
These days Ortega said she's "full-on" into country, living and recording a new album in Nashville.
"I felt for me it was necessary to go there," said Ortega, who's also opened for the U.K. band Keane in North America and will tour with Social Distortion this spring.
"I already have a label and management and I'm not there to try and make it as a big country star or get into the Grand Ole Opry or anything like that. I went there for inspiration.
"I wanted to do a bit of a historical survey of all my country music heroes that have either been born from there or passed through there, or pissed it off in some way, shape or form."
Nashville is also where Ortega's manager bought her her first pair of red cowboy boots as a birthday gift. They became her wardrobe staple -- and the title of one of her songs as well as her 2011 album -- after she donned them onstage every day on the Costner tour.
"Since then it's become a thing, but it was never intended to be a gimmick. Genuinely I love wearing these boots," said Ortega.
She's now on her second pair of red cowboy boots after the first pair got damaged while filming her "Black Fly" video in the muddy swamp water of New Orleans.
"Red is always going to be on my feet, I think, for as long as I'm around. It just makes me feel like a superhero," she said.
"Wonder woman had her red boots so it's like part of my little superhero outfit for when I'm onstage."