Interview | FFS 5 with Lindsay White

Photo by Sydney Prather

Lindsay White defines grassroots action. Bubbling from the San Diego scene onward, she has emerged as a notable voice with her writing and songwriting lent to her work in advocacy and inclusivity; she is a queer intersectional feminist, mental health advocate, and grief support advocate. More recently, White has established Lady Brain Presents, a supportive community of womxn looking to flourish with careers in the arts. In between, White’s published an essay entitled “Love by the Numbers: What to do (and not to do) when your Bipolar partner thinks she’s Jesus.” on top of partaking in pride events throughout the U.S. and leading songwriting workshops for the Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls San Diego.

Of course, there’s also the case of her music. Her witty, expressive, and most of all heartfelt songwriting has earned her accolade upon accolade throughout the nation. Searingly earnest, her biography tagline may well say it best: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll call your therapist.”

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?

I grew up in a small town in Central California called Corcoran. My grandparents took me to their church every week, where I sang from the time I was in diapers until I left for college. Man-made religion messed me up in a heap of ways, but church was my first thousand gigs, so at least there’s that. On top of singing and performing, I loved to read and write and observe, so I eventually started making my own music. It wasn’t until after college that I began pursuing a creative career.

I’ve been at it for about fifteen years now, and it’s pretty much a blur of struggle and reward. Winning the Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk songwriting competition several years ago and touring alongside the other winners was a great experience because it felt like I actually got a small taste of being fully immersed in a world where songwriting was seen as a profession of value and substance, not just a hobby. I sure hope that wasn’t my peak, but it was quite memorable and meaningful.

As an artist, how do you define success?

I strive for success in terms of having the absolute freedom to spend my life doing what I love, but I find daily moments of triumph as the journey toward that place unfolds. I continue to learn over time that it’s possible to be simultaneously accomplished and ambitious.

What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?
I struggle with the same challenges most folks in the working class face: lack of resources, specifically time and money. I have hustle, heart, and talent (hair flip), but it’s hard to focus on personal or professional goals when most of my time is spent working to keep a roof over my head. I want to make huge strides, but I’m lucky to take baby steps and even luckier if I don’t go backwards.

I read a lot of hippy dippy books about manifesting goals, and while most of them champion the power of positive mindset (which is indeed important), they often fail to acknowledge that the practice of self-realization is a luxury most effective when basic housing and health needs are already met. I think my personal struggle is a common one though I fully acknowledge as a white, straight-passing queer womxn, I’m not even close to the bottom rung of the opportunity ladder!

It’s the whole bootstraps myth. Greed rules all, so the richest of the rich continually accumulate at the expense of those who work for them, pay them rent, and buy their products. And unfortunately, many of those who are in a position to protect vulnerable citizens (in the government, in the media), would rather be in on the racket than hold people accountable. So the messaging is, “work harder and your dreams will come true.” Those of us who work ourselves into the ground are constantly sold this lie that we are both the problem and the solution. I’m all for hard work, but we also need to be talking about the fact that it is a privilege to pursue our dreams. And then we need to examine who gets that privilege, who doesn’t, and why.

Bringing it back to the music industry, many artists are not only experiencing income disparity from the “top” via dismal royalties, and stagnant wages, but they also struggle to find audiences who are willing and/or able to pay for art. Some of that is basic supply and demand, some of it is talent and luck, but I think a lot of it also has to do, again, with this chokehold on working people.

After working 50 hour weeks, do my wife and I spend $40 going out to support one of my local music friends at a concert, or do we rest up for the next 50 hour week and cook a cheap meal at home so we can afford rent and bills? I wish I could choose to support artists every time, but it’s not sustainable. Do I sound whiny yet? I really hope not, because this stuff really weighs on my heart.

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist/band? What do you hope to achieve?

The most realistic goal I can achieve as an artist is to use creativity as medicine to heal myself, as a tool to build community, as a weapon to fight injustice, and as a hug to encourage compassion. I already do this to the best of my ability, but I hope to earn a real living doing this work because I consider it to be my purpose in this life. I’ll just keep yanking on my bootstraps til then.  

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

In short, I like to read and think. I’m in a local Songwriter’s Book Club (organized by Unison Goody) where we write literature-inspired songs, and that’s always a fun and communal approach to creativity. I also am the organizer a relatively new collective of local womxn-identifying creatives called Lady Brain Presents ( Getting to know each member on a personal and creative level gives me daily inspiration and motivation to keep pushing toward creating spaces and opportunities where they don’t abundantly exist. YET.

Words by: Jonathan Frahm