Though she wasn't on the bill at this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Lindsey Stirling couldn't help but bask in the spotlight. Joining longtime collaborator Robert DeLong during his set and flanked by saxophonist extraordinaire Kamasi Washington, Stirling's scorching violin stood out as one of the festival's highlights. Her performance in the mid-afternoon heat also helped Stirling prove her mettle.
"I always love doing guest appearances during other people's sets," Stirling says. "It's so much fun to feed off the energy of the crowd, and it's what you do as a performer."
Many familiar with Stirling's brand of merging electronic, classical and dance music together will attest to the 29-year-old genius' artistry. Since 2007, Stirling has used YouTube as a platform for her music. Her video "Crystallize" finished as the eighth-most watched of 2012. Then she set the Internet on fire with covers of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" with Pentatonix, which won Response of the Year in the first YouTube Music Awards in 2013. A year later, she was celebrating 1 million singles sold worldwide. As of July, her Lindseystomp channel exceeded 8 million subscribers and more than a billion total views.
Stirling's self-titled debut album was a platinum-selling success in Europe; it was nominated for the 2014 Billboard Music Awards for Top Dance/Electronic Albums, but it was her sophomore release, Shatter Me, that won that title in 2015.
Even with all her successes, the Santa Ana-born musician won't allow herself to get caught up in the hype. Stirling remains as focused and as driven as she's always been. While her second album focused on her battles with anorexia, her third, Brave Enough, was marked by losing her best friend, keyboardist and audio sampler, Jason "Gavi" Gaviati, to cancer, which happened early in the writing process. Her heartbreak over Gaviati's death is showcased in "Gavi's Song."
"It was really hard to go back and write again, since I was so full of hurt," she recalls. "At first, everything was coming out with anger, fear and pain. Then I remembered he wasn't a sad person and he was full of joy. So rather than closing myself off, I started making myself more vulnerable. I turned it into positive energy."
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Stirling says she was also inspired by Brené Brown's books on shame and vulnerability and channeled the author's message into her music. "I realized that I was breaking through this outward shell that was holding me back in the past," she explains. "At the same time, we are all full of so many layers that I wanted to basically write about living a life with a more open heart and being more vulnerable. In the beginning, the album starts off much more closed and timid, but in the end, it has a much warmer and open vibe to it. It was really therapeutic. "
Enlisting the likes of Andrew McMahon ("I never thought I'd be writing with him"), Zedd, ZZ Ward, Christina Perri and Rivers Cuomo, Stirling continued to diversify her sound and explore soundscapes that few could pull off throughout the album. The violinist took nine months off from her rigorous tour schedule to work on the record. "I always get nervous to write," she says. "It's not a process that comes easy to me. Unlike being onstage, when I come alive, writing is where I have to dig deep and get the album to come out of me."
Earlier this year, Stirling released her autobiography, The Only Pirate At the Party, which quickly landed on The New York Times' best-sellers list. She isn't afraid to back away from her personal battles, and she hopes to remain a positive influence on her fans. "I really wanted to share my story, not only because I chased my dreams despite the odds, but I had many setbacks and wanted to show that [people's] setbacks don't have to stop them," she says. "I also talk about my experience with mental illness and overcoming anorexia and depression. . . . Now, I feel I'm past that, and I wanted to share that you can get past mental issues, and mental health is something we shouldn't be afraid to talk about."
Lindsey Stirling performs with Carah Faye at the Pacific Amphitheatre, 100 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa; www.pacamp.com. Wed., 7:30 p.m. $30-$52.50 (includes fair admission). All ages.