Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Classical Dub-Step Violin Finds Its Audience


Lindsey Stirling's been described as a dancing-hip-hop-dub-step-classical violinist - you know, another one of those.


SIMON: She made her mainstream debut when she auditioned for "America's Got Talent" in 2010. Made it all the way to the quarter-finals, only to be told by Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne - there just isn't a market for a dancing hip-hop violinist. Well, what a mistake that turned out to be.

Lindsey Stirling's YouTube channel has had more than 600 million views. And earlier this year, she released her second studio album. It's called, "Shatter Me." Lindsey Stirling is now on a world tour. But we're so glad she dropped by our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

LINDSEY STIRLING: Hey, thanks for having me.

SIMON: Let me ask this first - so you're playing the violin and thought that would - this would really go better with a dance step - where you were dancing and decided what I really need to do is play the violin. How did this begin?

STIRLING: Well, I played the violin my whole life. I wanted to play from the time I was just a little kid and I've always loved dance as well. I wanted to make people smile. I wanted to add an extra energy to my playing and make it visual and make it unique and fun.

And so I just had this idea that the two could be combined. And as awkward and terrible as it was at first, something in my mind kept me working and practicing until I got good enough that it didn't look ridiculous.

SIMON: Let's give people in so far as we can, totally on the radio, an idea of your music. Here's a song called, "Beyond The Veil."


SIMON: What goes into writing a song like that - or that song, specifically?

STIRLING: We create the backtrack first, usually. And I start with just an emotion - like I want to create this kind of a feeling. And that song - I wanted to create a longing feeling.


STIRLING: And then after we worked on the backtrack to a point where I'm happy with it and it's kind of where I want it to be, then I will just go in and I'll put headphones on and I'll start jamming.


SIMON: How did music come into your life?

STIRLING: You know, my parents. They used to play classical music in our house all the time when I was growing up. They had this old record player, and they would play music from, like, Tchaikovsky and Borodin. And my sisters and I would dance around the living room to it. And so when I was 6 years old, I just begged my parents to play the violin.

SIMON: YouTube made a real difference in your career, didn't it?

STIRLING: Yeah, honestly, YouTube was 100 percent what made it possible for me to do what I do. Nothing else worked. All the other things I tried and...

SIMON: What else did you try? Could you give us some idea?

STIRLING: You know, I got all these books about, like, what you need to know to enter the entertainment industry. And I remember I sent my music to record labels and I took these little DVDs and sent them all over the place. And either no one got back to me or they just kept saying you're too different.

So the traditional route didn't work for me at all. And then once I started YouTube, it's amazing that that's exactly why people liked what I did. You know, the very reason people said I would never succeed is the very same reason that people travel to see the shows. It's the reason they subscribe to my YouTube channel. It's different.

SIMON: So what people thought was once the problem turns out to be your great gift?

STIRLING: Exactly. And I think that's something that I needed to learn. And I think it's something that a lot of people need to remember 'cause so often we feel like we have to be inside the box of what everybody else wants us to be.

SIMON: We want to give people a little more of your music. Here's a song called, "Shatter Me."


LZZY HALE: (Singing) Somebody shine a light. I'm frozen by the fear in me. Somebody make me feel alive and shatter me. So cut me from the line. Dizzy, spinning endlessly. Somebody make me feel alive and shatter me.

SIMON: We should mention that is Lzzy Hale.

STIRLING: Yes. Lzzy Hale - I love her. She's so amazing.

SIMON: What does this song say about your life (unintelligible)?

STIRLING: You know, this song was written about a person that I once was and just my desire to break free. I just realized that I had built this shell around myself - this shell that I think was everything I thought everyone else wanted me to be. I just realized one day that I was so unhappy. And not only that, but I didn't even like the person that I was. I didn't even know who I was. And so "Shatter Me" is about first discovering what was under the shell and then learning to love that person that was under it. And then not being afraid to break free.

SIMON: How did that happen?

STIRLING: I was struggling with anorexia and one of the biggest problems with an eating disorder is you don't realize you have it. And you can't heal until you realize there's a problem. And I finally just woke up because I didn't understand why I was so unhappy with my life - why I - you know, everything that was real had slipped away, and I had been consumed with all these false images, false ideas and things that were so - so not real.

And in my life, I feel like God woke me up. So really, the song "Shatter Me" is about me overcoming my own - my own false ideas and breaking free from this eating disorder that had me basically held captive.


HALE: (Singing) So cut me from the line. Dizzy, spinning endlessly. Somebody make me feel alive and shatter me. Somebody make me feel alive and shatter me.

SIMON: Let's listen to another piece of music if we can from this album. This is "Master Of Tides."


SIMON: So I thought when I heard this music - and I might be inferring too much from the title - that the fact is, we can't control the tides.

STIRLING: It's true.

SIMON: I mean, I guess there are things that, you know, we can - but as a generalization, we don't think of ourselves as controlling the tide. What we do control is how we step in them, around them. Am I inferring too much in the song?

STIRLING: You know, your meaning to the song is much better than mine. When I was writing this, I wanted to write a pirate-sounding song. And this is what came out of it. And so, "Master Of Tides" to me sounded like a pirate theme.

SIMON: Ay. (Pirate imitation).

STIRLING: Exactly. And so when we performer it on stage, actually, my back-up dancers are dressed up as pirates and they're sword fighting with violin bows and it's pretty awesome. But like I said, I think I'm going to use your description from now on. It is much more meaningful.

SIMON: Well, glad I could contribute a little something 'cause I've enjoyed your music.

STIRLING: Thank you.

SIMON: Lindsey Stirling and her latest album - "Shatter Me." And if you want to see this extraordinary dancing-dub-step-violinist in action, you probably can 'cause she's in the middle of a world tour. Thanks so much for being with us.

STIRLING: Hey, thanks for having me.


SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.