You have to move to Nashville. That’s the advice every aspiring country artist gets, even when the idea of moving is scary, risky and straight-up lonely. So when Lindsay Ell moved from Canada to Tennessee, she knew what she was getting into, and she was totally OK with that; mostly because Nashville was totally OK with Ell.
“I felt so at home right away. The first few months after I’d moved, everyone offered to have me over. They’d be like, ’We’ll make you dinner and have a jam session.’ I kept thinking, ’What is this place?’ Now I know it is just a people town. The minute you make a friend, they will introduce you to their friends,” Ell told me when she was in Chicago recently.
Ell shared her list of firsts after her move 2,000 miles south of her home in Canada.
First Home: I rented a tiny house in Green Hills. So tiny. The kitchen was so little that you could walk in, but you’d have to back out. I had a roommate, but she was on the road a lot. And whenever she was home, she’d be catching up on sleep, which meant I couldn’t practice guitar at home. So I would drive my car to the Target parking lot and sit in the backseat and play for hours.
First Job: I’d waited tables and played gigs when I was in Canada, but when I moved to Nashville, my visa said all I could do was write songs for the first two years. And that visa application was two inches thick and I didn’t want to mess that up. My visa was way more important than any gig. They want you to prove that you’re the only one who can do what you do. So I lived frugally — I still do — and used the money I’d saved from jobs I’d had since I was 16.
First Gig: The second show at the Bluebird Café. You play in writers rounds, and in the first show early in the night, you don’t get paid. But then second show, at that 9:00 show, you make a couple of hundred dollars.
First Song: The first song I remember being important was “Trippin’ on Us.” That was an early one I wrote. I felt like I was on top of the world. Because you set goals for yourself — like, ‘Once I get a record deal, then I’m totally good,’ and then, ‘Once I get a song on the radio, then I’m totally good,’ and then, ‘Once I get a No. 1, I’m totally good.’ So then once you get to each one, a whole bunch more doors keep opening. And you have all these other goals.
First Run-In with Hero: Early on, I met Keith Urban. I’d moved here, and we were backstage at the Opry, I think. He is always one of those guys who gives you his full attention. It’s chaos backstage, but he looked me straight in the eyes when we talked. He’s so genuine and down to earth. That was such a nice realization. I don’t usually get starstruck, but that moment made me realize that Nashville is full of real country artists who are real people. And we all just get to do this incredible job.