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SPOTLIGHT: Jenn Lindsay, '01

Beating the Odds

Courtesy Jenn Lindsay

By Laura Shin

Not many people can say they got hooked on music in calculus class. But when Jenn Lindsay was in high school in east San Diego, her math teacher would teach by strumming his guitar and singing little ditties like, “There once was an integer. . . .” At lunch, he and Lindsay would play songs by Joan Baez, the Indigo Girls and the like. By the time Lindsay arrived at Stanford in 1996, she had begun writing her own music.

A simple equation of drive and dedication has added up. Lindsay, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., is among the cadre of young musicians who have given up on major labels and taken the reins into their own hands. “I had this idea that I was going to get discovered,” she said. What she eventually noticed was that, “in the effort to get noticed, I've actually done a lot. I wasn't sitting around waiting to get noticed. I was going on tour to get noticed.” She didn't wait for a record deal, either. Lindsay has self-produced seven folk albums (on which she plays many of the instruments) and started her own record label, No Evil Star Records. She has booked up to 200 shows a year, playing her earnest, sometimes angry and sometimes very personal songs for fans from Texas to Ontario. Positive reviews just keep on coming, and her music has been featured on NPR's All Songs Considered.

“Struggle is a major theme in my work,” she says. She estimates she's held 25 jobs since graduation. “I've slept in a car [while on tour] a lot, gone without dinner many nights and been in a lot of scary tight spots because I have always put my music first.” But those struggles are part of what makes her music hers. She considers herself a “performing activist,” a political songwriter, and feels responsible to the groups with whom she affiliates, like feminists and the gay and lesbian community.

Her efforts have paid off. To date, Lindsay has sold about 5,000 albums, all through online vendors and at shows. And people are taking notice. Entertainment Today has called her music “deliciously earnest . . . battle hymns for the perpetually downtrodden.” Lindsay's eighth album comes out in May, and she will begin her next tour in the fall.

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