'Harry Potter,' Anime & Greek Mythology: Lindsey Stirling on What Inspired 'Artemis'

F Scott Schafer
Lindsey Stirling

Since Lindsey Stirling first broke out as a quarter finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2010, she has weaved a unique career that blends her talent for the violin, knack for visuals and passion for storytelling into a series of projects that have endeared her to a cult fanbase. Along the way, she’s collected 2 billion views and 11 million subscribers on YouTube, a variety of platinum and gold singles and won the Billboard Music Award for Top Dance/Electronic Album in 2014 and 2016 for Shatter Me and Brave Enough, respectively. 

Now, Stirling is back with a layered concept album dubbed Artemis. Building on a foundation of themes and characters found in ancient Greek mythology (for those unacquainted, Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and is the goddess of the moon), Stirling has spun a world all her own, culling from inspirations as varied as Harry Potter and manga

With Artemis out now, a comic book on the way and a tour brewing, Billboard spoke to Stirling about challenging herself creatively, the process of creating custom anime and concocting characters from scratch -- and how she has an out-of-this-world celestial body named after her... literally.

Congratulations on the new album, Lindsey. How does it feel now that it’s finally out there?

What’s funny is that at first you worry about these releases and you’re scared about what people will think or if the music is good. I got really worried about the album as I was creating it, wondering how it’d do and how people would react. But now that it’s done and it’s out, I’m just excited. I guess I just realized that I can’t change it anymore; I worked so hard on it and now it’s time to share it. So, that’s where I’m at right now.

There’s a lot involved in the rollout, from the story to the videos to the comic book. Where did you start with Artemis and what was your earliest inclination that this was going to be your next project?

I began to write a little bit in the fall in between tours. But it wasn’t until January when I found my groove, that’s when I wrote my first good song for the album. That’s how it is for me; I’ll write a ton of stuff that’s not good and I don’t know where I’m going. But once I write one song that really resonates, it’s like, this is it. For me that was (title track) “Artemis,” and that’s when the album started to take shape. I called “Artemis” as a standalone song, but the more I looked into the goddess of the moon, she’s the protector of virtue and femininity. I was just like, oh my gosh, I love everything this goddess symbolizes. The whole album became a concept album from there. But I also developed a whole comic book as I wrote the album which tells her story and how she became the goddess of the moon. I ended up with these defined themes and characters, which have been really fun to bring to life through the music videos.

The video for the song “Artemis” specifically reminds me visually of Lord of the Rings, and I think the amazing thing about Lord of the Rings is that not only are those stories are meant to be escapism, but they are also designed to be allegories. Your album is similar; it’s escapism and fantasy and also meant to say something else below the surface. It’s like a mirror of life, but that mirror is reflecting the fantasy. Would that be a fair assessment?

Absolutely. I’ve always loved storytelling so much and I think sometimes it’s almost easier to learn lessons from fictional characters than it is in real life. That’s why I’ve always loved to tell stories through analogies and allegories, but usually it’s been short form. Like the ballerina from my “Shatter Me” music video; she was stuck in a music box and it was really designed to be an analogy of me experiencing anorexia, being trapped in it and making a decision to break free from it. It had to be a decision. So this is the first time for me tapping into longform storytelling in that way. For one, it was a huge exercise for me. It required so much more depth but was really fun to challenge myself and not only develop a little mini moment, but a world.

I think people are endeared to you because you take these chances, transform and not one project looks like another. For example, your last album and tour was Christmas themed and you covered “Santa Baby,” and now Artemis is completely different on many levels. What’s it like taking these vast creative leaps?

I never know what the next project is going to be. Even when I start writing an album, everyone asks me “What are you thinking? What’s it going to sound like? What’s it going to be?” But I have no idea. Sometimes I know what it is when I start, but usually not. I try to try new ideas and challenge myself, and I think the big challenge for this album is when I decided it would be a heavy concept album. Can I narrate a concept for an entire album and tour that’s deep enough and exciting enough that I’d be willing to commit to it for two years of my life? And also, artistically know that I’m not going to get bored? As of now, I’ve created four music videos, some of which haven’t been released yet, but I still have more to tell and more that I’m excited to share. The tour came together in such a cool way too.

How does one go about creating the original anime featured on your album cover and the upcoming comic book?

To be honest, it was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be to find a true manga-style '90s-era anime artist. It was really difficult to find one that I really resonated with. One, I didn’t realize that the term ‘anime’ has such a wide net. I was getting sent all these artists and I realized it was a really deep world and I needed to be more specific when it came to what I’m looking for. The guy who did the cover art is a Finnish artist and then the person who did the inside art for the comic book is from Japan and I actually found him through Instagram after going through the anime hashtag and searching for days. Then it was working going back and forth between photoshoots where I’d work with a stylist and design the characters and the look, and then send the photos to the artists and illustrators. They had so much content for these very stylized characters, everyone from the villain to the lead character to the other people who are living in this world. So it was fun to create them, not only through the artists but also through styling.

Aside from Lord of the Rings, it looks as if Game of Thrones and Dungeons and Dragons also informed Artemis in some way. I’m wondering what were your major influences when creating this world?

When it comes to the story, I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan, so that definitely was an inspiration for me. In the story there’s also magic, which is because Nic is the goddess of the night and she rules our world in the future. She’s taken it over and has introduced dark magic, so it has a little Harry Potter inspiration in there because I’m a huge fan.

Speaking to all of this, I heard that you have a celestial body named after you. It’s an asteroid dubbed Lindseystirling.

Is that true, I don’t know? I know you can register stars for people; maybe someone did that. I have to look into this.

Well, a literal rocket scientist named Scott Manley pointed this out on Twitter last year after Elon Musk posted a picture of a violinist and everyone was comparing her to you.

Well, it must be true. I remember when Elon Musk posted that picture because I had so many people tagging me in it because it did look very much like a visual I’d concept for a video. I responded back just jokingly, let me know when we’re going into space! And he wrote back (something like) I’ll let you know.

There you go, you have a planet.

I have a planet. I never knew.

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