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Lindsey Stirling reflects on global audience, YouTube success and ‘nonnegotiable’ standards

These days, Lindsey Stirling's home is wherever her car is parked.

It's what happens when the world becomes your stage.

Stirling, the classically trained violinist from Gilbert, Arizona, who attended Brigham Young University, served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became famous by way of YouTube, seems to be everywhere these days. She tours the world, playing shows in locations ranging from Europe to Dubai to Salt Lake City. She's a YouTube regular, not just on her own 6.6-million-subscriber channel but also in varied collaboration projects with the likes of John Legend, Josh Groban and the Muppets. And despite the whirlwind life, she's trying to share a positive message and remain grounded in her faith — even if it means getting lost in a Brazilian city while looking for a church to attend.

It's all part of the 28-year-old's new life as an international music star.

"I want to always feel like I have a normal life, and I want to feel like I’m just your average Joe Lindsey," said Stirling, who will perform May 29 in a sold-out show at Red Butte Garden. "But at the same time, I want to feel like I can rock the audiences and do a crazy show."

International success

This week, Stirling embarks on a North American tour that will take her across the United States and back again. Despite being told in 2010 by "America's Got Talent" judge Sharon Osbourne that her act wasn't "enough to fill a theater in (Las) Vegas," Stirling sold nearly 200,000 headline tickets on her most recent world tour.

But YouTube is the stage where she really made her mark.

Stirling released a self-titled, independently produced album in 2012. Early the next year, a video for the single "Crystalize" debuted on YouTube. To date, it has more than 121 million views.

With that traction, Stirling's music career flourished. The self-titled debut album has sold more than 430,000 copies in the U.S., achieved gold status in Poland and Switzerland, and reached platinum in Germany. It eventually reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Chart and Classical Album Chart and in 2014 received a Billboard Music Award nomination for “Top Dance/Electronic Album.”

A second album, "Shatter Me," followed in April 2014 and reached as high as No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. On Sunday, "Shatter Me" won “Top Dance/Electronic Album" at the 2015 Billboard Music Awards.

Stirling, who was raised in Arizona and attended college in Utah, feels at home in both places and said she gets recognized more often in that corridor than in any other place. However, it's far from her biggest fan base. Stirling said she's "achieved more outside of home for sure," selling more records and drawing larger audiences outside of Arizona and Utah.

"Europe in general is a great place for me, but specifically Germany has been very good to me," she said. "Germans love classical music. … Electronic dance music is massive over there, so I’m kind of the marriage between the two."

Part of Stirling's story is her success despite her unconventional music style. She's had several labels — "dancing," "rock-star," "hip-hop," "dubstep" — attached to the word "violinist" in an attempt to categorize her. Official press materials describe her as "creat(ing) a new music world where the romance of Celtic folk music and modern classical meet the infectious energy of dance and electronica.”

"I’m a dancing violinist," she said. "I love to mix everything with kind of theatrical and fantastical costumes."

Creative collaborations

Stirling "love(s) playing dress-up with a passion," and she can be found on YouTube donning the costumes of Princess Leia, Link, Rapunzel and many more.

"Ever since I was a little girl, you couldn’t keep me away from the costumes," she said. "I’ve been everything from a fortune-telling Gypsy to a ballerina to a Western cowgirl."

Being a frequent collaborator on YouTube projects with other artists has afforded the violinist a multitude of creative outlets.

Stirling appeared in a video duet with singer-songwriter John Legend, adding string sound to his chart-topping hit "All of Me." She's performed a "Star Wars Medley" with vocalist Peter Hollens, played the role of a purple-hooded elf in a "Zelda Medley" and played an "Into the Woods Medley," portraying several characters from the fairy tale musical.

Recently, she appeared with the Muppets and vocalist Josh Groban in a performance of "Pure Imagination." The project is one of several that the Muppets have been filming with YouTube stars at the YouTube studios in Los Angeles.

Stirling has worked with the a cappella group Pentatonix for a cover of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive," and with Tyler Ward in his video "Some Kind of Beautiful" and for a cover of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop."

She's even taken time to do some non-musical comedy, appearing with the creators of Kid History in an episode of Kid Snippets called "Lindsey Stirling Makeup" (Imagined by Kids).

One of her favorite projects was a performance of the "Mission Impossible" theme with the Utah-based Piano Guys.

"I definitely get far more (opportunities) than I could ever do," Stirling said. "Even at meet-and-greets, people give me business cards that say, 'I’d love to work with you. It’s my dream to play with you.' I honestly wish I could work with everybody, but unfortunately I have fans begging for me to come play at different places around the world. I have fans begging for new music."

No exceptions

Some of the projects Stirling makes time for directly relate to her faith.

In November 2014, she participated in a live "Face to Face" event where she shared a message of confidence and self-worth with LDS youths. In 2013, Stirling was featured in an "I'm a Mormon" video in which she opened up about her past struggles with anorexia.

Stirling believes that "we can learn to love ourselves for who we are" and hopes to use her own experiences and platform to instill that message in others.

"I think the most valuable thing I can convey is that we have a choice in how we feel about ourselves," she said. "Everybody has their demons that they face, and I went through a time when I thought it was impossible to love myself. I love to share that with people because they’re my fans. The way they look at me now, they think that I am so optimistic and happy. It seems like I was born in a happy bubble, but the fact is that everybody struggles at certain points in their life, and I love to share that you can teach yourself to be positive. You can practice loving yourself. You can basically create the kind of life you want."

The life that she's created for herself is a hectic one. Stirling estimates that over the past two years, she's spent two-thirds of her time on the road, touring. Her time off tour is devoted to writing new music and maintaining her YouTube presence by creating fresh video content. She admits to becoming "a bit of a workaholic."

She also acknowledges that in the touring and music industry, "there aren’t many people who abide by those same (LDS) standards" that she tries to uphold. She's learned the importance of being "nonnegotiable."

"I’ve had to realize that I can’t make exceptions," she said. "… When I was in high school and college and I was traveling on a rare occasion on Sunday, I wouldn’t worry about going to church. But since that has become my life, that I’m always traveling and I’m always in strange places, I have to make it to church. It’s never convenient, like a lot of times I’m lost in random cities in Brazil, like last week, trying to find a church. I realize that is essential, and I start to lose sight of myself when I start to lose that."

Stirling said she and her crew "have created a very wholesome and healthy lifestyle that is nonnegotiable.

"If someone’s not OK with that, that person is probably not going to work out," she said. "Making standards is something everyone has to do, whether you are working an office job or you’re on tour all the time. It’s basically the same principle, even when nobody else is living it."

The high-profile Latter-day Saint performer recently received some online criticism for her wardrobe choice at the most recent Billboard Music Awards, with some debating whether the dress was modest or not. She responded on Instagram, saying "modesty is important to me."

"I make mistakes, and I am definitely not perfect, but I really am trying my best," she wrote.

Stirling calls Los Angeles home "because that’s where my car and my stuff is." She visits her family in Arizona often and even takes family members on tour with her. Still, being "average Joe Lindsey" — especially when it comes to relationships — is difficult.

"It has been hard to have normal relationships when the world I constantly live in is not the world I have a lot of connection with," she said. "But on the flip side, I have a group of amazing people I get to tour with, and I feel like I was really led to them and they were led to me. They literally become my family, and they’re my brothers on the road and my best friends. That’s why I love touring so much."


Twitter: aaronshill