March 20, 2017 is a date that Lindsay Ell won't forget anytime soon. First of all, she celebrated her birthday that week. As it turned out, her 28th birthday was one for the ages!
"I got a call a few weeks ago asking if I wanted to come and play with Melissa Etheridge," she tells Billboard, glowing. "I said 'What?' They explained that Melissa had specifically asked if I would come and play with her. It turned out that it was the night of my birthday. I don't usually work on my birthday. If I'm not on the road, I usually just catch up with friends, but since when does Melissa Etheridge ask you to come play a show with her?"
Needless to say, Ell didn't have to ponder the question long. "I said 'Yeah, I think I can work on my birthday.' It was an amazing night. She was so sweet, and so on it. Her voice has not changed one bit."
She continues, gushing about the "whole night of women. Cam was there. Melissa Etheridge sang 'Happy Birthday' to me. How much better can it get? She came up to me and told me, 'I am such a fan of what you do, and thank you for carrying on the torch of being a female musician and a female lead guitarist.' It was such an amazing moment."
The week would have been fine if it had ended there. But, it kept getting better. On Thursday, March 23, the singer played an industry-only showcase that was well received, and on March 24, the songstress released her new EP, Worth The Wait, which debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. After releasing music to radio for over three years, the title could not have been more meaningful to the singer.
"I think I have fully lived the words in my career and in my personal life," she says candidly. "We knew this was the perfect title. There was no question to anybody on the team about it. I truly think that in life, it's important to constantly have hope, and to figure out what you want, never lose sight of it, and never feel like your hard work is going to be overlooked, because eventually I'm a firm believer that everything falls in place."
Ell says she owes a huge amount of gratitude to Kristian Bush, who produced the set. She feels that he captured who she truly is as an artist, and the lessons she learned during the making of Worth The Wait were huge.
"He taught me so much about picking songs for a project," she explains. "Sometimes, you may have a great song, but it just doesn't belong on a certain project, for whatever reason. For him, it's so much about the message and what you are trying to say as an artist. I learned so much about that, and now, ultimately I think the EP tells the story of a sequence of a relationship -- wanting love, falling in love, deciding that love isn't right and letting it go, or figuring out how to live without it."
Ell says the lyrics definitely capture where she is at this point in her career -- and life. Last October, she went public with her relationship with morning radio show host Bobby Bones, who has been very supportive of her, she says.
"When I was writing music, he didn't want to hear any of it. He said 'I want you to figure out your thing,' and then, when I eventually played it for him, he said 'I'm really proud of you."
Ell says there are no regrets for sharing her happiness with her fans, because she views that as part of being in the spotlight: "As far as having a personal life, I feel that as a public figure, we sign up for this. We choose to put our lives on social media, and to be on Snapchat all the time. It's part of the job -- that we invite fans into our lives, so the fact that things are out in the open, and fans can see the inspiration behind the songs. They can see that I was actually going through that. I think that's actually kind of cool."
Among the highlights of the EP is "Waiting On You," which combines the magic of her vocals -- as well as her guitar skills -- and the emotional yearning of "Space," which she says was an important song for the EP.
"That was a really special song for us to cut. It's an outside song, so that was stepping outside of my comfort zone. Kristian said 'The great thing about recording outside songs -- as the greats do, from Garth Brooks to Miranda Lambert -- is that you'll find a song that you couldn't or wouldn't have written. It can expand your messages into places that you couldn't go."
Ell goes on, recalling: "We found 'Space,' and I remember telling him, 'I can't sing this song. It's such a big song.' Kristian said 'Lindsay, I know that everybody looks at you as a guitar player, but I look at you as a singer first. I think you underestimate yourself.' He motivated and encouraged me so much that I was able to just step right into it. Now, it's one of my favorite songs on the record, and one of my favorites to perform live."
Speaking of live performances, Ell will be on the road with Brad Paisley this year, and she says it's been a fun experience so far.
"Brad is one of the best guitar players in the world," she raves. "He can tap into so many styles of playing, and not a lot of players are like that. It's been a guitar master class every night. If you would have told me a few years ago, that I would be playing two feet away from him on stage, I would have thought you were crazy. I'm so grateful to him and his crew."
That sentiment of thankfulness pretty much sums up where Ell is at these days: "When you can wake up in the morning and love what you do so much, it doesn't matter how much money you make or how busy you are. You get to do what you love. It's cheesy to say, but it's a soul-fulfilling thing. I need to write songs. I need to play guitar. I need to perform in front of audiences in order to feel like I'm me. It's the biggest high I could ever experience -- the one that music gives me."
Billboard.com is excited to bring you the exclusive cut-by-cut breakdown of Worth the Wait with Ell, as she discusses the inspirations behind each of the songs on the EP -- and how John Mayer influenced one of the standout tracks. Watch bel