NEW YORK (AP) — Electronic violinist Lindsey Stirling's emotional roller coaster of a year included the death of her best friend and keyboardist and learning that her father had cancer.
Stirling tried keeping busy with work instead of dealing with her feelings head-on. And as she began composing new songs, things weren't coming together.
"At first I was writing the most depressing stuff. ... It just wasn't very great music ... and it didn't have a lot of depth to it," Stirling said. "I kind of realized I have to process these emotions myself before I can write about them."
Once she gave herself time to grieve and deal with life away from work — which included traveling home to Arizona to be with family and going to therapy — making music felt natural again, and therapeutic.
"I want to learn how to open my heart up more," she said. "A lot of times I hide from emotions by just working and distracting myself."
Stirling, 29, reached that goal and came through stronger with "Brave Enough," a new album she says is her most cohesive release yet. She closes the 14-track set with the emotional instrumental track "Gavi's Song," an ode to her friend and fellow musician Jason Gaviati, who died last year after battling Burkitt lymphoma.
"Brave Enough," out Friday, features collaborations with Zedd, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, Lecrae, Christina Perri and Andrew McMahon. It's the follow-up to 2014's "Shatter Me," the gold-certified album in which Stirling wrote about overcoming anorexia. It won top dance/electronic album at the Billboard Music Awards, besting releases from Calvin Harris, Avicii and Disclosure.
"I'm not being self-deprecating here, but it's weird to see your name with people (like them)," she said.
Stirling agrees she's an electronic artist, but says it's hard to really pinpoint her sound and style: "I still kind of call myself that 'cause I just don't know what else to call myself."
"Pixie violin electro isn't a category," she added.
Stirling rose to fame on YouTube after posting videos on her own channel, which has more than 1.3 billion views. She released her debut in 2012 and put out music independently because major labels weren't "interested."
"All of the labels jump up once you prove that something's successful," she said.
Stirling grew fond of the violin after hearing her parents play classical music around the house and later discovered pop violinists David Garrett and Vanessa-Mae. In high school she fell in love with rock bands such as Jimmy Eat Word and Weezer, and in college, electronic acts like Skrillex.
Her first violin, she said, was a "cereal box with a toilet paper roll taped to it." Her teacher told her to practice holding it before getting the real thing.
Stirling will launch a tour next month and said she's excited when her fans — both young and old — bring their violins to her live shows.
"That to me is one of the biggest, exciting compliments I get," she said.