The Columbus, Ohio alt-country songwriter has no plans to slow down — and not even metal gods The Scorpions, the hipster tastemakers at Pitchfork or the lingering ghost of her fraught first album will get in her way.
BY SCOTT RECKER
After blasting through a few of the gritty, rock-infused alt-country songs from the new Bloodshot album, Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless starts taking requests, as her backing band leaves the stage of a roadhouse about a half hour north of Detroit. It’s her first stop on tour and after about five people shout out “Steve Earle” — a song about having a stalker that looks like the musician — off of 2011’s Indestructible Machine, she admits it’s been a while since she’s played it, but decides to go for it anyway. She stumbles a little, humming parts of a bridge and a verse, but it still sounds brilliant, probably because her firehouse of a voice gives her the ability to be one of the few people that can pull off playing solo singer-songwriter material with just an electric guitar live. The room has decent acoustics — although it’s not particularly built for it — but her voice has serious takeover power, making it seem like you are behind a studio soundboard with headphones on, instead of what it actually is: being in a large, open space.
When Loveless finishes, someone yells out “Girls Suck”, a vicious, middle-finger of a track off of her 2010 debut, The Only Man. This time she’s not as receptive: “Absolutely not. ‘Girls Suck’ is where I draw the line.”
A Winding Road
It’s hard to remember that she’s only 23. And, since the Coshocton, Ohio native — who currently resides in the nearby city of Columbus — has been writing songs since her early teens, there is obviously some material that she doesn’t relate to anymore.
“Definitely ‘Girls Suck’ would be something that was totally embarrassing,” she tells me by phone the day after the Detroit-area show. “I think I wrote it when I was 16 and I was really mad, pouting about my boyfriend dumping me. I probably can’t even remember the words at this point. Not that they would be hard to remember.”
She definitely holds a certain amount of resentment for the first album. Not only about some of the lyrics that she feels a very different person wrote, but also about the slick production that made her sound like an unhinged, debauched version of Loretta Lynn.
“On the first one, there is no mistaking that I was not in charge,” she says. “So, since I’ve been sort of producing my own stuff, it’s been more fun for me.”
But, the truth is, she’s probably way too hard on herself about the early material. At times, it was bottled lightning. Sometimes it was poignant. Sometimes it was heartbreaking. Sometimes it was funny. But, mostly, it was incredibly candid, especially for someone so young. And that unfiltered honesty and fearlessness caught some attention.
A year later she dropped Indestructible Machine, marking the beginning of her gradual transition from honky-tonk punk to a more layered rock n roll sound. With fuzzy electric guitars, heavy drums and aggressive bass lines, it brought out a super-charged energy that the previous album lacked. Indestructible Machine made it obvious Loveless was never going to be a redundant or stagnant artist. The album was both a turning point and a statement.
This year’s release, Somewhere Else, doesn’t hit as hard at first, but it creeps up on you and seems to get better with every listen. Even though it digs the deepest into the well of rock ‘n’ roll, it has just the right touch of pop sensibilities. And some of the songs, especially “Everything’s Gone” and “Really Wanna See You”, dig deeper than anything in her catalog.
And, although her evolution has been drastic, she says it hasn’t been forced.
“I think it was natural, just part of being more grown up and mature,” Loveless says. “I’m just caring more about what we put into the album. When I was younger I just wanted to get recording over with and I didn’t really think about my guitar playing a lot. So, this time, I wanted to add some texture and some moods to it and use my guitar as an instrument instead of just something I’m banging away on to get a song written.”
For every show in the Midwest, Loveless’ band will be — including her — a five piece, but when they leave the region, the steel player will head back home. Most of the members of her band — which includes her husband, bassist Ben Lamb — have been with her for the better part of four years, something she says makes the studio and touring much easier. Her father was the drummer up until about a year ago.
“I was just like, ‘time to pull the plug.’ I felt like dragging my dad out on the road was kind of irresponsible of me and I just wanted him to be at home with the family. He’s kind of the rock of the family.”
She used to play bass in her oldest sister’s band, Dead Girlfriends. And another sister, Jessica, is the lead singer of The Girls!. But, it’s her younger brother, a metal drummer, she thinks it would be fun to collaborate with.
“My little brother, I would love to play with, but he is too metal for me. He is phenomenal; I would love to do something with him, but he’s kind of just too cool for school right now. He’s really good, but he has this dead-pan face, so he’s doing all this crazy shit, but you would never know, since he just looks like he’s sitting and thinking.”
Which brings us back to her living in Columbus, a place that has always made sense — especially with modern technology — to stay in, but, lately, especially with the consistently inclement weather, she’s playing with the idea of relocating.
“It’s really easy to tour out of, it’s affordable, my family is there and, mostly, I guess, I just think in 2014, you can make it work from anywhere — in America, anyway. I been thinking a lot about California just to not be so cold and miserable; just to kind of have a change of scenery. But, I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but it’s definitely in my thoughts.”
During the week after Somewhere Else dropped in mid-February, Loveless attempted not to read any press coverage, but, in one instance, it became unavoidable.
“People were texting me, ‘What’s this about you shoving a hand up an ass.’ And I read it and I was just like, ‘How can you possibly think that’s what I’m saying?’ So, I got into a little trouble for making fun of the mighty Pitchfork, but I really don’t care.”
Her response on Twitter: “Can someone please tell Pitchfork I metaphorically put my head up people’s asses, not literally my hand.”
Then: “I just don’t want any fisting rumors going round.”
While there is no rush to make another record, the wheels are already turning, making it more and more obvious that she has one of the most important attributes an artist can have: the one that leaves Lydia Loveless never truly satisfied with her work.
“Well, I don’t want to be Taylor Swift” — *Loveless breaks out into a Taylor Swift song on the phone* —“every fucking song. I just kind of want to chill for a little bit — lyrically and musically. And then just try something different. I’ve been playing a lot of piano, so that might come out.”
Detroit Rock City
Sometimes the Detroit area isn’t an easy crowd. Someone told Loveless to “stop being nerdy” after she advised never to write a song in E, especially when using “the E-chord 7 thingy.” Before she played a forthcoming iTunes exclusive, she asked how many people use iTunes. The whole crowd just blankly starred at her. But, it was all relatively innocuous and when she started to get the tendencies and pace of the crowds banter, it became wildly entertaining.
“This is our hit song,” Lydia Loveless says with a hint of sarcasm toward the end of the show. “But, really, who has hit songs anymore?”
“The Scorpions!” someone drunkenly — and nonsensically — yells from the crowd.
“Don’t tempt me to play some Scorpions, because I’ll do it,” she responds, as she pulls her hair back. “Shit’s getting real,” Loveless whispers, sounding more excited than upset.
Photos credit: Peter Crawford. Lydia Loveless is currently on a North American tour that will run through June. Dates here: https://www.bloodshotrecords.com/events/artist/5063