DAMN NEAR INDESTRUCTIBLE Lydia Loveless

Following some early
misfires, the country-punk twanger is definitely – defiantly – coming into her
own

 

BY NICK A. ZAINO III

 

“Bad Way To Go” kicks off Lydia Loveless’ recent album Indestructible Machine (reviewed here) with
a cacophony of banjos and guitars on the edge of feedback, a pretty little
train wreck the foreshadows a rocky ramble through heartbreak, whiskey, and
survival. Her brash country-punk fits right in on Bloodshot Records, home of
the Bottle Rockets, Scott H. Biram, the Waco Brothers, and Wayne Hancock.

 

That’s somewhat of a happy accident, since the 21-year-old
Loveless didn’t know much about the label at first. “What led me to them was
people telling me that I sounded like I was influenced by those people,” she
says, speaking to BLURT by phone from the road. [Loveless’ current U.S.
tour wraps this week
, on Dec. 3 in Iowa City, then commences again in January.
] “So I kind of had to go find it. I
wouldn’t say that I was really listening to any of those bands. So it was kind
of awesome to discover it that way. People telling you, ‘Oh, well you’re
obviously influenced by the Old 97’s.’ And I was like, ‘Who’s that, dude? I
don’t know who that is.'”

 

Loveless followed an interesting trajectory to her current
sound. Her dad is a musician, and owned a nightclub when she was a kid. She
says she was too young to stick around for the shows, but she would hear the
bands soundcheck, playing mostly rock, metal, and blues. That didn’t grab her,
though. “Mostly I just thought it was really loud and weird,” she says.

 

She knew she wanted to play music early on, she figures
around eight or nine. If she has to pinpoint a moment that solidified her
desire to be a musician, it was a giant mainstream pop star that made the difference,
not some hard-living bluesman in the club. “I think it was probably when I
watched the ‘You Drive Me Crazy’ video by Britney Spears,” she says, “was
probably the ‘a-ha’ moment for me.”

 

She found punk music when she moved from her small hometown,
Cochocton, Ohio, to the big city of Columbus. “I pretty much was hanging out
with punk rockers. So I pretty much latched onto that as much as I could, but I
was maybe even too weird for those people,” she says, laughing. “Maybe I was a
little nerdy, coming from a really small town and being home schooled. Like
everyone probably thought I was a little less grizzled than they were.”

 

To Loveless’ ears, pop and punk were a natural fit. “I guess
listening to punk started with the whole pop/punk blow-up, which a lot of
people hated, but I think it was really useful in connecting kids to, like,
better music,” she says. “So probably Richard Hell was the first person that I
really discovered, which was actually from reading about other crummy punk
bands than actually making my way up the ladder and finding where it all
started.”
 

Loveless had been exposed to country and gospel music as a
kid, artists like Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lynn, and the continuum of country
to punk was a natural progression. “I think they’re similar in the sense that
they’re both lifestyles and the lyrics are generally about things that most
common people could relate to,” she says. “I think they go hand in hand, and
obviously country is a little easier to listen to. I think what makes punk-country
punk is the lyrics. I think that’s usually what people are talking about.”

 

Her debut album, The
Only Man
, released in 2009 when Loveless was just 19 years old, doesn’t
reflect that sound as clearly as Loveless would have liked. The attitude and
songwriting are there, but it was recorded with a studio band, not her live
band, and she wasn’t in control of the production. 

 

“I don’t want to say that I hate it or anything,” she says. “I
kind of feel like it was an attempt at making me a polished performer. And it
kind of sounded like I failed at that. Not that I can’t be polished, but I felt
like I was sort of straining to be something different. And I guess that’s why
it sounds like I don’t know what I’m doing. But I don’t think it’s necessarily
a bad album. It’s just probably the wrong approach.”

 

That changed with Indestructible
Machine
. “Since I was doing the production and really making all of the
decisions, it obviously got a lot grittier and more personal,” she says. “I
don’t know. I just think that I can listen to Indestructible Machine and think that that’s actually me, as
opposed to listening to The Only Man,
I just feel like I’m still learning, I guess.”

 

The result is an album that has resonated with audiences and
critics, and will likely land on a lot of “Best of 2011” lists. Loveless has
drawn comparisons to a lot of bigger artists, most frequently Lucinda Williams
and Neko Case, which brings its own kind of pressure.

 

Does she shrink from those comparisons or embrace them?
“Yeah, I do probably shrink from them a little bit, not because I find them
offensive or because I dislike them, but because it’s almost a little
embarrassing to just come out and have people immediately comparing you to
people who are clearly at a higher level than you are,” she says. “So it’s
flattering, but after a while it kind of just becomes background noise. ‘Neko
Case, Neko Case.’ Sometimes I feel like I’m reading a Neko Case review. [laughs] It’s weird.”

 

She is also fielding plenty of questions about drinking in
her lyrics. That’s to be expected – it’s part of the tapestry Loveless has
created in the music. She laughs a bit when asked if she’s getting tired of the
questions, but it’s still tiring.

 

“It’s hard to read about it. I think people think that I’m
sort of trying to perpetuate that. I mean, I don’t think anyone wants to say,
‘I’m an alcoholic! Woo!’ And I think that’s what people are trying to get me to
say, but, I don’t know. It’s weird. I’m definitely not proud of it, I don’t
really think about drinking in such a proud, partying way.”

 

Loveless has the advantage of being surrounded by family on
tour. Her husband, Ben, is her bass player and her father is her drummer. But
that can be a difficult dynamic, when you’re the boss. How does she handle it? “Um,
it’s more like how do they handle it, probably,” she says, laughing. “I feel a
little more straightforward with them. They sometimes want to hide under a rock
when I’m talking to them. After getting stressed out or tired or something.”

 

The audiences know her now, and Loveless says they come up
to say hello before a show or request specific songs, a nice change from being
the background noise to someone’s night out at the club. “I think more people
are coming specifically to see us instead of just wandering into a bar and
seeing us, like it used to be,” she says. “It’s a little more exciting to go on
tour.”

 

More exciting, and busier. Which makes it harder for
Loveless to work on new material. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem
nonetheless. “I’m getting better at, like, making time to actually work on
other things,” she says. “I think before, when I would have just huge amounts
of free time, I didn’t really think of time in the same way. But now I’m like,
two days! That’s a lot of time to myself to work on stuff.”

 

Will Loveless change as much between albums two and three as
she did between albums one and two? She’d like to find a happy medium between
the polish and the fire. “It probably won’t be as significant,” she says, “but
I think I definitely will try for a different sound.”

 

[Photo Credit: Paula Masters Travis]

 

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