ONE OF MUSIC’S ENDURING IRONIES is that far too often, its most vital and promising artists implode from the weight of their own potential. Inspired by the music of their parents, their friends or perhaps catching a fleeting snippet of an intoxicating chorus on the car radio one morning, these young artists cultivate their creative vision by singing into mirrors, filling notebooks with lyrics and spending hundreds if not thousands of hours hunched over guitars, keyboards and drums, teaching their fingers how to coax just the right sound from the instrument. Some of them stick with it long enough to outlast the others—the quitters and the hobbyists—polishing rough techniques with their own distinct flourishes and ultimately emerging with a voice entirely their own.
Among this elite tier of dedicated artists, a select few will step on the tail of a comet and fly off into the big time. As complications of money, contracts and fame enter the equation, rare is the young artist who can summon the steely resolve and the artistic integrity to preserve and ultimately expand their vision into an enduring body of work.
23 year-old Lydia Loveless is precisely such an artist.
Blessed with a soulful, blast-it-to-the-back-of-the-room voice, Lydia Loveless was raised on a family farm in Coshocton, Ohio—an eclectic town with little to do but make music. With a dad who owned a country music bar, Loveless often woke up with a house full of touring musicians scattered on couches and floors—her first lesson in the cold, splintery realities of the life of a working musician.
As she grew older, in the time-honored traditions of teenage rebellion, Lydia turned her back on these roots, moved to Columbus and immersed herself in the insurgent punk scene there, enthusiastically absorbing the musical and artistic influences of everyone from Richard Hell to Hank Williams III. Eventually she would reconnect with many of her early influences and embark on her own musical odyssey that has seen her music described as pop, alt-country, rock and Americana, although she says she is really none of those things. She’s shy, loves to read and isn’t quite certain where she comes from.
Rolling Stone picked Lydia Loveless as a Ten to Watch for 2014, Spin called her one of the Five Best New Artists of the Year and she’s garnered accolades and rave reviews following a killer set at this year’s SXSW. On the road to promote her brand new record, Somewhere Else, Ms. Loveless took time out to talk with Monday Rock City.
You’re getting a lot of great press.
Yeah, I think we’re um, on the upswing now?
How does life change when Rolling Stone magazine names you a Ten to Watch for 2014?
Not much yet. I guess more people know about me now? I’m still waiting for the check to roll in. We went to SXSW a few weeks ago and a lot of people came out to the show so that was nice. Sometimes you do those things and no once cares.
It’s cliché to ask an artist’s influences but I think everyone is trying to figure you out.
We get all kinds of weird comparisons. I heard last week that I had ripped off Neko Case’s entire career. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what I should say when people ask me that question. But really, I’m trying to get to a place where I strip off the genres and just write good songs.
You get looped as alt-country or Americana but it doesn’t sound like either of those to me. More 80s college rock, maybe? I hear the Pretenders and Lone Justice, cowpunk-era Blondie and even the Go-Go’s from Talk Show. Who did you grow up listening to?
The Pretenders and Blondie for sure, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello. My mom loved the Velvet Underground. My parents were into all sorts of things. My dad was a huge Eagles fan but also into the Talking Heads and Devo. Being born in the 90s I obviously love a lot of bad, cheesy pop influences —
Okay, like, Britney Spears was the first record I owned. Um, I loved Roxette.
Me too! And there’s no shame in “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” That song changed the world. Okay, your three favorite kid records.
No, I mean like records you loved when you were a kid. The ones you wore out.
Uh…, let’s see. New Miserable Experience by the Gin Blossoms.
I hear that one in your music for sure.
Combat Rock by the Clash. What else? Probably The Sign by Ace of Base. Ha!
Ace of Base is totally acceptable.
It’s not horrible and embarrassing?
Not for me. I was the DJ at the roller rink.
Yes, way. So what are you listening to now?
Um, Angel Olson’s, Burn Your Fire for No Witness. Tove Lo, Truth Serum for sure and let’s see…. Oh, Joe Nolan, Tornado.
That may have been another stupid thing that slipped out of my mouth. But I do get a lot of inspiration from books and poetry. I was very shy growing up. So I read a lot. I don’t want that image of downing shots of whiskey and throwing barstools to follow me around. That’s not the person I want to be. I spend a lot of time back home in the library and Columbus has one of the best. I spend too much money on books too. That’s how I’m bookish? I guess.
What are you reading now?
Numerology and the Divine Triangle.
Yeah. I loved Richard Hell’s biography too. It just came out.
I saw you mention two of my favorites, Bukowski and Raymond Carver.
I think every teenager loves those things.
(laughs) Okay, maybe not every teenager. I don’t ever know how to describe him – it’s not dumbed down but reading Bukowski feels like you’re having a conversation with him. Even though he’s not very uplifting, his writing doesn’t bring me down.
That’s a good way to put it.
My husband likes Kerouac. He gets tired of me talking about Bukowski.
So your husband plays bass and your dad was the drummer.
But you had to kick your former pastor dad out of the band once you got successful.
Man, that’s like… the rawest way to put it. But yeah. We just got to a place where we were traveling constantly and I don’t think my dad was enjoying it. He’s almost sixty now and I think he’s happier at home doing granddad stuff. Living in the van lifestyle isn’t for him at this point.
How do you play songs about sex when your dad is on drums?
Come on, he had to know what you were singing about.
Yeah… my parents were never judgmental and I don’t think singing about something sexual is wrong. When I was young and my dad was a pastor he was very wrapped up in a church that I don’t think… was really who he was. Even as a kid I could sense it. I always wondered why we had to hate people who were different from us. It was just a really bad church experience, I don’t want to go into too many details but we ended up losing our home and having to move out of the country. Everything was very uptight and closed-minded back then but I um, think my dad has learned a lot from his kids. I still feel like a spiritual person.
At least they were playing you the Velvet Underground and not bad Contemporary Christian.
My parents always had good tastes in music. Thank God.
How do you tour if you’re shy?
It’s something I’m still working on. To…get over it. To stop drinking a lot to get over it.
You drink a lot before going on stage?
No, I feel at home on stage. It’s off stage, interacting with people. The expectations people have of you, to perform and always be smart and be on. That’s the hard part for me. I can’t perform off stage. It’s hard for me because I’m just socially awkward and anxious.
Are they trying to market you more sexy than you are comfortable with?
I don’t know if I would say sexy. I almost feel like I’m marketed as masculine. Like manly in some way. I don’t want to just be seen as some country singer who’s doing shots all the time. Those people don’t get it. I like to meet people on a human level. I talk to a lot of people after shows and they end up telling me about their personal lives. It’s almost like I’m a therapist or something. (pause) I don’t know.
So what are your thoughts on Nashville?
I remember being on Music Row and someone offered my dad a hand job for cigarettes.
Yeah. That was very depressing.
But Music Row is all dentists and law offices now.
What do you think about Nashville? I mean, you live there. What about the music scene?
Uh… Well. Nashville’s worst is awful and our best is really good. It’s a wonderful place to live. Musically?
Nashville gets blamed for a lot of bad music. But I don’t think it’s Nashville’s fault.
Yeah, I agree. There’s still a lot of good here.
I just don’t think we need to go to a certain town to make it. I’m more of a Midwest person. Or even West Coast. But I do love Nashville.
We had a Ford van but we drove it til it died. We’ve got a Dodge van now so I feel a little safer.
Are you living the dream?
…yeah! I think I am. My parents taught me success is happiness. So I guess so. I really feel like I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing.
I know you’re bookish and kind of shy but could you plug me something before we go?
Um, I’ve got a seven inch record coming out next week for National Record Day called “Mile High”?
How cool is that?
Pretty cool, actually!