Alt-Country Chanteuse Lydia Loveless Has No Guilty Pleasures
Alt-country singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless grew up on a farm in rural Cushocton, Ohio, playing in bands with her two older sisters and her dad. Though her voice has the ageless authority of Neko Case or Patsy Cline, and her songs suggest a lifetime of romantic disappointment, sexual frustration, and poor choices, she's only 23 years old. Her three-month-old third album, Somewhere Else, has won endorsements from NPR Music and Pitchfork, among other outlets. What have you been doing with your life?
I spoke with Loveless by phone as she was en route to Houston for the first date of a tour, supporting veteran cow-punkers Old 97’s, that stops at the 9:30 Club Saturday night. I've edited the transcript for clarity.
You seem to be a very prolific songwriter. You released the five-song Boy Crazy EP in November, then the full-length Somewhere Else in February, and a single with a previously unreleased original for Record Store Day. Are you writing all the time?
It depends on the season, or my mood. It had been a couple years since I released anything, so I kind of just went nuts and tried to release everything I could. Sometimes I’m prolific and other times I don’t even get dressed. [Laughs.] So I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
When you’re in writing mode, do you keep office hours?
Pretty much. I don’t have a job so I try to spend most of my days writing or at least fiddling around with something. I wouldn’t necessarily say I keep steady hours, but I try to work during the day.
I was just listening to your song “Chris Isaak,” where there’s a line about sitting in your room listening to his album Forever Blue. Was that really an important album for you?
It’s definitely one of my favorite albums of all time. I like the cheesy stuff.
It’s cheesy? All I know about that record is that it's got that song Kubrick used in the trailer for Eyes Wide Shut.
Forever Blue is totally cheesy. [Laughs.] I mean, it’s great, but it’s completely cheesy.
I’ve never heard it cited as one of those albums like Blood on the Tracks or something, where whether or not you were around when it came out, someone will have told you to listen to it.
I don’t think Chris Isaak is passed around as one of those songwriting heroes. I guess, just, that sort of “woe is me,” mournful, sad stuff is what appeals to me, and what he’s made a career out of. Whenever he has a happy song, I’m like, “Shut up!” and I skip it. I just really like that he’s perfected that, I guess.
I read that your dad is the drummer in your band, or was. Is he still touring with you?
How long did that go on for?
My dad was my drummer for about seven years, I think. But it’s been about a year and a half that I’ve been with my new guys.
How did you fire your dad? Did you tell him you’re an adult now and you need your space?
I guess it was a little bit of that. But mostly it was that he’s getting older now, and he’s got grandkids. I think he prefers to be at home. He was upset at first, but I don’t think the touring life is really his thing.
You were so young when you started touring. Was there a protective element to having your dad along? Like the band chaperone?
Yeah. I couldn’t even get into most of the places I was playing. It was definitely helpful in that respect.
You’ve talked about learning to sing by emulating Ace of Base and Fiona Apple, two artists who sound nothing like you.
Vocally, just the fact I’m from the Midwest is kind of a different thing in general. I think our music is moving away from the country genre, anyway. I was born in 1990, so that was the music that was there for me to listen to. I guess I’ve been inspired by a lot of weird shit because of that: Obviously the 90s explosion of terrible pop—Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, things like that—that’s what I was singing along to. There’s a definite pop influence in my music.
You’re from a family of musicians. Were your sisters or your dad ever trying to cultivate your taste? Did they push specific albums on you?
Definitely. I have two older sisters, and one of them was on the same trajectory as I was musically. Our older sister was basically holed up in her bedroom listening to post-grunge. Some good stuff came out of that: She introduced me to the Pixies and the Velvet Underground and the Clash.
You’ve written a few songs where the narrator is a man. That doesn’t seem like it would require a huge leap of imagination, but it’s still something not every songwriter does, working in the voice of the opposite gender. Do you approach those songs any differently?
Not really. I guess what I would say is it’s easier for me to make it sound like it’s from my perspective. Maybe I’m taking the easy way out by not totally creating a character, but just taking on their personality. It makes it a lot easier for me, to do it that way.
I spend a lot of time with men, so it’s pretty easy for me to turn into one.
I love the cover of Ke$ha’s “Blind” you put on the B-side of your Record Store Day single this year. It’s like completely different song. Is there a story about how you decided to do your own version?
I actually really love Ke$ha. I frequently will sit around and learn her songs on guitar at home when I’m not doing anything else creatively. That was one I’d had sort of as an encore for a while. We were going back into the studio to do some bonus tracks. We ended up working it up together as a band and I thought it sounded really good. I wanted to record it with them. Up to that point I’d just been playing it alone. They made it sound a lot richer and moodier.
You also have a song on the new record about Rimbaud’s affair with Paul Verlaine, and a Kirsty MacColl cover. It feels like this is almost as much a showcase for your taste as for your skill as a songwriter. Are you a big reader?
I was home-schooled, so I definitely read a lot. My parents have all kinds of different tastes. I’ve always been a bit schizophrenic in the things that I like. A lot of it comes from sort of being raised as a hayseed by intellectuals. [Laughs.] I guess I’m pretty shameless. I don’t really have guilty pleasures.
Not even Chris Isaak?
What’s the most recent piece of music you bought for yourself?
It’s actually my friend from Columbus Krita Botjer’s new album. She’s got an electro-pop band called Damn the Witch Siren. It’s really good.
And what are you reading there in the van?
I’m reading Villette by Charlotte Brontë.
I want to get a sense of what’s fueling the songs we’ll be hearing in two years.
There will probably be a song called “Mr. Rochester” on the next album, I would think.
He's from Jane Eyre, right? Have you started that one?
Actually, I have. [Laughs.]
Lydia Loveless is at the 9:30 Club with Old 97’s on Saturday night. The show is sold out.