Lydia Loveless on Her New Album, Escaping the Pigeonhole, and Her Love of Classic Rock
All Grown Up
Apr 10, 2014
When one thinks of Lydia Loveless, Fleetwood Mac isn't the first thing that comes to mind. The 20-something Ohio-born country punk has filled three albums with her own particular brand of Americana-laced rock and roll and, as her blistering live shows can attest, she doesn't exactly hew to the Stevie Nicks style of flowing gowns and mystic balladry. However, on her third album, Somewhere Else, Loveless evidences a new, more sophisticated side. Lyrics are more nuanced. Guitar playing is more developed. Themes of drinking and sexual innuendo are (gasp!) toned down. The title track even echoes Fleetwood Mac, resembling "Dreams" from that band's legendary Rumours. Time will tell whether Somewhere Else approaches such legendary status, but for now, suffice it to say that with this album, Loveless has created her masterpiece. She sat down with Under the Radar just prior to the album's release to discuss artistic growth, the dangers of being pigeonholed, and why she's still obsessed with the innuendo.
Frank Valish (Under the Radar): What's the build up like, waiting for the record to be released and the tour to start? Are you able to relax, or is it anxiety-provoking?
Lydia Loveless: It's very much anxiety-provoking. But I'm just a super-anxious person anyway. But I think lately it's been pretty bad. I've been waking up and wanting to throw up, and I had no idea why. I think I just realized as you asked that question why that keeps happening to me. Just thinking about how I'm going to be in a van for six weeks with no escape from the people that are also in the van with me is anxiety-inducing.
When and where did you write the songs on this album? Did you write them when you were touring?
I would say it was about half and half. I'm constantly touring, so probably a lot of them were written on tour. But I would say that this is the most I've ever written while actually on the road. I wrote a lot of them while at SXSW.
I read that you've said that these songs came very quickly for you. Is that different from how it was for you when you wrote Indestructible Machine?
Not particularly. I think I always have a big writing spurt right before I go into the studio. It's almost like I have to give myself a deadline and then just book the time and hope for the best. [Laughs]
How old were you when you wrote the songs on Indestructible Machine?
I think I was like 18 or 19 when I wrote that album.
How do you feel like your own growth and maturity came out in the songs you wrote for this album, compared to when you were 18 and wrote the last one?
It's hard to say. I feel different, but I don't feel like a different person, so it's hard to say if I noticed a change. I guess I would say that these songs are a little more sophisticated and mature. I'm not as focused on the things that I cared about back then, like being the wild chick that can't be tamed. I'm not so much that way anymore. When I think of a song like "Do Right" from Indestructible Machine, it's a lot different than now. And it was more inspired by poetry and literature this time around, rather than getting drunk and cheating on my boyfriend or whatever.
I wanted to talk about that—not the cheating on your boyfriend. But you've talked a bunch in interviews about the improvement in your guitar on this album and the harmonies, the more sophisticated instrumentation and sound. But how do you feel your songwriting has improved or changed? Listening over and over to this record, for me, it seems lyrically and thematically like a more sophisticated and mature record.
I don't know how to pinpoint what is more mature about my actual songwriting, because it's hard to, when you are the person writing the songs. But I guess I feel like I am just writing more interesting songs. And I think that comes from being better at guitar, so it sort of goes hand in hand. And as far as arrangements go, I think I'm more willing to edit and cut things and take direction from Todd [May], my guitar player. Us working together more closely these past couple years has helped me a lot to improve on songwriting. Not that he's writing the songs for me, but jut having someone to bounce ideas off of, who's almost like a songwriting partner, is really good.
Do you feel that this is a more introspective record?
Probably. Certainly lyrically, it's more personal, I think, this time around.
Was that a conscious decision to move away somewhat from all of the innuendo and in-your-face lyrics of Indestructible Machine?
I'm still pretty obsessed with innuendo. I don't think I'll ever really be able to let go of that one. [Laughs] But yeah. It's not that I'm not proud of Indestructible Machine, but I was just tired of the whole she-sings-about-getting-drunk thing, and I just wanted to push myself a little harder to sing about different themes. And I think I've become a lot different, from all the touring and meeting so many people. I've become a little more observant, and I guess I want to say intelligent. I hope. I guess I was just able to explore more themes this time around.
Did you feel like people pigeonholed you or judged based on some of that stuff on the last record perhaps to a degree that you didn't expect?
Yeah, and I think that just comes along with being female. The ironic album cover I think was lost on everyone basically, because of my being a woman. The whole point of that album wasn't that I could drink gasoline and I'm so awesome and I love partying. It was actually quite the opposite, and I think a lot of people just missed the point, because—I don't know. Because it was a rowdy chick album, maybe. And I think they just couldn't see past a woman singing about getting drunk. I do think I got a little bit pigeonholed by that.
Obviously that's not the way it should be, but then does that affect the way that you approach writing?
I think it did for a while. Because I just got so caught up in that, and I was really insecure and sort of freaked out about where I was going to go next, and I wanted it to be better. I'm still the same person, so I didn't try to make a conscious effort to censor myself or anything, but I guess I just phrased things a little differently. I had to step back and look at how I put things into words. I had really bad writer's block for a long time because of that. I just had to eventually just say, "Alright, I'm not going to think about this at all and put the album on the back burner." And that's when all the songs started coming to me, because I was more relaxed about the whole thing.
So you were second guessing yourself.
You were going to do a real country album after Indestructible Machine. Was that part of it, bucking the idea and saying, Screw this I'm going to do something completely different?
Yeah, I think I was just, "Oh, I need to do something really great and it needs to have this serious theme and everything has to sound fluid," because people were calling my songwriting schizophrenic. So I wanted to make like a surf/desert-y sounding album. But then I was just like, "Nope, this isn't happening. I'm not inspired to do this. Nothing's coming to me." I think Somewhere Else is just a classic sound. Not like classic rock in the sense that it sounds like a bunch of old men playing '70s music [laughs], just less of the vibe that it's going for something and more just good songwriting.
Can you tell me a little bit about the place you were in when you wrote "Everything's Gone?" That's a really powerful song.
Thank you. I guess I was in a very depressed place. [Laughs] I think that day I had gone hiking. It had been so long since I had just unplugged. I was on the road all the time or constantly on the phone or on the Internet, and I just went hiking and was alone with my thoughts. And I got really sad that it had been so long since I had just gone out into the woods and been alone. It just reminded me, because when I grew up that was my backyard. You could go out and watch a meteor shower and go hiking and camp and have a fire, and it's just totally different now. And I was just thinking about the urbanization of everything. Now there's not a lot to go to get away. So I got really depressed, thinking about my hometown.
Have you been back, like you say in the song, to your hometown?
I haven't been there for almost 10 years. I was actually thinking of taking a trip up there this weekend, but it's really painful to go back, and I think I'm just a little scared. So I don't know. I don't know when I'll get around to it.
Why is it painful to go back?
Just having to leave the country. It's sort of a personal family story, but it's hard to go back and see all the land that I grew up on and it's not mine anymore.
Do you have a goal to move to a place where there is a large expanse? Not the same place obviously, but maybe the same feel?
I would say yeah, but it's hard because I can never make up my mind. Part of me wants to go move to L.A., but them part of me wants a ranch or something. It's hard to decide. I have this unrealistic goal of winning the lottery so I can just have my country estate and my apartment in L.A. That's my super-realistic plan for the next five years.
I wanted to ask also, since we talked a lot about the change in mindset in writing these songs and watching the lyrics so it can be more sophisticated, do you still get a kick out of singing stuff like "Boy Crazy," stuff that might shock people a bit?
[Laughs] Yeah. Because I am totally boy crazy. And because when I was a kid, people would call me boy crazy. It's funny because when you're adult, you get called a slut instead of being called boy crazy, so I just wanted to write sort of an anthem for girls. Because it's a big rap theme, like why can't a girl have sex with a lot of dudes? Then she gets called a ho. So I wanted to write the country-punk version of that. [Laughs]
You've talked about how this album is less country and more rock and roll; were there any particular touchstones that you felt you reached back for in writing/recording these songs?
As far as influences?
Or albums that you were maybe listening to or perhaps are important for you. Personally, I hear some Elvis Costello in the first song and one song sounds like Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams." I wondered what your take on that was.
Yeah, I would say Rumours was a big influence. This is weird, but it was something that I was listening to a lot: Hot Buttered Soul [Isaac Hayes' 1969 album]. "Hurt So Bad" was kind of a take on that. But I was thinking about classic musicians and bands. Another weird one was Blue Oyster Cult. I was listening to that and thinking, "Wow, this is awesome. I just want to make a badass rock album." And I think I kind of accomplished that.
Is that stuff you hadn't listened to before?
Yeah, not so much. I'd say Blue Oyster Cult was definitely something that I hadn't really paid attention to. I was listening to that a lot at South By, and that's when we had the studio booked, and I still kind of had reservations about the boring stuff that I was writing. I don't know what it was about that trip, but I got so inspired while we were down there. And we had a lot of down time so I was able to write. And I remember I was writing "Somewhere Else," and I was like, "God this sounds like Fleetwood Mac. Is it too much like Fleetwood Mac?" [Laughs] But I was definitely influenced a lot of classic rock. And Stax. I was listening to a lot of the Stax collection.
And—not that this is classic rock-but I read a recent interview where you've name—checked Def Leppard's Hysteria and Metallica's Ride the Lightning. Do you listen to a lot of heavy stuff on the road?
I listen to a lot of crap, yes. [Laughs] I love cheesy classic rock and hair metal. I just love that stuff. But yeah, Metallica was probably my favorite car music. It's sort of like me and Ben, my husband, are really into that stuff, and the other half of my band is like, "Oh god, get me out of this van," so it's sort of a battle.