For her followup album Somewhere Else, the Columbus, Ohio, native has largely applied the brakes to her wild country streak, though the seductive twang is still in her voice, even when comparing her romantic impulses to the way Verlaine loved (and shot) Rimbaud. Somewhere Else is not quite so simply a devastatingly personal rock & roll album, appreciably more indebted to Patti Smith or the Replacements than alternative country, with songs that somehow dig deeper to find even more emotionally detailed and darkly vulnerable stories than any Loveless has written before.
In advance of her return to St. Louis for a show at Off Broadway on Wednesday, March 5, we reached Loveless at her home in Columbus to find out just how the new record and the new songs came to be.
Roy Kasten: Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Lydia Loveless: Are you talking about serious songs or going way back?
Just the first song you remember.
When I was a kid I used to make up stupid songs all the time, and I still do this, in between the good songs. The first one, when I was a kid, was about Don Henley. Writing songs about other singers has turned out to be a good portion of my career. I was probably seven or eight years old, and I wrote about Don Henley waking up in the morning and looking in the mirror and asking, "Who is the ugliest man of all?" Like the queen from Snow White. And it was like, "You are, Mr. Henley." That was the first complete song I ever wrote.
That's impressive. I don't think I could have picked Don Henley out of a lineup when I was a kid.
When I was growing up my dad had Building the Perfect Beast in his truck and pretty much nothing else. He played other albums, but we listened to that all the time.
Do you remember the first song that you were proud of?
That would be "Let Me Leave" off my first album. That was when I realized that I could write a song, that I was ready to do some solo stuff. It took off from there. Teen angst inspired it, but I felt it had a style, a form, and it wasn't just my usual rambling stuff. I called my sister and played it for her over the phone. She said it was good. I usually know something is good when I want to play it for someone, and if I don't, then it probably sucks.
You're very close to your family, and your dad played drums in your band for a while. That doesn't quite follow the punk narrative.
I think it's been important that my parents have been supportive of me. I could say, "I'm going to be a musician. Can I borrow some money?" [Laughs] My family is really close, and we do creative things together. That's given me the drive and the comfort to do this as a career. Growing up, I don't want to say we were radicals, but we were intelligent people, self-educated, me and my siblings were home-schooled, and my parents always said that we should do what makes us happy. So that was sort of a punk mentality growing up. And then when I was teenager, there was that horrible pop-punk explosion, and every song was "No one understands meeeee!!" That was my thing, and then I started realizing that this stuff is total bullshit. I started checking books out from the library about actual punk rock and where it came from. Living in Coshocton [Ohio] with dial-up Internet, I didn't have a lot of access to music, but moving to Columbus when I was fourteen, it got easier to find stuff.
Continue to page two for more of our interview.
The new record has a loose, rock & roll feel. Was recording it easier, faster or harder than the last one?
I don't know if it was faster, but it felt easier. I'm closer to everyone in my band now. And I worked more closely with Todd [May], my guitar payer. The arrangements were more thought out. And I'd improved on the guitar. We were able to layer the guitar parts, which is not something I would have done when I was younger. I was too punk rock. I didn't have time to make good records! Not that Indestructible Machine wasn't good, but this time I wanted to create more layers, more of an atmosphere. So it took a little longer, but it wasn't like we were in the studio for a year getting bored and hacking it out. It was still a rock & roll environment. We were able to be spontaneous and try different things. So it was more comfortable over all.
You've been quite productive over the last year in your songwriting. You had an EP out late last year, and then a few months later you have the full length. Did something trigger all those songs?
I don't know. I did have a wave of inspiration. It had been two years since Indestructible Machine came out, so I was pushing myself to write more. It coincided with being inspired for some reason. I'm at the mercy of my brain and my hormones. I just trusted them and followed them, and ended up writing a lot of songs last year.
It's not that you didn't have an audience before Indestructible Machine came out, but it did expand your audience, and I'm wondering if that changed your songwriting?
When I was started out I was really aware of an audience, and that gave me writer's block. I definitely try to keep in mind that people are going to hear the songs, so I care a little more about lyrical content, and maybe not being as silly this time around. But I still just make music because I have to. It just comes out of me. Thinking about all the people that are going to hear the songs can really hinder creativity.
It's not like you're censoring yourself on the new album.
Yeah, not really. [Laughs]
Or maybe the uncensored version would be the Columbus Chainsaw Massacre.
There might be alternate lyrics, but those are mostly reserved for band practice.
On the subject of censoring or not censoring, your song "Head" is hardly the first song about fellatio, but unless Prince is writing about oral sex, it's usually a subject written about through metaphors. But that song is really literal and really emotional at the same time. Were you surprised that it happened?
I was a little surprised. It was an idea that I had for a long time. When I first met Todd we were having a songwriting session, and one of the ideas we threw out was to write a really sad song about head, not make it funny or gimmicky, but make it emotional, even make people cry. I tried for quite a few years to get the right lyrical formula. I felt like it was too funny or too in your face, but we finally got the formula right. It is an emotional song, and it is depressing. It has an upbeat feel, but it's not an uplifting song. I didn't want people to point to it and say, "Here's another joke song from Lydia Loveless."
The song "Everything's Gone" is really powerful. It's about returning to the place where you grew up and having that feeling of wanting to burn it all down. Is that autobiographical?
It's totally autobiographical. I wouldn't go into too many details; it's sort of my family's personal history. It's something I wanted to write about for a long time. I live in the city and don't get to get away too much, so I went hiking in the woods. Going out there and unplugging for a couple days unleashed a flood of emotions and nostalgia for the country, so I was finally able to write about it. It's about missing the country but still hating that town and a lot of people in it -- hence the desire to drop a bomb on it.