With three separate releases—Boy Crazy (EP), Somewhere Else (LP), and the single “Mile High” b/w “Blind”—all jammed into the last six months, Lydia Loveless has been everywhere at once. She was kind enough to chat with me about nervous breakdowns, maturing as an artist, and the importance of your neighborhood record store.
The first thing I want to ask is: do you ever get tired of dragging around your enormous set of shiny brass testicles?
[Laughing] Oh, I don’t know. I’m pretty proud of them! I like to show them off.
Nothing wrong with that. Record Store Day was just the other day and you released an original single, “Mile High,” with a cover of Ke$ha’s “Blind” on the other side. The cover seems to be getting more attention than the original tune.
We kind of expected that, actually.
But the thing that catches me about it is that when you sing “Blind,” you make it sound like you wrote it yourself.
I mean, obviously it’s a very produced pop song, so I wanted to just take it and despoil it for what it is: just a pretty, sad song.
You’ve been playing it live a bunch, too. Is it something you wanted to record and put out?
Kind of. Pretty much every show I do three or four songs acoustic, and I’m always trying to build up a repertoire of interesting covers. That was one that I’d been doing alone for a long time, and we went into the studio to record some bonus tracks. I said, “Why don’t we do that one?” The guys made it sound really pretty and moody, which I liked. So I guess it was just… I wasn’t really planning on it, but when we played it at practice, it just sounded so good I decided to take it into the studio. I try not to focus too much on covers, but that one ended up being so good that I thought, what the hell?
Do you have any fond record store memories from growing up?
Yeah, actually when I first moved to Columbus [Ohio] I was about 14, and it’s unfortunately closed now, but it basically saved my horrible teenage life—it was called Evil Empire Records. I used to just go in there all the time and the owner would suggest things to me, and it was just sort of a hangout for me. Which now, as a broke musician, I don’t do as much, but it was a great thing to do that was actually educational and will benefit your life. [Otherwise] it was just, “Well, let’s drink a 40 .” [laughs]
So what are you listening to lately?
Well I’m really still stuck on the latest Angel Olsen [Burn Your Fire for No Witness], that’s a really good record. John Moreland is awesome. And this isn’t anything new, but I actually just downloaded a shitload of Beatles on iTunes last night. I just got in a mood. So that’s what I’ve been listening to today.
Do you have a favorite Beatles era or record?
Probably the White Album and Abbey Road. Oh, actually Revolver—I think Revolver’s probably my favorite.
You’re playing a whole lot more guitar on this record. Is that something that’s been a goal of yours? Or is it something that just evolved from playing shows and recording ?
It’s definitely been a goal of mine pretty much since I started playing. [laughs] It’s just been a very slow process. I remember when I was a kid, I heard Frank Black say, “I only learned enough guitar to write my own songs,” so that’s what I decided to do. I just basically learned by writing. I guess that’s good in a way, but also I’m not very good. I can’t figure songs out by ear. So I started taking guitar lessons at one point last year. That was definitely very helpful. But I didn’t take them for very long because the guy got mad at me because I had to go on tour, which I thought was kind of ironic. So it was a mixture of wanting to and Todd [May], my guitar player, telling me I needed to play my fucking guitar—he didn’t want to play my solos. Not in a mean way, but just to be encouraging. And also having Jay [Gasper] in the band now, I have a lot more freedom and comfort. Now that we have three guitars I don’t always have to just chunk on chords all the time. We can create a lot of layers that way. So I think that’s definitely helped me improve.
Along with playing more guitar, you got into the production aspect of this record a little more, is that right? Yeah, I did more harmonies than
I’ve ever done in my life between Somewhere Else and the EP.
So is that something that’s coming from experience? How did that evolve?
Yeah, it’s definitely experience. My first record was totally produced by other people, which I found I didn’t really enjoy very much. Indestructible Machine was mostly me and Joe [Viers], and this time I just wanted to put more effort into it. I’ve always been, “Let’s just do an album and put it out,” but lately I’ve been paying more attention to production. Once you make a record, you listen to things differently and you think about music differently. So it was a bit of experience and just wanting to feel like I put more effort into it and more thought into it. For lack of a better word, I [had been] just a punk who wanted to make the record and not think about it much, but this time around I wanted to create a little bit more of a mood.
There’s a little less, let’s say, twang on this record than there was on Indestructible Machine. You certainly don’t seem like someone who would pigeonhole herself into a genre, but is the sound of this record a conscious move away from that honky-tonk sound, or is it more of a natural evolution?
I’d say it was more of a natural evolution. I’ve always been really into pop music, and I think more of that influence came out. Just from having more experience as a songwriter I was able to hone my influences and my songwriting craft a little more over the years. And I think part of it was also reining things in a little bit and not having as many instruments on the album. Like I have a set band now, so that was nice. It wasn’t so much like, “Hey, do you wanna play on my record?” I didn’t really have the set band, but now we’ve been touring all together, and we’re an official band now. So that might have been part of the change.
One of the things I really admire about your songwriting is how honest it is. It’s a quality I hear in the Avett Brothers as well. A lot of folks write great songs, but you can tell they’re telling a story or holding something back. But you make us believe every word that you sing. Is that something you aspire to, or is that just how these songs come out?
I think it’s a little of both. I think originally I just couldn’t help myself and I just sort of went with that. I’m a ranty person in real life, you know? [Laughs] It’s interesting how people are like, “Oh it must be about a character!” And it’s like, “Yeah, let’s go with that.” [laughs] I never really like to tell people what songs are about or if it’s specifically about me or not. So I think the more honest I am about it, the more people can relate to it, and also the more people might think it could be about anyone, as opposed to just being about me.
You write very introspective songs, but it’s also been your dream to make music. Did you set out to be a performer or more of a songwriter? Or to put it another way, do you enjoy performing ?
Yeah I do. I think when I was little I mostly wanted to be a performer. I was a lot more extroverted as a kid, too. I saw Britney Spears and just wanted to do that, so I started taking dance lessons and went to acting school. I think I just wanted to be the center of attention. And then, I don’t know what happened to me in my teenage years, but I sort of became very shy and weird, and focused more on songwriting, kind of stayed in my room. I think that was a wise move, because God knows what I’d be doing now if I didn’t start writing songs.
I don’t know if anybody knows what happened to them in their teenage years.
I don’t know; it’s all a bit of a blur!
You put out the full-length Somewhere Else, then a little before that you had the EP Boy Crazy, plus you’ve got the Record Store Day single. What’s with the big dumptruck full of songs? Did you just have a really busy year?
I had a crappy year, so therefore I had a really good creative year [laughs]. I think that’s what happened: I lost my mind, so I had a bunch of songs. I’m kind of at the end of that cycle and absorbing again and kind of figuring out where to go now.
I have a lot of nervous breakdowns, apparently.
I’d say they’re all separate, from separate periods of creativity. Boy Crazy was more of a thematic thing for me, about relationships and being, I guess, boy crazy—hence the title. That was actually written and recorded after Somewhere Else. A lot of people were like, “These must just be leftover songs.” I’m like, “No… I just went crazy again and wrote more songs.”
Was Boy Crazy an instance of, “Let me make an EP out of this,” or was it more, “Hey, I’ve got these five songs that go together?”
It was a little of both. I had wanted to do an EP for a while because I don’t always have the energy for writing an entire album. I happened to have those songs, but also it had been a while since Indestructible so I wanted to give people something to tide them over, and that was something we could put together quickly. Then the Record Store Day thing, that was written after Europe. We were in Scandinavia for three weeks, it’s just gloomy as hell; I just got really depressed and had a nervous breakdown and ended up writing “Mile High” about that experience. I have a lot of nervous breakdowns, apparently. [laughs]
I don’t know if you have more than anybody else, it’s just that yours come out documented.
Yeah, I have to use mine for creative good.
Tell me a little bit about working for Bloodshot Records. They have a really incredible stable of artists, and it seems everything that comes out on that label is just really outstanding.
They’re great people to work with, just having the creative control that I have. And also the reputation of being on Bloodshot is nice. It’s a great team of people. We’re all friends, I would say.
It seems like everybody there is having a good time. Stopping by the offices and shooting Youtube videos and such.
Yeah it’s fun, it’s like a little family.
As great as Bloodshot is, you’re one of the only girls. Rosie Flores is there, but she’s been on the scene a little longer. Do you ever feel out of place with them?
I think as a 23 year-old woman, I feel out of place in almost any situation. Most of the people around me are men in their 40s, so it’s kind of hard to not feel out of place, but I wouldn’t say that I feel particularly that way at Bloodshot.
The last time you came through New Orleans you were playing with Scott Biram. Last fall you did a run with the Supersuckers. Now on this next tour, in May, you’ll be with the Old 97s. Do you line yourself up with old grizzled veterans on purpose?
No, but it seems to work. I like the Old White Men tours. I guess it’s just that we sort of have a similar fanbase, oddly enough. Like old record collector types. The Old 97s were a name that when I was younger and writing the kind of music that I do, people were like, “You remind me of the Old 97s.” That’s how I ended up discovering them. It’s definitely gonna be awesome. I’ll probably gaze into Rhett Miller’s eyes and creep him out. Swoon.
I’ve been a big Scott Biram guy for quite a while, and I was really excited when you guys came through town together. Do you have any good road stories that you would be able to share with us?
[Laughs] He’s mostly settled down now. I thought I was gonna have these crazy stories, but I think he mostly takes care of his mental health these days. He would take us out for barbecue, and we had a cookout at his house, which was awesome. We ended up putting on a bunch of wigs and having an ‘80s dance party, and that was fun. I guess the funniest thing, which isn’t really that exciting, is that we both really like sardines. One time I was eating a can of them in the van and spilled all of the oil all over myself, so now every time he sees me, he asks if I smell sardines. Because I just reeked of fish the entire day.
Lydia Loveless will be playing One Eyed Jacks on May 28. Her new LP, Somewhere Else, is available on Bloodshot Records. For more info, check out lydialoveless.com