ABOVE: LYDIA LOVELESS. IMAGE COURTESY OF PAULA MASTERS TRAVIS
Lydia Loveless is a spitfire. Since moving with her family from the farm in Coshocton, Ohio where she grew up, to the big city of Columbus, Ohio at 14 years old, Loveless has been on a path to spread her particular brand of country-punk music to the masses. Song has always been in her blood. Her father, a pastor, drummer, and later bar owner, surrounded Loveless with the sounds of New Wave artists like Devo and Talking Heads during her formative years. Upon moving to the big city, Loveless played in a band called Carson Drew with her father and siblings, and immersed herself in both punk and country music. She released her first album, The Only Man, in 2010, and its follow-up, the excellent Indestructible Machine a year later.
Indestructible Machine finds Loveless mixing traditional country themes of loving, leaving, and, of course, drink, with a visceral punk-rock energy; live, she comes off as something like Hank Williams crossed with Kathleen Hanna. Currently 22, Loveless is preparing an EP of new songs for the fall, with a new album to follow in spring 2014. We chatted with her in anticipation of her show at Hill Country in New York City tomorrow night.
FRANK VALISH: Do you have a first musical memory?
LYDIA LOVELESS: I think I was six when I discovered the song “White Wedding” by Billy Idol, and that was the first time I thought I had discovered something on my own. It’s the first song I remember hearing and liking without anyone telling me to like it.
VALISH: The bio on your website says that you got into punk rock upon moving to Columbus? Did you spend a lot of time at shows? What kind of music was influencing your worldview at that time?
LOVELESS: Yeah, I did go to as many shows as I could at 14, with parents who actually looked out for me. [laughs] I was dating a guy who played guitar in a punk band called The Fucking Goddamn$. So that was one of the first bands I got into. And there were some house shows and bar shows that sort of introduced me to punk rock. There was also a record store that I would go to a lot called Evil Empire and browse, get suggestions from the teller, and just learn about music.
VALISH: You’ve talked about the music that was in your house growing up and the punk that you got into in Columbus. I’ve also read that you listened to lot of pop music when you were younger. But the songs you write are very country-ish in flavor and bent. Where did that side come from?
LOVELESS: I was listening to country at the time too, mostly because when I was a kid growing up in the country, all my friends would listen to the CMT crap and I really hated it. That would make me really angry. But when I got older I started discovering that there was actually good country music that could sort of take me back to my roots. I was kind of a little redneck growing up, living on a farm, and running around in the country. I developed hillbilly tendencies, but I wanted to listen to something a little more meaningful than “Redneck Woman” [Gretchen Wilson’s 2004 country hit] or whatever. My parents listened to the Outlaws when I was a kid and I just had no interest in it. But my boyfriend at the time listened to Hank Williams III, and I thought that was really cool because he was singing about whatever he wanted to but it was very country.
VALISH: A lot of people in the media made a lot out of your lyrical bent—the feminist/strong-woman statements, the drinking songs. Do you feel that too much is made of all that? I imagine that you got tired of fielding those sorts of questions over and over?
LOVELESS: Well, I don’t think it’s something that people would ask a man. Some people make a huge deal out of the fact that I sing about drinking all the time, but I don’t think of it as singing about drinking. It’s singing about emotions, and sometimes that centers around drinking. To me, I’m writing about things that I’m going through that mean something to me, but some people just reduce it to: “She must drink all the time.” But if a guy sings about that sort of thing, no one really looks twice. So it does get a little old, but I guess it’s to be expected. And I do sing about drinking and being miserable a lot.
VALISH: Do you feel that a certain sort of people come out to your shows?
LOVELESS: I think I get a lot of older males, which I guess makes sense. I guess it’s pretty diverse, but I do have quite a 30-and-older male audience coming out to the shows. I don’t know if that’s due to me being a female or what.
VALISH: Was that something you were anticipating?
LOVELESS: Not really. It’s kind of odd because when I first started playing, I definitely had a younger scum-punk crowd, but as my music developed more and after I started playing electric guitar—you’d think it would be opposite—but a lot of people were like, “You’ve changed.” And I have more of an older audience now.
VALISH: You’re 22. Is that something that’s strange or creepy? It has to be, on some level.
LOVELESS: It’s kind of bizarre, how consistent it is. There’s always a handful of 40-year-old dudes. I don’t know why that is exactly. I don’t know if it’s like my looks or the music or what, but I seem to just really appeal to that age group. A lot of people have said to me, “What’s with all the old men?,” and they laugh. But to me, those are my fans and I’m happy they exist.
VALISH: Have you been writing for a new album?
LOVELESS: Yeah, I’ve actually done all the recording. It’s pretty much in the bag. There’s just mixing and mastering to do. But I’m also going to be working on an EP, which will hopefully come out in the fall.
VALISH: I’ve read interviews where you’ve said that songwriting is not always the easiest thing. Did you find that with this batch of songs, that things came more quickly for you?
LOVELESS: Definitely. And I think everyone was really amped up to work on them, for some reason. A lot of times I just find myself sitting and banging my head against the wall, but that was not the case this time, and I don’t know what that was. Maybe it was just PMS.
VALISH: You’ve mentioned that you felt Indestructible Machine was more representative of how you sounded live and how you ultimately wanted to sound than the first album was. Have things grown or changed sonically or lyrically with the new songs?
LOVELESS: Especially guitar-wise, I’ve improved a lot. I think the new songs are more representative of the rock-‘n’-roll and punk that I was listening to when I was younger. Less country. There was a lot more layering vocally and guitar-wise. There’s some more fancier stuff going on this time, because I’ve improved vocally and guitar-wise, just from doing it so much. It’s a bit more sophisticated.
VALISH: Will you be playing any new songs on these next couple dates?
LOVELESS: Definitely, because I’m too excited to keep them secret.
VALISH: Did you feel that they were following similar lyrical themes, or did you have some different inspiration this time?
LOVELESS: There was definitely different inspiration, but I’m still the same person. I guess it’s not quite as focused on drinking this time around. [laughs] There’s some nostalgic songs about the country. It just focuses on longing for something more, not to be cheesy, but trying to improve my life.
VALISH: Do you have good memories of the country?
LOVELESS: Definitely. When I was there as a kid, I was like, “God, I need more than this out of life.” But now that I’m in the city, I’m like, “God, I’d love to just be able to run around naked and shoot a gun in my backyard again.” [laughs] When you move to the city, you really notice how ugly people can be. And that’s something you don’t really have to deal with in the country. So I do miss that.
VALISH: In other interviews, you’ve talked about having social anxieties and you’ve been described as an introvert. How do you cope with the career that you’ve chosen and why did you chose to be a performer?
LOVELESS: It’s hard to explain. I think a lot of it is the fact that you’re drinking alcohol, hence the songs about drinking. But there’s a different kind of energy when you’re onstage performing than there is talking to someone. When I do interviews, sometimes I’ll just be like “Why the hell did I say that?” because after I hang up the phone I realize there were so many things I could have said, but my brain just goes on lockdown. There’s something about having conversations with people that’s so much different from just singing and playing guitar. And I think a lot of people are actually performers because of that. I can’t really explain why. It’s like just the only chance you have in life to feel really good and outgoing.
VALISH: Is there any of that sort of sentiment in “Learn To Say No” [from Indestructible Machine]?
LOVELESS: That’s totally what that song is about, how for a long time I wasn’t even leaving the house. I was just staying home and getting stoned and drinking. It was a pretty rough period. I think that’s kind of the whole theme of Indestructible Machine, how when you have social anxiety, you can sort of convince yourself that you’ve gotten over it by drinking a bottle of whiskey, but once you sober up you’re still terrified of everything. Hence you’re treating your body like it will never die. I think I have gotten better, just from touring so much, but I still definitely have the skittish nature.
VALISH: When and how do you make time for yourself, and when you can, what do you like to do?
LOVELESS: My idea of making time for myself is writing songs. I never stop beating myself up about trying to be productive, so I don’t really like to do a lot of things other than write in my journal and write songs. I do like to see my friends and hang out with them, but lately I just exercise, write in my journal, read books, and try to write songs. And watch Dr. Who.
LYDIA LOVELESS IS PLAYING FRIDAY, JULY 12 AT HILL COUNTRY IN NEW YORK CITY. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HER WEBSITE.