Only 23, Lydia Loveless has been writing songs longer than she’s been driving, voting or drinking legally. The youngest of a musical family in Columbus, Ohio, she saw her first shows as a teenager in her father’s venue, then watched as her older sisters formed punk bands.
Loveless recorded her solo debut in 2010 but has spent the last four years expanding her sound, refining her songwriting and honing her guitar chops. Her latest full-length album, Somewhere Else will be released Tuesday (Feb. 18) and pairs bar-band guitar licks with blunt, often explicit lyrics about soured relationships, self-destructive tendencies and 19th century French poets.
CMT Edge: You had to throw out an entire album’s worth of songs before you started writing Somewhere Else. What prompted that decision to start over?
Loveless: When we finished Indestructible Machine [her 2011 album] and started touring, I was getting all this press about being an “alt-country princess” or whatever. So I started thinking that I’d better write a real country album. I was writing songs that I really hated and was trying to force some kind of country sound. I basically scrapped everything. I had to chill and not force it anymore, but all these songs came out.
It wasn’t like I set out to make a poppier album, but I do think I have a very different idea of what pop music is than most people. I would consider someone like Nick Lowe a pop songwriter. He writes simply. Nothing gets in the way of the song. He just gets out of the way of the song and lets it do its job. That’s pop music to me.
Was it difficult to abandon those songs?
It was. I hadn’t presented them to my band yet, so it would have been even harder to struggle to finish them. I do hate throwing songs away, though. I used to write whenever the inspiration hit me, and then I’d desperately cling to a song only because inspiration had hit.
I wasn’t writing much. But I’ve made more of a conscious effort to write on a regular basis. So now it’s easier for me to say, “This song sucks. Goodbye.” Those rejected songs served their purpose. I had to do some spring cleaning on my brain and get all that crap out, and I think that’s what those songs did.
Somewhere Else doesn’t sound much like either of your last two albums.
I didn’t want to stay in the same place. I’m proud of Indestructible Machine, but I definitely think this one is a lot more sophisticated. We did a lot more harmonies, and I was layering guitar solos and stuff. I think my guitar playing has improved a lot, probably from touring so much. Mainly, I just wanted to make a raw record, though. It didn’t have to be Hysteria.
That is the first time an artist has name-dropped Def Leppard to me in an interview.
That’s one of my favorite albums, and no one can believe that. That, to me, is pop. When you say “pop,” a lot of people are like, “Oh, you mean Britney Spears?” No. Every song on that album is a single. There’s maybe one that’s not on the radio, which I find extremely funny for some reason. I think they definitely achieved something significant on that album … single-handedly.
OK, that was bad. Moving on….
I think there’s a knee-jerk assumption that songwriters are writing and singing exclusively about themselves. To what degree are these songs autobiographical?
I don’t know that I would say strictly autobiographical, but most things do come out of my own life. You can’t always write a song about [affects a lofty voice] my pain, so I have to borrow from other things, mostly books. Obviously something like “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” was inspired by that relationship, but there’s a sprinkle of me in there.
I’ve gotten a lot of flak from people who say I don’t have enough experience to write stories about other people, but I think if the song is good, it doesn’t really matter. Ultimately, I’m going to write about something that I feel passionately about.
Verlaine and Rimbaud are not your typical subjects for a song.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone’s going to know what I’m talking about. I consider that a very personal song even though it’s not about me. I can definitely relate to Verlaine and how crazy he was. He loved Rimbaud so much that he wanted to shoot him, but he couldn’t do it. I also read a book about Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, and that inspired “Hurts So Bad.” I don’t always write a song every time I read a book, but it nurtures my brain.
What is it like to sing these songs every night? I could see it being either very cathartic or very depressing.
I would say it’s cathartic. Songs are constantly evolving even after I’ve written them, so it definitely feels good to perform them. I want to write songs that make me cry onstage because I want to keep feeling things constantly. Maybe that’s melodramatic, but I just need that charge onstage, or otherwise I’ll get bored.
I’d say there’s only one song that is hard for me to sing onstage, and that’s “Everything’s Gone.” It’s very quiet, and if no one’s listening to me, it’ll be too upsetting to play.
What drew you to close the album with a cover of Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know”?
It’s a very simple, almost perfect pop song. The lyrics are incredibly clever, but not self-aware in their cleverness, if that makes sense. I just really admire it.
We had booked two whole days in the studio and got everything done really fast. We had a lot of extra time, so I said, “Let’s record that Kirsty MacColl song.” I guess that’s not a very good reason. No one had played it but me, but they learned it in half an hour.
I feel like the album goes down, down, down for so long, so I thought it should end on a bit of a high note. You get really depressed and start drinking, and then you finish it off with a happy little pop song. It’s gonna be OK.