Drawing from classic country, punk rock, pop, and gospel, 21 year-old Lydia Loveless has delivered a highly addictive and very rewarding sophomore album called Indestructible Machine. Ms. Loveless arrived on the scene with her debut, last year's The Only Man, and while she was still recording that record, she already began to shape the tunes that would ultimately become Indestructible Machine.
Ms. Loveless has crafted an energetic record that rocks, swings, and rumbles. With a powerful voice that soars, and a songwriting sensibility that draws from a wide range of influences, Lydia Loveless proves her versatility, as well as her lasting power with fans of alt-country and rock. With Indestructible Machine, fans of artists like Neko Case, Those Darlins, and Lucinda Williams can't go wrong with adding this one to their collections.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Loveless about her early musical experiences, her influences, and the making of her new record.
Hi Lydia, it's good to meet you and get to talk with you. I'd like to start with some background and work our way up to your new record, Indestructible Machine.
I read that grew up in Coshocton, Ohio, and that you picked up bass at 14. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you growing up and as you began playing music?
Lydia Loveless: My dad played drums and was a musician, so as I was growing up I always thought that was cool. I have always loved music and I grew up during a time when watching pop stars was a big thing. So when I would hear or see people like Britney Spears, I thought that that was really cool that people could do that and get paid to do it. It was really inspiring to me.
As far as playing music myself, I mostly just liked singing when I was a kid and didn't play any instruments really. I took piano lessons, but wasn't really good at it. As I got older, my two sisters started a band called Carson Drew, and they needed a bass player. So I went out and bought a bass and pretty much learned how to play it just by writing bass lines for them. Then, about a year-and-a-half or two years after that, I began trying to play guitar and started fiddling around with it, but I wasn't very good. But when I started writing my own songs later on, it all just kind of clicked for me. I got a lot better at guitar and I was just kind of off from there.
How did your dad being a musician influence you as you were growing and getting more serious about music?
LL: For the most part it was around the house, but he was in and out of a couple of bands too. He owned a bar that had live music and he got more into it.
You said that you were first influenced and inspired early on by people like Britney Spears and other pop artists. I am curious to hear who some of your other early influences were as you began developing musically, playing in bands, and pursuing music, etc.
LL: I really liked a lot of pop and rock. My mom listened to a lot of Elvis Cosello and she really liked the Velvet Underground too. My dad loved the Talking Heads and Devo. My mom did like country too, but not so much as pop. So I guess I got really into pop music when I was a kid. When I was with Carson Drew we were playing new wave pop. At that time I listened to a lot of The Strokes, The Fever, and Elephant. And pretty much anything on Kemado Records too.
How did your interest in pop evolve into the sounds you're using now in your own work, like your mix of country, punk, rock, etc?
LL: Well, when I was a kid my mom did like old gospel and female country singers like Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lynn. So I noticed that stuff a lot, but I wasn't really into it. But as I got older and started hanging out with my kind-of-"rednecky" boyfriend (laughing), he kind of introduced me to Hank III which really inspired me. That was a huge breakthrough for me to write my own music.
Country music always seemed easy to me. I was drawn to the simple chords and the fact that there was nothing too complicated in the structure. Plus, all of the lyrics were really honest. I started listening to Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, and people like that who just sang about their lives, and it all just kind of clicked for me. But now that I'm older I feel like I've gotten better at developing my own style, as opposed to just playing a C-G-F kind of thing. I can actually do different things.
Let's talk about your experiences writing Indestructible Machine?
LL: I actually started writing these songs when I was still recording my first record. So it took a long time, like around two and a half years to get it all finished. I was just always kind of writing songs. I wouldn't say that I had a "concept" or anything like that, but I definitely had a theme going on in my life that all of these songs relate to. There was a lot of social anxiety and a sense of feeling isolated- which I guess a lot of the songs are about. It was like a two-year process all together. A lot of the songs are newer than others, but I think that they all fit together well. I was going through it all while I was still recording, mixing, and releasing the other album.
What was that like: wrapping up the first album and already working on the next one?
LL: I think it was really good for me because I work slowly and I like to always be writing. I never sit down and say "I'm going to write a new album now". So I think it was good for me to have that time to work on something new and then to have it ready almost immediately.
As for recording the songs, we went into the studio a year after the first record was released. I felt good about going right into it just because it took so long for me to release the first album. I was really excited about it.
Were you playing these songs live in between records and working them out at all?
LL: I was playing a few of them, but some of them I didn't write until we went back into the studio. I wasn't playing all of them, but I would throw some in there.
Now that you have two albums behind you, what would you say is the biggest difference between the two albums for you?
LL: I think my lyrics have improved and have become a lot more personal. I'd also say that the way the records sound to me too is very different. When I listen to the new record, it just sounds so much more like me when I listen to it compared to the first one. It sounds so much more like a live show, and that's what I wanted.
I remember when we only had the first record out, there were times when we would play live and people would ask "So are those songs on this album? Or, "Is that what you sound like on here?". And I'd say "Nope" (laughing). But on the new album, it's totally "us" and it's totally "our sound". Plus, I'd say that there's just a lot more of me in there- like on the production. I didn't produce the first one, so this one is a lot more personal for me: both songwriting-wise and the way it sounds.
Can you talk a little bit about the history of your band? How long have you been working together? How did you put it together?
LL: I started out totally alone, and then I began playing with my dad on the drums. We actually played as a duo for a while and then I got a manager and wanted to take it a lot more seriously and I wanted to get a better sound. We started recruiting people that Steve, my manager, knew personally. He actually found Ben, my bass player, who is now my husband actually. He also found Todd, my guitar player too. They were both friends with Steve. So now they are all pretty much stuck with me (laughing). We all live in Columbus, Ohio.
How do you like being based out of Columbus, Ohio?
LL: I really like living here because it's affordable and you can pretty much go anywhere within reason in about 8 hours. I actually think it's a pretty interesting place here. There's a lot of really friendly people, but like everywhere, it has some downsides too. The music scene is not really what a lot of people who live here think it is. A lot of people just don't go to shows, and since I've been signed, it's interesting how some people will come out of the woodwork and say "Don't forget about us now". These are the ones who I have never seen before at one of my shows, or even in my life. I've been playing here for like 6 years and suddenly there are some people who are like "Don't forget about where you're from and who made you who you are". When that happens, I'm always like "Well, that's weird because I don't even know who you are" (laughing).
That's funny. It's like "Yeah, I don't even know your last name, buddy".
LL: (Laughing). Yeah. It's funny. I like playing shows and I like living here because it's where my family is and I can afford to live here. And there's not a lot of snobbery in Columbus, or even in the midwest actually. That's a big reason why I like it too.
When I left the northeast and lived in Ohio for about 4 and a half years, it really provided me with a springboard to drive everywhere around the country. So, I like your description of it being about 8 hours from lots of different places. It's very true.
LL: Yeah, it's not like it's a big distance. But when you sit in a van for 20 hours straight, it quickly feels like a 6 hour drive is nothing to me. It's like if I want to go somewhere I don't really think about it. It's never a big deal.
What was the role of the studio in your writing and recording processes?
LL: The main difference was that I could use people I know. I was able to sit down with my band and work on the different parts and think about how everything was going to sound, instead of going into the studio to knock it out and then deciding on the production. We were able to work on making it sound good as a raw recording first. Another difference was that I picked out all of the extra musicians that I wanted to play on this record. I was even able to do some "conducting" with the players in the studio, which was cool. We recorded it all to tape this time too, which is another difference.
Also, on the first record there were a lot of vocal tracks, but for this one we went right in and just knocked out the vocals. I think this time around I felt like I was allowed to use my actual voice a lot more. On the first record we used this really expensive, super-sensitive microphone that was picking up my every breath. I felt like "the process" was really trying to control my voice. But for this record, I really just went in and belted out all of the vocals. I feel like I actually sound like myself a lot more than before. It has made such a big difference to me when I listen to it. I think that the vocals just sound so much stronger on this one overall.
Closer to the live experience?
LL: Oh, yeah. And that's what people are going to hear when they come to see us play. I think people are going to want to feel like they're listening to the same thing. For the first album, I just didn't feel like I was delivering the same product. I mean, I was afraid that people at a show might buy the record, take it home, and then feel like it wasn't as good as the live show. So this time, with the new record, I really wanted it to match the live experience, which I feel that it really does. Not to knock the hell out of the first record or anything (laughing).
I don't think you're knocking it (laughing). I mean, I think people grow and change. People read different books, listen to different records, and even do different things than they might have done a few years ago. All of our sensibilities change.
LL: Oh yeah.
So, what have you been listening to lately?
LL: I've been listening to a lot of Sunny Sweeney, who I think is really awesome. She is sort of a pop/ country-ish type artist but she actually sounds authentic and real. I really like her. I've also been really into The Carper Family from Austin, Texas. They are kind of like a bluegrass band. Three girls. That's the newer stuff I can think of right now that I've really been getting into.
What are your touring plans for the new record?
LL: We'll be opening for Roger Clyne first, and then heading back out for about a week at a time, until we are far enough away where we can't come back home. From that point, we'll be playing out through December.
That sounds great Lydia. Well, good luck with the record's release and your upcoming tour. It's been great talking to you and I really appreciate you taking the time to do the interview.
Chris Mateer is a freelance music writer living in Brooklyn, NY. He is the founder and writer of the Uprooted Music Revue, and has been contributing regularly to No Depression. In addition to music writing, Chris plays the mandolin and drums, and teaches woodworking.
You can follow his posts here on No Depression, on his own blog: the Uprooted Music Revue at http://www.uprootedmusicrevue.com/, on Facebook, and on twitter.