Lydia Loveless Cowpunks and Cleanses
Published Feb 24, 2014At 23, Lydia Loveless is already a veteran performer, preparing for her next America-by-minivan tour to promote her third album, Somewhere Else, which sizzles with alt-country cowpunk energy. She's currently riding some serious buzz from the likes of Spin and Rolling Stone, who compare her to Neko Case, Patti Smith and Stevie Nicks, and pick her as an artist to watch this year. But life is not always easy for this Columbus, Ohio native. Last year she had to fire her drummer, who is also her dad. The good news is that they've all made up, and 2014 is looking much rosier. The bad news is that Loveless is not so sure she'll be allowed to return to Canada anytime soon. Exclaim! sat down with one of this year's most exciting artists for a long chat about everything from touring to Chris Isaak to in-band relationships to GG Allin to singing a song called "Head" in front of her dad.
Do you like touring? What do you think of Canada?
Well it's a lot harder to tour there because of the distances. I can't believe how vast some of it is. Like, we were sleeping at a rest area one right and I was like, "This is where we're going to get killed by the serial killer." Because it was so in the middle of nowhere. It was like, bears, and we had just watched a video of a bear opening a car door, and I was awake the entire night going, "Oh, my God." I liked Canada. But I don't know if I'll be able to go back because I owe so much tax.
You were sleeping in rest stops? Let's just stop there for a second. You're a rock star, remember?
Yeah, that's what rock stars do. No, I think we had like an 18-hour drive and we were just driving as far as we can and then it's three in the morning and there's clearly not a hotel here so… I guess that's an example of the distance. We were on tour with the Supersuckers so we were just trying to get by. When you're opening for people it's a little less glamorous.
Describe yourself. Are you a cowpunk?
As a person, I don't know. It's kind of weird because I have so many different kinds of moods I go through. But ultimately because I was raised in the country, I'm definitely a bit of a redneck. I have that "get off my property" side. And I wear cowboy boots and cutoff jeans and stuff. But I definitely consider myself a punk to a certain extent. And a lot of people ask me, "What was your punk phase?" But I still feel like I'm in it. I might not dress the same way. But I feel like the two are kind of intertwined though, sort of a redneck and a punk. It's all about attitude. And not wanting to be bossed. [laughs] So I guess I am a bit of a cowpunk.
When you say punk is that an attitude or a musical taste?
I still like punk music, not necessarily the same kind. I can't really stomach GG Allin anymore, which used to be my favourite thing to listen to. But I'm mostly just talking about the attitude: just DIY; doing what will make me happy instead of what will maybe make people like me or get me the most money [laughs]. Not that I wouldn't do a Chevy commercial or whatever [laughs]. I guess I was raised to do what I love and what would make me happy instead of doing something that's going to make me miserable but make me rich.
Let's talk a little about your album and lyrics. You penned a song called "Chris Isaak." Why Chris Isaak? Are you a fan of his music? Is he a friend of yours?
I am a huge fan of Chris Isaak and for a while I was saying I wanted to make a Chris Isaak-style album for my third album and I ended up writing a not very Chris Isaak-sounding album. But I still managed to slip him in there with that song. And it's mostly about this guy that was probably the inspiration for all my previous songs. That was probably my last song for him, I guess. Because we would always listen to Chris Isaak and play Chris Isaak songs in his basement, as the song says.
So who is this mystery guy?
No one important [laughs]. We're still friends, but it was a very long back and forth of "I love you," and "Let's be together" and then nothing really happening. So… But now he's happily in a relationship.
Well, the new album Somewhere Else feels like a very personal record. Is it about your husband [bassist Ben Lamb]?
Not really. I don't really write happy love songs and I can't really ever see myself doing that. So there's a bit of my husband, I'm sure, in the lyrics. But I mostly just dig stuff up from the past or use other people's lives. But for the most part it's my job to sit around and think and write. But a lot of crazy stuff goes on in my brain. But I'm not necessarily sitting around writing happy love songs to my husband all day, sadly. [laughs]. Sorry to him. I'm sure that he loves that. I'm sure that he just loves listening to my lyrics.
You were singing "Don't stop giving me head" [from the song "Head"] in front of your dad. How did that feel?
I remember when we recorded that he listened to it and said "This song rocks!" I'm like "Oh, God." But he never really talks about it. I appreciate that about all of the people in my life. They don't really ask. And people who do, who go "Oh what's that about?" People like that, I usually am not very close with them. I mean, that's what sucks about being a songwriter: you really have to put yourself out there and hope that no one really gets mad at you, or gets their feelings hurt.
About your dad — he was your original drummer.
And you had to fire him last year?
Yeah, and I hate to use the word fired. I don't know what I would use. But I mean it wasn't really like "You suck, get out of my band." I tour three or four months out of the year and I was like, you know my dad is getting older and does he really want to live in a van? And he has a grandson and all of that stuff. So I kind of like, sent him home. I felt terrible about it but I think it was ultimately for the best. I think he's a lot happier now not living in a van.
So you and your Dad are friends again? That must have been a tough year.
Yeah, it was. I mean, lots of tears and all that. And it was nice having him on the road when things got rough or whatever. But we're still really close. I talked with him for probably two hours on the phone yesterday. So things are good. [laughs]
What was one of your favourite shows? Your SXSW show is one that's been written up a lot. But what's one that you like personally?
We've done this show every year for the past two years now. We're doing it again this year. Luckily it's been moved. But it's called the Outlaw Snowdown [in Mammoth, CA, March 28 and 29, 2014]. And in the past we've had to drive through this horrible mountain pass and it's called the Wolf Creek Pass and we always get stuck or stranded. We had a flat tire last year and we were just stranded on the top of this mountain, just scared to death. But the show itself is always just awesome. There's like Breckenridge Distilleries, they make really awesome whiskey and they're super nice guys, everyone is really welcoming and everyone just goes crazy. The last time we played there we were about to leave for Sweden and the whole crowd was chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A" during my set. It was just one of those glorious moments where you're like "Wow, this is really fun and I love doing this." Because it was hilarious.
And without naming the venue, what was one of the worst show?
Well unfortunately it was in Canada. It was the weirdest show I have ever played in my life. It was in Thunder Bay. The show itself was just really weird. Everyone was coming into the bar already drunk and then getting over-served. Everyone looked like zombies. And this guy got really mad at the Supersuckers guitar player whose name is Marty ["Metal" Marty Chandler] and he has long hair like Ben. And he was convinced that Ben was Marty and he was like "I was in Afghanistan, and if I ever see you there, I will kill you." And we were just cracking up. Like what are the odds of us all being in Afghanistan together? [laughs] I don't know. It's just the weirdest thing. I don't know if this story even makes sense because it's so weird.
Going back to the album for a bit, and the song "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud": are you a literature buff?
I don't know if I'd say a literature buff, but I do love to read and I definitely love Verlaine. He's probably my favourite poet.
Do you speak French?
Vaguely, I can read and kind of get by but I do not speak it very well. Actually I had a dream of doing a French version of that song. I had it translated and everything and I was prepared to go into the studio but I could not get the pronunciation down in time. So I would still like to do that some day but I just don't want to embarrass myself. [laughs]
You've been out on the road since you were… did you finish high school?
Yeah, sort of… I was home schooled so I did everything at my own pace. So I didn't have a big graduation. But I've never really considered myself to be done with school, necessarily. I've just tried to learn about things my whole life. I wouldn't say that I graduated, though. [laughs]. If that's an answer.
You've said before that Neko Case was not an influence. It sounds like it's something that bugs you when people ask.
[laughs] Not even necessarily, like "Oh, she sucks." But people have said that I've ripped her off, and when people were saying this, I wasn't listening to her at all. So I think that's just a sexist thing to say, "Oh, you're a woman who plays alt-country." I don't know. To say that I've ripped someone off because I, too, am a female with a strong voice is just kind of offensive. But she's great. She's a badass. But she definitely wasn't a big influence on my music when I started.
Did you study singing or are you just one of those people who came out with a great voice?
Well, almost everyone in my family is a really good singer. I mean my sister certainly, and my dad. So I think it's just natural. But also I just sang when I was a little kid, I mean, all the time just singing in my room. I've never taken vocal lessons or anything. But it's just always something that I've loved to do and felt like I could do, so I pursued it, I guess.
Do you think that maybe some of the F-bombs in your music may be hindering radio play?
Yeah, but 'who gets played on the radio anymore?' is what I've always thought. I just kind of let loose [laughs]. I mean, everyone I know, and I know lots of people and I know all kinds of people, I mean everyone I know drops an F-bomb once in a while, has their local slang that's really rude. So it's weird to me to get super-offended by a word. I made a conscious effort with this album not to do it as much. But I still threw in a couple because I felt it was what I wanted to say and what I need to say. It wasn't necessarily to fill up space. Like maybe in the past I was definitely doing it on purpose and being a bit over the top, certainly with my first album. I mean, I'm not probably going to get on the radio unless I pay people to play me on the radio. I'm not Kelly Clarkson with like a huge millions of dollars budget to get her song played every five minutes. So it's just never been a factor for me. I'd rather make something that I'm proud of than worry about it that way. Now I need to smoke a clove cigarette and put on a beret after I've said that. [laughs] "I've got to make my art, man." I know that no one needs to swear and it's rude, but sometimes I just have to, I guess. [laughs]
You've talked about writing, about locking yourself up in an office. Can you turn your muse on and off like that?
No. I really can't and I thought I could. And I have been making a conscious effort to sit down every day and not necessarily write a song but at least just play and let my mind wander. So "Whenever the inspiration strikes, man" then it would be a few months later and I'd be like, "Well, the inspiration didn't strike." So I've tried to find a balance between not forcing things and just still making an effort to clear out my brain. I think I just got so wrapped up in my own head and all of the hype for the last album and everyone really liked it, and I wanted to follow it up really well. But I got really stressed out and forgot to get the crappy songs out and keep writing and get past the junk that was piling up in my head. So I think when I started working on trying to sit down and write an album in an office I just got freaked out because I hadn't really listened to my head in so long. But I needed to sort of spring-clean my brain.