by Jane Roser
Outlaw country/hillbilly punk spitfire Lydia Loveless “grew up on God and whiskey”, a confusing duo which became the theme for several of her early songs. Her father was a pastor and drummer who one day decided to open a country music bar and their house became a hub for touring musicians to crash on the sofas. Loveless was influenced early on by watching MTV with her sisters in the 90s.
“It just seemed really important to watch your favorite video and I got so obsessed with that. Then when Britney Spears came out, that was a turning point for me. I watched the “You Drive Me Crazy” video and decided I was going to be a pop star. So I changed a little bit there,” Loveless laughs, “but that was a big inspiration.”
Britney may have made a first impression, but it was a Hank Williams song that Loveless first learned to play. “I think it was “Red River Valley”, I learned that and was super proud.”
Currently on tour with her band (Ben Lamb on bass, Todd May on guitar, and drummer Nick German) promoting her fourth release, Somewhere Else, I caught up with Loveless during a short break at home before heading out on the road again.
“I was just thinking that while we’re [on tour] that, wow, this is so memorable, but then you get home and you’re thinking- did I even go anywhere? You feel as though you just went through a portal and then silly things would happen. We were in Chicago and I was playing an encore; my steel player was the only one who could get to the stage since it was a sold out show. I told him to start playing and he said ‘no, I’m going to play the drums because I don’t think I should be playing the steel guitar with you also on guitar, that’s just going to sound stupid’, so he started playing the drums, then everyone else got on stage and started playing the wrong instruments. It was kind of an inspired, fun thing we did and I like edge of your seat things like that.”
Somewhere Else was mostly recorded live because, according to Loveless, “that’s how we usually do stuff and then we’ll overdub. There was a lot more overdub on this album than any other I’ve done just because we did so many guitar tracks. My first album wasn’t very live and everything was super overdubbed, it was totally the opposite of how I like to record and I think that we’re really tight from touring together, so why take away that vibe?”
Loveless is also obsessed with recording all of their practices because she likes to preserve the sound. The song “Chris Isaak” is about a guy Loveless had a fling with for several years. They would always listen to Chris Isaak, but the relationship didn’t work out, so she wrote songs about it over the years, until she finally decided, “okay, I’m going to write one more and it’s going to be the last one I ever write about this person, so it’s sort of my angry, poking fun song for him.”
I was slightly befuddled when I saw Isaak’s name misspelled on iTunes (Chris Issak) and Loveless explains that she was in Europe when she approved the artwork, not realizing it had been spelled incorrectly. “I was distracted and must have missed that typo,” Loveless laughs, “people spell it so many different ways, it’s hilarious.”
Loveless tends to turn to books for inspiration, so when she suffered from writer’s block, she turned to the works of nineteenth century poet Paul Verlaine and wrote “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud”. “I guess I relate to his insanity and his intense passion for things,” she muses.
“They Don’t Know” is a cover of a song originally recorded in 1979 by British singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl that Loveless decided to include on the album for several reasons, “I didn’t want to cover something that was overdone or obvious and I have so many different influences. It was also sort of a dedication to my band because people are always saying I need to have a band that’s more country or more this or that, so I kind of did it as a joke. It was funny because we learned it in the studio while we were recording it and I thought that was nice that they just went along with it and figured it out.”
Loveless has been busy trying to demo some new songs and write as much as possible while at home, hoping to be in the studio again before the end of the year. The rest of the time will be spent touring incessantly. She’ll be showcasing at WXPN’s 14th annual Non-Comm this Friday and is looking forward to playing in Philly again.
“The last time we were here our van broke down and we didn’t think we’d be able to play, so we went to a bar and started getting drunk. Someone saw our post on Facebook, picked us up and took us to our show. Then a bunch of people donated money to get the van fixed, so it was really awesome. It warms my heart.”
Loveless is a unique performer, brash and confident, fiery and frank. She has true grit and that ain’t easy to come by.