Lydia Loveless is someone that continues to evade easy classification. The singer/songwriter/musician/focus of Color Me Obsessed director Gorman Bechard’s new documentary “Who is Lydia Loveless?” has much to say about growing up and acting not-very-ladylike. The 24-year-old is coming to Reverb Lounge this Thursday and was kind enough to take time from her singing, drinking, and hellraising to chat with The Reader over the phone.
The Reader: So, I’ve seen your music described as alt-country, witchy, and cowpunk. What would you describe your sound as?
Lydia Loveless: Um, I’ve just been saying “rock ‘n’ roll” because it’s pretty all-encompassing and that’s kind of the direction I’ve been in lately anyway. But I guess it’s like Midwestern rock so it’s kind of twangy anyway. [laughs]
Reader: You do a lot of writing heartfeltly about heartbreak, depression, things like that. How do you do that without turning into a “sad band”?
Loveless: Yeah, I try not to be too whiny. I don’t know, I just try to be honest so it’s not all phony or maudlin. I don’t know, maybe I do just sound whiny and sad! [laughs] I have a pretty good sense of humor so that helps.
Reader: Definitely. When Pitchfork reviewed your album [Somewhere Else, her third], they said your “self destructive streak” made the album a “bracing and deeply harrowing listen.” Do you see your lyrics as self-destructive or self-deprecating?
Loveless: I mean, I’m a self-deprecating person. That’s kind of just my sense of humor and the way I deal with things. I don’t know if I would say “self destructive” but I’m definitely self-effacing and…I hate to use this word again but, I don’t know, honest. I look at myself honestly. I can be pretty hard on myself I guess. [laughs]
Reader: I’d say “raw” is a pretty good word.
Reader: Is there a line or a boundary that you won’t cross when writing about yourself and your experience?
Loveless: I guess I try not to, I guess, get anyone in trouble. [laughs] I try to keep it to things that people wouldn’t mind me writing about. But not really. It’s interesting to have a career that is your life, more so than others might; you have to draw on it and you’re living in it. So there’s not really many lines I guess.
Reader: So you grew up in a family of musicians. When did you decide you wanted to join in?
Loveless: Pretty much from the get-go. I mean, I definitely had other plans on occasion but mostly I’ve just wanted to play music my whole life. It just looked cool, I don’t know. [laughs] Not too deep of an answer but it just looked fun. I liked doing it and I liked expressing myself.
Reader: How would you say growing up in that environment and being around others who knew music shaped how you broke into the field and how you made your choices?
Loveless: I’m not really sure; I was kind of just running blind. I mean I was around musicians, my dad was a musician but he wasn’t like a career musician or anything. I don’t know, I kind of just had to throw myself into it. As a teenager I started playing with bands and kind of learning as I went. It’s really only been the past year that I feel like I know who I am. It’s taken a long time.
Reader: So you grew up in a really religious place and you’ve been open about feeling like an outcast. You speak really openly about things like sex and desire and pretty “unChristian” things. Has there ever been a time that someone in your hometown or family confronted you about a line or said you needed to dial it back?
Loveless: Um…no. I certainly wouldn’t listen to anyone from my hometown anyway. I mean, I guess my father-in-law but I wouldn’t really give a shit about that anyway. [laughs]
Reader: Can you walk me through a bit of your songwriting process?
Loveless: Yeah! I usually start with a melody that gets stuck in my head. The lyrics come first–I’ve rarely sat down with a guitar or anything. I draw a lot from my journal, which I keep pretty much constantly. Mostly I take from long stream of consciousness writing in my notebook. I take it from that and put it into music, hash it all out and…voila.
Reader: A lot of your influences are pretty obvious–a lot of Fleetwood Mac and stuff like that. What would you say are some surprising influences that people might not catch?
Loveless: I definitely love a lot of pop music, like…Katy Perry. Anything with a beat and a catchy melody. We definitely draw a lot from motown, sax, old R&B…those might be less noticeable influences but maybe more so on the new record.
Reader: Can you talk a bit more about the new record?
Loveless: Yeah! I can’t really talk about the direction we go in until it’s all out there and I can kind of hear what other people hear. [laughs] I’m just writing the songs and hoping for the best. It’s definitely a bigger record. There’s more instrumentation on it, there’s more keyboard, which is something that I’ve been wanting to incorporate for a long time since I was obviously saying I like pop music. It’s not like we pulled a Taylor Swift and are like “now we’re a pop band!” though. But it’s kind of neat, the different influences. It’s a little more ’80s pop music influence, like a little bit of Prince or The Smiths even.
Reader: Wow! Also, I hear there’s a documentary in the works about you, which is more than most 24-year-olds can say. How’s that going?
Loveless: Um, I like it. [laughs] It’s pretty exhausting but I enjoy it.
Reader: What do you think the story will be that people walk away from it with? What do you think people will learn about you, and what do you hope they learn?
Loveless: I mean, I hope they learn that I’m funny…and that I work really hard and that I’m not this crazy self-destructive, contrived Jim Morrison type. Hopefully they laugh.
Reader: It definitely seems that you’re not afraid to make jokes and have fun with it. That “loose and unrehearsed” feel, to quote one of your blog posts…how do you maintain that as you get bigger and bigger? How do you adjust between playing small bars and moving to bigger venues?
Loveless: I mean, we’re not really on a huge level or anything. I guess opening for people has been big shows but I guess it’s up to the audience to go for it. We definitely hang onto it and some people don’t get that but it’s okay. You just have to accept that not everyone’s going to like you and continue to enjoy what you do. As soon as I stop enjoying it, it will be dead and stale and people will be able to tell.
Reader: If you could do anything differently from where you started to where you are now, would you change anything?
Loveless: Maybe a couple things but I’m kind of one of those people who thinks that everything has to happen the way it did. I kind of feel like maybe I’ve watched too much Doctor Who but I feel like everything has to go the way it did or it wouldn’t be that way at all.
Lydia Loveless will be playing Reverb Lounge with Kait Berreckman Thursday, July 23. Tickets are $10 and you can find out more here. Check out her band and the upcoming documentary on her facebook or website.