Lydia Loveless Will Not Harm You
Lydia Loveless would like to dispel the notion that she’s a badass. She’s not even sure where the press got it from, although it’s easy to speculate. Maybe they extrapolated from the many photos of Loveless glaring at the camera, looking tough with a cigarette in hand—there’s one right there on the cover of her latest album, Real—or maybe it’s the general punk-rock poster-art aesthetic of her early records and singles. Or it could just be the mere fact that she’s a young woman staking her claim in the traditionally dude-centric worlds of country and rock ’n’ roll. Regardless, she says, at some point the myth got out of hand.
“I mean, to an extent I do want to be a badass,” Loveless says. “But there’s this belief that I’m going to people’s houses and kicking in the door and raiding their fridge, or that I’m beating people up all the time, and that’s not me at all. The truth is I’m more scared of you than the other way around.”
Despite whatever image she projects to the world, Loveless says she’s always viewed herself as sort of a gentle spirit. “I guess I always just thought I was making really vulnerable art, but maybe that’s where they got the tough thing from—I guess it is tough to be completely open,” Loveless says.
Putting herself out there is kind of her thing. Over kicking guitars that owe as much to The Replacements as any act that came out of Nashville or Memphis, Loveless writes openly about unrequited feelings, unfulfilled needs and the pervasive fear of rejection. “What’s it going to take for you to let me inside?” she sings on the Real standout “European.” “If you don’t love me I can have my feelings / but I just want to get what I haven’t had in so long.”
Loveless says she wasn’t in an especially good place when she wrote the record—though in fairness, that’s not all that unusual for her. She’s prone to self-loathing. “I’m not very nice to myself,” she says. “My internal dialogue is pretty cruel.” It didn’t help that after nearly three years on the road supporting her 2014 breakout album Somewhere Else, she was feeling utterly burned out, and eager to get some time to herself so she could finish writing some songs that met her exacting standards (she’s her own harshest critic).
She’s feeling better now. She describes the Real sessions as some of the most fun she’s ever done, and she’s been working on her self-esteem. She even got her driver’s license last month, just days before she turned 26, and she’s proud of that. And the critical response to Real has been fantastic; it’s won her even more praise than Somewhere Else, although Loveless believes those accolades can become a kind of trap.
“You kind of just have to ignore it,” Loveless says. “Even good press can go to your head in a weird way. People will write something about you, and you’ll wonder, ‘Am I this now?’ It’s really difficult in the social media era to not be constantly aware of what people say about you, but as an artist you have to disconnect because there’s too much instant gratification. As an artist you have to take your time and really work on something, otherwise we’d all just be releasing our music directly to Instagram.
“This isn’t to criticize my fans, but sometimes I’ll see that somebody got an instrument that day, and they’ll cover one of my songs and tag me in it,” she continues. “It’s like, not to be rude, but you should really work on that guitar before you start asking people to listen to it. I didn’t have that kind of outlet when I was starting out. It took me years to get the confidence just to get on stage.”
One notable upshot to Loveless’ increased profile: The wider audience she’s reaching is less interested in pigeonholing her than the alt-country circles that rallied around her early in her career. Certain country blogs—and if you follow this world, you probably know which ones they are—write about Loveless as if she should be, in her words, “sitting on a porch with a fucking piece of straw in my mouth.” It’s another instance of listeners projecting an image onto her, celebrating her for what they believe she represents instead of the music she makes.
“Country is always going to be part of what I do,” Loveless says. “I do love country and I like making country music, but it’s so hard in this climate to move in between genres because there are super purists out there who won’t accept that if you can write a pop song you can also write a country song. Those expectations are exhausting, but I can never let them affect the music I make.”
Lydia Loveless plays The Back Room at Colectivo Coffee on Prospect with openers Willy Courtney and the Wild Bunch on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 8 p.m.