Interview: Lydia Loveless' Evolving Alt-Country Sound

Lydia Loveless was born into a musical family. Her father played several instruments and passed his love of music onto his three daughters. Lydia’s first band, Carson Drew, was actually a four-piece consisting of her, her siblings, and their dad. Though the band didn’t last more than a handful of years, Lydia still made her first album, The Only Man, in 2010 when she was still in her early teens.

Lydia signed with Bloodshot Records two years later and has since released four more well-received full-lengths. This past fall, Lydia released her 2013 EP Boy Crazy for the first time on vinyl, along with six previously unreleased singles. We had a chance to catch up with Lydia to talk a bit about what she’s working on now, how she got started in music, and her recent exploration into the world of effects.

For information about upcoming tour dates and to check out more of Lydia Loveless’ music, you can check out her website here.

What are you up to right now? Working on any new material?

I'm kind of everywhere right now. I expected to be home all month, but I might be flying out and checking out some studios. I’m working on new things now—or attempting to.

Lydia Loveless - "Same to You" (Official Music Video)

Can you tell me anything about that project or are you keeping it under wraps for the time being?

I’m always working on something. Pretty much as soon as I’m done with one thing, I try to move onto the next. But this time, I’m trying to be a little more organized—less scattered—and actually a little more schematic.

You put out your first record, The Only Man, when you were pretty young, right?

I started working on it when I was about 16 or 17.

How do you think that your experience and process of writing, recording, and even your playing style has changed and evolved since then?

With your first record, you’re always playing the first songs you ever wrote, so it’s kind of a scattered project. And maybe some people get lucky and write a really amazing first record, but when you’re starting out that young and that new to the recording process, it’s definitely very amateur.

So for me, I feel like I just got better at everything. My guitar playing has certainly improved, because that was right when I picked up a guitar, and all I could do was strum a C chord. [Laughs] My playing has definitely gotten a lot more diverse since then.

Lydia Loveless

Definitely.

I’ve also gotten better at decision-making in the studio and editing myself—editing down songs and making them actually concise.

I read that you grew up in a musical family. Did that influence you or your playing style at all?

I think just being in a big family can influence you a lot, just because there are so many opinions. [Laughs] I think they definitely influence me to be—or at least to try to be—a little cooler and to impress people, so it probably definitely influenced my ego.

Beyond being musical, everyone’s really comedic and theatrical, so it’s almost like we’re competitive in a good way. Everything is a stage, even if it’s just the dinner table, so there’s always something creative going on.

That sounds great. And didn’t you start as a bassist in a band with your dad and sister?

Yeah, that’s how I really learned how to play music. I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but I wasn’t really a very good student, and I started trying to play guitar when I was about 12. I wasn’t very good at that, either. [Laughs]

Bass, though, is a great workout for your hands, for one thing, and it also gave me a deeper understanding of actual music theory. So that's how I really got off and running, musically.

When it comes to influences and genre, you’re often categorized in a variety of colorful ways. I’ve read different variations of “alternative country,” but also some more hilarious and oddball descriptions, like “honky tonk punk.” What do you think of these labels?

I think “honky tonk punk” is incredibly inaccurate, but maybe at some point when I was younger, that's what kind of stuck. I mean, alt country is a decent description. It sucks because if all you have to go off of is a description, then it has to be accurate, but at the same time, I try not to get too bogged-down by that stuff.

I try to just be a songwriter, and I'm influenced by so many things that aren't really genre-specific. I'm more interested in melody and sound and production. It's hard to define what you do when you're always trying to evolve and change, too.

Lydia Loveless - "Longer" (Official Music Video)

In regard to always trying to evolve and change, does that also apply to your approach to gear? Are you often searching for new guitars and pedals to try, or do you have a more unchanging setup?

It's kind of both. I've gotten into gear very recently, but I pretty much always use a Fender Telecaster or a G&L. But as far as pedals go, I’ve finally gotten a pedalboard together—just in the last six months—so I feel like a big girl now. [Laughs]

That's exciting.

It is. And I think before, a lot of it was just not having the resources or finances to really get into pedals. But now, I'm maybe just not being that financially responsible. [Laughs] So it doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I’m just deep into exploring right now because I’m writing. That kind of experimentation can be really inspiring.

Have you found anything specific that has inspired you?

Yeah, I got the Electro-Harmonix synth pedal—it's called a Synth9. It's really amazing, it's super fun. Especially if you smoke pot.

Hell yeah, dude.

It's just, it's really fun to play around with.

For sure, those pedals are super fun. How do you go about writing music? Do you sit down with a guitar or at the piano or are you more inclined to write lyrics before a melody?

A lot of it is literally writing words. I do a lot of journaling, so that’s probably the number one way I get ideas. I would say that I write with guitar 90 percent of the time, but I really do like writing on piano, because it opens me up to a lot of things that I wouldn’t necessarily do on guitar—like using chords that no guitarist ever plays. It definitely switches things up a bit. But I don’t have an actual piano anymore, so I’ve been thinking about getting one again.

Are you the kind of musician who needs to carve out specific time for writing, or are you able to write on tour and when you’re moving around?

Yeah, I'm kind of all over the place. I try to carve out time, but that's not always inspiring. Waiting for inspiration to strike hasn’t really helped me either, though. [Laughs] I definitely get ideas on tour because it's easier to think, since there’s no responsibility aside from playing the show and interviews and things like that.

But I definitely get a lot more done—finished—at home, where I can sit and be by myself. The lyrics and melody are kind of simultaneous. Sometimes I get a melody stuck in my head first, and then the lyrics follow. Lyrics are super important to me, so they end up weaving together.

Lydia Loveless performing live

You recently re-released Boy Crazy along with six new singles. What was the impetus behind that?

Boy Crazy has never been released on vinyl, and I know people really liked that album. Doing this has been an idea for like three years now, so it wasn’t a recent decision. All of the other singles had kind of just gotten scattered to the internet wind, so it seemed appropriate to put those out, too. Now, it’s just about focusing on the new project.

Browse Lydia Loveless Records on Reverb LP

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