Lydia Loveless channels her inner songwriter on Something Else; plays Tellus360 on Saturday
As a teenager growing up in Central Ohio, Lydia Loveless was living at the height of inauthentic pop-punk tripe dominating the music scene.
Bands like Good Charlotte, Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World ruled the airwaves and MTV, blasting out cheap, clichéd lyrics and videos about spoiled movie stars and failed relationships. But as a music aficionado, Loveless was looking for something original – something with balls.
Then she discovered Richard Hell – the founder of the influential new wave and punk bands Television and The Heartbreakers. Loveless had been reading about Hell and the early days of punk in New York City, so she had her father take her to a record store to find a copy of Blank Generation by Richard Hell and the Voidoids – considered one of the first true punk albums.
The lyrics of Blank Generation seemed like poetry to the young aspiring musician, motivating Lawless to write her own songs with rawness usually reserved for the most introspective of songwriters.
That rawness and humor has remained to the present for the 24-year-old Columbus, OH, musician and her newest album – the February release Somewhere Else, which has gained praise from Rolling Stone to NPR Music. Although more country than punk, Somewhere Else’s 10 tracks still carry a punk rock aesthetic, dealing with sexual favors in the song “Head,” a drunken lover in “Wine Lips” and the torrid but volatile relationship between 19th century French poets in “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud.”
The poetry of Somewhere Else is all Loveless, sung by a powerful voice reminiscent of classic Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton with a pack-a-day cigarette habit. Its effect is so great that Richard Hell himself made the statement, “Lydia is the only singer/songwriter the power of whose music and voice consistently makes me cry.”
Loveless comes to perform in Central PA for the first time on Saturday at Lancaster’s Tellus360. We caught up with her from her home in Columbus where she was getting ready to perform at a showcase hosted by Hell in New York, saying she was “a little scared” to perform.
Fly Magazine: What was it like to receive such a high compliment from Richard Hell?
Lydia Loveless: That was really cool. It’s definitely flattering. I remember the first time I got an email from him I jumped off the couch and screamed. I think it was a year ago now.
FM: Have you met Richard before?
LL: Yeah, a couple of times. He’s definitely a writer more so than a musician now [laughs]. He’s very knowledgeable about a lot of things, so it’s definitely interesting to talk to him – especially about writing and art. He’s lived in New York for probably 40 years now, so he’s very New York.
FM: Where did your own songwriting craft start to take shape?
LL: I started writing when I was about 15. Most of the people in my family were some sort of musician or songwriter, and I always wanted to do that. But I was also like, “When will I find my style?” My family was living in this place called Carroll, OH, and I was really bored and miserable. I guess that was the perfect place to start writing songs. I didn’t really have any friends at that point, and I had just moved from the country, so that’s when I really started to be a little more introspective than I had formerly been.
FM: Was there a moment in your songwriting when you realized you had something of real substance?
LL: Formerly, I always felt like I was struggling to write something and wouldn’t really want to play it. But I guess it was when I wrote something that I wanted to play over and over again and it made sense as a song. That was when I wrote the song called “Let Me Leave,” which is on my first album [The Only Man].
FM: When did Somewhere Else start to develop?
LL: It was a goal to write that album because I had just gotten done with all the touring and the craziness. And then I sat down and was like, “Well, I’m going to write an album now,” which I had never really done. Up until then, I was just writing songs and hoping one day I’d be able to put records out somehow. That was the first time I had been on a label writing songs for an album. I got really frustrated and I started writing the song “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud,” and that’s when I thought, “Oh, I can kind of see where I want to go now.” It kind of cleared the path.
FM: When did you come across the story of the love affair between Verlaine and Rimbaud?
LL: When I was writing the record, I was reading a lot of Verlaine. And then I started reading more about him. He was just totally insane, so I found that inspiring. That story just kind of cracked me up, so I came up with that stupid little rhyme, “Verlaine shot Rimbaud because he loved him so.” I thought it was funny or cute, but the song ended up being a little more dramatic than that – luckily. I guess he reminds me a lot of me in a scary way, so I wanted to write about that story because that’s the way I interact with humans – just way too intensely [laughs]. Just that fact that he said, “I’m going to kill you,” but then he only shoots the guy in the hand – he can’t really kill anyone. I thought it was funny in a weird way.
FM: Is it true you’re drawn to people who are a little crazy?
LL: Yeah. I guess you’d have to be insane to basically want to be trapped in a room with yourself for the rest of your life making art. So I guess anyone like that would be somewhat crazy.
FM: Is there something that triggers your songwriting?
LL: It’s getting colder in Ohio, so that’s a good trigger for depression. There will probably be a lot of downer songs to sift through. I’ve met a lot of people in the past couple of years, so right now I’m just sorting through everything.
FM: Have you quit smoking?
LL: I’m actually smoking right now [laughs]. I did for two months, but then you get on tour and it starts back up again. It’s actually that stupid writer thing where you read about writers or watch a documentary and they’re smoking a cigarette at their typewriter, and it’s like, “Yeah. That looks pretty fun. I’ll do that.”
FM: Do you have a cigarette of choice?
LL: I smoke Camel Lights. I used to smoke Lucky Strike filters, but they stopped selling those in Ohio. I smoke those when I’m in Europe, but you can’t get them here anymore. I used to smoke the unfiltered, but it seems a little craggy. They’re a little too intense for me these days [laughs].
FM: You’ve said in other interviews that sometimes you feel “new-agey.” Do you still feel like that?
LL: Yeah, but I’ve always kind of been like that. Hopefully that won’t be too much of a theme on the new record, but we’ll see [laughs]. Growing up in the country, you just get connected to the Earth. That sounds really cheesy, but there really is something to be said for that – sort of listening to the Earth around you. That’s kind of how I am as a songwriter. I don’t really feel like I write my songs. I feel like they sort of come to me from something else.
FM: Do you know who’s giving the ideas to you?
LL: No. It’s just a really nice guy who gives me songs, I guess [laughs].
Catch Lydia Loveless at Tellus360 (24 E. King St., Lancaster) on Saturday, November 8. 8pm. 21+. $12. Click here for tickets.