Singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless readily admits her initial influences were “really bad pop music.” She cites Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” for example as one of her early favs.
“I think mainstream pop teaches you about formula,” she says. “everyone says this, but it was so much better when I was a kid. It’s gotten more overproduced and there are too many collaborations, I think. I miss the simplistic melodic pop music. Now, everything has to have a rap break and a moment when everything slows down.”
Since her dad was a drummer, she started playing music early on but didn’t really take it seriously. One of the first songs she wrote, “'The Ugliest Man of All,” takes aim at [Eagles singer] Don Henley. She eventually gravitated toward what she calls "that horrible pop-punk wave" of the early 2000s. But after she moved to Columbus, she began to embrace a different style of music that was much grittier than the pop-punk that was popular at the time.
“I was always interested in punk rock,” she says. “I originally lived out where there were no clubs and there was dial-up Internet, so it was great find places to hear live music in Columbus.”
On her first album, The Only Man
, she embraced a more traditional country sound. But it wasn't by choice. A heavy-handed producer pushed her in that direction.
“I wanted to do storytelling, but that album was a little extreme and not the direction I would have taken on my own,” she says. “I gravitated toward that just because I could play it, and it spoke to me. Back in the day, country was written by people from places where I grew up instead of someone from Malibu.”
For her second album, 2012's Indestructible Machine
, she adopts a grungier sound. The pendulum swings again on 2014’s Somewhere Else
, an album on which she embraces her country and pop roots more heartily than she does on Indestructible Machine
. The guitars still have some grit, but the album is a bit more polished, something that's apparent from the opening tune, the pretty "Really Wanna See You."
Her new album, Real
, represents yet another sonic departure. She started writing the songs about a year and a half ago while she was on tour.
“I had nothing to focus on but writing songs and touring,” she says. “When I’m at home, it’s not as easy because I think about how I need to clean the kitchen and I don’t do anything. I think a lot of the songs are about getting older and changing under this weird sort of spotlight, which is not that big of a deal because I’m an indie artist. But even as an indie artist, people are always telling you what to do. But I wanted to listen to myself. I relied more on music than lyrics to express myself this time around. I just found it very therapeutic. I had gotten to a point musically with my guitar playing skills that I could express myself in a way that was productive as opposed to just me clattering around with power chords, my usual MO.”
Recorded at Sonic Lounge Studios by producer Joe Viers (Dr. John, Twenty One Pilots), the album benefits from the extended prep time.
“It was super fucking easy this time,” she says. “We had time off to do a lot of pre-production. In the past, we had used [guitarist] Jay [Gasper] as a studio musician. We went into Sonic Lounge to do the demos to prepare everyone for whatever stylistic changes we were going to go through. It was cool to have the time to work on things. Joe makes it fun, and you forget that you’re actually accomplishing something.”
The songs on the disc vary greatly from one another. The album opens with the somber ballad “Same to You” and then shifts gears for the percolating “Heaven,” a song that has an ’80s pop sheen to it.
“I like all kinds of music, and I’ve grown really tired of genre assholes,” she says. “There are these genre guards in every kind of scene. I just wanted to make a fuckin’ record and not think about it. Our influences as a unit are so beyond [country]. I wanted to make a fuckin’ record and not mess around with who might be mad if we changed our sound. I don’t feel like we’ve changed. I think we’ve hit our stride as a band. It’s not scary anymore to experiment and wonder what it’s going to sound like. There are people who have asked me, ‘What’s with the disco sound?’ We listen to Prince all the time. If I made the same record over and over again, I could have a career but I’d be bored out of my mind but it’s not honest. I know I could shit out four Indestructible Machines,
but I don’t want to.”
She sneers her way through “Midwestern Guys,” a song about the dumb things that men do when they’re in love.
“Sitting in the van with my band members and listening to their misadventures from high school was the inspiration,” she says when asked about the tune. “All my friends are 45-year-olds, so I have lots to work with. There’s always a story about a guy drinking a case of beer and crashing into someone’s yard for love. My husband has an amazing story about driving to throw an empty six-pack into a girl’s yard because she broke up with him. He crashed into this ditch and did all this insane shit.”
The bouts of depression that Loveless dealt with while recording have passed, and she says the album certainly worked to help her fight through the dark days.
“I don’t know that I would ever say that I have a clear sense of what do musically,” she says. “Life-wise, I’m doing much better than I was when I was making this record after years of therapy. The music works as therapy too — I wouldn’t have an outlet without it.”
Lydia Loveless, Will Courtney and the Wild Bunch, Mike Uva, 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $12 ADV, $14 DOS, grogshop.gs.