Lera Lynn on What She Learned From 'True Detective' Role

Singer-actress, who turned heads on the second season of the HBO drama, also plots fall headlining tour

Lera Lynn, who had a recurring role on HBO's 'True Detective,' will launch a fall tour in September. Credit: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

"Every artist feels like it's about time, all the time," Lera Lynn tells Rolling Stone Country. She's relaxing by a pool in Saratoga, California, a few days before her last leg of opening for Sheryl Crow comes to a close, the True Detective season finale airs and she heads back home to Nashville to resume work on her third album. But she won't be off the road for long: starting in September, Lynn will embark on a 30-plus date headlining fall tour, hitting cities from Los Angeles to Little Rock in her most extensive run thus far.

Though Lynn has released two albums, including last year's superbly sultry The Avenues, it's her work on the HBO hit True Detective that has exposed her to a new legion of fans. In addition to co-writing songs for the show, like the haunting "My Least Favorite Life," Lynn has made appearances as a shadowy bar singer — and inspired nearly as much interest in her catalog as the cultish whodunit itself (with much less confusion). She doesn't mind that there will undoubtedly be fans at her upcoming gigs hoping primarily for her work from True Detective, but she wants them to know she's not always quite so maudlin.

"It's welcome," Lynn says. "But I will be happy to show people I am not always that sad, and there are other feelings to experience in my shows." And that those yellow teeth and track marks are 100 percent makeup-department magic.

Even before T Bone Burnett recruited Lynn as a co-writer for the series (along with Rosanne Cash), her music seemed tailor-made for soundtrack syncs. There's an uncanny emotional component to her work, with echoing guitars that quiver like a nervous lip and lyrics that place enough cracks in the narrative to let a dreamlike sense of wander settle in. Far from simplistically gloomy, The Avenues garnered comparisons to Chris Isaak and a musical version of David Lynch because it focused on a certain kind of hazy, low-light mystery; a perfect point of view for a television show that is exactly that.  

As a writer, Lynn enjoyed the exercise of creating for a character and not only herself — even though she had very little tools at her disposal. Due to the iron gates protecting True Detective's storyline, she wasn't allowed to see a script. The only thing Burnett provider her was a copy of a record by Mexican folksinger Lydia Mendoza, who centered her songs on 12-string Tejano riffs and sung in Spanish, not English.

"It was really refreshing, and I would love to do more of it," says Lynn, who has learned to not always depend on direct life experience for source material, even as she writes for her own records. "I used to think you had to hang on to trauma, heartbreak, suffering in order to be a good songwriter. And one day I decided I didn't want to live that way anymore. So an easy way around that is to write through a story, while still remembering the hard things you've gone through, so you have the full range of emotion as your palette."

Lynn has again been working with The Avenues producer and pedal-steel player Joshua Grange on her next LP, which she expects to be released in early 2016. Though she isn't taking inspiration directly from her experiences on True Detective, the series did provide some valuable takeaways. "It showed that people will respond to slower, darker music," she says. "Not to say that the next record will stylistically reflect the music I have done [for the show] necessarily, but I think it allowed me to dabble in a darker direction without fear."

With the True Detective Season 2 soundtrack due this month, Lynn also hopes that it won't be the last one she appears on — though the wider audience a film or television project provides is certainly a boost, she loves the fact that a musical score is an integrally visceral component of the overall viewing experience.

"It's half of it, I think," she explains. "I don't want to reduce in any way what goes into the visual aspects — that's huge — but watching a movie without music would be pretty awful. Music has the ability to go straight to the heart and skip over the brain completely."

Here are the dates for Lynn's tour, with East Coast and Midwest legs to be announced soon:

September 17 - Nashville @ Mercy Lounge (Americana Music Festival)
September 19 & 20 - Bristol, TN @ Bristol Rhythm and Brews Fest
September 23 - Birmingham, AL @ WorkPlay
September 24 - Little Rock @ South on Main, Oxford American
September 25 - Dallas @ Kessler Theater
September 26 - Austin @ the Parish
September 29 -  Phoenix @ Modern Instrument Museum
October 1 - Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy & Harriet's
October 2 - Los Angeles @ the Troubadour 
October 6 - Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
October 7 - Seattle @ Triple Door
October 9 - Salt Lake City @ State Room
October 10 - Denver @ Daniels Hall
October 12 - Kansas City, MO @ Knuckleheads
October 13 - St. Louis @ Blueberry Hill
October 14 - Louisville, KY @ Headliners Music Hall
October 16 - Knoxville, TN @ Square Room 
October 17 -  Nashville @ 3rd & Lindsey