Once the punky, pissed-off princess of Middle America’s alt-country scene, Lydia Loveless reaches beyond her roots with this year’s Real, a record that mixes her Rust Belt foundation with nods to solo-era Stevie Nicks, Cyndi Lauper and Talking Heads.
Months after the album’s release, she sits down with Chris Shiflett for the newest episode of Walking the Floor, recorded during the thick of the 2016 presidential campaign and premiering below on Rolling Stone Country. Shiflett and Loveless talk cats, Kesha, Eastern Ohio, touring, major league baseball and all points between, with Loveless accompanying herself on the acoustic guitar during an interview-capping solo performance of “Longer.” Below, we round up some highlights from their 40-minute conversation.
1. Loveless credits some of Real‘s success to her decision “to be less of a punk-ass.”
An outspoken singer who began recording her first solo album at 16 years old, Loveless has never been shy about voicing her opinions. With Real, though, she sidelined some of her most caustic tendencies and instead doubled down on her own craft. “I made it a point to really try extra hard this time around to be less of a punk-ass about everything,” she tells Shiflett. “[I was] more serious about production and sound, and less, ‘Oh yeah, whatever happens, it’s cool, man.'” Her sharpened focus shows, with Real offering up not only some of Loveless’ best writing to date, but the best presentation of her music too.
2. Touring with the Drive-By Truckers during election season was an eye-opening – and, at times, fairly heady – experience.
A longtime fan of the Drive-By Truckers, Loveless hit the road with Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and company earlier this year, crisscrossing the country at the same time that the 2016 presidential contest was heading toward its controversial peak. Proudly political, the Truckers encountered some backlash during the trek from their most conservative fans, some of whom boycotted the shows due to the band’s support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. For Loveless, the experience was a master class in fighting the good fight and staying true to your principles.
“I really admire their career,” she says of the Truckers, whose friendship with Loveless was kickstarted by a Twitter exchange between the singer and Hood. “They don’t compromise. They’re just amazing and they’re still making great music. It hasn’t dulled for me.”
When Shiflett asks Loveless to share a life lesson gleaned from Truckers, though, the songwriter laughs, offering up the following nugget of baked wisdom: “Smoke tons of weed.”
3. The secret to writing pointed, confessional lyrics? Keep a journal while traveling the globe.
“I journal a lot,” Loveless admits. “Sitting in the van, it’s endless hours of introspection and time to think, so it makes sense that you can start getting nuggets of ideas.”
Many of Real‘s tracks are built on ideas first scribbled down in Loveless’ road journals, including a travelogue the singer kept while touring Europe. These grown-up diaries have become a staple of her writing process, even though Loveless still lives in terror of the public getting ahold of her journals and reading their unfiltered contents.
“It’s my worst fear,” she admits. “[A journal] is not your realest self like people think. It’s just your worst self. I’ve lost journals on tour and thought, ‘If that ends up on the Internet somehow, god help me.’ It’s terrifying.”
4. The evolving, accessible sound of 2016’s Real, whose songs add pop-leaning punch to Loveless’ country roots, mirrors Loveless’ childhood in rural Ohio, where the contrasting influences of country radio, the late-Nineties pop idol explosion and her parents’ top-notch record collection inspired her first attempts at songwriting.
“Growing up, [I listened to] a lot of pop music, just because I was right in the middle of that horrible era of Britney Spears coming out,” says Loveless, whose enduring love of Top 40 pop is evidenced by a Kesha tattoo. Raised on a family farm in Eastern Ohio during the era of dial-up Internet, Loveless also leaned heavily on her parents’ record collection, which gave her access to a wider world of music than the radio offered. “I’m glad my parents had some OK taste,” she says, listing her mom’s favorite songwriters as Lou Reed, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello.
All of the contrasting inspiration has since found its way into Loveless’ own music. “I can’t deny that I started out straight country,” she admits. “Also, just being from the country, I’ll always have that person in me. But I feel like, stylistically, now it would be disingenuous to call myself a country artist.”
5. Loveless is also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs, singing the team’s praises long before the team’s World Series victory was in sight.
Although raised alongside a younger brother who played baseball, Loveless largely ignored the sport – at least in its major-league version – until she hit the highway as a musician.
“[My family] loved the Reds,” she remembers, “and I never paid attention to major league until we started touring, and I realized if I was going to have anything to do, I had to get into a sport, because that’s all that’s ever on TV in the hotel room, and that’s all anyone ever talks about. So I was like, ‘I guess I’ll start paying attention to major league baseball.'”
Faced with a block of free time during a tour stop in Chicago, Loveless took a solo trip to Wrigley Field, where she saw the Cubs playing on their home turf. She calls the experience “kind of this life-changing, awesome thing,” crediting it with finally making her a Cubs fan.