The last time we saw Lera Lynn, she was playing a burned-out lounge singer in True Detective‘s second season, strumming songs like “My Least Favorite Life” while Vince Vaughan and Colin Farrell hashed out their dirty dealings in a nearby booth. For fans of The Avenues — Lynn’s 2014 release, filled with layers of lush, gorgeous Americana — this new sound was something different. Dark. Dangerous, even.
Lynn narrows her focus yet again with this year’s Resistor. Recorded during the dead of winter with co-producer Joshua Grange, the 10-track album is at once spacey and specific, with Lynn and Grange playing every instrument themselves. Baritone guitars, keyboards and looped drums fill the background, while Lynn’s voice — a natural descendent of Hope Sandoval and Margo Timmins’ woozy wails — wafts into the spotlight, singing songs that occupy the outer limits of Americana and indie rock.
Rolling Stone Country sat down with Lynn at a Nashville bar to talk about recording, resisting and why making music is like making hash.
For an album recorded in the same neighborhood as Music Row, Resistor does things a bit differently. It’s not your typical Nashville project.
I don’t think I was trying to give the middle finger to Music Row, necessarily. We just didn’t need to do it the way they do it, and we were lucky to get to record everything ourselves. Usually, when you’re making a record, dollars are flying out the window and the clock is ticking and your players are asking you if they can go home yet. With Resistor, Josh and I were just punishing ourselves, spending hour upon hour in there.
Did that insular approach affect your songwriting, too?
It did. With The Avenues, I feel like my wiring was more open. There was more room. It would’ve been easy for any guitar player to step in and play some cool shit on that record while still serving the song. I think that may be a characteristic of Americana music in general. But with the songs on Resistor, everything was so succinct and deliberate. I wanted the instrumental parts to be just as important and supportive as the words themselves. It wasn’t like, “Now there’s singing, and now there’s some instrumental stuff, and now there’s singing again.” It was more cohesive.
It sounds like you’re crystallizing your sound. From The Avenues to True Detective to Resistor, you’re learning exactly what sort of music you want to make.
I think of it as a series of screen filters or something. Like when you’re making hash! [Laughs] You get a bigger screen, then a smaller one, then a smaller one, until eventually all that’s left are the crystals. The stuff that falls through the finest screen is the stuff you want to keep, and I feel like that’s what time does to a musician. So I made metaphorical hash with this album.
When someone redefines their sound with each album, it can throw listeners for a loop. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right?
I don’t think so. For me, the artists who don’t make the same record twice are the most interesting. There’s always going to be a common voice running through someone’s catalog. It’s not like Ray Charles’s country album was so incredibly different from his jazz and soul music. It was still his voice and his perspective. But I do think there are some people who really do want bands to continue making an extension of the same thing over and over again.
That problem is very prevalent on big labels, too. Once your team learns how to market you, they don’t necessarily want to change their strategy to suit a new sound.
Right; they’d rather be on autopilot.
Is that why you’ve continued to release your own music independently? After the success of True Detective, you must’ve had offers.
There were some handsome opportunities, but there’s always a big price to pay. You have to answer to someone else for your own creative output, and they find a way to get a piece of everything. Having struggled as long as I have to get to this point, why shouldn’t I just keep pushing ahead? Slowly by surely, it’s getting easier. Honestly, aside from some extra money and a little bit more manpower, I don’t know what working with a major label would do for us.
Your song “Drive” almost feels like a mission statement for that sort of independence.
That song was about me learning through experience how cutthroat the music business can be. I think every artist has this fantasy that their art is going to be recognized. I also think every artist or musician has to confront the fact that things don’t really come to you. You have to go and get them. You spend a lot of time thinking that it’s over. Just doubting yourself, you know? At least I do. It’s a daily thing, where you feel both ends of the spectrum. Within four hours, you go from saying, “This is gong nowhere, I should quit,” to something like, “Hey, it’s cool! Who cares if I don’t make any money?” So that song was me rooting for myself.