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Lydia Loveless on Sexual Misconduct Allegations in Music Industry

“Our society is based around women staying quiet,” says alt-country songwriter, who accused the domestic partner of a record label exec of harassment

Lydia Loveless

Lydia Loveless has accused the domestic partner of a record label executive of sexual misconduct.

David A. Smith/Getty Images

Two days after the New York Times ran their report on Ryan Adams and his alleged history of sexual misconduct, emotional abuse and attempts to use his power to silence and manipulate women, alt-country singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless was sitting in bed, angry. So she sent a tweet: “Not really at all surprising that a label who allowed a man to grope, paw at and mentally disturb me for over five years still touts Ryan Adams as a fucking genius,” she wrote.

The next day, Loveless used her Instagram to clarify her sentiment, alleging that she had endured years of sexual harassment and “casual predation” from Mark Panick, the domestic partner to Nan Warshaw, who is co-president of her longtime label Bloodshot Records. Though Panick was never employed by the label, to Loveless, he was an omnipresent force: showing up at festivals, industry events and concerts where much of the alleged abuse took place.

“In one instance, he approached me at the Bloodshot 20th Anniversary party, and while resting his hand between my buttcheeks, told me he loved my messy hairdo because it reminded him of the way girls’ hair in high school would look after they blew him,” Loveless wrote, in just one example of what she says she has endured in the years since first meeting Panick at South by Southwest.

Bloodshot eventually became aware of the allegations, and co-owner Rob Miller banned Panick from any company events — while Warshaw, according to Loveless, responded by putting the blame back on the victim. “She couldn’t help if people threw themselves at Mark,” Loveless remembers Warshaw telling her at the time. Though Miller, earlier this week, wrote in a statement on behalf of Bloodshot that he supported Loveless should she want to take her story public, Loveless did not choose to do so until now, talking to Rolling Stone in an exclusive interview. (Read Warshaw’s and Miller’s statements here.) Her reasons for waiting are many, including how a woman’s claims of sexual abuse is often as traumatizing as the initial instances themselves. Also, because women are often told this is just “the way things are” in an industry built around casual social events, drinking and the myth of the eccentric male rock-star genius.

After Loveless’ initial social media post, Warshaw responded with a letter on the label’s Facebook page. “I apologize for any hell or even awkwardness I put Lydia or anyone through, due to my actions or inactions. No one, and especially no one within the Bloodshot community, should ever have to tolerate sexual harassment; feeling safe and comfortable should be your right,” wrote Warshaw, adding that she’s taking some time away from the company. “To be clear, my life partner, Mark Panick, does not work for Bloodshot in any capacity and has never been an employee of Bloodshot. Rob Miller co-owns Bloodshot with me. Because I don’t want my personal decisions to be a negative distraction from the amazing work the bands and staff are doing, for the moment I’m going to step away from Bloodshot.”

Miller also issued his own lengthy statement, writing, in part, “Mark Panick is not now, nor has ever been, an employee of Bloodshot Records … Therefore, he is also not someone I can fire.”

Though Loveless “would like to express that I have no desire to hurt the label themselves and that I care about them all and I think they are good people,” her story is one more example of how the music industry, in addition to often turning a blind eye to abuse and harassment, has virtually zero protective systems in place for artists who experience abuse. (A bill was proposed in Tennessee to help accomplish this last year, but was shot down on the senate floor.) For Loveless and other women like her, the pain of sharing their stories is worth enduring to try to effect systemic change.

“I feel like there is more room than ever to say this shit isn’t OK,” Loveless says. “And I felt like maybe if now isn’t the time, it will never be the time.”

We spoke to the artist, whose deal with Bloodshot expired after her last album, 2016’s Real, about her decision to come forward.

You have been thinking about coming forward with your story for a long time now. How does it feel to finally have it out in the open? 
I pictured doing this a lot of times, and it has been very different from how I pictured it. I had multiple conversations with people at the label, and my current boyfriend and my ex-husband, and it has been overwhelmingly different from how I thought it would feel. I really did not expect to get so much attention on it, and I don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t matter. What I really want to accomplish was that I don’t want other women to feel like they have to go to their jobs every day and feel like they have to deal with this stuff. I don’t want anyone to feel that way ever again. I know it won’t change the way the world works. But I have had other women come forward and share their stories, and I have released a great burden for myself and hopefully helped other women do the same thing.

Did you feel like you had the support you would expect from the label when they first became aware of this alleged misconduct and abuse?
I started talking to Rob about this quite some time ago. He saw it; he saw Mark touching me inappropriately and he said, “If I ever see that again, I will be livid.” I remember feeling happy that someone had finally seen that it wasn’t me doing these things. After that, he started trying to figure out what to do, and how to fix it without making things the way they are now, which is public and upsetting and horrible for everyone. Because [Panick] was still around me, and it went on for a few more years. I wish no one was hurting except for Mark.

How soon did this behavior start?
Immediately. I met Mark the same way I met Nan: we were at [music festival] SXSW. Nan and Mark took us out for drinks; I was 19 and I really just wanted to make my dreams come true. I had been performing since I was 13. I met Mark before I met Rob, and I felt like he was more of a face of what was to come. He made me uncomfortable; he made everyone in my band uncomfortable. We were all just trying to do our jobs. But I had dealt with so much discomfort in my life, it felt like business as usual.

When Nan allegedly told you that Mark can’t help it if women throw themselves at him, and made you then doubt your own choices, did that enrage you?
I wish it had been enraging. I was so deflated by myself and other people telling Nan about this. It made me feel, “Wow, if people have come to you, and said this and you are blaming me, then it must not be that bad, or maybe it doesn’t mater.” This week has been eye-opening. I can’t believe I had to go through that. It almost feels like it happened to an entirely different person.

Did you ever really feel like you could speak about this publicly, as the Bloodshot statement says, and truly be supported? 
I think what sucks is that everyone says they were waiting for me to make a statement. But once I made the statement, I don’t feel like anyone is very happy with me. I feel supported, but I also feel like I am living on the moon right now. I feel completely alone.

A case can be made that it’s incredibly important for these stories to be heard — for both the women who have endured them, to know that they are not alone, and for the men who often don’t understand, or refuse to accept, the dangerous climate that exists in the music industry. But, little by little, these stories are chipping away at that protective wall.
I think our society is so based around women staying quiet, to keep the wheels turning. And I don’t think I realized how much of it was affecting me until I finally said something. My skin cleared up — I have been really struggling — but I can see changes in myself since I talked about it. It’s something I have discussed privately with a lot of people, but [coming forward] has relieved me of so many things.

“There is no protection for musicians. There is nothing in place for women to go to their jobs.”

So many times, when abuse or harassment begins, women don’t even register it as such, because they are conditioned to endure a climate that allows these behaviors to go unchecked. The music industry is rife with environments — festivals, conferences, radio tours, backstage — where rules and regulations are tabled in favor of keeping things “fun” and “casual.”
Yes, and you always ask yourself, “Was it that bad? Will anyone care? If I say this, will I sound like an asshole? Do I sound like someone who wasn’t strong enough?” So many people will say, “Why didn’t you just learn to kick someone in the balls? Why didn’t you just be funny about it?” But I always used humor to deal with everything. I would laugh it off. That you are laughing doesn’t mean you are accepting it.

Women are encouraged not to ruin the party. To be “one of the guys.”
It’s just presented as something we have to deal with. There is no protection for musicians. There is nothing in place for women to go to their jobs. You just have to float along in the sea of what, in any other career, would be absolutely stomped out of existence. It’s not fair that musicians, particularly females, have to say, “Oh, that’s just something I have to put up with every day when I go to my job.”

When something like this happens, we often like to pass around the idea that it’s an aberration: that this doesn’t happen in smaller scenes or indie music because there is a sense of “looking out for each other.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes it’s worse, because smaller scenes are insular and protective of these “dirty secrets.”
I think it might even be harder for indie artists, because we feel like we have less of a voice. I think we might silence ourselves even more because we feel like we are getting the best we can get. There are so many men running around scared out of their wits, especially in the indie community. But I don’t think they should be “dirty secrets.” It shouldn’t be, “Oh, he’s a piece of shit, but it’s just his sense of humor!” or “Oh, he’s a piece of shit, but we don’t want to shake things up.” It’s a sign of how insane it is that men are afraid right now, because they have never experienced the real fear that women have had to put up with for their entire lives.

Hopefully some people are now taking stock of those assumptions and rethinking their behaviors, but there does seem to be an unhealthy focus on “paths to redemption” for the abusers, or looking for excuses for those who let it continue for so long.
Yes, and I don’t think that people realize that women are reliving trauma. Everyone is saying, “Oh, you are so empowered, you’re brave.” Well, I am so fucking upset. I don’t feel good. I feel re-traumatized again and again, and that’s what so many women are facing. I’m glad that we are talking about it, but it’s like ripping open a wound that women have been fucking covering up with superglue because we are supposed to be fucking heroes, when men could just stop being fucking pieces of shit … I don’t want these men to feel powerful anymore. I want to feel powerful.

What can we do to reset that power balance, and make sure the industry starts to change in the wake of these stories?
I think good people already know what to do and bad people can’t be changed. But what good people can do is stop accepting this. Violence shouldn’t be part of going to work. If you touch anyone inappropriately, you are an abuser. We need to start looking out for each other and we can start by calling out things that are inappropriate. I believe in redemption, but we want to talk about redemption before anyone even admits to doing something inappropriate or apologizes.

The same day the Ryan Adams story came out, there were resulting stories wondering just that: what will his path to redemption be?
Yes, “How will he go on?” Well, how will we all go on? We don’t need to be worried about the well-being of assailants. There are really no other repercussions for most of them other than dealing with a few days of Twitter. They aren’t going to jail.

What do you hope happens next?
I hope that I go back to talking about music. And I hope women feel like they don’t have to endure hardships any more than just hearing that your song isn’t very good. I hope they feel like there is an equal, even playing ground. I don’t want women to feel in danger. And I don’t want women in danger to feel like it is OK to be in danger anymore.

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