On "Somewhere Else," the Americana singer examines the consequences of certain choices.
“People say College kids - they love going to live music, but that’s really not what they do here. It’s not the young kids keeping the music scene alive here; it’s the older people.”
Geography has played an important role in the career of Lydia Loveless, who plays One Eyed Jacks Wednesday night in support of her new album, Somewhere Else, with Holly Golightly and headliners The Old 97’s. Loveless lives in Columbus, Ohio, home of Ohio State University, but it has proven more beneficial as a central location eight hours or less from many cities and gigs than as a place to build a hometown audience. It has also been the place where she found her rebellious self.
Loveless grew up living in the country in eastern Ohio, so country music was a part of her life, even though her musical family was more into punk and new wave. At 13, she started playing bass in a band with her sisters, and at 16 she moved to Columbus. “I was missing being on the farm,” she says, so she adopted secondhand cowboy gear as part of her wardrobe. “‘You’re Lookin' at Country’ [by Loretta Lynn] was my theme song as a teenager once I had moved to Columbus and we were all wearing cowboy boots and people were laughing at us. It was more punk rock to me to wear cowboy boots and kerchiefs than a mohawk. Now, 10 years later, you can go to Target and there’s the cowboy boot rack.”
Country also gave her the ability to expand her musical chops when she wanted to learn to play guitar. “I met a cute boy who said he liked Hank Williams,” Loveless says, and that prompted her to buy some Hank and Hank III albums. “It was incredibly easy to sit and play a Hank Williams song and teach myself to play guitar that way.” After Williams, her next major influence was Conor Oberst. Being part of a musical family, Loveless grew up knowing that at some point she’d she’d write and sing. Oberst’s songs gave her permission to express her self personally, but her sisters didn’t share the love.
“If you don’t listen to Conor Oberst by the time you’re 15, you’re not going to get into him,” she says. “My older sisters had The Pixies and Nirvana, but I was growing up in the ‘90s. Conor Oberst - what is this crap?
“It’s everything. It’s the meaning of life. That’s definitely the singer/songwriter who felt like my voice.”
Still, it took her awhile to find that voice. In 2010, she released The Only Men, but Loveless considers 2011’s Indestructible Machine the real start of her musical career. The album has more of a rock edge that The Only Men, but it’s clearly an Americana album. “I didn’t have a grasp on what I was doing yet,” Loveless says, and there are songs on it that she now says were there to fill out an album - not bad, but not special either. When she finished touring the album, she rented office space to write a new album, but that ended catastrophically. She didn’t like anything she’d written and scrapped all of it. Not even fragments or lines made it to Somewhere Else.
“It was more about getting out of my house,” she says. “That was my way of cutting myself off from the world, but it ended up being really lonely and kind of terrifying.” While writing, she was self-consciously trying to work in the alt-country mode, which started to feel constraining. Loveless credits the process, as hard as it was, for helping her get to a more personal sounds and songs as it allowed her to see the limits of what she thought she wanted to do and opened her to something more real.
Somewhere Else is less genre-specific than Indestructible Machine. People hear her affection for The Replacements all over the album, and particularly on the opening “Really Wanna See You” and “To Love Somebody,” but she also claims classic rock and Stax singles are in the album’s sound. Her eye for physical, emotional, and relationship details is more precise on Somewhere Else, so Loveless hones in on loneliness when singing about oral sex in “Head,” and the bad relationships she ends up in while listening to the “Wicked Game” singer on “Chris Isaak.”
The album is sexually frank as it examines Loveless’ romantic history, but unlike Taylor Swift’s break-up songs, Loveless is more concerned with what it is in her that keeps making the same mistakes and chasing the wrong guys. So far, the men in her life haven’t asked who particular songs are about, nor have the guys identified themselves. When faced with a life choice where one decision would lead toward happiness and another might produce a better song, Loveless confesses that she has opted for the latter.
“It’s embarrassing to admit that,” Loveless says. “I’m sure one day I’ll decide I’d rather be happy, but it’s too tempting to try to find out, What would happen if I did this? Like pushing a big red button marked ‘Do Not Push.’”
Loveless was 16 when she started performing on her own, though her father was a drummer for much of that time. She went through her teenage years onstage, and she recognizes in retrospect that doing so had to leave a mark.
“It probably screws you up. I’m pretty happy, but I definitely didn’t have any peers doing what I was doing. Now I mostly hang around with middle-aged men. But I guess it gave me some mystique as a person, so that’s kind of nice. I definitely wasn’t cool, but I could seem cool.”