Lydia Loveless spent her formative years, in her own words, “flopping around like a fish.” Drugs masked her insecurity, and she was ashamed of who and what she was.
“I felt it was absolutely necessary for me to become a stronger, more confident human, or else I was going to die,” says Loveless, one of America’s most distinctive alt-country singer/songwriters.
The Ohio native’s newest album, Real, is a self-declared “love letter” to that realization, poignant songs of circumstance in which Loveless accepts her own existence, finally, as one that has a purpose. Nonetheless, she is more than just a self-loathing narrator; this rock-pop-country amalgam cuts a deep, bracing swath.
“There was a lot to say this time around, and I wanted to return to that sort of playground and throw things at the wall,” says Loveless. “This one I wanted to be known as honest, as true, as real.”
Real was recorded at Sonic Lounge Studios in her home state of Ohio, engineered and produced by Joe Viers. Anxieties about status, sex, self-image, fidelity and un-met expectations comes to the fore of Loveless’ songs, as she tries to solve her own mysteries. In the process, she has managed to separate and preserve meaningful moments and has no trouble getting her point across.
“I’m pretty picky about what I put on a record, and I’ve never really been one to follow songs that I didn’t want to listen to,” says Loveless. “If I don’t want to hear it, I throw it away. Sometimes it’s just too long, or it won’t fit with the rest of the album stylistically. As a musician, I am relentlessly hard on myself. Sometimes the songs don’t go away, and they come back for reworking for the next record. But I’m pretty aware of what’s not going to go anywhere.”
Her way of coping may not be universal, but some of the broader feelings that drive them are. Indeed, music has provided Loveless the opportunity to stare out at the life she’d rather have and resolve very specific gnawing experiences.
“It’s been hard work to acknowledge certain things and trying to fix them. I’ve been performing since I was age 13. The difference now is that all of my mistakes are in front of people in bars and places. The way humans act now can be documented immediately. I don’t think I can ever relax, and I’m constantly working on anxiety, depression, and substance abuse and changing the times of the past. I’m still figuring – figuring out the art of being happy.”
All Loveless says she wants is for people to understand her through her music.
“With song writing, I’m stuck in my own head a lot, and it helps me observe things, and I’m jotting stuff down and that helps me focus and pay attention to what’s going on currently around me. Songwriting to me is combining the poetry and writing things down, and the performance is a way to get rid of all the unused energy inside.
“It’s still terrifying, the live environment. But it’s exciting right now, and every night I start from scratch. The difference now is that there are already people there. But even when there were four people, I was really happy, as happy now if there are 150 people. The energy is out there before you go on and start, and it’s one of my favorite things to do: setting the tone and understanding the dynamics.”
Loveless is joined on Real (her fourth full-length album) by Todd May (vocals, guitars, keys), Ben Lamb (bass), Jay Gasper (guitars, pedal steel, keys), George Hondroulis (drums, percussion, keys), Andy Harrison (guitar, keys) and Joe Viers (percussion, guitar).
Since her debut in 2010, Loveless has been conveying her own unified sense of hardiness, tenderness and off-handedness. Her art translates in the energy of her songs, which are plucky, vital and raw.
“I feel like my songwriting is my identity,” says Loveless. “The only difference now is that I think I’m mellowing out a little and focusing more on crafting sounds and songs. I’m not as angry anymore. Being a musician and traveling for ten years now, and getting to know more people, I think that all of that has been good for me.”
Loveless, now 28, says that it has taken her ample energy not to envy the lives of others but rejoice in her own success and fulfillment.
“I grew up in churches,” says Loveless, who was born Lydia Ankrom. “My dad was a pastor. My older sister took piano lessons and when I was six or seven, I wanted that outlet, and didn’t know how to express myself. As a kid, I wanted to be a big pop star, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I was home-schooled, and it was tough trying to find like-minded kids who wanted to play music. When I was 13, I met a bass player and got into rock and roll, and I connected with the bass. I knew I wanted it, but I had to find my real voice.
“When I was a kid I had lots of different opportunities and different paths to creativity. I grew up in the dead ass middle of nowhere. People who have been there have said, “This place is tragic and kind of boring.’ But I get really inspired by the solitude and, in a beautiful state like Ohio, it’s not all flat! There is lots of nature there.
“I’m sure I fit the actual definition of introversion, I get energy from being in more quiet areas and get energy from that time to think. Being surrounded by people all of the time drains you. Not to sound like a crappy country song, but you’ve got to go to the woods and go to a cabin.”
The Buckeye State native says she tries to avoid the pitfalls of hypocrisy, and grasps how easily any artist could slide into caricature. Right now, she is content taking her interests one show at a time, holding her own in the demands of her environment. While Loveless concedes that the life she thinks she wants “may not necessarily always feel real,” she says she is determined to march to the beat of her own drum.
“I’ve got this horrific fear of losing it all. I need to perform.”