Lydia Loveless possesses one of the most commanding voices in roots music. The Columbus, Ohio-based singer-songwriter is currently touring behind her new album Somewhere Else, the followup to 2013’s Boy Crazy EP. It’s her third release for Bloodshot Records, who signed her in 2010 after hearing her perform in a noisy Irish bar at South By Southwest. We asked Loveless about her approach to songwriting, her dream co-write and more.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Hank Williams, Paul Collins, Nick Lowe, Roger Miller, Ric Ocasek, Darren Hayes, Paul Westerberg and Prince.
How would you describe Somewhere Else?
A poppy, rocky, twangy mix of nostalgia and romantic melodrama.
How would you compare it to your last album?
I think my songwriting has improved as well as my guitar playing. I put a lot more thought into the vocals and harmonies, and layered a lot more with guitars. I think it’s a bit of a better display of the things that have influenced me as well, now that I am older and a little less confused.
How do you go about writing songs?
I usually start with lyrics. I get a hook in my head, and then I start messing around on guitar or piano until I get a melody. It can get sloppy. Sometimes it plops right down in front of me as a fully formed song, and sometimes I have to mess around with it for weeks. But I try not to labor over one thing too long.
What’s your approach to writing lyrics?
I’ve kept a daily journal since I was 6 years old–so that’s a lot of crap floating around in the world, but it’s very useful for lyrics. I pull stuff out of journal entries, or scraps of paper that I find lying around, or in my phone or iPod or digital recorder. I’m a little obsessive about writing anything down. When I die I want all my notes destroyed!
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Good books and movies, my life, other people’s lives, conversations I have. When people talk to me anything they say might be used in a song. Feel how you want to about that, haha.
Do you have any tricks you like to use in the studio? Lots of reverb? cCandles?
Well, I don’t know if this is a trick, but I always try to dress up so I feel sexy and therefore more comfortable in my own skin. Also, my Kalamazoo Model 3 must come along.
How did you learn how to play guitar?
Very slowly! I started trying when I was about 12, but the thing that finally made it click for me was when I was about 15 and I started learning Hank Williams songs. It made it easy and fun.
Every artist is influenced by the ones that came before them. Are you being influenced by new musicians as well?
Yeah. I would definitely consider Jason Isbell, while not new, a current influence. His lyrics on Southeastern made me think I should throw in the towel, they are that good. John Moreland, Kathleen Edwards, Joe Nolan, and Todd May are others.
How often do you play for fun, just for yourself?
I noodle around at my house a lot when I’m at home, especially on piano, certainly. I like to play pop songs and attempt some metal tunes. Alice Cooper’s been a big thing lately, and just good old fashioned country songs.
When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?
Oh, I guess if we’re talking about just writing any song, I was probably about 8. They were terrible of course! I didn’t get good (and that’s of course still being generous) until I was about 15.
What was the first song you ever wrote?
That I recall, it was called “Blurry Vision.” It’s on tape somewhere at my parents’ house. It’s just me screaming “Blurrrry vision!” over myself strumming a completely open stringed guitar. Sad! The song I wrote that actually made me think I could “do this” was “Let Me Leave” from my first album. I was 15.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
I just started writing a song called “Tommy” about a week ago on my piano. I’m always tinkering with something but I think that one’ll actually form.
What’s a song on Somewhere Else you’re particularly proud of?
I’m really proud of the title track, Somewhere Else. It sort of came to me when I was half asleep and I knew I wanted to call the album that, but I knew the song had to be really good. When we finally got into the studio with it I was amazed with how we handled it–I think it sounds really dreamy, especially the harmonies. I’m very proud of it.
What’s a lyric or verse from the album you’re a fan of?
“Back when I thought every man I met would be the one to say, ‘Honey, it’s okay, I’ll be lonely but I can wait.'”
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
It switches around. 2013 was a huge songwriting year for me, I felt like I couldn’t stop. But now I’m in the absorbing period, where I’m just sort of screwing around with different things but it’s all still up in the air. I sometimes feel like I’ll never write another song — but of course I will. It just takes time. But I would definitely say ultimately it gets harder to know when you’re doing something right and not just being self-indulgent.
Are there any words you love or hate?
I hate the words hubs, and membrane. I like the words clack and gander, off the top of my head.
The most annoying thing about songwriting is….
Having to explain what a song is about afterwards.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
Couples tell me “Crazy” is “their” song all the time. One couple even said it was their wedding song.
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
I write poetry, tons of self-pitying journal entries, and short stories.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
What do you consider to be the perfect song?
“Cruel to Be Kind” by Nick Lowe. It’s short, sweet, doesn’t take any unnecessary turns to make it more interesting, and I feel like you’d have to be crazy not to like it.