Lera Lynn: Building A Mystery


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There are a lot of people like that these days from True Detective, who hadn’t heard of Lynn before they discovered her in season two of the HBO series. She doesn’t mind that at all as an entry point – fans are fans – but it also doesn’t mean she feels cornered by a growing base.

“I’ve been able to locate an audience,” she says. “I think when you are a new artist and you are scrambling to find a niche, you try to make music that is, I don’t want to say palatable or easily digested, but something that will help you gain the trust of an audience. It’s really difficult to do that with risky music or music that is extraordinarily unique. Once you gain the trust of an audience, you can start to explore different dynamics and subject matter. That’s when you can really get to the heart of who you are as an artist.”

Lynn began to discover exactly who that was while growing up in Georgia, as an only child to parents who worked a lot – her father, she says, had his share of “personal battles” with the bottle, so she’d retreat to her room to find solace in stacks of albums. “I would close the door to my bedroom and just crank it up and try and block out the things that are happening around me,” she says. “I also started writing poetry at that time. I started journaling, but more poetry. I never thought when I was younger that I could become a songwriter. I don’t think I realized that someone actually writes songs: in my mind they just magically appeared on the radio.”

When her parents were actually home, their music tastes were quite diverse – from Cline and other country touchstones to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, Van Halen, Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was when her mother introduced her to Joni Mitchell that the idea of songwriting as a craft began to intrigue her – and to this day, there are still echoes of the legendary folksinger in much of Lynn’s work, particularly songs like “Urge For Going” that meld minor keys with evocative imagery.

“I think Joni Mitchell and my mother were two really important role models for me at that time” says Lynn. “Like in the depth of her lyrics, and the really interesting way she has of looking at and portraying scenarios.”

By the time Lynn got to college at University of Georgia, her tastes had started veering into jazz, like “old school jazz from the fifties and sixties.” For a while, she thought she might be a jazz singer. “I tried to run as far away from roots-oriented music and started writing these really strange meandering jazz folksongs,” she says. “They were very verbose, no one could relate to anything. Eventually I realized that wasn’t connecting with anyone and I should probably just go back to my upbringing a little bit.”

Unfortunately, there is no record of those jazz numbers (“I think I melted them,” she jokes), but that early work became Have You Met Lera Lynn. Its songs were quickly lauded, like “Bobby Baby,” which won a songwriting award at Merlefest’s 2011 Chris Austin Songwriting Competition, an honor also bestowed on another Burnett favorite, Gillian Welch. She toured alongside the likes of the Punch Brothers, Joan Osborne, KD Lang and Crow and grew a stronghold in the Americana community.

But for The Avenues, her tastes shifted further from the predictable roots-music route, warping her voice into even more unusual places, sometimes veering towards the atmospheric. Critics struggled to define it as country-tinged, and it’s true – there is something undeniably American in what she does, in the way she wraps her notes around solid but imaginative storytelling and strums at the guitar. But unlike many of her contemporaries that rely on their banjo for effect, Lynn’s much more adept at creating a mood with her sonic palate, through simple touches like the quiver of a string or a breathy annunciation.

Those are all components of what made her such a perfect fit for Burnett, who recruited her alongside with True Detective casting to not only to write songs for the series but to have a role in it, as that beautifully tortured bar singer. Tracks like “My Least Favorite Life” were written with Burnett and Cash and recorded quickly – and garnered her a cult following just as fast.

“The words [she sings] are mystical,” Burnett told Entertainment Weekly. “Part of the show is — the heart of the show, I think — is all happening in that bar. That’s the beating heart of the show… But to me, that bar is where True Detective happens. That’s the psychosphere. Something feels central about it.”

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