A child of an alcoholic, Lera Lynn found clarity for the first time in a very long time. Tucked away in the weathered pages of her new record, On My Own ─ an album conceived and recorded all by herself, a creative experiment also born from the fact women rarely engineer and produce records ─ the musician came to greater understanding of who she was and who she could be. It arrives today in startling contrast to 2018’s Plays Well with Others, nine songs boasting collaborations with John Paul White, Rodney Crowell, and Shovels & Rope, among others.
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In many ways, she’s been preparing for this moment in the sun her whole life. “I’m an only child, so I’ve been working on things by myself for a long time,” Lynn tells American Songwriter over a phone call last month. She laughs, but it’s true. A deep craving for a “singular projection of my music” sprang out of her soul, and as she began unraveling particular matters of the heart, her creativity bloomed unexpectedly.
“I definitely learned things that you can only learn in collaboration, but I really did miss going down the rabbit hole of writing and experimenting with sounds,” she says, trailing off. Dusty opener “Are You Listening?” chugs along well-laid steel track, a locomotive charging full-steam ahead and seemingly unstoppable ─ and her voice takes on an angelic and rootsy tone.
Later, “It Doesn’t Matter” slides with soul-torn melancholy, light brushes of percussion (constructed with paint brushes on canvas) swim around one of her finest performances to date. Such an unconventional foundation “enabled me to interpret the harmonies in different ways rather than outlining with chords, which can lock you down,” she says.
She was sitting on her back porch, fiddling with her acoustic guitar, when the song fell into her lap. An artist friend had just called her up, expressing sorrow about diminished returns they’d been witnessing on the road. “He was saying he felt turnout was lower, and he was really struggling with his numbers, in general. I think this artist is really talented,” recalls Lynn, “and I started to think about how we’re all summarized by numbers these days. Everyone is aware of it, and somehow it still gets under our skin.”
“It doesn’t matter at all,” she calls through the song’s humid lanquidity.
Such a mantra can be hard to swallow, especially in 2020, and finding a balance of making art and making a living has never been easy. “I mostly pursue it as art and not for the money. Obviously, I do have to survive. It’s not like I’m living high on the hog,” she notes with a laugh. “In making this record, a big goal, maybe the primary goal, was to not hold any of those projections in my mind ─ like what is this person going to think of it? Or will this song get playlisted on Spotify? Would this get radio play? I really tried to silence those voices. For the most part, I did. I don’t think you can completely silence the outside.”
Untethered to any industry constraints, or self-imposed notions, Lynn allowed herself time, more time than she’d ever allotted herself. As such, she began to peel back layers of past trauma and what it means to be present now. “Something we’re all confronting regularly is getting older. Maybe it’s realizing you’re not where you thought you would be when you were 18. Another thing is processing the environment that we live in and today’s society, how things are so driven and manipulated by the internet. This record was made before the pandemic, but I was really feeling the effects of isolation. It’s a regular part of our lives now.”
Lynn has also made peace with, or at least finally confronted, a parent’s war with addiction. “I have been sorting through that my whole life. It’s really only been in the last few years that I’ve actually been able to look at it or even recognize it,” she offers. “I had to understand how growing up in that kind of environment affected my personality, my ability to sort through different emotions, and my ability to be a good friend or a good lover or a good daughter. I’m feeling really grateful for all the experiences I had in learning these things about myself.”
She funnels her pain, trauma, all of it right into the music ─ from the squirming “A Light Comes Through” to “Make You OK,” in which she dissects her “inner child, innocence, and vulnerability, and how atypical it is for children to understand and process emotional stuff from their parents,” she says. Lynn is a mother now, so conquering her demons and defying her own toxic tendencies is as crucial as ever. She tears up mid-sentence, and it’s evident her wounds still wax red hot and swollen.
But she’s stronger than she’s ever been. “Things change / Hearts change / Nothing stays the same,” she sings on the closing track, looped with a box of Runts candy for percussive elements. By the end of her journey, she’s processed the past, gently folding it back into her mental trove, and now, she embraces life’s inevitable turning tides. “The past year has been pivotal in that acceptance for me,” she explains. “It’s obviously not easy for any of us. At some point, you have to grow up and at least look at your shit. Check yourself out in the mirror for real and fix it ─ or try.”
On My Own is instinctual down to its core. Lera Lynn, whose last solo record was 2016’s Resistor, banks on trusting her gut, despite how truly difficult it came to be. “I had a meltdown almost every day. It wasn’t because of trying to traverse a new challenge and ProTools or trying to sort out an issue with a piece of gear. It was definitely because I didn’t know if what I was doing was worthwhile,” she muses.
“Honestly, I had to take breaks and paint a lot while I was recording to clear my head. There are several songs that didn’t make the cut where I was definitely going down the wrong path, and I abandon those, as you do. Up to my very last vocal I tracked, I remember driving home one day, and having just finished up everything and getting the files ready for mixing, and I had a total breakdown.”
On My Own rises as more than a personal statement. It also cuts into today’s current social climate. “I think a really important aspect of this was me hoping to enable, by example, other women who want to make their own records. There were so many times I wanted to give up and have people come in and help me finish. I think it’s important for women to see other women doing it. The way women approach music is unique, and I hope to see many more women making their own records.”
Check out our review of ‘On My Own.’
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen