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Loveless goes "Somewhere Else"

By Brian Baker, February 2014

To take a page from Judy Collins' notebook, Lydia Loveless has seen life from both sides now. After a childhood in tiny Coshocton, Ohio, a move to Columbus and a gig playing bass in her family's new wave/rock band as a teenager, Loveless set out on her own musical path at the age of 17. In 2010, the 20-year-old Loveless released her debut album, "The Only Man," which was critically acclaimed, but just barely heard by the general public.

2010 also brought a Bloodshot Records showcase at South by Southwest and a subsequent contract, leading to 2012's brilliant "Indestructible Machine," featuring a great story hook with the song "Steve Earle" (not about the singer/songwriter, but a quasi-stalker/celebrity wannabe who shadowed Loveless).

Bloodshot's reputation and distribution resulted in an exponential rise in profile. Once the touring cycle for "Indestructible Machine" was completed, Loveless confronted the lingering question that faces every artist in the wake of sudden stratospheric success, namely how to follow up the vehicle of that success.

Lydia Loveless sings "Chris Isaac"

Some people can't wait to get back to the studio to prove that their previous triumph was no fluke and was, in fact, merely a hint at their future potential. Loveless did not take that particular approach when she began work on what would become the just-released "Somewhere Else."

"I got so freaked out by the 'alt.country princess' and all that shit that I was trying to recreate that magic and just shut my brain down," says Loveless from her Columbus home with a laugh. "I rented this studio all to myself and would go there and usually just end up crying on the floor because I couldn't write what I wanted to. I was reading a lot of Verlaine, which is how he wound up in a lot of the songs and the artwork. I just decided I needed to scrap everything and start over and write what I wanted instead of trying to write the next really good country album. I ended making a kind of pop/rock record."

Before the eventual Stones-meets-Replacements bash-and-twang of "Somewhere Else," Loveless opted to drop "Boy Crazy," a five-track teaser EP released last November that in some ways pointed out the direction she ultimately took on her third full length. In some ways, the first two albums could be viewed as rocked up country, while "Boy Crazy" and "Somewhere Else" could be categorized as countried up rock.

"I was trying to show another side of my influences, and Paul Westerberg is definitely a huge influence," says Loveless. "Any comparison to him would be cool."

More than a few critics have cited the jangly, rootsy "Boy Crazy" as something of a transitional link to the direction Loveless has taken on "Somewhere Else," but she's quick to point out that's not necessarily the case.

"They were different recording sessions and just a different mindset; we recorded 'Somewhere Else' first, which is funny," says Loveless. "I had this idea for a long time that I wanted to write about how much I loved baseball players when I was a kid and kind of still do. I didn't really accomplish that but there's definitely a youthful theme and a different vibe running through the EP. That letting go that I had to do to write 'Somewhere Else,' I had to do that even more so to write these."

In addition to her fairly diverse and voluminous musical influences - ranging from country icons like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard to modern indie/punk proponents like the Velvet Underground, Television and Richard Hell to Williams' country-to-death-metal grandson Hank III - Loveless created the lyrics on "Somewhere Else" from a very different outlook.

"Poetry was definitely an influence, particularly Paul Verlaine," she notes. "There's a song about him ("Verlaine Shot Rimbaud") and he influenced the album a lot. He has this poem 'Aspiration,' which is basically about the discontent of being an artist and how no one cares anymore, and this was the 1800's, so it was already going downhill. It's about how you always want something else or a different world, and that's kind of the theme of 'Somewhere Else,' and how I'll always be semi-miserable and want something more. It's a great lifestyle."

Loveless' constant feeling of unease and dissatisfaction may well be one of the reasons that she can write songs detailing dour personal circumstance when she is quite happily married to her longtime bassist Ben Lamb. He also provides her with some much needed perspective.

"My husband said just today, 'If you ever achieve your goals, you weren't ambitious enough,'" says Loveless with a laugh. "I think it comes from watching too many movies where the credits roll after the person gets the girl or the job, and then he was happy. I'll never feel like that, ever."

And while she wouldn't necessarily consider herself a method songwriter, she admits that there may be an element of self-inflicted drama in her emotionally charged catalog of songs.

"I definitely have a bit of the sabotaging-my-life-to-get-a-good-song problem, but I think I'm inherently just a depressed person, not to take a bad turn in the interview," says Loveless. "I think I'll always be pretty sad internally, so it's actually pretty easy. It would be harder for me to write a song about how happy I am because then I would be really bored. I don't think I would know how to write a happy song. There's so much (sadness) to get inspired by anyway. I read this book about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and wrote the song ‘Hurts So Bad' as a tribute to them, so I don't even have to go to my own life, to a certain extent. They were not exactly small personalities. They had a lot between the two of them. That, and apparently they were drunk all the time. So, that couldn't help."

Always an incendiary performer, Loveless admits that the adrenalized atmosphere of "Boy Crazy" and "Somewhere Else" has had an impact on the way she performs her old songs. At the same time, she notes that the difference in her previous material is not simply a matter of an uptick in tempo, it's a result of relating differently to songs written long before now.

"(The new songs) definitely change the way I feel about the old songs," says Loveless. "It changes the way I think about them now, having gone through different things. Songs have almost changed meaning for me. It's interesting to think about where I was; I can't even remember the person I was when I was writing those, which is the weird thing about being a songwriter. You go through something and you put all this energy into it, then you black out your actual life. But I'm glad they exist."