Columbus, Ohio’s Lydia Loveless is the quintessential little lady with the big voice. So far she’s released two albums and the most recent EP, Boy Crazy, full of no-frills, Midwest-ruminating, drinking/ditching tunes. But on her latest, Somewhere Else, out February 18 on Bloodshot Records, she inches her sound onto some barstool between the canny country of Neko Case and latter-day Replacements pop. Or Chris Isaak. Yeah that’s it, Chris Isaak.
I just watched a movie last night called, The Informers, and Chris Isaak is in it. It’s not very good. Have you ever seen it?
It’s taken from a Bret Easton Ellis book, so it’s one of those L.A. in the ’80s, coke, sex, empty souls lounging around fabulous homes, all of that. Chris Isaak’s in it and plays this teen’s dad, and he’s actually pretty good in it.
Is he in it for a long time?
Yeah, he acts in about five or six sizeable scenes.
He was in Silence of the Lambs too!
That’s right! He’s also in Fire Walk with Me. And yes, I’m only going to ask about Chris Isaak and then hang up! So tell me about your Chris Isaak fascination, enough that you would write a song with his name as the title on the new album.
Ha, well there was this kind of douche-baggy dude I dated who really liked Chris Isaak, and I really like Chris Isaak, and he would always play Chris Isaak songs on his guitar and sing them to me. So I wanted to write one last fucking song to him.
Now does a guy like that influence your opinion of Chris Isaak’s music after such a horrible ending?
(Laughs) No, I mean I still love Chris Isaak. I guess it was more just to particularly poke fun at the dude more than anything.
Your newest record is comparable to early Chris Isaak records, it sounds ostensibly more “produced,” but maybe just a little clearer and the guitars ring a little more. Were you trying to go for something a little more expansive this time?
Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve just gotten better at hearing things and taking advice from people and not trying to be like, “Bleh, I just want to get this over with and not even try, man! I’m not even good at guitar.” So yeah, I polished things up a bit and didn’t want to make the exact same record. I mean didn’t want to make Hysteria or anything. I definitely wanted it to sound like I’ve grown a little bit. I remember when people asked me what the next record would sound like, I had this plan of making a Chris Isaak-sounding record. Obviously I didn’t do that, but I still wanted to get a little bit of the influence in there.
So you’re feeling a little more confident as things go along.
I think so. I mean I was 15 when I started making my first record, and I think I’ve got more balls when I get into the studio now.
Speaking of sex organs, you know that Prince had a song called Head, right? Is there any kind of story behind your song, Head?
I don’t know if you know Todd May at all, but he’s my guitar player. We had never met before, but I went to his house because my manager said I should. I’d never done anything like that before, so I drank a jug of wine and I was just completely wasted so I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we wrote a song that was really sad, but it was about giving someone head?” That was my brilliant idea. But it took me years to actually get it where it sounded good to me. There’ve been a few versions of that and there’s a demo tape that sounds super country that we did in his basement. So it took a long time, but I still wanted to do it. I didn’t want to make it funny though, I wanted it to be kind of depressing.
In a few reviews here I’ve seen here and there, people have to always mention that you’re “rough” and you’re not the clean, new country kind of girl, and that you – oh gosh! – swear sometimes, stuff that shouldn’t really be surprising from a country musician. In pop music, it’s silly to even ask questions like that anymore, but if you’re aiming for some country crossover, does that even cross your mind to make sure that the production is clean, or worry if you threw in a song about head?
I mean it used to, but anymore I kind of just wonder who even gets played on the radio. For a while I was having so much trouble writing songs because I was like, “Oh I need to be the perfect example of ‘alt country’” and I just wasn’t hitting it and I was writing really boring songs that I was embarrassed to sing. So I stopped thinking about it. And now I’m kind of fumbling with whether the song is too “poppy.” (Laughs) It’s hard to say, I kind of wanted to get away from the country thing more because even the people who are in charge about writing about distinct country genres are just really snobby and it kind of sucks to be a part of that world.
I assume it’s been suggested to you that you should move to Nashville?
Yeah, I’m constantly being asked if I’m from there or if I’m moving there, or why I don’t live there.
So why don’t you? I mean I know why you stay in Columbus, because it’s a great town. But has there ever been a serious point that you ever thought about moving?
I mean, I’ve really thought for years about moving to L.A. or at least somewhere in California because I get so fucking depressed during these months.
But I think back to a lot of my favorite bands, and a lot of them come from cold weather areas where you have 4-5 months in a year to sit stuck in a house, drinking and coming up with songs. So it’s kind of a love/hate thing with “Man, I’m fucking sick of cold weather.” But it clearly has a larger determination on your personality than you’d think.
True. And I guess I just meet more interesting people in the Midwest because we don’t really have some kind of identity. Like we don’t have the ocean, like “What’s your problem, just go hang out by the water and chill.” But I really enjoy being in the Midwest, and I know it’s not a thing a lot of people say, but yeah, when you can’t go outside because it’s 15 below, you better be inside writing a damn good song.
And it’s definitely centrally located which is awesome because you can get to a town like Cleveland or a fairly different town like Chicago, Detroit, Louisville or even Toronto within a few hours and be able to hit a lot of different kinds of people really quickly.
Yeah, it’s really easy to tour for me here. Like I was thinking about moving to Boston, but it’s like I would drive 10 hours and be in Butt-fuck Billy Bob tavern. I mean, it’s cheaper here, my family’s here and I really honestly hate Nashville. I don’t get any sort of vibe from it.
Yeah, if anything it’s sounds like it’s more of an indie rock town now, though I haven’t been there in forever. People are moving there because the Black Keys guys and Jack White moved there; and you hear more about Third Man Records shows than the Grand Old Opry. Plus, you grew up in Columbus, right?
Yeah, well I moved here when I was 14.
You do mention “blow” in the first song of the record, and from what I recall, blow was floating around quite a bit before I moved from there. But I’ve been gone for about 10 years now, so is coke still a big deal in bars there?
Not to me, because I try to stay away from it. But yeah, I think it’s still floating around quite a bit. That was kind of what inspired that song, like all of the people I know that do blow and I’m just like, “Ah man, you need to calm down.”
So what part of town do you live in?
I live right by the old Wonder Bread factory.
Oh yeah, didn’t that close down awhile back?
Yeah, it’s condos now. They were saying it was going to be turned into an art space, but obviously people who want to do cool stuff need money, so now it’s just a rent-raising disaster around there, and I really want to move.
I always thought that was such a great metaphor for Columbus. Like I’d be driving home from something downtown and I’d be catching all that awesome bread-making smell in the air. But then I’d think, “That’s fucking Wonder Bread, that’s some of the worst bread ever.” And it was great because we’d say, “Wow, that’s really nice to smell good bread, but it’s actually not that good.” Which was kind of how a lot of people who live and stay around Columbus kind of love/hate the place…. Okay, let’s go from eating to drinking. In Wine Lips on the new album, there’s a funny line where you say, “Tell your mother my French has finally improved.” So was that song about an actual French guy that you knew?
Yeah, when I was a kid I dated a really rich dude from New York for a while, and I’d lied to his mom and said, “Oh yeah, I speak French.” Then she got on the phone with me once and started talking in French, and my cover was totally blown. I ran into him, like I hadn’t seen him in eight years, and we met up in New York and now he’s dating some awesome smart hot chick. I thought it was embarrassing, so I kind of wrote about that.
So after some short stints in some local bands, how are you feeling being the front person? I only saw you at that Independents’ Day fest in Columbus last summer, so I don’t know how you were previously. Were you awkward, and are you feeling more confident lately?
Yeah, I definitely was, because I just am awkward. But especially just having a more solid band these past few years, I feel like I have a team of people who actually give a shit. When I first started putting a band together it was always guys saying, “Don’t think I’m gonna carry your amp,” and it’s like, “I don’t want you to!” And now I feel like I have a set group of dudes that actually gives a shit and is good.
So now you have a solid band and you’ve got people in your ear telling you to go to Nashville. So do you get people telling you that you should get “professional musicians?” You know what I mean? And does it get offensive or do you ever consider it?
I think both. I think when I started I wanted to be very country and go for a certain sound. I didn’t know what I was doing and so I was playing simple country songs. But when I met Todd I was like “Wow, this is fucking great!” We just get along so well and we understand what I want to go for. He helps me finish songs quite often, and if we get stuck on something he gives suggestions. So he’s almost like a co-writer, and I think it’s a big part of my sound. So when people say, “You should have someone who plays hot licks” or whatever, it is a little insulting and a little weird. I think those people are also expecting me to sound like Jewel and other artists I get compared to a lot, which I sound nothing like.
And don’t you have family in the band?
My husband is my bass player and my dad was my drummer, but not anymore.
It’s hard enough to hold a band together without getting into pissy family fights, but I would imagine having family members, you might be holding back even more. So having your husband in the band with you hasn’t been too hard?
Well it can be, but then marriage itself can be a pain in the ass, so I don’t know if not having him in my band would help that.
One way that could be hard is with touring. You don’t do super long tours, but you play out of town quite a bit, right?
Yeah, I play a lot, and I’m about to go on one for six weeks which is the longest stretch I’ve done. I’ve kind of been dreading that. I mean I’m looking forward to that because I’ve been bored at home. But six weeks is a long time.