12:10 PM EST, November 22, 2011
Lydia Loveless does a lot of venting on her second album and debut for Chicago-based Bloodshot Records, “Indestructible Machine.” Growing up in rural Ohio outside Coshocton, population 11,000, Loveless says feeling like an outcast was inspiring in a perverse kind of way. “One good thing about not having a lot of friends,” she says with a laugh, “it gave me plenty of time to write songs.”
“I lived on a farm with 200 cattle, horses, goats – I loved the country, but hated the town,” she says. “I hoped there were better things somewhere else, because it was a very ignorant, close-minded town, the kind of place that if you spoke with proper grammar they made fun of you. It helped shape my general outlook. I wouldn’t say I developed a hatred for humanity, but it definitely encouraged me to be more of a loner.”
Her father was a musician who also booked concerts at a local bar. Her two older sisters played music and enlisted Lydia to play bass in their new-wave band when she was 13.
“We definitely made a splash in the punk scene in Columbus: ‘Why are these well-dressed little girls playing this dirty punk club?’ ” Loveless says. The band ended when Loveless’ oldest sister moved to New York, and Lydia began focusing on writing her own songs.
Her first solo show was at an open-mike night at a Columbus bar: “I knew everyone there, including a homeless guy who tried to get on stage with me – good times.”
She began playing out regionally, and at a gig in Cincinnati landed a chance meeting with Kentucky-based musician-producer David Rhodes Brown, who was impressed enough with Loveless’ songs to suggest recording an album with her.
“It was like a scene in a movie where the big producer is there and everyone throws money in the air,” Loveless says. A novice in the studio, she was happy to take direction from a veteran producer on what would be her first album, the 2010 release, “The Only Man.” But the album didn’t turn out to her liking, a slick-sounding country-pop concoction.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing, I didn’t have a full band or anything,” she says. Brown “hired musicians to do the whole thing. At the time I wanted to be more punk rock than country, which is odd, because the two albums are the opposite. It wasn’t so much against my wishes, but they were trying to make an overproduced record to pitch to people, make me the next Carrie Underwood.”
Loveless vowed to make amends if she got a second chance. There was about a two-year gap between the time she recorded “The Only Man” and when it was released, and in the meantime she worked up a bunch of vivid new songs that struck a don’t-push-me attitude while painting a picture of small-town life. As she sings in the song “Do Right” on “Indestructible Machine”: “I was raised on whiskey and God, and I’m a little confused.” In “Jesus was a Wino,” she contrasts Jesus’ empathy for the marginalized with the disdain she found in her hometown.
“I grew up in a strongly Presbyterian area, and I was around people all the time judging other people who drink or smoke,” she says. “It’s not an anti-Jesus song, it’s more an anti-uppity-Christian-attitude song.”
Her defiant tone is matched by songs that put country and punk on equal ground, unvarnished and direct. “I pretty much gave (‘Indestructible Machine’ coproducer and engineer) Joe Viers the first album and said, ‘I want to do the exact opposite,’ ” she says. “I didn’t want everything so cleaned up that it sounded like an alien did it.”
Mission accomplished. “Indestructible Machine” is one of the year’s best albums, but Loveless, who is only in early twenties, says it’s just a start.
“I was pretty angry at the time, fed up, when I wrote the songs on that album,” she says. “I was feeling really alienated from the rest of society. That theme of sitting at home being mad is pretty much in every song (laughs).
“I didn’t realize what was happening at the time, but it does change you to write about something. It can change you as person. As a songwriter, I’m still learning. After finishing the new album, I feel I have to start from scratch. I’ve become a less obnoxious (jerk) when writing. I used to make a joke of everything. Now I just want to write about my experiences and be taken seriously as a songwriter.”
She says Richard Thompson is a role model, precisely because he writes good songs that don’t fit conveniently into any one genre. “It’s harder to be a woman songwriter in some ways, maybe because there are fewer of us,” she says. “We get compared to the same people all the time. I get the ‘next Neko Case’ or ‘not as good as Neko Case’ thing all the time. Hopefully I can write songs in the future that don’t make it so easy to be compared to anyone else.”
Lydia Loveless: 9 p.m. Nov. 30 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, $10; schubas.com.
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