Country-punk roustabout Lydia Loveless has packed more experience into her 26 years than many see in a lifetime. It's true. Good thing then that she's done four albums so far so others can live vicariously through her telling worlds. Such is her honest and open songwriting. So, yeah, like any artist worth their salt, we can sit back and watch her evolve both as a human being and as an artist. (Kind of like how it used to in the olden days when gifted folks like, say, Kris Kristofferson or Emmylou Harris or Barbara Lynn made real records and were allowed to grow with each one.)
Loveless, born Lydia Ankrom, was brought up home-schooled on a farm in Coshocton, Ohio, a very conservative town. Loveless was an outcast until, at 14, she relocated to Columbus, Ohio. There, she discovered and embraced punk-influenced country music artists and groups, such as Hank Williams III. Loveless, her two sisters and their father formed a new wave band called Carson Drew (named after the dad in the Nancy Drew books), with Loveless playing bass. The group split in 2007.
Three years later, Loveless released her debut solo album, The Only Man, on the Peloton indie label. The seeds of her songwriting suss are there for all to hear but, as she says herself, the production was way too slick. By 2011, Loveless was signed to godhead "alt-country" label Bloodshot Records, where she remains alongside awesomely appropriate label-mates The Yawpers, Th' Legendary Shack-Shakers, and the Deadstring Brothers.
Her debut for Bloodshot, Indestructible Machine, came out in 2011, followed by the Boy Crazy EP in 2013, and then Somewhere Else in 2014. Her latest album, Real, dropped in August, and Loveless insists it's her best album to date.
"I think it's just sonically a lot more interesting to me than my previous records," she says. "Just seeing where I came from — learning how to make records by going ahead and making them, and not really having any clue what I was doing. This one, I felt like I actually did. I think probably most people feel like their most recent album is always the best one though, at least as far as solo artists who are writing all the songs. You always want to latch onto the latest thing. And I'm always thinking about the next thing I'm going to do anyway."
Last year (2016) was a horribly crazy year in many ways, what with the much-publicized multitude of celebrity deaths and fright-brained narcissist Donald Trump winning the presidential election. Loveless had a great career-year, however, following the release of Real and a critically-acclaimed documentary movie called Who is Lydia Loveless?, with a tour supporting The Drive-By Truckers. The album certainly resonated with people, receiving almost-exclusively glowing reviews.
As a songwriter, Loveless has evolved dramatically. While the subject matter, usually heartbreak, has stayed somewhat steadfast, her enjoyably naive early lyrics have given way to dramatic, hard-hitting poetics thanks to life, and musical experience.
"I think I'm always going to be in sort of the same vein lyrically ... but I felt like this one was a lot more interesting," Loveless says. She adds that when she was younger, and a teenager, she was "constantly angry and blaming someone for my problems. Maybe this one was a little more heartfelt."
It's fair to say most teenagers are angry and point fingers at others, and Loveless agrees, but most kids don't have their teen angst reviewed by publications like Spin Magazine, and searchable online forever. Social media is bad, but the scrutiny that comes with being a public figure in your teens, your often-regrettable youthful prose pored over by experts and cowardly pseudonymous cretins, can be suffocating.
Still, Loveless has become a powerful lyricist, and a strong role model for women. Even when her lyrics convey heartbreak, she's coming at the song from a position of strength, and emotional subtexts convey a sense of optimism when all the chips are down. With the mook due to take control of the country January 20, a songwriter like Loveless is going to be more important than ever.
"I hope that I can somehow be beneficial," she says. "I don't just want to sit around and be angry after all this. I mean, I might be dead because of Donald Trump's Twitter, but hopefully I can do something useful with myself instead of just hiding in my apartment and being embarrassed and sad, and feeling betrayed. It's particularly important with women right now. So many people are worried. We've gotten two steps forward from decades and decades of work and now it's like, 'These women are trying to take our rights away by having their own rights'."
As far as Loveless is concerned, the best thing she can do is to keep writing great music, keep touring, keep inspiring people. A naturally restless person, Loveless digs touring immensely, though detests long van hours.
"I don't like being at home," she says. "Touring is stressful and exhausting, but I don't particularly like a stationary life, so I think it's helpful for me. We're a van band, so we spend lots of time staring at each other, practicing insulting each other's psyches. I mean, I read and I journal a lot, which helps with songwriting if I stay on top of it and don't just write like, 'I hate my guitar player' or whatever. I have to find ways to make it a productive experience. I've been trying to write more letters and be less like, 'Well I Tweeted my dad today so that's my communication for the week.' It's also probably the only place I get any sleep. So there's that."
Loveless doesn't recall performing in Tucson before, though she knows she's played Phoenix. She's looking forward to Arizona, and that's not just a weather-related thing. Also, it'll rock.
"It's a full band, so we'll be playing with a high energy rock 'n' roll vibe," Loveless says. "Just playing the new record and all the old hits. It's always fun, although sometimes it gets crazy. After this tour's done, I pretty much just always start writing again, so hopefully doing some more writing. Branching out and probably doing some traveling to get my head straight."
And that's the way it goes for Lydia Loveless. She'll write, record, and tour, get the head straight, hit repeat. An artist. Listen and you'll see. We'll go all hyperbolic (but not really) and just tell you she's gifted and a vitally important singer/songwriter, a role model. Dude, we need artists like her now.