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Lydia Loveless: The Undefinable Machine

2 January 2012

“It’s sort of humbling, being in Nashville right now. To some musicians, this place is like the Holy land, and they treat the city with a reverence that you’d see with people visiting the Vatican,” Lydia Loveless wistfully notes. “It’s exciting to be here, even if I kind of feel I’m not on the same wavelength as those people.”

It’s been an exciting year for the thoughtful young woman from Ohio. Indestructible Machine, her second album (and first for venerable label Bloodshot Records) quickly impressed with its smart country/rockabilly blend. It is an album that is as exciting as it is touching, a sound of a young woman providing a fresh take on a traditional genre, while creating songs that are meaningful, emotional, and enjoyable. Still, though, Loveless isn’t easy to pigeonhole.

“I’ve seen comparisons to Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, and Tammy Wynette, and I don’t necessarily think I sound like them. Maybe I do—who am I to judge?” She laughs, “But if I do, it’s not a conscious thing, it’s not like I set out to write a song like Loretta or whoever it might be compared to.”

As an artist, one can understand her position, but after listening to her record, one can understand the comparisons. Her songs blend the blunt honesty of Lynn, the sassy rock punch of Jackson, and the vulnerability of Wynette, though Loveless is hardly derivative. “I have a ton of influences, not just country—if anything, I’m more likely to think of my style as being more influenced punk and, as others journalists have made something of a big deal about, pop music.”

The pop comparison? Personally, I can’t see it as very important. “Neither do I!” she laughs. “I do find it annoying, but I look at it as this. It’s all about when you grow up. I’m young. When I was eight, nine, ten, even though I grew up in a cool household with lots of good music, even the kids with the cool parents still get exposed to certain things, and because they want to be like their friends, they listen to the same music. Unfortunately, it’s usually generic, “manufactured” pop, but I don’t believe for one second that a pop star like Britney Spears or a Justin Bieber or a Miley Cyrus isn’t enjoying themselves. As a kid, something might inspire you. It doesn’t have to define you.”

I posit that country music, unlike pop or rock, is a style of music known for allowing its artists to sing songs that contain a heavier emotional content; “pop” is supposed to be happy, “rock” is supposed to suffer from ironic detachment. Let’s not even talk about punk. “That’s a great point. I mean, if I fall for a boy and he breaks my heart, if I wrote a “pop” album about it, people might dismiss it as whiny, that the album was self-indulgent, and that I needed to get over him. If I wrote a “country” album about it, people would find me strong in the face of being done wrong, and find it refreshing and empowering.”

Regardless of the occasional frustrations and repetitive defining of oneself, the year’s been good to her, and the acclaim and comparisons have rightfully introduced her to an audience of like-minded folk. “Exactly! Touring’s been great,” she beams. “As far as the audience, I’m amazed that I’ve had such a wide range of people coming to see me. I mean, there’s not been any elderly people in the audience, but we’ve had teenagers to people in their fifties and sixties come out—from punk rock kids to older people who really only enjoy country music—and they all respond to what I do, and that’s really what makes it all worthwhile—to write a song about something that means something to me, to play it onstage, and to have people come up after and say, ‘You know, Miss Loveless, I really enjoyed that, thank you for playing.’ Isn’t that what being a musician is all about?”