Who: Columbus, Ohio’s Lydia Loveless, 23, made her first record, 2010’s The Only Man, as a teen, turning heads as much for her powerful, twang-tinged voice as her salacious subject matter. (“I might be really pure, or I might just be a whore,” she sang on the closing track.) Then Bloodshot Records came calling to release her sophomore record, 2011’s boozy Indestructible Machine. Her band toured on that album nearly non-stop for two years; when it came time to record again, Loveless holed up in an office for a month and wrote “an entire album of very boring country songs,” she recalls. “I would go in there every day and have a nervous breakdown. I was writing all this stuff, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I just felt embarrassed and scared.”
In retrospect, Loveless says she handcuffed her songwriting with genre restrictions — the “alt-country princess” tag. All the rock and punk that fueled her youth lay dormant until last year’s trip to SXSW, which released, as she puts it, “a rush of rock’n’roll energy.” She scrapped the country songs and entered the studio with brand-new material, resulting in the recently released Boy Crazy EP and February’s forthcoming full-length Somewhere Else, which supplants the banjo and fiddle of Indestructible Machine with further layers of guitar. The fuzzy jangle-pop of songs like “Head” and “To Love Somebody” would make Paul Westerberg proud.
Family Feud: Despite being happy with a record she claims is “finally me,” Loveless was ready to say goodbye to 2013. “It was a rough year for my mental health,” she says. “I kind of lost my mind toward the end there.” Band drama is also family drama in this case: Her bassist, Ben Lamb, is also her husband, and her dad used to be the drummer. Loveless had to fire him last year. “It was really hard — I felt terrible,” she admits. “I’m really close with my family. Everyone was like, ‘How could you do this?’ But I think it’s for the best… It sounds mean, but my dad’s almost 60. Nick (German, her new drummer) is 30. He’s a lot more excited about touring. I don’t feel like he’s going to die.”
Taking Things Too Far: If Loveless seemed brash on her first two albums, Somewhere Else takes her kiss-off attitude to new heights. A few lyrics gave her pause. (One possible example: “I never did want you to be mine, at least not all the time.”) “I thought, ‘God, should I really say that?'” she says, generally. “Well, yes, because that’s what people can relate to more than if I tried to tweak it to be less hurtful.” Some lines aren’t so much hurtful as they are brazenly sexual, at least compared to many of her cowpunk compadres. “Head,” for instance, achieves a years-long goal to write “a really sad song about oral sex,” she says, then clarifies: “It’s more about passion and wanting something that you can’t have.” As usual, Loveless isn’t afraid to give jilted lovers an earful, but listen close and you’ll also notice she calls them “honey” over and over again — something she likens to a tic. “I guess that’s my way of being romantic,” she says, laughing. “Take things way too far, and then say, ‘honey.'”
Stage Life vs. Real Life: In person, Loveless is more reserved than you’d think. After two drinks on a December evening in downtown Columbus, she’s consistently sarcastic and stone-faced, with the occasional burst of self-deprecating laughter. “I’d much rather be onstage than talking to people, because that’s way scarier to me,” Loveless says. “I think of myself as a shy, nerdy person that has no social skills. But every time I read about myself, it’s like, ‘She’ll kick your ass and wipe the floor with it!’ And I would not really ever do that. I guess I’m just passionate, so people seem to associate that with me wanting to kick their ass. Really, I just wanna kiss it.”