She just turned 27, but Lydia Loveless already has plenty of music cred under her belt: four celebrated and genre-defying full-lengths. An intriguing and blunt documentary, Who Is Lydia Loveless?; and a hard-won reputation as a hell-raising maverick happy to both fulfill and skewer any alt-country expectations. Her breakthrough 2016 album Real earned breathless acclaim and comparisons to The Replacements’ classic Pleased to Meet Me. The album cover of Loveless’ forthcoming Boy Crazy and Single(s), a re-release of her 2013 EP packaged with random deep cuts from the early days, features Loveless wearing a dress emblazoned with the words “Not Yours” and smoking a cigarette as she and a group of female friends heckle a guy walking by.
Even better: Her voicemail message, which I heard when I called her for our Folio Weekly interview, slyly states, “Hello, you have reached firebrand cowpunk badass Lydia Loveless. I can’t come to the phone right now because I’m too busy saving country music.” Which is something the Ohio native says she actually cared about back when she was a brash teenager connecting the dots between her childhood on a family farm in Coshocton, her father’s experience owning a country music bar, and her rebellious years in Columbus’ thriving DIY punk scene.
“When I started, I was interested in the [alt-country scene],” Loveless laughs. “But I increasingly found that I didn’t fit. It’s really male-dominated, despite what some people might think. In fact, I recently heard someone say it’s ‘female oversaturated’. It definitely doesn’t feel like the most welcoming scene, and it wasn’t that exciting or fun anymore. I just wanted to exist and just be an artist. And certainly people talking about the ‘New Country Sound’… I don’t know if it’s really a new or novel thing. It just got tiresome.”
Before 2014’s Somewhere Else, Loveless scrapped an entire set of prepared material and laid bare her own heartache, anger and loneliness in a raw 10-song burst. Equal parts enraged and desperate, the record still found critics grasping for female antecedents to whom they could compare Loveless. Which makes the proto-punk-tinged, power-pop-imbued Real such a revelation for cognoscenti who drew a straight line between it and Paul Westerberg’s mid-career dynamic shift with The Replacements in 1987.
“I don’t know if it was ever intentional to write this album as a particular one-off of Pleased to Meet Me, but it’s certainly a compliment to me,” Loveless says. “I’m a huge fan of [The Replacements]. So it’s flattering but probably more accidental.” Unleashing her trademark hearty laugh, she adds, “But I’d rather get comparisons in that vein than the perpetual ‘Sounds like Kitty Wells!’”
Loveless describes the creation process for Real as the most democratic of her career, citing the longtime support of her bandmates guitarists Todd May and Jay Gasper, bassist (and Loveless’ husband) Ben Lamb, keyboardist Nate Holman and drummer Nick German. “I was a lot more open to being shot down,” she says. “There’s the whole ‘murder your darlings’ aspect of recordings that’s really important. A lot of people mentioned that’s [Real ] is super-slick or over-produced, but it’s probably less so than what I’ve done in the past. It’s a lot simpler–more about cutting and editing than expanding on anything.”
Which should lend itself well to Loveless’ current touring format, which intersperses an intimate solo set in the middle of the full-band performance where fans can call out requests. She also just announced a solo tour for November, which will highlight her career-long desire to cultivate a direct connection with her fans. “I’ve always been a relatively open person about my emotional or mental state, and I think that’s really important,” she says. “People need something that moves them or touches them. There’s a lot of crap out there that doesn’t really speak to anyone, but it’s presented as the norm. And it’s not really interesting.”
Perhaps that’s the easiest way to describe Lydia Loveless: No matter what description critics might use to classify her, she’s doing exactly what she wants, and balancing such independence with a self-deprecating, sarcastic streak. “I don’t think writing about personal issues is a selfish thing,” she says. “It’s something that people can relate to. But Donald Trump has totally fucked artists–we’re not allowed to sing about anything but the White House anymore. And that’s going to get really fucking boring. It’s not what I want to listen to.”