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Lydia Loveless: No compromise

Lydia Loveless
Patrick Crawford/Blackletter

At just 23 years old, Lydia Loveless has reached that enviable point in her career where it doesn’t matter what genre you want to put her in or what early reviews say; when she releases any album, you just buy it, and when people ask you what kind of music it is, you just say “good.”

In return, the Ohio native won’t disappoint, and she certainly hasn’t with her latest full-length album, Somewhere Else. It’s country, it’s rock, it’s witty, and it’s all wrapped in a punky package in terms of attitude. So yeah, people like that stuff. And Loveless appreciates that kind of support.

“I definitely wanted people to like it,” she said. “I don’t think anyone sells a million records anymore, but it’s definitely awesome just to know that people are connecting with it. I’m not all obsessed with music journalism because a lot of it is just people’s blogs, or whatever. But it’s definitely cool that actual people are buying it and listening to it and caring about it. It’s awesome.”

Heading into New York City for a Tuesday night gig at Webster Hall supporting the Old 97’s, Loveless and her band make music that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Ohio or the Rust Belt, but it still makes an impact wherever it travels, even if being from a “non-country” state is a notion that amuses the Coshocton native.

“Being in Ohio, you’re just above Kentucky, where literally you go across a bridge and people are like ‘You’re in the South now,’” she said. “Okay, I was just in Cincinnati. (Laughs) So if you make any slightly country music, people are going to give you s**t if you’re from Ohio. I think we get more s**t than any other state. You can go somewhere else and it can be a total hell hole, but they’ll talk s**t about Ohio. I don’t know why that is, so I think we are pretty angry people. (Laughs) Maybe that’s why I make the music that I do.”

More accurately though, being from a part of the country that has seen boom times then a crushing fall can make you a lot tougher than if you came from anywhere else. And with that toughness comes a grit that is evident throughout Loveless’ songs.

“I guess we just have to be tough to deal with all the preconceived notions about Ohio,” she said. “We all kind of make tough music. My friends are in a band called Two Cow Garage, and they make very similar music - enraged and very passionate. It’s typical of Ohio. We’re kind of the little guy still, so we make angry, little guy music. (Laughs) I guess that’s the only way I can really sum it up.”

But could Lydia Loveless, the songwriter and musician, produce the same songs anywhere else? Probably not, but when you throw in a unique childhood and adolescence, it’s no surprise that this is a 23-year-old who has a worldview unlike many – if any – her age.

“A lot of it is the way I was raised,” she admits. “I was homeschooled and my parents always taught me to learn about whatever I wanted to and figure things out for myself. And I was raised on a farm and my dad was a self-made man. So it wasn’t being left to my own devices, but told to figure out the world on my own. I was playing music in bars when I was 13, so a lot of the people I knew were older and most of my friends are 45-year-old men (Laughs), so I guess I get a lot of practice discussing things with them.”

That’s a lot of life to live in a little over two decades…

“Yeah, and I think a lot of people might think I’m also a little full of s**t (Laughs), but I don’t know,” she said. “I do hear a lot that people expect me to be older when they meet me. And it’s not like I want to sit here and say ‘I’ve lived a hard life,’ but I’ve definitely been through some things and most of my songs are about me or people I know, and part of it is being observant.”

Those observation skills are a gift, leading to raw, yet truthful, views of Loveless’ world and the people who inhabit it. In a lot of ways, it’s a return to the best parts of country music back before it became the commercial juggernaut it is today.

“What I think of as country music is good ol’ fashioned country, and then most people’s perception of that is the stuff on the radio, where it’s pop,” said Loveless. “And we’ve somehow gotten sidled or put to the wayside as alt-country, and real country is considered this alternative novelty thing. It’s really weird, but I think the stuff you hear on the radio is literally a giant commercial. Every song you hear is like ‘I’m wearing my Nike shoes.’ It’s purely written for ad placement and it’s really disgusting and it’s not really music. I don’t even know why people talk about it as if it is anything other than a giant commercial. That’s really all it is.”

Which begs the question, how does Loveless see herself as perceived by the country music establishment?

“I’m sure it’s not all that way, but there’s this strange perception that you have to go to Nashville to make country music and I don’t know why that is,” she said. “It’s really unfair, I think, and I guess it comes from a lot of the perception that country is south and not anywhere else. There’s no rural area in the universe other than the south of the United States, which is very strange. (As far as perception) It’s hard for me to tell, because when I play for more rock and roll crowds they’re like ‘Lydia Loveless is a honky tonk country singer,’ but if I play in a more country area in front of a more country crowd, then they’re like ‘this ain’t country music.’ So it’s dealing with that battle. I’m not really sure how I’m perceived. I think a lot of people in the country scene are, not pissed off with me, but they’re wary of me.”

They should be, because a straight-shooting Ohio native with the songs, voice, and attitude to shake up the establishment will always scare the folks who think sugarcoating things and making music more acceptable for television commercials than concert stages is the right way to go. And what’s even scarier is that Loveless isn’t satisfied yet.

“I’m already at 23, really frustrated that I’m not good enough,” she laughs. “It’s not like I’ve been doing this for so long, but it’s been the main focus of my life, so I guess it’s good because I’ve been able to focus on it and actually be fairly successful at a young age. But I guess everything to me is another goal. You never reach a peak like ‘this is it. This is the life I wanted.’ Every goal I reach, it’s like ‘all right, now I’ve got to do this.’ By the time I’m 30 I’ll be on top of Mount Everest and think I need to go to space, I guess. I don’t know, we’ll see.”

And until she flies into space, the first girl with a guitar on Mars?

“I just want to be comfortable,” said Loveless. “I’ll be honest, I’d love to be filthy rich and have eight homes all over the world, but I guess I’d just like to be able to live comfortably in a nice home and take care of my family and just make the music that I want to make. I never want to have to compromise creatively. That’s more important to me than anything else.”

Lydia Loveless plays Webster Hall in New York City on Tuesday, June 3. For tickets, click here

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