By Shannon Carlin
Lydia Loveless doesn’t have a problem speaking her mind, which should make her ex-boyfriends very, very nervous.
On her third album Somewhere Else, the 23-year-old Ohioan wanted to take a sophisticated look at love and heartbreak, all while taking the piss out of a few of her former flames. “I thought more about the lyrics and the pain this time around,” Loveless told Radio.com over the phone. “I didn’t want to make the same album so I do think it was a conscience decision to be more eloquent and I guess, sexy.”
She says this last part with a laugh, admitting that many have told her this new album is not sexy at all. But Loveless’ version of sexy is a little rough around the edges. On the mostly autobiographical Somewhere Else, she sings about her resurfaced feelings for an ex with wine-stained lips, mocks her Chris Isaak-loving high school beau and writes the most depressing song about oral sex aptly titled “Head.”
“I just wanted to make an album that sounded like, not a diary by a whiney girl, but just something open and sort of pulsing,” she explained. “Like when I was writing it and still when I play the songs, I feel sort of cut open. I wanted to get that across without sounding too girly or me talking about my period.”
With her previous two releases—2010’s The Only Man and 2012’s Indestructible Machine—Loveless said that she didn’t have much of a female audience, even though she was writing about very feminine topics. Instead her bourbon-soaked brand of alt-country was attracting a lot of middle-aged men who were misinterpreting the message.
“I feel like I’m being extremely feminine, but [men] hear it and go, ‘Oh, she’s really manly’ and ‘She’ll kick your ass,'” Loveless explained. “But no, I’m being extremely girly right now, talking about my feelings, but I happen to be really intense or upset about something. Men take that as sort of threatening.” Not that this is such a bad thing in Loveless’ book. “I like that being really feminine is threatening and scary,” she says with a raspy laugh that makes you feel like she might not kick your ass, but she definitely could.
While Loveless speaks honestly about the men of her past, there is one man she isn’t talking about on this record, her husband Ben Lamb. One reason she says she married Lamb, who also happens to be her bass player, was because he never questions who her songs are about. “In previous relationships, the guys used to ask, like, ‘Is that about me?’ ‘Well, no,’ which they don’t like to hear,” Loveless said. “I think a guy would rather hear a song is about him than not.”
Lucky for some of those guys, they finally got what they wanted. And even luckier for Loveless it led her to make an album she’s completely in love with.
“This time around I feel confident about every track, and I didn’t feel like there was anything I could have thrown away without crying and yelling,” she explained. “I feel like it’s a lot stronger of an album in that regard. So I’m a lot more excited about it. I found my place as a songwriter.”
While speaking with Radio.com, Loveless shared the stories behind five songs off her latest album, Somewhere Else, including why she feels a kinship with French poet Paul Verlaine and which song she wrote with Swedish pop star Robyn in mind.
One the next page, Loveless discusses “Wine Lips”, “Chris Isaak” and a battle twixt two French poets…
Loveless wrote this one about an ex-boyfriend from New York City, who she had met at summer camp. “His family was a lot more well off than mine,” she said. “I grew up on a farm…he was a little different from me.”
She was looking to impress him and his family and actually lied and told his mom that she spoke fluent French. “She like got on the phone one day and started speaking French to me,” Loveless said laughing. That incident sparked the line, “Tell your mom, my French has finally improved,” which it has.
“I ran into him eight years after that and hadn’t seen him in that long and we met up in New York,” she explained. “It was really weird and strange and I just felt really exhilarated and wrote that song about it.”
When she saw him he was drinking sangria that had stained his lips. “I just liked the expression ‘wine lips’ and wanted to use it, but not really be a joke at the same time,” she said. Besides “sangria lips” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
“Verlaine Shot Rimbaud”
The Richard Hell-esque track was written about French poet Paul Verlaine shooting his fellow poet Arthur Rimbaud in the wrist after a lover’s quarrel. Verlaine’s passion was something Loveless could definitely connect with. “He’s angry and wants to fight all the time, which is very similar to me,” she said. “I love conflict and getting a rise out of people and I don’t really like to be content all the time because I’m a person who just causes problems in my life.”
Loveless says the song–her favorite on the record–is an “insane, crazed song” about a power struggle in a relationship and plays off her own downtrodden attitude. “I can be very negative and I think my band knows that more than anyone,” she said. “My guitar player calls me a bowl of sunshine, very sarcastically.”
But the young singer found a commonality with Verlaine, who she says had an influence on 80% of the album and whose poem “Aspiration” also found its way into the album’s liner notes. “I just sort of related to that need to sort of be throwing pots and pans and then go write a poem.”
“Really Wanna See You”
The album’s opener was written at Loveless’ husband’s grandma’s house in the middle of the night while thinking about Robyn. She envisioned the track as a production heavy pop song, but soon realized she couldn’t make it work. “I was just like, ‘Well, I can’t really do this because I don’t know anything about programming beats,'” Loveless noted of the guitar-layered number.
People have asked her whether the reference to the Magic 8 Ball was a metaphor for drugs, which it definitely isn’t. “It’s actually literally about when I go to my parent’s house and go into my room and find my Magic 8 ball and ask like, ‘Will I ever do this right?'” she said.
Though she did have a boyfriend who used to do drugs and call her, wishing they could get back together. “It was kind of making fun of him too,” Loveless admits. “Not necessarily to be like funny, but just to sort of say, ‘You do sort of realize you’re an idiot right?’ I just wanted to kind of rile him up a little bit.”
One particular old flame of Loveless’ inspired the majority of her last record and with this new one she started feeling like she just couldn’t write anything else about this same guy. “I literally sat down and was like, ‘I’m going to write one more song and it better be good and it can’t be some moody crap,'” Loveless explained.
So did she really spend a lot of time in this guy’s basement listening to Isaak’s 1995 album Forever Blue?
“Yeah for sure, that was kind of our favorite pastime,” Loveless said. “It’s definitely an embarrassing line or it will be when I see him.” Loveless says the guy will be at her upcoming show in Cleveland show.
“I think the guy knows it’s about him,” Loveless explained. “He’s also a huge fan so he’ll probably be a little upset by that song, but I had to get it off my chest. It was so many years of torture.”
“I remember just hearing it pop into my head in the middle of the night. And I’m really glad that for once in my life I didn’t go, ‘Oh I’ll remember it in the morning,'” Loveless said of her second favorite song on the record. “I jumped out of bed and made a little demo of it. And then I realized it was really simple so it was easy to remember.”
Loveless wrote the title track, which she says reminds her of Fleetwood Mac, while she was in Austin, TX for South by Southwest. “It was just sort of about being discontent,” she said. “I prefer to be traveling and in a new place all the time and always want to move away and I’m like, ‘No, I need to stay near my family.’ And I’m also kind of a b—-. I’m sort of always wondering if I should be in a certain place or be with a certain person and it’s just sort of about my restless and depressed nature.”
“I just have a lot of discontent and restlessness. So it’s mostly about that, just about me being a jerk who wants to run away,” Loveless said laughing.
On the song she also sings, “I just wanted to 867-5309 you, honey” making Tommy Tutone’s 1982 song sound like some sort of lewd sex act.
“It was kind of an accident because when I write lyrics I’m sort of rambling and doing stream of consciousness and yelling out nonsense, and I couldn’t think of anything,” she said. “I had the bridge written, but couldn’t really write the words. I said, something about “867-5309” and I was like, ‘I could totally turn that into a verb’ because when you think about it, it is. Finding the number and sort of loving and leaving. It ended up fitting and making sense and I’m glad it worked because I really like it.”
Some of her bandmates though weren’t too happy with the ad lib. “My band was like, ‘You can’t do that!'” she said. “And, ‘I was like, ‘Oh, yes I can!’”