In Under The Influence, The A.V. Club asks a musician to pair three of their songs with a non-musical influence.
Real, the title of Lydia Loveless’ fourth album—coming this Friday on Bloodshot Records—couldn’t be more appropriate. The alt-country singer-songwriter has never been one to pull punches, and with Real she’s at her most emotionally bare. The A.V. Club talked to Loveless about three songs from the album, each one showcasing a different part of her sound and the way she looks at the world. The whole record is streaming at NPR and it’s well worth a listen.
Song: “Midwestern Guys” (Real, 2016)
Influence: Her Midwestern male friends
Lydia Loveless: I was thinking about it when I was writing that one, the fact that most of my friends are middle-aged men. I was laughing at myself and thinking about how those are my girlfriends—older dudes—and how they all sort of have the same story and the same upbringing. A few of the guys in my band went to school together or grew up near each other, and I love sitting in the van listening to their weird rural Ohio school stories. Particularly Ben [Lamb, bassist], there was one story that he told me that was the trigger for that song. He had a half-brother who was doing some drug up in a tree and fell out and died. That inspired one of the verses, which ended up getting cut from the song. Maybe it was too depressing. But I don’t know, just the boredom of the ’80s and how everyone was driving around drunk, and the guys always talk about how at least two times a year people would drive into a tree. I listen to their stories and wonder how they survived. It’s a tribute to all my sensitive guy friends that are weird.
The A.V. Club: It’s your way of immortalizing their experiences.
LL: Yeah, and whenever you talk to somebody about, like, “Why do you live in Ohio? How do they make songs there? You have to go to the West Coast or the South!” I wanted to write a song about how there is an identity here, and it’s a little bit stranger and maybe not as well-known and maybe it’s a little sad. But small-town dudes inspire me.
AVC: Ohio is a state that breeds a lot of pride in people. Is that something you wanted to capture?
LL: Yeah, definitely. And it’s not credit that you want—I don’t want credit for being from Ohio—but it sucks to hear where you live called a flyover state or, “Oh, there’s nothing there.” But there are people who work really hard, and they’re funny and sensitive, and I wanted to capture that.
Song: “European” (Real, 2016)
Influence: A fan saying he wanted to kiss her
LL: This one’s got so many layers. The hook of the song I wrote while I was in Europe, because of the way the Europeans are so pithy and you can kind of get away with anything. We were in Spain and we had just played a show and this not very attractive dude was like, “Lydia, I just want to kiss you!” And I was like, “Sure.”
The song itself is based off of… when I was younger I wrote a short story about a peeping Tom and tried to make him a normal person who ends up in a relationship with someone that he was peeping on. Mostly it’s inspired by voyeurism, which I always find fascinating and strange, and the way people justify doing creepy things. Like in situations of sexual assault where people think, “I was just being aggressive—that’s what girls like.” I don’t know if I can explain it properly, but it’s mostly about creepy dudes not realizing that they’re creeps.
AVC: What about voyeurism fascinates you?
LL: I don’t want to call myself very observant, but I like to observe people, and if I go out to dinner, I generally am listening more to the next table over than my own. It’s an obsession with getting in people’s brains and trying to figure out why they do things. When I was growing up, I was really interested in psychology and I wanted to be a therapist, and I have a hard time seeing things one way and from one perspective. It’s part of me that’s figuring out why people do terrible things and you can still find them an interesting or nice person.
AVC: This song almost feels like the counterpoint to “Midwestern Guys.” Are these differences between cultures something you’re interested in?
LL: If some dude was like, “Lydia, I just want to kiss you” in America, I’d be like, “Get outta here, dude.” But we have cultural differences that make you loosen up and see things differently. Which is maybe not the greatest thing about me, but I don’t know. It’s interesting to see things from another perspective and to get new views of people and not be so one-sided and closed off to different experiences. That’s the fun part about being on tour.
AVC: Was it a shock playing in Europe for the first time?
LL: Europeans are definitely ruder at shows, because they’re so used to discussing things. I started to, at a certain point, on this tour we were on [say] stop talking to anyone, because everything is a passionate debate, and it gets really draining because it’s not how Americans are. You can play and it’s like, “Good show.” Everything is such a big deal there, and that’s interesting.
Song: “More Than Ever” (Real, 2016)
Influence: The film I Smile Back
LL: That song took a while. It’s interesting because it’s… I wouldn’t say a throwaway, but I started writing it when I was somewhere else and I couldn’t finish it. I did this interview with Brian Koppelman, and his wife [Amy] is a writer, and they were making a movie out of her book called I Smile Back. The movie has Sarah Silverman in it. It’s about this woman with bipolar disorder. I watched the movie, and they wanted me to write a song for it, but I watched the movie and I realized how much a lot of what I had done in that song connected with the story. After I ended up watching that movie I was able to finish the lyrics. So it’s connected with that. And I ended up becoming friends with Amy through that, too.
AVC: Were you asked to write something for a movie before that?
LL: It’s not something I’ve ever done, but I do get a lot of lyrical inspiration from books and movies. It was really cool to get to do that, and I’d always wanted to do something like that. My guitar player calls it “filling up the well” when you can get inspiration from other people’s art without stealing, more being influenced by it.
AVC: What was it about the movie that struck you?
LL: It really affected me, because I could relate so much to the character, which is unfortunate. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, but it’s not very uplifting. After it came out, everyone kind of pooh-poohed it: “This woman has a great life. Why is she acting like this and still sabotaging herself?” Well, that’s the nature of depression. You don’t really have control over it, and you do things that you don’t want to do—and I guess trying to get people to understand that is really difficult. Trying to overcome the guilt that you feel just for being depressed even though you can’t control it, you do look around at your life, and you’re like, “Why am I ruining this”? It’s really hard to get control of. I definitely related to that.
AVC: Do you think there’s more of an open dialogue about things like depression, and does it make it easier to express that in your art?
LL: I think people are talking a lot more about it, and the dialogue is just speaking of depression as any other illness. That’s been kind of good and kind of weird. Because I’ve had to open myself up to more dialogue about it. But it’s helpful for me because I spent so long… You know, you go out, and you’re on tour, and people are like, “Why are you so sad?” And it’s like, “I’m not sad,” but my energy level is always going to be down here, and everyone else’s is up here. It’s been a comfort to have people open up more about it, so I don’t have to feel so weird all the time or isolated.
AVC: It proves that things like depression don’t necessarily define a person.
LL: I certainly don’t want it to define me. Hopefully, I also can be funny.