The Internet has created a culture where we can all enjoy our vices, shame-free. Where we're self-proclaimed nerds for the stuff of Lydia Loveless songs: Chris Isaak, 19th-century French gay poets, oral sex.
"Yeah, they stole that from me," says Loveless. They? Yeah. They. The Internet. "I was the original shameless person."
The 24-year-old alt-country darling from Ohio is described by Interview magazine as "Hank Williams mixed with Kathleen Hanna." She's dry and introverted in that way that translates to brazen, no-nonsense vulnerability on her latest album, Somewhere Else, her third and hands-down best. Punk icon Richard Hell has endorsed Loveless, and her rootsy, blood-and-guts rock has been praised by NPR, Paste, Pitchfork and filmmaker Gorman Bechard, who recently completed a Kickstarter campaign to make a documentary about the musician.
Loveless can be a hard read — she's sweet all right, but with an edge that just may cut you. Here's some advice for getting to know the songwriter who came up with the ultimate saucy kiss-off, "Tell your momma that my French has finally improved" ("Wine Lips"), just a few tracks before musing, "I wanna love you like a father loves a son" ("Verlaine Shot Rimbaud").
Don't: Compare her to Neko Case, or for that matter Taylor Swift
Loveless was 15 when she released her debut, 2010's The Only Man — a next-gen country album from a young blonde woman about heartache, drinking, a "dirty old dog named Hank" and a "girl that everybody fucked." The "anti-Taylor Swift" nickname stuck.
That is, until Swift left Nashville for New York, and Loveless, now 24, dyed her hair red. Now she can't seem to shake the Neko Case comparison. Sure, like Case, Loveless' songs tell nervy, touching stories of colorful characters and love that hurts. And yes, there's a hint of Case's early country-punk torch songs in what Loveless does. But Loveless calls these comparisons lazy.
"I know it sounds stupid when you're like, ‘I just want to be myself,'" she says in a goofy voice, acknowledging the heady weirdness of the word "authenticity." "But really, there's no other way of putting it. I don't want to be the opposite of somebody. I just want to do doing-what-I'm-doing." Which is? "People ask what we sound like." She pauses for effect. "A toolbox being thrown down the stairs."
Do: Compare her to Prince
"Head" is one of those songs that sounds so sexy and straightforward ("Get in my bed, oh honey, don't stop giving me head"), until it unravels in a sticky mess on the floor. "I was sort of trying to write a dark Prince song," says Loveless. "I would hate to even use the term ‘female sexuality'" — again with deflecting the weightiness of her music's meaning — "but I wanted to get people really depressed with a song that on the surface seems like it's just sort of dirty."
"One time this old person was like, ‘This song isn't sexy at all,' and I was like, ‘Well, it's not supposed to be. I'm sorry that it did not titillate you, sir.' Yeah, like titillation is always a top priority for me," she says with a dark laugh.
Don't: Ask her about making music with someone she loves
"Every second that you're a woman, you're aware of it," Loveless said in a 2014 PopMatters interview. Meaning? "The questions that are asked, like, ‘As a woman, what is this like ...?' I used to try to give good answers to questions like that," says Loveless, "but lately my brain just shuts off because it makes me so angry."
So, yeah, this would probably be a bad time to ask Loveless what it's like to be in a creative partnership and a marriage with the same man. Loveless' husband, Ben Lamb, plays bass in her band, which also included her father on drums — that is, until Loveless fired him.
Loveless imagines the decades of banal "woman musician" treatment that spurred Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon to write her bestselling memoir Girl in a Band. "I'm sure that a lot of questions she'd get would be like, ‘What is it like being married to Thurston Moore?' And now, ‘What's it like to be divorced from Thurston Moore?'" says Loveless, with a quick jab: "He sounds like a douche."
Do: Give Nickelback-lovers a chance
There's this thing that happens, where people say that they like all music "except rap and country." Those people are the worst, thinks Loveless.
Country music is "the basis of songwriting. It's very simplistic, very lyrically driven ... and a lot of it got really cheesy for awhile," admits Loveless. "But it really drives me nuts when people will make fun of someone for liking something. Like, Nickelback is bad. But there are so many kinds of music, why would you waste time on trying to tell someone what's good or bad? We all need something. Some people have religion, some people have Nickelback."