“It’s kind of weird, but as far as touring under the spotlight, this is the first really long one we’ve done,” Columbus-native Lydia Loveless tells me. “We got booked for venues that seem like our size and we’re selling them out. It’s really cool.”
The 23 year-old musician is in the midst of a lengthy tour in support of her latest release on Chicago’s Bloodshot Records, Somewhere Else. The record came out back in February to high praise from major publications like SPIN and Pitchfork, amongst others.
Despite having a busy tour schedule, Loveless took a few minutes to speak with me at the beginning of April. She’d just finished playing a handful of shows in the Southwestern United States, including dates in Las Vegas and Reno.
“Vegas was weird,” she chuckles. “The venue forgot or didn’t know we were playing or something. But there ended up being a great crowd and the show was great.”
Great is an adjective Loveless uses a lot to describe the tour she and her band are in the midst of. The shows themselves, the sellout crowds (Loveless will play in Chicago tonight and Sunday at Schubas, both shows are sold out.), and the opportunity to tour with the same lineup as on the album are all great. While it’s difficult to tell when your subject is beaming over the phone, the excitement in Loveless’s voice is detectable.
“I was amazed that Todd (lead guitar) could come on the tour,” Loveless mentions. “He’s my favorite person in the world. He’s got a wife and daughter so he doesn’t do a lot of touring. Our steel player Jay, who we recorded the album with and who’s also a chef was on the fence about coming along and then the day before we were going to leave for the tour he texted me and asked, ‘What time do we leave?'”
It’s the first time that her full band has been on an extended tour together and their shows have been getting excellent reviews. Typically, Loveless explains, her band is only able to get together for smaller regional runs and any national or European touring has been as a duo with her bassist or as a trio.
“One of the issues was space. But, uh, then we got a new van,” she laughs.
Loveless first gained national attention with her 2011 sophomore release Indestructible Machine — a collection of country/punk ballads about booze, love, and getting stalked by Steve Earle. She toured constantly after that release and before she could get settled to make another record, life happened.
“I had to go through a total breakdown and just write all this shit,” she says. “I mean, I got married. My dog died. I fired my dad (as the drummer of her band). Some weird shit happened.”
Those factors led to a new album that wasn’t exactly a departure from the release that brought her initial attention, but it took on a fuller sound and a more introspective feel.
“I guess i didn’t consciously make a decision to write a different album,” she explains. “When you write all the songs and you’re the main songwriter you don’t want to fall into that rut where everything is the same. It just kind of worked out.”
Somewhere Else ended up sounding more Replacements or Uncle Tupelo than Tammy Wynette or Loretta Lynn, though those influences are still evident.
A quick Google search for interviews with Loveless or reviews of her shows portray her as having an ass-kicking, booze swigging and tough-as-nails exterior and an interior that’s humble and a bit more reserved. The dichotomy is there in her music, too. But after touching on the subject, Loveless is a lot more, well, normal than the media persona seems.
“I’m dry and sarcastic and self-deprecating,” she says. “I try to be nice to everyone I meet. But sometimes, when you’re around people all of the time you just absorb everyone’s energy and get overwhelmed. Like, the performance isn’t the hard part, it’s talking to dozens of people every night. That’s the hardest part for me.”
Loveless does try and interact with her fans via social media when she can, but even that gets stressful sometimes as the internet leads to anonymous commenters being less than cordial.
“We have this amazing tool and people use it to make people feel bad,” she explains. “I was on the verge of tears and yelling about someone who called me a bitch on Facebook and Todd helped calm me down. I don’t know why I care that much, but I don’t want to be called a bitch on the internet.”
Her online interactions aren’t all bad, though. “It is pretty cool to use Facebook or Twitter to send a response to someone who took the time to message me at 2 a.m. when they’re drunk or whatever and listening to my stuff and it strikes a chord. That means a lot, obviously.”
Regardless, Loveless has been doing this for much longer than some of her contemporaries, she’s getting used to the grind after having started performing at age 13 with her family. Despite the fact that she’s basically a grizzled vet at 23, some folks have suggested that she’s blown up too fast — a ridiculous notion if there ever was one.
“You know, if I had been bagging groceries at Kroger this long I’d be pretty damn good at it, too.”
She is pretty damn good at playing music. And this weekend she’ll make her return to the Rosebowl in Urbana. It’s her third time in town and she’s excited to split up two Chicago dates with a trip to Central, IL.
“Urbana’s always cool because the Rosebowl is great,” Loveless remembers. “People there are friendly and they’re there for the music and it’s nice to play where people want to see your show. I love the staff there too. Last time they brought us a bottle of whiskey and we couldn’t get it open so we had someone go get a tool box to try and bust it open. And someone baked us cookies. It’s always a good time and we’re looking forward to it. It should be great.”
There’s that word again. Make sure to get to the Rose Bowl on Saturday — it’ll be great.
Check out Lydia Loveless tomorrow night, Saturday, April 26th at the Rose Bowl at 8 p.m.