Although it’s been fashionable in recent years for grizzled punk rockers to walk away from their half stacks and reinvent themselves as alt-country troubadours, the 21-year-old Lydia Loveless probably already has them beat in the authenticity department: Growing up in a backwater Ohio burg with a family steeped in country, she didn’t even mess with punk rock until she hit her teens. By then, roots sounds had permeated her genes. That foundation in classic hillbilly sounds shines through on her sophomore effort, Indestructible Machine, which blend’s punk’s feisty outlook with roots elements. Before her Dec. 2 appearance at Lee's Liquor Lounge, The A.V. Club spoke with Loveless about growing up and discovering music as a home-schooled country gal.
The A.V. Club: You grew up really exposed to country music, and then found punk when you were a teenager. Do you think that sort of rebellion is almost inevitable for teenagers these days?
LL: Yeah, I think so, especially because it’s difficult to rebel in my family, because there’s not much room for rebellion, because we’re just sort of a rebellious family by nature. I just had to do something crazy. I think a lot of people gravitate toward loud, major-chord music that they can relate to [as teenagers]. It’s not really rebellious anymore to get into punk.
AVC: What do you mean by your family was “pretty rebellious”? They were hard to shock?
LL: I guess we were just so outside of the rest of the world. Growing up in the country, home-schooled, sort of living off the land, it was sort of hard to do anything crazy and wild, other than to do something normal, I guess, like go get into punk rock. That’s actually kind of the normal thing to do right now.
AVC: As a home-schooled student in the country, how did you ever come across punk rock without the social element in schools that’s always associated with the sound?
LL: I definitely didn’t get into it as much until I had moved. I guess when I was younger, the big pop movement was still going strong. That sort of led me to climbing up the ladder of listening to punk and reading books. There really wasn’t any way for me to get my hands on the music. With dial-up Internet in the country, before the invention of whatever websites where people can steal music, I just had to sort of learn through reading about various artists and reading their poetry. That was very inspiring.
AVC: That sounds more like the way kids got into punk in the ’80s and ’90s if there wasn’t much of a scene around them—researching and putting their ideas of punk together—than the readily available, Internet-obsessed punk culture of today. Do you think that changed the way you appreciate music and punk?
LL: I think it has helped me appreciate music. I talk to so many people who have 8,000 records and they know every band. I’m just like, “I don’t know who that is.” I feel kind of dumb, but I have certain bands that really speak to me and that I really love. I worked in a record store, and there were people who would come in every day and trade a record that they bought yesterday, and I’m like, “That’s so weird to me that you can just get rid of music so quickly.” I think I listen to music differently than most people. I think it makes me pickier, in a way.
AVC: Do you think people your age consume music too quickly to really appreciate it?
LL: Yeah, I guess people just change over really quickly in what they listen to. I think music critics encourage that, in a way. They’ll listen to a record maybe once, or half-listen to an album and write a review, and [listeners] just drink that up. I think that’s how everyone listens to music now. It’s hard for me to listen to a record once and get an idea of what it is. I hold onto it more than most of my peers do. It’s really tough to get everything out of an album in one listen. Even bands that I love will sometimes put something out, and I’ll be like, “This is total shit!” Then I’ll listen to it a few more times [and like it]. Music takes a little while to form in my head, I guess.
AVC: A lot of fans also seem more concerned with listening to new music all the time rather than listening to good music all the time.
LL: I think there’s the whole pop-culture aspect of it that I’ve never understood. Like, people will ask me, “What new bands are you listening to?” Not much, because I’m kind of poor, and the only new bands that I hear right now are bands that I play with. It’s tough for me to be so into music, and so not into listening to it.
AVC: Your lyrics are very direct, and you seem to be saying what you want to say without worrying how it will be taken. Is that something you picked up from listening to punk?
LL: I think so. I got a couple free copies of American Songwriter, and I’ve been reading those and seeing how people have so much of a process. I really don’t. I just kind of write stuff that comes to my mind. I think it’s just lack of effort that makes me seem honest. People call that gritty, but I guess it’s kind of embarrassing to read someone’s lengthy songwriting process about how they moved to a cabin in Africa. I’m just like, “Damn, I need to do something cool like that.”
AVC: You’ve said that Indestructible Machine is more personal than your debut, The Only Man. Are you just becoming more comfortable expressing yourself?
LL: I think it was having more experiences to write about, which can take away from your creativity, to an extent. I think I just went through a phase where I need to get a bunch of shit off my chest. It wasn’t necessarily making up stories about shooting my dad or whatever, like on my first album. I actually wrote about my experiences, and I went through a lot at that time. It made everything more about me than about other people or other characters.
Lately, my songs have been more about concepts. Instead of writing about “I am so poor,” I’ll write a song about being poor in general. It’s not necessarily about something I went through, but life in general.
AVC: Your song “Steve Earle” is about a guy in your hometown sort of stalking you. Was that hard to deal with?
LL: It was, but I haven’t heard from him since it’s become more popular, which does make it more awkward. I hope I don’t run into him. I guess he’s probably realized, at this point, it’s about him.
AVC: It seems like that could be a relatively common problem for women performers. Has anything like that happened on the road?
LL: I do have a few creepers, but I guess I’ve gotten better at getting rid of them. I used to be like, “I need to be nice to everyone!” Now, lately, I’ve been like, “Well, I need to not get stalked everywhere I go.”