After crisscrossing the country in support of her 2016 album, Real, singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless was emotionally and physically spent. By that point, the alt-country artist had followed one critically acclaimed album (2014’s Somewhere Else) with another and toured with the likes of Lucinda Williams and Jason Isbell.
By that point Loveless was burned out on the musician lifestyle, as well as some of the expectations assigned to her because of her gender. She divorced her husband, Ben Lamb, who was also her band’s bassist, and eventually left Ohio, where she was raised in the countryside and lived all her life, for North Carolina, to be closer to her boyfriend, magician (and medical researcher) Michael Casey.
As the 30-year-old continued to unwind from various pressures, she picked gardening, and another interest, which is perhaps surprising for the musician whose music often tilts toward weighty, existential topics: stand-up comedy.
“That’s scarier than anything in the world, so it’s kind of fun,” Loveless said in an interview late last week. “There’s lots of self-deprecating humor and I guess I have a ‘Blade Runner’ joke that I’ve done. I guess it varies.”
Eventually, she took to writing again. Many of the songs on what became Daughter—which she will release on her own label after leaving Bloodshot Records—gravitate toward Lydia Loveless’ perceptions of herself. She was not able to say definitively who or what she was—and didn’t want to be defined by her connection to others. She didn’t identify as anyone’s daughter, wife or sister. She didn’t want to be a mother.
Without her band close by, she set up her own home studio, forcing herself to learn the hardware and software along the way. The new songs include the somber, piano-led “September” (with her friend Laura Jane Grace and cellist Nora Barton), alt-rock-tinged “Love Is Not Enough” and “Can’t Think,” and three songs that directly address her divorce in “Wringer,” “Dead Writer” and the propulsive “Never.”
The atmospheric “Don’t Bother Mountain” floats atop twinkling synths.
Then there’s the title track, on which Lydia Loveless directly confronts her insecurities about her identity, singing, “What is my body worth to you without your blood in it?”
One of the common threads throughout Daughter is the painfully uncomfortable, bruised lyrics, which she wasn’t sure would ever be released until she went to Chicago to record with producer Tom Schick (Wilco, Mavis Staples, Norah Jones). Alongside bandmates Todd May, Jay Gasper and George Hondroulis, Loveless played bass on a few songs in the studio for the first time in a decade, and piano on a recording for the first time ever.
Now she’s missing the road once again and is longing to be a musician on a stage.
“I do go through—like, once a week—phases of thinking I’ll go work at McDonald’s or whatever. I’m pretty much only capable of music at this point,” she said, laughing. “So, in some ways, it’s kind of impossible for me to drop.”
RIFF: You took issue with others trying to give meaning to women’s lives through their connections to others, such as a mother, daughter, wife, etc. You chose Daughter, specifically, for the album title. Why did you pick that one out of all those to go from?
Lydia Loveless: Mostly because I guess I was going through a lot of familial stuff. So, I was thinking about my relationship as a daughter, and then, not really having any interest in being a mother. I guess I was thinking of my relationship to parenthood and daughterhood, but also my relationship to myself, which I felt like I was very much struggling with at the time.
Your divorce is a significant arc on the album. You divorced your husband, and you left Ohio for North Carolina. How are those connected, and how much of what happened are you comfortable sharing?
I got married really young, so I sort of lost my identity for a while in that whole experience. I just kind of felt like I wanted to break out and do something different. I knew I wanted to leave Ohio for a long time, but I didn’t think I was really ever going to if I stayed in my situation, and I just wanted to not be somebody’s spouse anymore, mostly. So I’m sure that affected, in some ways, my confidence for a long time.
And, obviously, my ex not being in the band anymore has changed the way I experienced things creatively because when you’re with someone in a relationship with them and also making music with them, it can really taint both sides of the coin.
The professional and the personal?
Yeah. I just felt like it needed to be changed, for sure.
Why North Carolina?
Mostly because I met a dude. [laughs] So much for my breaking away storyline. But yeah, I came here to be closer with my boyfriend.
Is he in the music industry or does he do something completely different? And how did you meet?
He’s somewhat aligned with music because he is a magician, and he performs for a lot of way-more-famous-than-me musicians on a pretty regular basis, but he’s also in medical pharmaceutical research, so he’s a little more professional than me. He was a mutual friend of a lot of musician friends that I know just because he performs for musicians all the time.
How did you decide which parts of your personal life you felt comfortable sharing with the people who would listen to your music, and those that perhaps you’d want to obscure a little bit?
For me, it’s like the more personal I could make something, the more relatable it can probably be to others. It doesn’t really scare me that much, but I do think this record probably, while it is deeply personal, it’s a lot less brazen than my past records, maybe. It’s a little more somber, maybe.
And how did you overcome—or did you overcome?—some of the insecurities that you sing about on the record?
Oh, I’m just a big bag of insecurity, so I don’t know if I’ll ever overcome that.
You picked up new technical abilities during the songwriting process. Was that on purpose or a side effect of the move to North Carolina?
I think it was definitely a side effect, but also I’ve always wanted to get more into pop music skills. But it sort of was born out of the necessity of not having my band around to make demos with or hash things out with, so it can get very lonely and depressing to just be on guitar. Filling it out as more of like a real song just made me more excited about the writing process, which can be very scary.
Your friend Laura Jane Grace makes it on Daughter. How did that come about?
I was always a fan of hers, but I met her actually through my boyfriend, originally. She obviously lives in Chicago, and I just really wanted her to sing on this particular song because it’s kind of an older one and … while it’s like an acoustic song, it’s very inspired by the whole punk rock style music that I grew up listening to, in the sense that it’s biographical and personal and pretty much a bummer. I just wanted her voice on there to sort of amp it up a bit and not make it so hopeless. I feel like it adds a sort of hope to it to have her on.
How old was the song?
It’s a few years old. It’s one I’ve sort of put off recording for a long time for one reason or another, but I just felt like it fit with the theme of the rest of the record, finally. That, and I just always wanted to record it at some point.
Not that many people are talking about touring right now, but being that these songs are so personal, is not touring kind of a good thing? You can hold off a little bit.
We’re doing a livestream in about a week, actually, when the record comes out, so that’ll be the first time we’ve performed the whole record live, and it’ll be interesting. I was actually really looking forward to tackling the keyboard station and the drum machines and all that stuff. Unfortunately, now I will have to put that off for another time. But we will have to finagle something pretty soon, so we’ll see how it goes. We’ve got one shot. [Laughs].
Do you miss being on the road at this point because it’s something that you can’t have?
Yeah, I definitely had experienced some burnout, but now I’m back at chomping at the bit to get back on the road just because I haven’t done it in so long, between being in between records for so long and now a global pandemic. I’m definitely missing the whole experience.
So when this whole thing ends, a lot of acts will be itching to tour. There’s not going to be enough venues to host everybody all at the same time everywhere. Have you thought about timing and how you might make that work?
Since I just have so little of a concept of when we will even be able to get back to that, I can’t even really let myself think about it. I feel like we’ll all have to do, like, a giant Warped-Tour-style tour, as opposed to our own things, I guess.
You’re releasing the record on your own label, Honey, You’re Gonna Be Late Records. Before, you were on Bloodshot, which had fiscal mismanagement issues come to light last year. Is that why you left?
I would say “yes” and “no.” I also just really wanted to sort of test my newfound freedom and confidence that I’ve been sort of honing for the past two years. I just felt like it was time to be out on my own.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.