Bare-bones honesty has always been the beating heart of Lydia Loveless’ music.
The Ohio singer-songwriter-guitarist writes with a flood of blood and guts and emotions, and between her country-punk breakthrough Indestructible Machine (2011) and the uncompromising and direct Somewhere Else (2014), Loveless emerged as a creative force ready to transcend styles and themes.
Now, the 25-year-old returns with Real, an album that’s everything its title promises, an examination of authenticity, dreams, goals, maturity, death and having the self-awareness to handle all those ups and downs.
“It’s a record about what it means to be authentic, what it means to me, and that stuck,” Loveless says. “I’ve always been pretty honest lyrically. Maybe this one was a little bit bolder in some ways. Certainly I had to be pretty brave to talk about some of the subject matter. It’s definitely my strongest album, so it seemed a fitting title in that sense. I felt really comfortable with whatever I was doing at the time. Normally I’m nervous and not really sure.”
The first song Loveless wrote for the record was “Real,” which became the closing tune for the record, the anchor that held the other songs together.
“I usually tend to write the title track last because I’m weird and I work well under deadlines and cramming stuff together,” Loveless says. “But that came first and the mood of it was sort of poppy and a little bit retro for me, so I wanted to go from there and make a super poppy record, for me anyway. Real is a solid name and the word comes up a lot in these songs. Probably an embarrassing amount.”
The songwriting took place over a year that Loveless says felt like her greatest period of development, personally as well as musically. But the awareness wasn’t immediate, even after writing “Real.”
“It definitely took some time with the songs to realize what the album was about. That’s also how I assess where my life is at,” she says. “I don’t sit down and say I’m going to make a record about authenticity and death and perspective. I was going through weird loss and change and that all shaped up to reveal the record to me.”
Another song that came early in the writing process, “Out On Love,” also began pointing Loveless in the direction she’d take for the rest of the album: emotionally fearless and musically adventurous.
“It was that one that I think really solidified that I was finally doing something really cool,” she says. “It felt totally different when I was writing than anything I’d ever done.”
The songwriting for Real didn’t stray far from Loveless’ usual process lyrically, but musically she worked to start from a different place.
“I write a lot of the lyrics down and edit the shit out of that before I sit down and play anything. I churn things around in my head and then try to get out as much as possible after thinking about it for along time,” she says. “But this time I was siting down and writing a lot of riffs, which isn’t usual for me. I’m usually a chord chunker.”
Other tunes stretched Loveless out of her prior comfort zone. “Bilbao”—particularly the line “marry me”—broke new ground. “It’s definitely not something that I would normally sing,” she says. “That would’ve made me vomit as a teenager.”
On “Heaven,” Loveless and her band step completely out of the country/Americana territory, settling in at the studio to work toward a sleek, New Wave style that borders on dance-rock.
“‘Heaven’ was horrible to write, really difficult and I had a really hard time forming it, but once it was finished I thought it was fucking awesome,” she says. “That was definitely the most we’ve ever done production wise. Everyone was throwing everything out there on that one and that’s what I wanted to do on this record. I tend to not want to add too much and be minimal and not take away from the song. But this time, I wanted to make it as sound as cool as it can.”
Real felt like the right time for Loveless and her band to make those new moves, to expand the sound and display different musical talents than her prior records showed.
“Being on the road together for so long, everyone has really developed. It’s amazing how much you can grow as an artist touring constantly, even if you’ve been doing it for a long time. With this particular unit, it worked out to make everyone super comfortable in the studio,” she says.
And just as the more visceral rock ‘n’ roll of Somewhere Else left the honky-tonk punk of Indestructible Machine behind, the sophisticated pop elements of Real are simply progression to the sound that Loveless feels most represent her as an artist.
“I really like pop music and I always have. When I was younger, I wasn’t musically as adept and people described it as country punk. I just wanted to open things up a bit more and get away from talking about my childhood on the farm. I wanted to be talked about as a songwriter and a talented musician. I definitely improved so I wanted to move behind three-chord country ditties,” she says.
“This one, it’s cohesive and more advanced musically. Stylistically, it’s the most me.”