Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen
A onetime fixture on the Athens scene, Lera Lynn left town several years ago to pursue opportunities elsewhere. It’d be hard to argue that it hasn’t paid off. After connecting with Americana guru T-Bone Burnett, Lynn found herself acting on season two of “True Detective,” playing a unnamed bar singer opposite superstars Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell. Several of her songs were also featured on the HBO show’s soundtrack. This month, she’ll release her fourth studio album, Resistor. She returns to Athens Wednesday, when she’ll headline the Georgia Theatre.
Flagpole: Other than the differences in how business is conducted in the two towns, how did your move to Nashville from Athens impact the creative process?
Lera Lynn: I don’t know that it has necessarily impacted the creative process. I think that collaboration is widely encouraged in Nashville, and that applies to the country-pop approach, but also most other types of music that exist. That’s been one major difference. I still write most of my material myself. I think there’s so many people playing music professionally in Nashville that it has encouraged me to step up my game a little—to be a better musician and be more organized. It’s very reassuring to see people surviving by music alone, which is common in Nashville. Given the landscape that we’re in currently in the music industry, wherein no one is buying records, it’s easy to get discouraged and stop pursuing music as a career.
FP: Opportunities like the one you took with season two of "True Detective" are now sort of built-in to the model of surviving and making a living as an artist. "Selling out" seems outmoded at this point. How did that opportunity come up?
LL: I don’t know what “selling out” means. I’ve heard people say that, particularly in Athens, about musicians who started small—like all musicians do—who landed a great opportunity and had some follow after that. So, what does it mean to “sell out?”…
I just think that it’s an interesting thing in itself—that someone could sell out. This business is fucking impossible. If anyone gets an opportunity to put their music in a commercial or whatever, then please. So, I don’t understand that.
Your question is: How did that come about? My manager has a longstanding relationship with T-Bone Burnett. She was sending my music to him because she thought we might be interested in working together in some capacity. He finally did take a listen and asked me if I was interested in using a song of mine called “Lying in the Sun,” which is the title track from my CD that I released in 2014. He was interested in using that song in "True Detective," so he wanted to have a meeting to discuss that. We hit it off, and he asked if I had any interest in writing with him for the show. I said, “Well, duh.” I love season one.
Soon after that, I was spending a lot of time with him in L.A., and we wrote about 10 songs for the show and recorded them quickly. It was just a really easy process working with him. That led to him playing the music for Nic Pizzolatto, who is the writer of "True Detective." And then someone said, “Why don’t we have Lera be the girl playing music in the show?” I said, “Oh, OK!” and here I am.
FP: Your new single is a far cry from a dyed-in-the-wool Americana song. What motivates your interest in going outside of that style?
LL: I don’t know if was a conscious decision to avoid Americana-sounding production or even Americana-sounding writing. It’s just the progress—natural progress—of me. The last album, which was released in 2014, was actually recorded in 2012. So, here we are four years later. You’d hope there’d be some change and growth, you know.
We took our time with things in the studio with this record. There’s no pedal steel. There’s hardly any acoustic guitar. Because the songs didn’t really want that. We really listened to what was most supportive of the song and most interesting. I was just trying to find a path that is slightly different and more interesting for the songs to come across.
FP: The traditional album release cycle seems to have been turned on its head. Whereas tours used to support records, records now seem to promote touring. Where are your sights turned to now? Are you focused on this upcoming record, or have you already started writing new material?
LL: I’ve started working on new material, yeah. The state that we’re in, you’ve got to be constantly generating content. You do basically release a record to promote a tour. That’s true. If you’re going to survive in music, you do have to diversify. You can’t just expect to survive on a tour. You can’t tour 365 days a year or you’d die.
I’m writing and recording music that may or may not end up on a record. I don’t know. I have a publishing deal with a publishing company. Again, you have to consider all avenues these days. I don’t know. It’s a scary time. I don’t think I have really felt the effects of record sales. In the beginning of my career, it was a struggle. Now I’m starting to feel it. I imagine there are those that are really feeling it.
FP: Obviously your stop in Athens isn’t the first time you’ve been back since you’ve moved, but what is it like to come back to town?
Well, the town always feels different. I think that’s just the nature of a university town with people coming and going so quickly. All my favorite buddies that were there when I was there are no longer in town. So, the town changes a lot. But I love Athens so much, and I look forward to going back every time. There are places that I love to visit like stores and restaurants. There are places in Athens that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. I’m always excited to go back. I lived there for 10 years, and it’s a big part of my life and who I am as an artist.
I’ve been thinking a lot [about] music that comes out of Athens. Although the stylistic variations are great, at times, there’s always some sort of common thread that is running through it. It’s kind of hard to put your finger on it. There’s this sort of visceral quality to the music. For lack of a better word: “edge” [laughs]. Some sort of stylized thing that is specific to that place. I think that is really interesting, and I feel very grateful to have spent my formative years in music in Athens.