Never one to stick to a strict definition of Americana, Ohio-born singer, songwriter and guitarist Lydia Loveless proudly borrows from modern pop music at this stage of her ever-evolving career. When she first became serious about songwriting, Loveless figured her peers' pop and rock tastes wouldn't pave her a lyrically rich creative path. So, she began digging through discount bins for classic country releases.
"I wanted to get more into actual songwriting, so I got into more elementary stuff," she says. "Not to call Hank Williams a simple songwriter. I just felt that he wrote songs anyone could get into, because he was just singing about life and using pretty simple chords. That was kind of my major inspiration as a teenager."
After years of stressing good lyrics over genre defiance, Loveless started showing flashes of pop inspiration. By opening up her repertoire to include covers of everyone from power-pop-era Elvis Costello to the ever-polarizing Justin Bieber, she celebrates and emulates a much wider range of wordsmiths without abandoning her roots.
"My method now is to write music that I want to listen to," she says. "When I was a kid and listening to stuff that I knew was pretty corny, I didn't want to write stuff like that. I just wanted to listen to it. I've since been able to decipher the difference between what's fun and a guilty pleasure and something that's good, which is probably a lot from country music and listening to the stories and getting the emotion out of it."
Who knows how many curious and confused listeners hear both Loveless and Bieber in a different way since her cover of "Sorry" dropped last year. Stripped of the original's soulless electronic elements, she turned the one song by the Bieb you're not too embarrassed to love into a jaw-droppingly gorgeous ballad.
"I think it's a really honest song," Loveless says. "I know people are like, 'It takes 15 people to write a pop song,' but I do think a lot of these singers come with a song and someone puts in a 'bloop bloop' sound and gets a writing credit. I really do feel that that's a Justin Bieber song that he really felt the need to sing and write. I guess that's what I liked about it. It's almost child-like in its honestly. I like that in any type of music, but especially pop music. It doesn't sound like it was written by an old Swedish man in a cave somewhere."
Currently, Loveless lives on a farm in North Carolina, away from the hustle and bustle of a typical city-dwelling artist’s existence. Relative isolation from bandmates and a willingness to embrace change allow her to explore DIY songwriting in ways fans of her earlier material might not expect.
"The songwriters I've always admired have always been very diverse and interesting and always experimenting," she says. "That's kind of what I've been doing. Lately, I've been writing with a keyboard and a drum machine. The record probably isn't going to sound like that, but those are the tools I've been using."
Loveless is still the same songwriter whom some laud as a country savior and others celebrate as a true-blue rocker, so don't expect her to go full Taylor Swift. Instead, it sounds more like she's taking the Kacey Musgraves path, incorporating more and more pop elements into her rootsy, heartfelt story-songs.
"I've been saying for so many years how much I like pop music and how much it inspires me," she says. "At this point in my life, I'm trying to utilize that instead of talking about it and then playing shitty power chords on guitar, or whatever [laughs]. I'm just trying to stretch myself a bit."
With this openness to embrace various influences without fear of watering down a growing reputation as a roots-minded songwriter, Loveless knows she's on pace to confuse yet fascinate more than her fellow Beliebers. "There's also people who are like, ‘You give me hope for country music,' and I’m, like, sitting in my bedroom reading Twitter as my drum machine goes, and I have a synthesizer in my hand," she says.
LYDIA LOVELESS Gritty alt-country singer-songwriter from Columbus, OH. See story on p. 12.
THE DARNELL BOYS The Darnell brothers play country blues originals backed by upright bass, singing saw and junkyard percussion.