Lydia Loveless: I've tried to stop waiting for inspiration to hit

Categories: Gimme Songs
Blackletter / Patrick Crawford

In Gimme Songs, musician Mark Mallman talks songwriting with his peers and heroes. This week, Lydia Loveless before Thursday's show at 7th St. Entry.

What strikes me most about Lydia Loveless as a songwriter, is her ability to communicate bold-faced authenticity. I talked with her in hopes of finding out how she maintains the balance of elegance and rawness that she so masterfully does on her new record, Somewhere Else.

Mark Mallman: Somewhere Else is a great collection of material, how did the songwriting all get started?
Lydia Loveless: It's kind of a weird story. I'd just gotten home from a Swedish tour, and hadn't been thinking about what sound I was going for. I had thrown a bunch of ideas into the air, but they just weren't coming out right. I kind of had a nervous breakdown. Half the time I would sit on the floor, stare into space, and just cry.

Oh no! What did you end up doing?
I was like, "Well, forget this!" and went on tour. We stayed with friends at SXSW. I pretty much ended up at the house drinking, playing guitar, and talking with my band the whole time. Having that bonding experience, and remembering why I play music with my band is what opened the floodgates. I ended up finishing the album there. A month later we started recording. It was sort of like scrapping the entire album and then rewriting it. I think "Wine Lips" and "Chris Isaak" were the only ones that I'd had for a while.

Those two songs are more formal, where the others are more conversational. It makes sense that a record like Somewhere Else can't just be forced out too formally.
Everyone these days asks, "What's the theme of the album?" It's not really a concept album, but the theme was that I was frustrated and depressed. I was reading a lot, and trying to not even think about music. That's how I ended up writing these songs. Sometimes you try to force stuff, but you'll just lose your mind.

I look back at songs that I've forced, and they feel dead. When a song happens, it just happens. The "magic" of songs is, kind of, actually magic.
It really is, and I've tried to get out of the habit of waiting for inspiration to hit. That could take months. I know people that say they try to write a song a day, but I would never be able to do that. I do try to have more of a songwriting routine these days at least.

Let's talk about "Wine Lips." Was that written during the period of writers block?
I'd had this experience where I'd met up with an old boyfriend in New York, and he asked me to get on a train with him and go four hours away. I'm normally a really impulsive person, but this was one time I did not do something impulsive. It took me a while to write because I had to step away from the situation to get it done. So, that's an example of having an idea first, and wanting to write about it. Most of my songs are a little more organic than that. I'd had the idea for that song for a while. It took me a long time to get it right. Hence why it is so simple, because I had to completely dumb it down.

Getting simple, in songwriting, usually is not a simple task. The journey of getting to the simple end can actually be a complex trip.
Sometimes. "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud" is probably the most labored-over song on the record. Todd May was very involved on that one, and on "Head." "Head" was the biggest pain in the ass of all time because it was so simple. I wanted it to be that way. We probably wrote fifteen different bridges for that song. Todd actually ended up writing the bridge but refuses to take credit for it.

I have a friend who says "The bridge is the conscience of the song." Why was the bridge so tough for "Head?"
Bridges are always a pain in the ass. I can't even remember all of the original versions of that bridge. I might have sang over one, or gone through the chorus five hundred times. Then Todd wrote this guitar part that was ascending and fixed that problem. I wanted it to be a simple, sad song, but I didn't want people to laugh at it because of the subject matter. It took a long time to nail.

"Head" is also explicit, in ways. How do you uncensor yourself when you are writing?
It's hard to explain. I feel like sometimes I should censor myself more, but then again, that seems dishonest. When things just come out it seems the best.

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