Interviews

Who Does Lydia Loveless Think She Is?

With the release of her two new records, Lydia Loveless watches you watching her. Maybe you should listen, instead.


Lydia Loveless

Somewhere Else

Label: Bloodshot
US Release Date: 2014-02-18
Amazon
iTunes

Lydia Loveless

Boy Crazy EP

Label: Bloodshot
US Release Date: 2013-11-12
Amazon
iTunes

With the release of her two new records, Lydia Loveless watches you watching her. Maybe you should listen, instead.

"A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself."

– John Berger, Ways of Seeing

I.

It seems like an unwritten rule of rock journalism: when a woman is interviewed for a feature, within one paragraph you'll know what she was wearing that day. A hundred words, tops. Maybe you could write it off to "setting the scene" or creating a sense of "being there"—maybe, if only men were usually described the same way. But how often do you get a catalogue-like description of Marcus Mumford's fashion choices?

I decide to put my wholly anecdotal, no-way-anyone-has-the-time-to-research-this hypothesis to the test by randomly grabbing a rock journalism anthology off my shelf: The Sound and the Fury: A Rock's Backpages Reader, edited by Barney Hoskyns. "Part 2: Close Encounters" starts with a feature on Joni Mitchell written in 1972 by the late Penny Valentine, one of if not the first female pop journalist in Great Britain.

The second paragraph begins, "[Mitchell] is wearing a pair of jeans, a tiny printed shirt and plain sweater over top," and goes on about her appearance for another 50 words or so. The next three features are about Marvin Gaye, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan, and the closest thing to fashion in any of them is when Mick Brown informs us that Dylan "stroked the beginnings of an unruly beard." Glenn O'Brien, writing for Interview in 1990, then notes in his feature's second paragraph that "Madonna looked like a billion bucks in a Gaultier sheath with dangerous-looking silver nipples."

This isn't to shame any of those writers, or Hoskyns and his book; neither is the point to dismiss the ways women might identify themselves through fashion. It's just one example of how musicians who are women have been and are still looked at differently than male musicians, "looked at" being the operative phrase. Too often a woman's music is seen more than it's heard, and seen only through a gendered lens of style, biography, sexuality, and the myths of essentialism and authenticity.

Or, as alt-country musician Lydia Loveless puts it to me more succinctly, "No one ever asks you, 'What does it feel like to be a man?'"

II.

Loveless is like a basketball player who skipped college and went straight to the pros. The image that trajectory creates in the minds of some, an image of privilege or grace, obscures the reality of countless hours spent in the gym, or in Loveless' case, dive bars.

Her career began at 14 when she and her sisters formed the band Carson Drew with their father on drums. The group's first big-time, glamorous, gig of privilege? Bernie's, a punk club on the Columbus, Ohio, High Street strip, the kind of place where the bathroom floor is always flooded with an inch of standing water or other liquids. Loveless kept at it, recording her self-released debut, The Only Man, but it was the strength of her voice and live performances that caught the eye of Bloodshot Records in 2010. By the time she released her first record for Bloodshot in 2011, the volatile cowpunk Indestructible Machine, Loveless was 21 and already a veteran.

So what did she do? She toured for two years.

Meanwhile, I followed the story in Columbus and heard the grumblings in the local scene: too much, too fast, who does she think she is? Loveless heard them, too. I wondered then, and still wonder, how much of that suspicion and jealousy has to do with Loveless being not only young and successful, but a young and successful woman. If some young dude with guitar scored a label deal, would the pressure be quite the same?

All those touring miles and, I think, that particular brand of pressure have forged Loveless' strongest work on her two new recordings: an EP titled Boy Crazy and the full-length record Somewhere Else. Each veers away from outlaw country-punk into territory held largely by rock 'n' roll, where nothing is so easy to pin down. With a solid band behind her—Todd May on guitars, her husband Ben Lamb on bass, and Nick German on drums—Loveless' vaunted brashness is still intact ("brash" being a word the press uses to describe a woman who talks plainly) but there's also a maturity to the songs. If Indestructible Machine was an explosion from the gates, the quintessential cowpunk blend of twang, muscle, and up-yours energy, Boy Crazy and Somewhere Else sound like they've been made by someone who's realized she can't get all the way across the country at a sprint.

Having agreed to an interview for the magazine Ghettoblaster, Loveless suggests we meet at a restaurant called Betty's, a narrow, busy landmark in the gentrified, artsy Short North neighborhood of Columbus, her home base. Sitting at a corner table by the front windows, she's patiently stirring a foggy mixed drink when I arrive.

Shy but assured, Loveless possesses a wariness that, I think, must be the natural response to doing so many interviews, playing so many shows, and meeting so many strangers. But once she decides to talk, she talks, sometimes freely, laughing at herself, and sometimes thoughtfully, searching for the right word or revising what she's just said. Either way, she's honest, and we talk for nearly two hours, far more conversation than I can use for the Ghettoblaster feature.*

After we talk about the new records a bit, especially their warmer sound compared to Indestructible Machine, I note that I haven't seen much mention in other features and interviews about her songwriting.

"That's because I'm a woman," she says with a laugh.

So we talk about songwriting. Finally taking a break from relentless touring, Loveless spent a fair number of frustrating weeks holed up writing new songs in an office in a Columbus neighborhood called Grandview, chucking away an entire album's worth of songs. Ultimately, the time in the office was about "vacuuming all the extraneous shit out of my brain," she says. "When I sit by myself for too long, I can get a little trapped in my head. I forget to experiment and let go. So at first it was very simple three-chord songs, and a lot of writing about 'I feel boxed in by the country music genre'. And I was like, oh, this is boring."

Loveless credits May with helping her get past the traps. "Todd and I do songwriting nights where we'll just get together and play, and it's cool because he has different influences and more guitar-oriented influences than I do." When I ask what she means by that, Loveless explains how her tendency is to focus on the songwriting while May, a songwriter with a long and laudable history of Columbus bands, picks up on texture and production. "With the EP and the record, I've started to take more control of the guitar sound and focus more on production and what the whole thing is going to sound like instead of, 'I'm here in this room writing this song and I'll let everyone else decide what else goes on it.'"

The songwriting on Boy Crazy and Somewhere Else sounds effortless, possessing that combination of timelessness and immediacy. So I ask if there are moments in the writing process when everything comes in a rush. "I'd say most songs that I write to completion and actually end up recording and using are ones where I don't remember sitting down and writing them," Loveless replies. "I'll just record a demo of something and completely do stream-of-consciousness stuff and then just not listen to it for a few days and forget about it. And quite literally it'll sound like something I've never even heard before."

Or she'll dream them up, like "The Water", a gorgeous ballad on Boy Crazy I'm afraid will get lost in the rush of Somewhere Else being released. "As a songwriter," Loveless says, "you go to bed at night and sometimes you dream songs, and you're like, 'That's great, I'll remember that for the rest of my life.' And then you wake up and it's fucking gone. Shit."

"But with 'The Water', I fell asleep and had a dream that I was hanging out with this guy on a beach on Lake Michigan, which is like my favorite place on Earth. I went to Interlochen, so I had this dream I was back there. And then I went into this cabin and put on a Deer Tick record—do you know that band?—and 'The Water' came out. Literally, fully formed. I had to adjust the lyrics somewhat, but that song came out of the record player in my dream, and it was Deer Tick playing it."


III.

Somewhere Else is a swaggering country-tinged rock record with shadowy, bittersweet edges. You hear them in the lower range of Loveless' voice, in Jay Gasper's weeping pedal steel, and in the thick textures of Todd May's guitars—the end of "Chris Isaak", for instance (like "Steve Earle" from Indestructible Machine, another song named after a famous musician that's not really about that musician), when the guitar sustains just a little longer than it 'should', just long enough to make you uncomfortable, just long enough to conjure the possibility of a Neil Young-style feedback coda.

Then the bouncing, syncopated riff of "To Love Somebody" kicks in; it's happy; hell, it's chipper, until Loveless growls the title line, "What does it mean to love somebody?" On paper or your screen it may seem like a sugar cube of philosophizing, but Loveless wrenches every ounce of meaning from it.

If Somewhere Else takes a slower, more confident pace, it recognizes the danger that comes with slowing down: it's harder to ignore the back alleys and the corner bars in your mind. Loveless doesn't flinch, interrogating herself as easily as you or me. On the album's title track, the woman in the song is somehow seductive and self-loathing, crooning, "Well you give me more love than a woman can stand / I keep trying to find a way to see you"; she pauses, then rattles off, "'Cause I guess I'm just a spoiled brat just like my Daddy said I was / God that used to make me so fucking angry."

"Head" and "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud" are the album's strongest songs put back-to-back, one dripping with passion, one with total detachment and male fantasy. Ignore whatever you read in the more genteel areas of the press; "Head" is about a demoralizing, dehumanizing masculine fantasy of oral sex. Calling that the "heart's hunger" softens the blow, if you'll pardon the pun, and pretty much ignores the lyrics. Sung from the point of view of a man who admits "I don't even try that hard to stay awake," "Head" is a sneering, painful proclamation of aggression and regression. "Don't stop getting undressed / Don't stop giving me head," sings Loveless from behind a masculine mask, exposing the fantasy for what it's really about: self-love, if not self-worship.

"People are going to think it's a joke," Loveless says, "but to me, it's a really sad song. I wanted to actually write a sad, visceral song about oral sex. The first time I ever played with Todd, we were like, wouldn't it be cool to write a really sad song about blowing someone? That was our plan. It took us forever to actually come up with the song; I ended up writing it a couple months before we recorded the album."

After "Head" fades into distortion, Loveless reappears, singing plainly over an acoustic guitar:

Well, Verlaine shot Rimbaud 'cause he loved him so

And honey that's how I love you

Well, Verlaine shot Rimbaud 'cause he loved him so

And honey that's how I wanna go

"Verlaine Shot Rimbaud" is one of the more country-sounding songs on the record and it's about two gay French poets and their violent relationship. Loveless keeps upending your expectations, spitting out, "I wanna love you like a father loves a son," finding common ground with these young men whose passion might be fatal—Rimbaud was all of 18 when Verlaine wounded him—but claiming that passion for herself, too.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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