Interview: Lydia Loveless on Touring, Justin Bieber, and Writing on the Road

Lydia Loveless (whose voicemail recording, if you’re wondering, goes something like “Hello you’ve reached Lydia Loveless, she can’t come to the phone because she’s too busy saving country music…”), is a bona-fide Americana outlaw artist with a not-so-hidden passion for pop experiments. Her 2016 LP Real boasts country-to-the-core lyrics, but its production is far from traditional, with layered vocals, gritty guitar and punchy rock elements. Apart from her full-length projects, Loveless released a striking cover of Justin Bieber’s smash hit “Sorry” earlier this year, and most recently released a fan-submitted collection of remixes for her frenetic track “Heaven.” We caught up with her on the road as she wraps a three-night touring run as the opening act for Iron & Wine with a sold-out show tonight in Birmingham, Alabama.

On surprise live-show hits from her latest album Real:

Loveless has been impressed with the audience response to “European,” a slightly more humorous favorite from Real that she says “was a pain in the ass to record and write.” She had the ideas, she says, but it was hard to “make it sound good.” Loveless worked on the track with frequent collaborator and band member Todd May: “You need to get someone else’s perspective when you’re stuck in your typical ways of doing things,” she says. (Key Lyrics:What’s it gonna take for you to let me inside? / Man, I’m standing on your lawn and the grass is on fire / When I kissed you on the lips, I was being European / Honey come on, I just want to right what’s been feeling so wrong.“)

On her crowdsourced batch of “Heaven” remixes:

This new EP features three re-imaginings of her song “Heaven,” and the idea was initially presented to Loveless by her label and management. They launched a contest on in the fall of 2016, and she and her team compiled a collection of the best remix submissions. “I enjoyed it, because for one thing it’s an interaction with fans that isn’t [just] shitty comments on Twitter,” she says. Loveless has always been a fan of pop music, and her original version contains so many tracks and layers that it lent itself easily to the remixing process, she says.

On her genre-bending style:

Between the “Heaven” remixes and her surprise-hit cover of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” (more on this next) fans of the Loveless’ core Americana and country values have been thrown a few curveballs. “I always brace myself for impact,” Loveless says of breaking the mold. “I don’t necessarily want to stick to something very isolating and rigid – that’s not conducive to creativity,” she offers.

On Justin Bieber’s inescapable “Sorry”:

Loveless released a studio version earlier this year, but the track initially made its way into her live sets months before. “I get bored on tour and wear songs out, ” Loveless says. Her stripped-down version of “Sorry” emerged from a late-night hotel room session while on tour, and she soon incorporated it into her acoustic set on stage. Loveless brought the song into the studio shortly after: “I liked being in the studio to recreate it, because it’s so nonsensically overproduced that it was fun to turn it around.”

On touring:

Loveless has performed with Sam Beam (a.k.a. Iron & Wine) previously, and is now set to complete her third consecutive night of touring with him this month. He’s known for his mysterious, subdued persona (Loveless describes him as “shrouded in mystery, floating down the river”), but the crowds he attracts are “respectful” and, at times, eerily quiet and attentive, she says. As far as writing new material is concerned, Loveless finds it much easier to hone her creativity while away from home. “It’s easier to think on tour,” she says. “Home is stressful, but I have more space for thought on tour.”

On her current favorites playlist:

Susto, the indie rockers from South Carolina, are currently high on Loveless’ must-listen list, as is Kesha’s new record Rainbow. “It’s funny to hear my hairy, bearded Americana friends go, ‘Hey, this record’s really good,’” she says of Kesha’s album.

Catch Loveless on her next set of headlining shows (dates and ticket info here), and keep an eye out for her “Who is Lydia Loveless” documentary to be released on DVD in November.