Lydia Loveless strikes out on her own with 'Daughter'

Andy Downing
Lydia Loveless

Though it falls at the end of the new Lydia Loveless album,Daughter, the song “Don’t Bother Mountain” signals the start of a venture Loveless undertook when she divorced husband and bandmate Ben Lamb and moved from Columbus to an area just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2017.

“[When I wrote the song] I had just moved, or maybe not just moved, but was still sort of adjusting to being in a different place,” said Loveless by phone earlier this week from Columbus, where she’s scheduled to perform the new album in its entirety during a ticketed livestream from Secret Studio on Thursday, Sept. 24. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career or record yet, and I knew I had to do something.”

Unlike other songs on the record, which Loveless said tended to be written with the intention of getting something off of her chest, the atmospheric “Don’t Bother Mountain” is the musician’s attempt to capture a mood, its patient, world-weary pace reflecting the arrival at a crossroads. “I am on the verge of brilliance,” she sings, “or on the verge of death.”

In a sense,Daughter traces Loveless’ journey to this pivotal point, opening with “Dead Writer,” a track on which the musician sings about extricating herself from a relationship (“I don’t want to be your lover anymore”) and following with multiple songs about feeling trapped or otherwise stymied. “I guess that was the theme of everything for a while,” Loveless deadpanned.

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There are side treks, sure, whether the musician is wrestling with a social and political climate where some are too quick to hew to the idea that love can conquer all (“Love Is Not Enough”) or a patriarchy that often values women solely in terms of their relationship to men. “What is my body worth to you without my blood in it?” Loveless sings on the title track, a pointed stab at the “as the father of a daughter” perspective espoused by some men still unable or unwilling to view women as independent forces.

Loveless balances these layered societal observations with brutally honest personal insights — long a hallmark of her songwriting. Drive-By Truckers singer Patterson Hood said he first discovered Loveless when a friend turned him on to her album Indestructible Machine, from 2011, and Loveless has been a frequent opener and tour companion in the years since. "I loved her sense of humor and the conversational ease of her lyrics," Hood wrote in an email. "She had a bluntness, yet also possessed great nuance when needed."

At its core, though,Daughter resonates as more deeply personal, particularly as Loveless begins to find her footing just past the album’s midpoint with the shimmying “Never.” “I’m standing on my own now,” she declares. “Isn’t that what everybody wants?”

Of course, Loveless might have struggled to answer that question in the affirmative during the early days of writing for the album, as she worked alone at her North Carolina home studio.

“It was sort of agonizing, but ultimately it was a good thing,” Loveless said of these early solo sessions, where she played piano, tinkered with drum machines and generally let songs take more experimental form than in the past before gathering with bandmatesTodd May, Jay Gasper and George Hondroulis to record at the Loft, Wilco’s Chicago recording space.

Not present for sessions was bassist and ex-husband Lamb, with whom Loveless initially thought she could continue to work before reconsidering. “We were going to be in the studio, and I was like, ‘We can make this work,’ and then I thought, no, because I didn’t want to feel guilt-ridden and crappy when I was trying to make art," she said. "I think that’s where a lot of the record’s themes came out, for me, just realizing I didn’t have to do it a certain way and I could be a little more independent.

“A lot of my life was wrapped up in other people’s identities. … I think [making this record] I learned that I’m more adaptable than I thought I was, which is good, and that I’m capable of making my own decisions. ... I think in the past I spent a lot of time sitting and waiting for decisions to be made for me, which is something I’m really trying to get out of the habit of.”

Despite Loveless’ sometimes downcast words “I don’t want to live in this world anymore,” she offers on “Dead Writer”— Daughter is often musically uplifting. Witness the gorgeous, multi-tracked vocals driving “Can’t Think” to its spiraling crescendo, or the effortless pop shimmer of “Wringer,” one of the more hip-shaking songs I’ve heard about being emotionally squeezed by a divorce.

The idea of striking out on one’s one, which Loveless returns to throughout, carries over to the record’s release. After parting with Bloodshot Records amid accusations of sexual predation Loveless made against a romantic partner of the label's former co-owner, the musician is set to releaseDaughter on her own imprint, dubbed Honey, You’re Gonna Be Late. 

“I feel like a lot of getting a label [deal] is just being told no, and then being told everything that’s wrong with you,” said Loveless, who shopped the record around briefly before opting for a self-release. “It sounds corny, but believing in yourself is a lot more fun than begging for money and having your face shit on.”

In recent days, the approaching album release has also served as a welcome distraction from a stressful, still-unresolved family situation — Loveless’ sister, the Columbus musician Jessica Wabbit, briefly went missing on vacation in California (Wabbit, who struggles with mental illness, has since been located but informed family members they were living homeless in Venice by choice). The release is also a diversion from the lingering boredom induced by a global pandemic that has all but shuttered the music industry.

“I started off [the shutdown] almost excited, because I was like, ‘I’ll get so much done and this will be good for me,’ but six months in it’s just fucking draining. I’m not on my game,” said Loveless, who was scheduled to perform at Secret Studio in March before the show was scuttled and moved to Natalie’s amid the first wave of coronavirus closures. “A couple interviewers have recently been like, ‘What’s it like putting out a record you know you’ll never tour on?’ And it’s like, ‘I wasn’t even thinking about that, but I am now. So thanks, man.’”