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True Grit: Lydia Loveless Balances her Punk and Country Impulses 

Like any kid who grew up in the 90s, singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless was fed a steady diet of commercial radio and MTV. Since then, she's blossomed into an alt-country sensation with the potential to achieve the popularity of someone like Neko Case. It's a transformation that Loveless views with a certain fondness.

"My influences were really bad pop music," says Loveless, who grew up in rural Coshocton, Ohio. "My first favorite thing was Billy Idol's 'White Wedding.'"

Since her dad was a drummer, she started playing music early on, but she admits she wasn't particularly skilled at songwriting.

"Most of the time, I just made up really stupid songs," she says. "I think the first song I wrote was 'The Ugliest Man of All.' It was about [Eagles singer] Don Henley. My dad was a huge Eagles fan. He also liked new wave and listened to the Tubes and Devo and Talking Heads. There were always the sad, have-a-fire-outside-and-listen-to-the-Eagles-for-hours sessions. That's just part of being in the country, I guess."

She eventually gravitated toward what she calls "that horrible pop-punk wave" of the early 2000s. But after she moved to Columbus, she began to embrace a different style of music that was much grittier than the pop-punk that was popular at the time.

"I started going to punk shows and meeting people who were actual punks," she says. "I felt stupid and threw away the Good Charlotte records and started over. That's still something I care about. People assume I'm not into punk rock anymore. But I still am. I don't have as much time to go to shows. But I'm still into it."

On her first album, The Only Man, she embraced a more traditional country sound. But it wasn't by choice. A heavy-handed producer pushed her in that direction.

"I was 17 when I started making my first record," she says. "It took a long time to finish that record. It took three years. It was kind of a bullshit situation but we've all moved on from that. Nobody wants to hear the first songs they ever wrote. I don't think all the stuff on that album [is bad], but the songs are about how my boyfriend broke up with me when I was 15. Somebody at a show the other night wanted me to play 'Girls Suck.' I was like, 'Absolutely not.' That happens fairly often. At least they have the back catalog."

For her second album, 2012's Indestructible Machine, she adopted a grungier sound.

"I was heading more in the direction I wanted to go," she says of the album. "When I was younger, I wanted to make an album that sounded like crap. We made that album, and it was very polished and very country. After that, I realized that I needed to make an album that reflected the fact that I like country and have those sensibilities because of being from there. But I don't want to make a Carrie Underwood album. I want to have fun and play rock n' roll."

With her new album Somewhere Else, she embraces her country and pop roots more heartily than she did on Indestructible Machine. The guitars still have some grit but the album is a bit more polished, something that's apparent from the opening tune, "Really Wanna See You."

One reviewer described the aforementioned "Really Wanna See You" as "contemplative and desperate." Loveless says it's an apt description.

"Yeah. 'Desperate' is often used," she says.

And yet Loveless admits she isn't as introverted as she once was.

"I think that's because of a little bit of growing up and I've tried to get rid of that," she says. "I'll always be awkward and weird, but I can go out and order coffee without breaking into a sweat."

Another of the album's highlights is the semi-acoustic tune "Chris Isaak." On it, Loveless examines a relationship gone sour.

"I love [Isaak's] music," she says when asked about the song. "That was mostly about this guy and we had this tumultuous relationship that wasn't going anywhere. He was like 'Someday, we'll be together.' He really liked Chris Isaak and we listened to Chris Isaak together. It was poking at him and maybe trying to upset him. It's a bit of a Taylor Swift move on my part, but I like the song."

Seeking inspiration, she started reading books about French literature and the story of the stormy romance between poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. That became the source material for the moody ballad "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud."

"It's totally a true story," she says of the song. "Verlaine was madly in love with a younger guy who was kind of an asshole. The guy leaves Verlaine and Verlaine goes out to kill him. He really couldn't do it, so he shot him in the hand."

It's a sentiment with which she can identify.

"It's similar to my 'contemplative and desperate' way of loving people," she admits. "I'm very intense. I like to fight, so there's a little bit of me in there."

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