Lydia Loveless does not appreciate the Neko Case comparisons.
"I think Neko Case is talented, but she was never an influence," Loveless says. "So when people say that I've stolen from her, which happens more often than not, it's kind of weird."
But is it? Compare the facts. Both tend to sing about the hard times in life. Both have been sorted into the "alternative country" genre by experts. Both are women. Case is a redhead and the illustration on the cover of Loveless's 2011 record "Indestructible Machine" features a redheaded woman! Neko Case closed, right?
That's not what Loveless (birth name: Lydia Ankrom) hears when she considers her own work. Her vocal twang, the banjo, the fiddle and the guitars all tell the untrained ear that this is country, but they're just instruments. Loveless enjoys the music of Case, the music of Loretta Lynn, but this isn't it. She wrote these songs with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Richard Hell and Television as inspiration.
Most are shocked that Loveless wasn't born singing country music. She was, after all, raised in Coshocton, a town in East Ohio sitting on the edge of Appalachia. Places like that are supposed to bleed country and bluegrass. But her parents played the records of rockers like Costello and punks like Hell, and Loveless never considered that country might be her thing. She moved to Columbus, a more lively part of the state, and joined her sisters in founding other alt-based bands like The Dead Girlfriends and Carson Drew. Country music struck her after she moved to the big city.
"A lot of people switch it around and say I grew up on country but it's kind of the opposite," she says. "Country came to me later in life. After I stopped being embarrassed about being a hillbilly. After I moved out of the country, I needed that anchor back in my life."
If the lyrics on "Indestructible Machine" are to be believed, Loveless needed a heck of an anchor. The album is rife with tales of alcoholism ("Jesus Was A Wino"), faithless men ("How Many Women"), and alcoholism and indecision leading the protagonist to stay with the faithless men ("Bad Way To Go"). Most of the songs reflect the sorts of life experiences that young people try to hide from their parents and spouses. Hence why Loveless performing the songs with her father and husband makes the lens into her life all the more uncomfortable.
Loveless's father Parker Chandler played drums and her husband Ben Lamb played bass for the recording of "Indestructible Machine," and Loveless still tours with the latter. She admits it can get awkward spinning yarns about her own bad behavior while her loved ones listen in, but she complimented the duo for keeping their misgivings to themselves.
"I can sense the awkwardness when I sing particular lyrics," she explains. "I've had boyfriends that will be like 'what's that song about' and get angry, but my husband doesn't do that, so I think he's just happy to be with someone who's making a living playing music. Whatever I want to sing about is probably okay with him."
That past bad behavior did catch the attention of an interesting individual however. Loveless said she gave an interview to a local publication in Columbus and admitted to some of her drinking and drug use. At the next show she played, a man resembling alt-country icon Steve Earle approached, inquiring about the article. It wasn't really Earle, but one could be forgiven for confusing him for the neighborhood creep . His beard and long, thinning hair make him look rougher than the country music he sings.
After a few shows, a few propositions for a duet performance, and one leaked cell phone number, Loveless penned "Steve Earle" as a humorous tale about her biggest fan. Reactions from the Steve Earle camp have been mixed, with some close to the real Earle telling Loveless it "hit the nail right on the head," and Earle's wife, country singer Allison Moorer, expressing her irritation via Twitter. Loveless hopes to explain the whole story to Earle someday.
One has to wonder if the next album could possibly include so many tales of woe and heartbreak. After all, Loveless is happily married and the drinking is under control.
But then again, how else would the world compare her to Neko Case?