Born Lydia Ankrom, Lydia Loveless was raised on a farm in rural Ohio before her family relocated to Columbus when she was in her teens. During her adolescence she learned several instruments and played in a band with her two older sisters and their father before stepping out on her own.
Now in her mid-twenties, Loveless has solo four albums under her belt, starting with 2010’s The Only Man. On each one, she has drawn from influences across a spectrum of country, punk, classic pop/rock songwriters such as Stevie Nicks and Paul Westerberg, and has woven them together with her silky voice and naturally defiant attitude. “Vocals are always the most important aspect of [country and Americana music], and I consider my voice my main instrument. Of course, we have pedal steel but we tend to use that sparingly as more of a keyboard. I use my own guitarwork more minimally these days, creating atmosphere instead of a wall of power chords,” she says.
On her latest release, Real, (the making of which was highlighted in the Gorman Bechard documentary, Who is Lydia Loveless?), Loveless has taken her craft to the next level, baring her soul with straightforward, introspective lyrics while trading off between upbeat ballads (“Real”) barroom country/rock (“Midwestern Guys”) and lush, ambient-leaning pop (“Out on Love”). Since it came out on Bloodshot Records in August, it has received near-universal praise and has recently been ranked as a top album of the year by Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, and Stereogum.
When it comes to her gear, Loveless says her tastes and interests have evolved alongside her musical and and songwriting chops. “When I started out, I was 16 years old with an acoustic guitar, and that was all I had,” she says. “I didn’t even own a tuner, so a lot of my requirements have changed since then. It’s taken me a long time to get to experimenting. You can do a lot of cool stuff with a good pedal…I think experimenting is really the lifeblood of being a songwriter. Once you stop doing that, you’re just going to stagnate. It’s definitely important to play around and have fun with it.”
Loveless recently spoke to She Shreds about some of the gear that currently powers her songwriting, studio sessions, and performances. Real is available for purchase now.
Fender Telecaster: My Fender Telecaster is my BFF. When I was
younger, I started out playing bass. I was not super into guitars, but I started playing a Telecaster that wasn’t a real official one. I really liked the way that sounded, but I always had problems with it because it was one that someone built in their house. I bought my American Fender Telecaster four years ago and it’s kind of been my “old faithful.” It’s just really playable. That sounds kind of stupid, but it crunches up enough to the level that I need but you can get that twang sound out of it. I don’t really like a dull sounding guitar… I like brightness, and being able to bend or chunk along. It does whatever I need to. I kind of have a throwing and dropping things problem too, and Telecasters are really good for that. They’re really sturdy.
Kalamazoo Amplifier: [Mine has] got to be a 70s-era model. I’ve had to have it rebuilt multiple times, because it’s just not a touring amp. Tubes fall out of it, it’s rickety and it is tiny enough that someone could walk off with it pretty easily. It’s only got three knobs: tone, loudness (instead of volume it says loudness), and tremolo. For me, it breaks up really well, but it’s tiny so it breaks up quickly. It’s not like you have to turn it up to 11 to get a good tone out of it. That’s why it’s good in the studio—you can play around with that. You don’t need it to be as loud and blast everyone. The old rickety tremolo knob is also really fun to play with when I have PMS or whenever I get depressed and need to play sad songs. On tour I use a Fender Blues Junior, which is still a pretty small combo amp compared to what a lot of people use, with an MXR overdrive pedal for if I’m playing a solo, or something, and I need a little bit of a volume boost … That’s how I get on certain newer songs where it’s a little grungier, that’s kind of how I get that sound on stage.
Voodoo Lab: I don’t use a lot of tremolo live, but this is something that I use in the studio. It’s also just something that I use to write, because basically when I write, I’m alone, and I have to go through all these different moods and find what sticks. The thing about tremolo is it’s really a mood maker for me. I’m kind of a sad person, so it just really fits that depressing crying in the desert mood that I sometimes get into. A lot of tremolo pedals will change the tone of your guitar, and the Voodoo Lab doesn’t do that in my experience. That’s why I really like it. The tone’s the same, but it adds the tremolo.
Gibson J-45: I‘ve always liked to write on acoustic, but it took me a long time to get a really reliable one that I felt like I could take it on tour and it would stay in tune and the tone would be good. I finally saved up enough to get a Gibson, because that, to me, has always been the best sounding acoustic. It’s really warm, and it’s easy to play, and it’s fun. I got that at Corner Music in Nashville when I was actually doing my photos for the real album cover. It was kind of a special adult moment in my life where I could buy myself a nice acoustic. I feel like that’s something you really need to invest in. With electrics, you can kind of use really cheap rickety stuff and just get a cool sound. I feel like with acoustics it has to be really reliable and this has been for me.
Mini Korg: You could buy a $500 Mini Korg that sounds great and you could also buy a $3,000 one that doesn’t play as well. That’s why it’s important to go into the store and just play for an entire day, and be that annoying person. This one is actually my guitar player’s keyboard, but he brought it into the studio when we were making Real, and someone was always playing around with it. I’m really into melody and I think that’s the best thing a keyboard is for—to play little melody lines under things. You can kind of bury that and people might not even know it’s a keyboard. And there’s a lot of atmospheric stuff on this record where it came in handy, too.