Singer-songwriter Lera Lynn taps into emotional turmoil of a troubled past
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Someone, perhaps in the attic or a basement of a family member’s home, there’s a box filled with pieces of singer-songwriter Lera Lynn’s heart.
They’re the ancestors of the songs that populate her debut album, “Have You Met Lera Lynn?,” page upon page of journal entries she painstakingly scribbled from an early age.
“I was always journaling — not the ‘Dear Diary, this is what happened to me today’ sort of thing, but I would always try to describe the things happening to me in a poetic way, in a journal I wouldn’t share with anyone,” she told The Daily Times recently. “I would spend hours in bed every night, writing pages and pages. I really think that’s where my love of songwriting started.”
Her love of music goes back just as far. As a tween and a teen, she gravitated toward the popular female singers of her childhood, women like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston; her mother was partial to Joni Mitchell, but the folk icon’s lyrics seemed too exotic for Lynn to properly wrap her ears around.
“I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but she could paint a picture in my mind,” Lynn said. “My mom would always say that she loved the lyrics, but I didn’t start paying attention to that until my teenage years.”
At that point, she embraced The Beatles and songwriters like Sarah McLachlan; Jeff Buckley would come later, and in high school, she won a talent competition by singing and playing some of the songs she loved so well. She was self-taught, having picked up the instrument as a hobby, but she wasn’t quite confident enough to try her hand at writing her own songs.
“It took a truly traumatic experience I thought was worthy of writing about and sharing it with other people,” she said. “To that point, I had been writing about angsty teenage issues. But when my parents divorced when I was 16, my dad had a severe drinking problem, and the split did not go well. The split, coupled with the alcoholism and the challenges I faced through that experience and the damage the relationship with my father had incurred over the years really started it all.”
One of the songs about those dark times is “Whiskey,” the lead-off track of “Have You Met Lera Lynn?” Like it’s companion song, “Fire and Undertow,” Lynn sings it with a breathless weariness, her voice filled with a palpable ache, a longing for something better and a resignation that such salvation will be a long time coming. There’s a languid feel all over the record, and Lynn has the ability to channel everything from heartache to straight-up sex appeal with her powerful voice.
It’s just taken some time for her to get a place where she’s comfortable singing these songs.
“With ‘Whiskey,’ I didn’t have much support from the people around me at the time with whom I shared my songs, so I put it to bed with several other songs for a long time,” she said. “Later in life, I surrounded myself with more musicians and more people interested, as well as songwriters, who helped guide me in a supportive way.
“Then we started making the record, I started digging through these old songs to put it all together, and it turned out better than expected. It was very cathartic, and it’s the whole reason I write songs — so that they’re not a part of me anymore. It’s very satisfying to have it all gone.”
But it’s taken a while for her to come around to accepting the fact that she’s talented at what she does, that those nights spent journaling have actually helped shape her into a decent songwriter. In fact, it wasn’t until 2011, when bestowed with an honor won previously by Gillian Welch and Tift Merritt, did she start accepting the idea.
“It was last year, when I won the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest (for “Bobby, Baby,” the album’s fifth track), I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can write a good song,’” she said.