Singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless has done many an interview about “Steve Earle,” the catchy song about a stalker from her most recent album, “Indestructible Machine.”
Yes, the stalker in question is referred to as “Steve Earle,” as in the country-rock maverick best known for the hit “Copperhead Road.” But no, the song is not about him. It’s about a guy from her hometown of Columbus, Ohio, who used to show up to watch Loveless play and hit on her, using a variety of cheesy pick-up lines that included referring to himself as Earle and Loveless as any number of sirens with whom the real Earle has duetted over the years.
But apparently, not everyone has heard that story behind the music.
“He used to insist I come to his house and jam and would say things about how we needed to be this team,” Loveless told The Daily Times during a recent phone interview. “He’d say, ‘I like your band; they’re great guys, but I can do you right.’ I thought he was totally insane. So it is a true song, but it’s not about the real Steve Earle.
“Still, people will come up to me at my shows and they’re all sad because they think it’s about him. And I remember at one show in Knoxville, someone came up and said, ‘I know Steve Earle, and you hit the nail on the head!’ I just laughed my ass off.
“A lot of people get uptight about poking fun at someone who’s respected in the music world, and I don’t live that way,” she added. “I get joy from knocking people down a peg or two.”
Such fierceness of spirit is all over “Indestructible Machine,” an album released last year that was lauded on a number of year-end best-of lists. Even though it’s her sophomore effort, Loveless feels as if the record is a more proper debut than 2010’s “The Only Man.”
“It’s a lot different from ‘Indestructible Machine,’ but it wasn’t through any super big change in my writing,” she said. “On that one, the production was done very neatly, and the studio band was made up of people the producer had hired. It was very sterile. I hate to talk (bad) about it, because it did help me out a lot to have that record.
“But a lot of the songs lacked the energy that I would like them to have. I still do a few of them in my set, but I don’t remember how to play half of them.”
Loveless was raised on a family farm in Coshocton, Ohio, a small town where her rural isolation left her to her own devices. Her dad owned a country music bar, and the family home was filled with touring musicians crashing after shows; between that and her parents’ love of music, it’s no wonder she gravitated toward it.
“I just really liked all music growing up,” she said. “My mom liked punk rock, which was probably why I was so drawn to punk, but she also liked country music. I got a lot of my influences from my parents.
“Growing up in the middle of nowhere, my family was always really independent. We always did everything ourselves, so I grew up with a sense of not caring what anyone thought. That’s probably why I write the way I do. People say I should probably edit myself.”
Her lack of desire to do so, however, is what makes her such a charming songwriter and gives her lyrics such a scorching feel of authenticity. Vocally, she comes across like Sharon Van Etten off her bipolar meds, or Neko Case at the end of a three-day Jack Daniel’s bender. Her voice commands attention, and the gritty feel of “Indestructible Machine” is that of a woman daring you not to listen to what she has to say.
Not that she’s an angry girl — or at least, not nearly as much as she used to be, she said with a laugh.
“I do read a lot of my old writing and think, ‘Damn, I must have been angry,’” she said. “I don’t think I would write anything about ‘I’m so happy to be married’ (Loveless got married last August) — probably because it would cause a lot of problems for myself just to write something like that – and it is easy for me to get into character. But I’m definitely not as miserable as I might have been.”
She does, she admitted, enjoy writing about other people’s problems. And if something she writes causes problems for other people … well, she doesn’t really have a problem herself with that sort of stuff.
“Allison Moorer (a singer-songwriter and Steve Earle’s wife) Tweeted that she didn’t like that song, which is funny, because it’s not about him,” she emphasized again. “The whole thing sort of sparked a joke with my husband, about how if only Steve Earle actually was stalking us, that would be beneficial.”