Interview: Lydia Loveless/Gorman Bechard (Who Is Lydia Loveless?)

featured / Interviews / News / November 23, 2017

Filmmaker Gorman Bechard is best known for his 2011 documentary on The Replacements, Color Me Impressed, but he’s also chronicled the likes of Archers of Loaf and Husker Du’s Grant Hart. The man knows his rock ‘n’ roll, which should give you an idea as to the tack he’s taken with his latest film. Titled Who Is Lydia Loveless?, the documentary takes a look at the music of the Bloodshot Records’ title character.

Shot with Loveless and her band while on tour and recording her album Real, the film takes a hard look at what it’s like to be a musician in these modern times. It notably addresses the financial aspects of playing rock ‘n’ roll in an age of Spotify and YouTube, and what that means for someone’s bottom line.

Who Is Lydia Loveless? is the sort of documentary that gets inside the whys and wherefores of music, while also adding in some rather excellent performance footage, shot both on tour and at a ripping show at Skully’s in Columbus, Ohio. It’s heartfelt and honest, told in the words of those involved in bringing Loveless’ brutally honest music to life. While label folks and producers speak, there are no discussions with fans or family — this is a film about the music.

The documentary gets an official DVD release on Black Friday, along with a six-song EP featuring performances from that Skully’s show. The vinyl album, Live From the Documentary Who is Lydia Loveless? also includes a copy of the DVD. It comes hot on the heels of the expanded reissue of Loveless’ 2013 EP, Boy Crazy, which came out on vinyl in October, when Bloodshot released it as Boy Crazy and Single(s), with all the B-sides to her recent 7-inches. Considering the fact the film concludes with an incendiary performance of the EP’s fantastic and rocking title track, the timing couldn’t be better.

We spoke by phone last week with both Loveless and filmmaker Bechard about the film and more.

Modern Vinyl: How’d the two of you come to work together?

Lydia Loveless: That was kind of a Twitter communication thing, because I had known he had made the Replacements documentary, and someone had recommended he listen to me, so that’s mostly how we were in contact — through stupid social media. Then, he came to a couple of our shows and then presented the idea of doing [a documentary] on me. At the time, it just seemed really dumb to say no to that (laughs).

Gorman Bechard: It started in May of 2014, and I was bitching that there were no albums I liked that had come out that year, other than Angel Olsen. A friend of mine in Chapel Hill said, “My favorite under the radar album of this year is Lydia Loveless’ Somewhere Else.” I got it, and that was pretty much it. I bought everything.

A few months later, I saw her open for Cracker and when she sang, “I just wanna be the one you love” in “Verlaine Shot Rimabud,” I turned to my wife and said: “She’s the one. She’s the next rock doc.” We didn’t even stay for Cracker. It was like, that was it. I saw her at a show in Northampton a couple months later and asked her if she would be interested.

MV: One of the things I enjoyed about the film is that it sort of eschews the standard format of a music documentary.

GB: It’s funny, because I screened the rough cut of a new film last night at Yale, and the first thing I said was, “I truly hate the standard rock doc format.” Be it VH1’s Where Are They Now? or that we need Dave Grohl — and, nothing against Dave Grohl — that we need him in there saying, “This person was the greatest person in the history of whatever.” I hate that shit, so I don’t do it.

I mean, if Dave Grohl had said, “There would be no Nirvana without Lydia Loveless,” that I would’ve put in. But, yeah – if you’ll notice in the film, there’s no outside people. Why would you need someone else to tell us that this person is good? Listen to the music.

MV: One of the things I appreciated about the film is that it’s about you and the band, rather than just focusing on you as the frontwoman. How important is it to you that the band get an equal level of attention?

LL: It’s important to me when doing stuff like that, because I don’t want to do it, so it’s helpful to have them involved (laughs). But, particularly because they were showing us recording the album, it was important for them to be heavily focused on, because it wouldn’t have been the same without them – which sounds cheesy, but obviously they are a huge part of what I do in my songs, and how they’re arranged and particularly, produced. So, I was happy they got some screen time, in that sense. I’m sure that they didn’t enjoy doing it (laughs).

MV: In the film, you mention how much of a consideration they are, because if you’re not making money and touring, then you can’t pay them.

LL: Yeah, exactly.

MV: It seems like the focus of the film is really tightened, just focusing on Lydia and the band for most of the film.

GB: The person we want to hear from is Lydia and these seasoned musicians, and why they’re wanting to play with her. That’s it. That’s the interesting part. I also tried to go in places that you don’t normally see in music docs, like where does the money go? Nobody’s making a lot of money off of this. It’s a struggle, dealing with piracy and — like [Lydia] says in the film — trying to sing a song about losing your family’s farm, but someone’s shoving a cellphone camera two feet from your face. I think that’s a real dilemma for many people on the road.

MV: There’s the documentary and live EP coming next week (today), and the expanded version of the “Boy Crazy” EP came out last month. Does it help, as an artist, even in this modern digital age, to have something to tour behind?

LL: Yeah, I think so. It makes things more interesting and it tells people that there’s likely new material. Also, there’s something to sell.

MV: Saying that the covers that are on the “Boy Crazy” expanded edition are “diverse” is minimizing them, so I do apologize, but yeah — not exactly what I would’ve normally expected (Prince, Kesha, more). But they do sound great. Are you drawn to them musically overall, or lyrically?

LL: Thank you. I always try to cover the random shit that I like, so yeah. It’s bound to be random. It’s kind of both, and it’s also because I’m really drawn to production and really interested in — a lot of the songs that I cover are heavily produced, so maybe it makes them more interesting to turn them around.

Not in that way where it’s like, “Hey, we took a fast song and slowed it down and a woman sang it, and we put it in our movie,” but maybe just to honor the actual songwriting more than somebody like Dr. Luke would (laughs).

MV: One of the things that blew me away in the doc was that you were influenced at an early age by the band Ash via mixtapes from your siblings. What was your first introduction to them?

LL: This would’ve been me really young. I think I was seven or eight, first listening to them. Mid-late ’90s? I think it was “Punk Boy.” My sister listened to that one a lot, and it seemed super-cool to me — or made me feel cool when I was listening to it.

MV: When I try to pitch bands to people, I always use things like, “It’s Replacements-y,” but now that I have Ash in that wheelhouse, that makes it an easy sell.

LL: Yeah, because I just love everything about them, and I know everyone loves the Replacements, but I don’t always want to be like, “It’s like the Replacements,” because that could be terrible (laughs). It would be a lot more likely that I would listen to a band that sounds something like Ash.

Not that I’m saying that the Replacements are terrible. Just that so many people rip them off that it’s like…yikes.

MV: It’s a lot of dudes in flannel.

LL: Emotive dudes.

MV: That last performance in the film of “Boy Crazy,” is really insane. It’s one of the more intense things I’ve ever seen. Where does that set-closing, stretching-out performance come from?

LL: Man, I have no idea, but I think it just happened one night and kind of evolved. I do remember writing that song kind of being a nightmare, because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted it to sound like. Somewhere, in a very-embarrassing iTunes folder, there’s us playing it 80,000 ways. Like, a jazzy one, and a Jesus & Mary Chain one. I think there’s even blues jam one, as a joke. So, yeah: I think it’s just best live and ridiculous, at this point. There’s a live record of the performance, and it sounds really great, particularly because Joe Viers — who I’ve worked with for a long time — was mixing that night and recorded it, so it’s really good quality.

Even I enjoyed it, and I hate live records. So, it’s good. It feels weird, but I think they’re all appropriate songs for it. Some of the more-impassioned ones, so it makes sense to put them out as a live record.

GB: I never expected it to sound as good as it did. I really worked on it, and I was like, “Come on, guys: this is a really great record,” and I think finally, Lydia is actually kinda proud of it – like how good the live music sounds.

That last song, it’s literally like you’re watching performance art. I love this band, and I really like and get along with everyone in this band, and they just gave everything that night, and I thank them.

MV: So, you’re going to start work soon on writing for the new record. What’s the process going to be like: is there anything from which you’re drawing in particular?

LL: Oh, like…death is the main focus of my thing lately (laugh). And, just what an utter ball of shit the world is. Not like I want to make a protest album, but just that it’s been a pretty heavy time for everyone, so I’m trying to find ways to make it a productive thing, and not just get upset and mired in how pointless everything is.

MV: I’ve been wondering how, if anyone is an artist in this time, how you can manage to pull something out that’s not just gloom and doom and “we’re all gonna die!”

LL: Yeah, it’s hard, and I don’t wanna do that, but then you spend so much time thinking about what you don’t want to do. So, I’m trying to turn it around and think about, “Well, what do I want to do?” Or, if something scares me and I’m constantly afraid about what happens if I get shot when I go to the grocery store, I think about what happens when you die, instead of, “Oh, I’m gonna die!”

Maybe I could just read some books on death, instead of just being, “Oh, fuck, I’m gonna die, and I’m scared of that, so here’s a song about it.” Where the fuck do you go — and not like, “Heaven?,” but more like where does the actual essence of people go? Because it’s gotta go fucking somewhere. Maybe that’s arrogant, and maybe we’re just all dead balls of shit, but I guess I’ll find out on my educational journey (laughs).

Who Is Lydia Loveless? is available on DVD.

Boy Crazy and Single(s) is available on vinyl from Bloodshot Records.

Live From the Documentary Who is Lydia Loveless? is available on vinyl as part of Record Store Day Black Friday. It’s limited to 1,400.

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Nick Spacek
Nick Spacek was once a punk, but realized you can’t be hardcore and use the word “adorable” as often as he does. Nick is a self-described “rock star journalist,” which is strange, considering he’s married with four cats and usually goes to bed by 9. This is just further proof that you can’t trust anyone online.

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