In conversation: Lera Lynn
For someone who lives in Nashville and produces music in the ballpark of its key genre, country music, Lera Lynn doesn’t have the best of views on it: “Country music today is repulsive to me”. It’s the mainstream divide, the haves and have nots that is a particular cause of frustration “[That] whole side to Nashville I have nothing to do with, which is the mainstream country side of it. I mean, there’s this whole other side of people like me who are working their asses off. Scraping by!”
That’s not to say that Lynn hates the town, quite the opposite, the place she calls home is “exciting” and “has a lot of energy”. And the town’s sense of community is important “People are interested in what you’re doing, because they want to see if you can help each other out.” But Music Row doesn’t really fill her with joy “Music Row is two one-way streets that go opposite directions. They’re just a bunch of businesses, publishers, and labels. And they put out these big banners, sales or other achievements for their artists. So it’s in your face. You know, for someone like me who’s driving down that street every day to get home, it’s kind of an interesting place to be, you know. We have a studio that’s very close to Music Row. It’s called Resistor, which is named after this whole idea of resisting the easy road.” Given that Lynn’s latest record shares the same name it’s clearly something she feels passionate about.
And Resistor is what we’re here to talk about today. Sat in a bar in the centre of Oxford on an unseasonably hot day Lera Lynn is engaging company. She’s about to play a show in the sweltering hot venue next door, and has been for ”for a very brisk walk” to take in the sights and sounds of the city beforehand. But onto the album “Making Resistor was a very different process compared to [previous record] The Avenues; working with Josh Grange on The Avenues, he put together a band in Los Angeles and we tracked fifteen songs in five days, live, with the band. For Resistor, Josh and I co-produced it and we played everything ourselves, so it was a lot of overdubbing.” An intense process then, though spread over a long period with Lynn and Grange popping in and out of the studio; he between touring with Sheryl Crow and Lynn on between her own shows “Whenever we were both in Nashville, we would try and set aside a day or two and record something. While we had time to experiment and try things, we also had to really use our instincts because we didn’t have all the time in the world to spend on it, you know.”
The writing process changed too, from having everything ready with writing sessions in place for The Avenues to “writing on the road” now. And she doesn’t write with a gameplan in mind “If my music made its way into the mainstream it wouldn’t hurt my feelings to see that happen, but we’re certainly not scheduling songwriting sessions to try to craft some manufactured pop crap, you know.” And sometimes the best songs just happen “Josh and I wrote “Little Ruby” together which we just kind of threw on to the end, you know, at the end. It’s the last track on the record, it’s the last thing we wrote and recorded.”
And that working relationship with Grange is important “I feel like Josh and I have established an effortless means of communication, musically. And that’s really nice. When it’s just to be the two of us we don’t really have to speak about it, you know, he understands the style that I’m trying to achieve, the sonic landscape that I want to paint, et cetera, and we just kind of work off of each other's’ energy in a way.” And as if to emphasis that Grange wanders over mid-interview with a shot for his leading lady, she asks what it is and without using words he seems to tell her.
Most fun though was playing all the instruments on the record between the two of them ”My main responsibility, aside from singing and rhythm guitar, was drums. And I’m not a drummer. But I really wanted to do it, and maybe in the thick of the moment and everything, “Aaaargh! Screw this! We’ll just get someone else to play it!” You know, that’s where it’s nice to have a partner working with you and someone like, “Take a five minute break. Have a Scotch!”” It helps that Grange is “a very, very talented multi-instrumentalist” and has skills on the pedal steel as well as being “an amazing keyboard player, piano player, organ…all kinds of instruments”
All this has built the 31 year old’s confidence (“I’m getting a little more comfortable in my own shoes”) and although she doesn’t want to “re-do” her earlier records she’s finding herself looking deeper inward “That confidence allows me to take more creative risks, and I’m more willing to explore this whole universe that I’m trying to create within the music too. You have to kind of eliminate a lot of the perceived hurdles of getting to know yourself, when you’re an artist. That’s a really difficult thing to do. That’s the biggest challenge, as soon as you can do that you’re kind of free, you know. I’m not through the door completely, but I’ve got a foot in, at least.”
Despite not getting to see much of the scenery due to her touring schedule ("It would be good to do a nice long tour of the city, instead of a nice long tour of the hotel room and venue. It's a bummer."), but enjoying touring the UK with a full band ("I just can’t say enough nice things about my band."), she did experience the uniquely British phenomenon that is Jools Holland “When it was our turn to perform [on Later With...], we had about two minutes to move all the amps and mics and guitars and get everything tuned and be [clicks fingers] ready to go for the camera. Into the middle of the floor there.”
After that and the end of her tour it's back home to Nashville, "one of the last major cities with a very healthy music scene". And also a city that "artists can afford". And despite her thoughts on the industry that's given the town its name ("Wheels. Guns. Girls. Denim, and booze" she laughs) it's the place she feels comfortable, a place that's "just raising the bar, you know, raising everyone’s standards for themselves and making music better." And that, ultimately, is the strength of Music City, acts like Lera Lynn can sit alongside mainstream country-pop, traditional country, and a myriad of other genres, blurring the boundaries and creating their own path.
Lera's record Resistor is out now and she's touring a host of major US cities thru mid-November, full details are on her website.