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Tattoos. Lydia Loveless has a handful. Most of her upper right arm is embossed with an intricate tattoo of Joseph Merrick, aka the Elephant Man. It’s striking. As one who has zero tattoos and fears the permanence of something implanted in the skin unless it’s deeply profound and personal, maybe culled from a dream, I’m [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Tattoos. Lydia Loveless has a handful. Most of her upper right arm is embossed with an intricate tattoo of Joseph Merrick, aka the Elephant Man. It’s striking. As one who has zero tattoos and fears the permanence of something implanted in the skin unless it’s deeply profound and personal, maybe culled from a dream, I’m hoping there’s in fact an almost metaphysical meaning to Loveless’s choice of art.

“It represents a lot of self-loathing.”

Loveless is never one to mince words, but for a songwriter who has spent a career putting confessionals, domestic affronts, and smug-drunk love directly on the table, it’s a statement that holds particular weight, and one that can certainly preface any first listen to her latest, and arguably most accomplished album, Real. In the lead up to the release of Real, Loveless expressed this state of flux in the press for the album saying that she was “masking pain with substance abuse and ashamed of who I was,” that it became “absolutely necessary to become a stronger, more confident human or I was going to die.” The goal then was to craft a record that was a “love letter” to that realization.

real (adj.):
true; not merely ostensible, nominal or apparent.

Loveless has a love/hate relationship with success and subsequently dealing with the media. The frustration is palpable—while on the one hand she’s blessed to be able do what she’s always wanted to do, on the other she doesn’t want to come across with “canned answers” that may posit her as a clichéd artist. Nor does Loveless understand the over-reach of journalists to represent her childhood as coming from some imagined and romantic outlaw country commune.

Yes, Loveless did live a slightly-sheltered life in Coshocton, Ohio, playing country and western standards, yes, she jammed pop songs with her sisters and dad in a band called Carson Drew starting at 13, but her origin story has become more akin to tall tale, embellished and extrapolated more with every new album cycle.

“I think people imagine peanut shells on the floor of my dad’s bar, or waking up to Hank Williams Jr. sleeping on the couch,” says Loveless, “but no, it was a Mexican restaurant with a blues bar in the basement. I actually feel like I’ve misrepresented how much of a redneck I actual am. We were very rural and we had crazy weird hillbilly times and it was great for bonding with my siblings, but I barely remember it, and every time I have to do press I’m kind of forced to revisit that. I want to hear the present and the future, not the past.”

Turning 26 this month, the past includes all of the trappings and rungs necessary to ascend to pop stardom—signing with alt-country Chicago juggernaut Bloodshot Records, expensive videos, late-night appearances, European tours, and 2014’s critically lauded Somewhere Else—but Loveless admits it’s never as glamorous as it seems. Finding her voice in that world of pop has been a constant internal nag, one that has her questioning personal sanity for wanting to be a part of it.

Perhaps that’s why she agreed, so early in her career, to make a movie about her topsy-turvy life. Along with director Gorman Bechard, Loveless and band spent the better part of three years touring, in myriad hotel rooms, with cameras in their faces, to make the warts-and-all documentary Who Is Lydia Loveless?—apropos because at the time, she had no damn idea.

“That was just a very weird time. My marriage was going through a period of disillusion and being on the road for three years can really be a strain. Most of the time the only other female who I had to talk to was myself.”

In the trailer for the film there’s a telling quote from Loveless’s husband and bassist Ben Lamb in which he describes her as “the greatest fantasy and your worst f*cking nightmare,” a description that Loveless says is…

real (adj):
being an actual thing; having objective existence, not imaginary, ideal, or fictitious.

Real is a statement of balance, redemption and “figuring things out.” Though it veers wildly as to where Loveless’s lyrical compass is pointing—either in a sharpened commentary on heartbreak and the perpetrating priggishness of the characters in “Midwestern Guys,” or the vulnerable lullaby of the very next track, “Bilbao,” in which Loveless sings to her beau to “marry me”—there is an equilibrium to the album that projects her as deftly confident in her current Zen-like zone of songwriting and well-being. As much as she remains slightly off the rails, she’s also incapable of being anything but spontaneous and recklessly authentic.

The first single, “Longer,” is a heat-seeking Top 40 hit were it released in 1986. Wobbling in a stylistic ether, the feel is sonically somewhere between the air-conditioned paradise of Fleetwood Mac (circa Tango in the Night) and the neon-new-wave chunking of the Cars. Though we are not in a warp where Casey Kasem could on any given summer Sunday exult her universal genius as a songwriting for all to enjoy, there’s a defiant crossover edge to the song. It transmits beyond the pale of an alt-country and NPR fan base that still blatantly alerts Loveless of how she’s perceived, instead of how she truly wants to exist.

“I’m not trying to shed the country aspect, because I’ll never lose those roots, but as a songwriter I just want to be known as a f*cking songwriter. I don’t want to be stuck in the Rolling Stone ‘country’ section,” says Loveless of misconceptions. “What sucks is that I do love the quiet and I do love being out in nature, but I hate that culture and I hate the argument that always asks if what I do is “real” country. Which has a lot to do with the title of this record. What the f*ck is “real” country? The title is a poke at everything that gets questioned for being real or not.”

And to be certain, that aesthetic of radio-ready radiance practically glows on the dance-driven “Heaven,” or the constant craving of “Same to You,” songs that could be indebted to Britney Spears and Prince as much as it could to Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle. Written mostly on the road, in a me-against-the-world solitude that Loveless admits is where she is most comfortable, what constitutes a “true” Lydia Loveless performance is irrelevant on Real. Her longtime producer Joe Viers treated the studio as a “playground” when it came to recording the album and the final results are as singular and divisive as her heroes.

“When I was 8 my first record was Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time. And I was obsessed just wanting to know what I had to do to do what she did for a living. She was the complete experiment for pop music, she was the prototype for the modern pop diva, she never made the same record twice,” says Loveless ruminating on the balance between intentionality and pure inspiration. “But she also never really had an identity. What is she? A down-home barefoot country girl or a Vegas star? I think that she lost her mind because of that. I don’t want to be pegged into anything.”

real (adj):
genuine, not counterfeit, artificial, or imitation.

By the time you read this, the album-cycle for Real will be in full swing. A reviewer will write of the record, “Is this the Lydia Loveless we’ve all come to love?” and another will proclaim it, “The proof that Loveless can adapt to any situation with the same shit-eating grin.” Swilling bottles of Miller High Life and chain-smoking Camels in the gloaming of a muggy Ohio Thursday, Loveless is hesitant, precarious, and candidly ambivalent about the nomadic lifestyle that awaits. At the same time, it’s something she thrives on—the future, pushing her art forward, eagerly anticipating whatever step is next knowing full and well that a ton of people are listening to her every word. She’s got the intense fan mail to prove it.

But again, at 26, despite her tenure and adventures, calling her a veteran is unfair. In her own words, “I’m just getting good at what I’m doing and I want to do more,” and with her evolution bending, so does pop music, always a topic of Loveless’s strong opinion.

“We’re really in this safe period of music, with fake blues, white dudes with beards playing what they think is roots music that is safe for white people to listen to. It would be interesting to see things get a little more dangerous for a change. The Replacements had this because they were f*ck-ups and they had this ability to f*ck-up so well.”

Beyond anything, Loveless craves risk. Never the ingénue, she has a serious interest in getting into recording other bands and lending her immaculate songwriting talents to others (she’s already written a song for local rookies Cherry Chrome). If there’s anything indisputably “real” about Loveless, it comes…

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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Arts & Culture

(614) Music Club: Sarob

Julian Foglietti

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Every week (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist of what they’re listening to, and what’s inspiring them. This week’s playlist is brought to you by the R&B artist Sarob.


Photo by: Wyze

Tell me about some of the songs you’ve selected.

"The first one is Sobeautiful by Musiq Soulchild. So every week with my vocal coach, I have to learn a song. And I've been trying to figure out how to do vocal gliding. Which is not a strong point for me, and I remember hearing that song and being like, OK, this is it. The song is just beautifully written and composed, so when you add the technique to it, it’s just great. The other song was Workin On It by Dwele, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. Workin On It uses this J Dilla beat that just feels really timeless."

Have the past few months changed the direction or mood of the music you're creating. 

"So I have been making stuff here and there, and then I'll go into something creative for like two days. I'll just be making like a bunch of songs and then I'll stop for two weeks, not even want to look at a microphone or anything. I mean, it's a lot more inward, so I’m learning how to better communicate the things I'm experiencing, and set the scenes for people and talk about what is going on. Also not having my band has been a challenge. I’m more of a thinker, I play the keyboard, and I can build a song, but I’m not the most gifted musician so having to build a lot of it on my own is tricky."

Do you have any plans or releases coming up? 

"Yeah, so I had a song Pleasures U Like that was made for my last album, but it didn’t quite fit the story of the album. So I just forgot about it until recently and I finished the vocals just before the lockdown, and now I’m releasing it on Bandcamp as part of a fundraiser for The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. All of the proceeds from the song are going to go to support their Pandemic Emergency Fund, and it just felt like a good way to do something that would impact everything going on."

Sarob's Playlist

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