Interview with Lera Lynn


Lera Lynn has a radiant smile that would light up any room and the Nashville based resident has plenty to smile about at these days. The past eighteen months has seen her career going into overdrive with an appearance on the David Letterman Show, writings songs for and appearing alongside Colin Farrell in the American anthology crime drama True Detective and a tour of the UK and Europe which also included two songs on Later..with Jools Holland.  In between all this activity Lynn also managed to record her forth studio album Resister to extremely enthusiastic reviews. The album, which was reviewed by Lonesome Highway last month, was a shift in direction from her previous work revealing a much darker, edgier and somewhat mysterious side to the talented singer-songwriter.

Lonesome Highway met with Lera Lynn prior to her first appearance in Dublin to discuss the album and her career to date.

It’s 2011 and you’ve recorded you debut album Have You Met Lera Lynn. Where did you see yourself in 2016 at that stage?

Oh God. I don’t think I even thought of 2016 back then. Its one thing that I’ve started to grasp as I get older is the permanence of music making , that is  not something I ever  thought about when I was younger. Back then it was, let’s make a record, it will be fun, lets record it and see what happens. It wasn’t necessarily as much of an organised diligent pursuit as it is now. I’ve always wanted to make play but did not understand when I was younger how much work is involved and all the background stuff. The music often is secondary to everything else. Making the record is the easy part (laughs) then you bust your ass trying to get people to listen to it. 

Your new album Resister got a great review in Uncut magazine, you have appeared recently on  Later … with Jools Holland giving you access to a wide audience in Europe. Commercially how important is Europe for you?

I really don’t know what commercial means to be honest. Radio with the way people consume music these days seems like a free for all. We’re lucky just to show up in a city in Europe and play that speaks volumes to me that our music is reaching new people. Actually last night in Berlin people were singing along to my old music which blew my mind, I have no idea how they came about it.

Resister is without doubt one of my favourite albums of this year. Would you have made that album had you not met and worked with T Bone Burnett?

Wow, thank you and the answer is yes! The challenge that I faced with this record was, having established fans through True Detective and that darker music, which is a part of me and why people invited me to do the show in the first place. It was a great opportunity and something I love doing, it’s so rare that you come across someone that says Yes but make it  darker and darker still and I’m thinking even darker Ok  I’d love to! To have gotten that opportunity with this type of music was extraordinary. That said there are other sides to my musical  personality as well, Shape Shifter and Drive (from the album) are a little more fun and flirtatious, it’s not all doom and gloom in my head and I wanted to make a record that will obviously appeal to the new fans, the darker stuff, but was true to me as well.

Sturgill Simpson, Daniel Romano, more recently Robert Ellis and yourself, artists that are mostly Nashville based, have all recorded albums this year that are particularly experimental. Very little ‘country’ on the albums. Is that a trend or a coincidence? 

I feel that in the past five years there has been a massive resurgence in Americana. Often an artist that is on the fringe and trying to do the same thing as others are trying to do, if you want to make art, if you want to be unique, you turn in a different direction, you try to avoid making the kind of music everyone else is making, that seems only natural to me. I actually haven’t heard Daniel Romano’s record yet by the way

It’s a super album, anything but country, often closer to Calexico than Hank Williams.

Oh great. I love Calexico!

With the success of True Detective is there now a temptation to sign for a record label or do you intend staying independent

I purposely avoid record labels, we had offers but you know these days the pickings are slim so to have a label involved, no thanks. It may help to build your profile but I have struggled for so long and continue to struggle but I feel I’ve done the hardest part of the struggling now and have turned the corner so why give that all up to a record label. I’ll continue to scrape by (laughs).   

On that subject, I’m impressed how professionally your profile is managed.  Your website, Facebook page, individual tour posters for each show. Have you a good manager or do you do it all yourself?

(Laughs) All done by me, I’m crazy but it’s not actually that hard 

I believe your training and studies were not music related

No, I have a degree in anthropology which I actually think has a lot to do with song writing. One of the most important lessons I learned in all of my studies in anthropology is to recognise a bias, which is also very helpful in personal and professional relationships, writing songs, writing anything in fact, to open your perspective you.

Tell me about your love of 70’s music? I know you did a complete set of Paul McCartney’s Ram album and references to Pink Floyd while recording Resister. Music from a completely different generation.

Maybe so but that music still holds true. For me music from the 50’s, 60’s and 0’s is the best music there is. I love music from most era’s but my heart and soul sails when I listen to old R’nB’, old Jazz, old pop music. It could be the production, it could be that it was music that was written before being completely commercialised. There’s so much disposable music these days with the internet

Had your parents a musical background?

Very much so, my mother was a part time singer she would do covers, full on 80’s rock though she’d do a little Patsy Cline and things like that too. They both had a great appreciation for music

After appearances on David Letterman and Jools Holland as well as writing with T Bone Burnett and Roseanne Cash plus the role in True Detective. What’s next on the horizon? Another series of True Detective?

I have no idea. You know I wasn’t an original artist in the script, only working on a few songs for it before I got the opportunity to act, so I am not in the loop. I’m sure they’re not too keen on me coming back (laughs) after the reviews for the second series.

You personally got some great reviews though. 

That’s kind of the bittersweet and probably why they won’t be saying ‘let’s get Lera back in here!’

Does the actual acting hold much appeal to you going forward 

I would love to do more of it, I’ve had a couple of enquiries but right now the record is the focus but I do hope to do more acting, it was really fun and challenging, I was completely confused most of the time! There’s no one there to say ‘this is how you do it’ or ‘this is what that means’. They would just shout ‘singer’ (that was my name on the show) then they mention a phrase like ‘eye line’ and I’m thinking "eye line/eye liner?,ok!."  Beside me is Colin Farrell dressed up as a junkie with oil in his hair and they’re looking at me and I’m thinking ‘do I make eye contact, smile or wave!’

How was he to work with?

Oh my God, so charming and I can see how the guy has had the success he has had, so kind to everyone, oozing charm and talent

Recording wise is there anything else in the pipeline or it is a case of totally promoting Resister?

We have recorded some other things, started dabbling but it’s difficult for me when I’m pushing this record, if I start working on another one right now, I just need to be fully committed spiritually to the album right now.

You’re living in Nashville but not originally from there?

No, I was born in Houston, Texas then we moved to Louisiana when I was a baby, I think we lived there for five years or so and then we moved to Atlanta where I spent most of my life.

Does that explain the neutral accent?

(Laughs) No, I can explain the accent!  I went to an intercity school in Atlanta which was ethnically diverse and coming from Louisiana I sounded like a hick! It was very clear to me that I would not fare well if I continued to speak like that so I dropped the accent very quickly.

East Nashville seems to have particularly vibrant musical scene at present, a hotbed for creative musicians. Are you part of that scene? 

I am yes, very much so, though I actually live right on Music Row which is an odd place for an independent artist. They have those big posters there ‘whoever sold 20 million copies of a record in one week and it’s called … I Love Bacon … or something like that. The East Nashville music community is great, we actually have Andrew Combs, who lives there, open for us on our upcoming tour, and I’m a big fan of his. Annie Clements has played bass with us but she’s really busy touring with Jennifer Nettles at the moment. I’m happy to have my long-time friend from Atlanta Robbie Handley play bass, we’ve known each other for fourteen years. I feel fortunate to have so many of the best musicians play with us, Jeremy Fetzers another. Josh Grange, who is playing with me tonight and co-produced Resister, he is a monster guitar player, I have never come across anyone who even matches his ability, beyond what his hands can do. He can see a song from a far perspective, in a linear fashion. I really love working with him and on stage with him, he’s soulful and also never overplays yet he’s confident and always there.

You’ve made it to Ireland at last.

Yes. We landed at 2.30pm. Straight to the hotel for a brief nap and drove here so this is all I’ve experienced of Ireland so far. The Guinness is delicious by the way, much better than at home. It’s like Heineken in Amsterdam, I think they send America the dregs! 

Interview by Declan Culliton   Photograph by Ronnie Norton