On a humid Wednesday evening in late August, Lydia Loveless and her bandmates gathered in a small Downtown practice space to rehearse for a tour that will keep the five musicians on the road for the rest of this year and likely well into next. Stuck to the wall amid the random ephemera - a weathered American flag, a Richard Nixon poster tagged with the phrase "Love American Style" and a framed picture of an eagle in flight - was a small bumper sticker reading, "Murder your darlings," which is precisely what Loveless and Co. attempted to do on this evening.

On a humid Wednesday evening in late August, Lydia Loveless and her bandmates gathered in a small Downtown practice space to rehearse for a tour that will keep the five musicians on the road for the rest of this year and likely well into next. Stuck to the wall amid the random ephemera - a weathered American flag, a Richard Nixon poster tagged with the phrase "Love American Style" and a framed picture of an eagle in flight - was a small bumper sticker reading, "Murder your darlings," which is precisely what Loveless and Co. attempted to do on this evening.

The band - Loveless is joined by bassist Ben Lamb, guitarist Todd May, pedal steel player/guitarist Jay Gasper and drummer George Hondroulis - started rehearsal by dusting off older songs with something falling just shy of enthusiasm (Loveless labeled one early song "boring") before debating how to best dispatch of "Steve Earle" on the coming tour. Lamb, for one, suggested leading with the track, which first surfaced on Indestructible Machine in 2011, to prevent audience members from yelling out requests for it during every stoppage in play. Though half-joking, the tone of the discussion did make one thing abundantly clear: The musicians would rather have old "Steve" turn up at the bottom of an abandoned mine shaft than on the set list at every show.

These kinds of discussions are nothing new - as long as bands have been recording there have been fans who pine almost exclusively for the early material - but Loveless' latest long-player, Real (Bloodshot), feels more like a distinct breaking point, evolving the singer and songwriter well beyond the tired labels that have circled her since she released the country-influenced The Only Man as a teenager in 2010.

"I feel like this is the defining moment, like, 'Are you interested in the whiskey-soaked, badass firebrand, or do you just want to hear this person writing these songs?'" said Loveless, 26, in an August interview at an Old North diner. "People tell me all the time: 'I love your voice, but I wish you would sing this kind of music.' Well then you don't like me, because I think of myself as a songwriter, and these are the songs I'm presenting this time around.

"If you say you're a fan of someone, you kind of have to go along for the ride. You can dislike something they put out, but there's no sense being like, 'That person has changed too much. I can't listen to them anymore.' A lot of people are like, 'Indestructible Machine is the best record you ever made, and I love it.' And I'm like, 'I'm sorry, because you're going to be really disappointed by anything I do now.'"

Early signs suggest audiences are coming around. In late August, Loveless made her national television debut, performing a pair of songs on a Saturday edition of "CBS This Morning," and Real, which received its official release on Aug. 19 (a local record release show is scheduled to take place at Ace of Cups on Thursday, Sept. 8), debuted at No. 20 on the Billboard Independent Albums chart, nestled between Blood Orange's Freetown Sound and the latest EP from Ohio doom-metal crew Skeletonwitch.

Additionally, the band is the subject of a new documentary from filmmaker Gorman Bechard ("Color Me Obsessed, a Film about the Replacements," "A Dog Named Gucci"), simply titled "Who Is Lydia Loveless?" The rock-doc, which traces Loveless' life from her childhood growing up in rural Ohio (the singer was raised on a farm just outside Coshocton) through the making of Real, debuted locally at the Columbus International Film + Video Festival at CCAD in April and will screen at the Gateway Film Center for a week beginning on Friday, Sept. 9.

"For me, it was such a thrill to be able to watch her put down songs I'd never heard," Bechard said by phone in late August. "I think they sort of knew they were making something special [with Real]. It was like magic was being made, and I don't think anyone wanted to say something and break that spell."

The film also brings the familial relationship between Loveless and her bandmates into sharper focus, allowing each player extended time onscreen. So while almost nobody likes a prolonged bass solo in concert (see: Michael Anthony, Van Halen), the time Lamb registers alone onscreen in the film is endlessly engaging, whether he's discussing his enduring love for his deceased Bernese Mountain Dog, Luke, or making wry comments about the difficulties of eking out an existence as a working musician.

"It's a big, wonderful, dysfunctional family," Bechard said of the bond between the players. "Except when they're onstage; then they're very functional. There's just a connection they have that is crazy to experience."

Back in the practice space, this chemistry repeatedly revealed itself as the bandmates broke up blistering musical moments (even at half-intensity "More Like Them" practically singed the plywood ceiling) with playful chatter. "It's been awesome doing interviews and being asked about 'Bilbo,'" Loveless said, punctuating the purposeful, Tolkien-approved mispronunciation of Real track "Bilbao" with a sharp, short laugh. "It's the first in a trilogy of songs," countered Lamb.

Every time the players closed their mouths and picked up their instruments, the conversation continued in the music. May's guitar rippled through "The Water" as Loveless cooed lines about summers on Lake Michigan, while Gasper's pedal steel emitted heart-tugging sighs on the guilt-ridden "All I Know." Bunched in a tight circle in the rectangular room, the five watched each other closely, listening and reacting in the moment. When Loveless strummed loose rhythm lines on "Can't Change Me," May poked and prodded around the edges, leaning forward with a terse solo at the precise moment it felt right to get a word in.

Producer Joe Viers, who has worked with Loveless since 2010, described a similar dynamic at play during 2015 recording sessions for Real, which took place over the course of three weeks at his Grove City-based Sonic Lounge Recording Studios. "When they pick up those instruments it's just an extension of them and their relationship as people," he said.

In the past, recording has been an arduous process for Loveless. Prior to landing on the songs that would become 2014's Somewhere Else, the singer holed up alone in a Grandview studio, navigating panic attacks and crying jags on the way to a batch of twangy tunes she ultimately ditched. "I was getting so worked up about making the next alt-country record that I freaked out and was writing crap, so I had to scrap it and start over," she said at the time.

Rather than relive this tortured experience, Loveless penned much of Real on the road, holing up in hotel bathrooms with an acoustic guitar during odd downtimes. "It's gotten so much easier for me to find the space on tour than it is to be at home, like, (sings) 'Well I'm looking at the cat and watching TV and what am I going to write about?'" she said.

Recording sessions matched this leisurely feel, with the bandmates embracing the studio as a sonic playground, experimenting with unexpected instrumentation (at one point Gasper "played" an electric drill) and dense, multitrack recording.

"'Heaven' is just insanely packed. It was two-and-a-half days of playing a keyboard line and then someone throws on a 'bloot!'" Loveless said. "I don't think my weird sound effects are going to translate into writing, but there were like 50 tracks on it, and we were like, 'What even are these tracks?' We'd isolate one, and it's just someone going, 'Dink!' OK, cool. But if you took it away it wouldn't sound the same."

"That was absolutely the motive from the beginning when we started this record," Viers said. "[Loveless] didn't even know if it was going to be a record. It was just like, 'I have these songs, and I really want to try some different things and open the field a bit wider.'"

Entering into sessions, Loveless knew she wanted to continue to evolve her music, pushing farther from her alt-country roots in favor of a cleaner, more pop-oriented sound.

"Pop means so many different things to me; it can mean Nick Lowe or it can mean Kesha," Loveless said. "I wanted to smooth things out and have people really listen to the songs. I didn't want another record where people were [saying things] like 'her twang' and 'the honky-tonk sound' and 'peanut shells everywhere.'"

Instead, songs flirt with everything from '80s-era Fleetwood Mac (the shimmering, glitter-streaked "Heaven") to the Cars (the riff-driven but heart-heavy "Longer") - an expansive sonic palette that runs counter to the intimate scenes depicted throughout, many of which center on fractured or fragile relationships.

"It only makes it harder for me every time, my dear, to say bye," Loveless sings amid the barren, strip-mined landscape of the acoustic "Clumps," sounding like a woman who hates the thought of letting go but knows holding on could be even worse.

"I'm fascinated by the science of attraction. When people's relationships go wrong … the solution is always to pair off again, like, 'Girl, you need to get yourself a new man,' instead of changing the dynamic of how humans interact and how we get affection and feel less lonely," Loveless said. "But I'm also a super hopeless romantic, and I watch a lot of terrible romantic comedies, and I've read 'Jane Eyre' like eight times. So part of me is looking at love from this scientific [mindset], like, 'This system isn't working people!' and the other half is like, 'Oh, if only I could be with Mr. Rochester after his wife burns the house down and we live happily ever after.' It's the two sides of my brain battling."

Personal relationships abound on Real. Loveless penned "Longer" in the months following the July 2014 death of friend and Girls! guitarist Joey Blackheart, later adjusting the language to make the song sound more like a fractured romance than a still-burning funeral pyre. "It was written when I was in that stage where someone you know dies and you're like, 'Oh, I'm sure it's just a joke, and I know they're going to walk in any minute now,'" Loveless said. Other songs were more deeply shaped by her marriage to Lamb, a relationship she termed "evolving."

"There's definitely a new dynamic," she said. "For me, the way I feel about Ben is never going to change. He's still my best friend and favorite person. But when you get married that young you go through this insane change - especially doing such a crazy job together. I don't even think I realized what I was writing about when I was writing this record, but a lot of it is about being fucking devastated to lose someone."

Elsewhere, Loveless, who was raised by a preacher-turned-bar-owner father and a mother who worked as a nurse, delves into her admittedly complex relationship with religion ("Heaven") and lovingly ribs the Def Leppard-obsessed "Midwestern Guys" who have become a big part of her life both on and off the road.

"That [song] literally came from sitting in the van and listening to everyone talk about growing up in Pickaway County and being like, 'Remember that guy who crashed into a tree in that girl's yard because she broke up with him and he didn't die but it was weird and crazy?'" Loveless said. "My posse of girlfriends, if you will, is mostly made up of 45-year-old dudes, so it was a jab-slash-ode at them."

On record, Loveless rarely holds back, filling songs with ultra-personal details as a means of both understanding and fostering a deeper connection with the world at large.

"My view has always been the more personal my lyrics are the more people can relate," she said. "I think sometimes people feel really alone in the things they experience … but the truth is that everyone has some crazy thing that happened to them. It might be small, and it might not be something you perceive as interesting, but I think being honest really opens you up to connecting with people, which can also get you stalkers. But that's for another conversation."

Offstage, in contrast, the musician has long been more guarded, owing to an introverted streak that became entrenched during her teenage years. Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers said the first time he met Loveless a couple years back "she was so introverted it was almost painful."

"Then she got up onstage and opened up with a brutal honesty that blew me away," he said. (Loveless is slated to open three weeks of shows for the Truckers beginning in late September.)

But even this is beginning to change. Filming the documentary forced Loveless to confront long-held insecurities - "Watching myself on [video] being all self-deprecating and pulling my hair over my face constantly … it was like, 'You know, it's OK if you act like yourself. It's not that bad,'" she said - continuing a prolonged stretch of self-examination that has gradually given the musician a greater confidence and a new appreciation of her own self-worth.

And that, Loveless said, is one of the biggest things she's taken away from Real, which she described as a quasi-concept record about stepping into adulthood and, in her words, "realizing what it means to be a fully developed human."

"I spent so long thinking, 'Oh, I'm not as cool as other people, and my education is kind of lacking, and I'm socially awkward,'" Loveless said. "And a lot of that stems from being depressed all the time, where you're like, 'I'll never be able to see the world the way other people do.' Then one day I was just kind of like, 'If I keep thinking about myself in this way I'm literally just going to die or just vanish into thin air.'

"I'm sorry. This ended up taking a dark turn. But, really, [this record] is about deciding to live."