How to write a song with Lydia Loveless

The musician, who kicks off a co-headlining tour with Lilly Hiatt later this month, will host a workshop at Secret Studio in Franklinton on Saturday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Lydia Loveless

Most mornings, Lydia Loveless will begin by filling a notebook with three pages of writing, which serves as a way to clear her mind of anything that might be clogging it.

“And that’s usually how I blast the dust off and get into the depths of what I want to say instead of just writing, ‘I’m mad at the world and bored with myself and hate everybody,’” said Loveless, who will host a songwriting workshop at Secret Studio on Saturday, Oct. 2 (slots are limited and close to filling up). “Then you can write something with actual value.”

While the songwriting process will always have a degree of mystery attached to it — Loveless termed it “accidental” — the musician said she’s benefited from finding a balance between her past approach of waiting on inspiration and keeping to a more dedicated schedule. “I used to be really opposed to the idea of writing every day, and I don’t think people should be churning out content for the sake of churning out content,” she said. “But waiting on inspiration doesn’t work either. So it’s kind of a sweet spot of pushing yourself to create, but then also not making yourself feel like shit because Bob Dylan wrote more songs than you. It should feel like something you want to do.”

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The idea for the songwriting workshop was hatched in collaboration with poet and Secret Studio cofounder Amy Turn Sharp, and Loveless has adopted a freeform approach to preparation that she hopes will carry over into the event. “I’m not really writing things down, and really I should be more organized, but really the whole concept I had for it was flying by the seat of your pants,” she said. “It’s about being afraid and vulnerable, and then just letting things come and forcing people to embarrass themselves.”

Over the course of five albums, Loveless has established herself as a songwriting force, penning intimate, vulnerable verses alternately filled with heartache, regret, humor, self-loathing, love, depression, defiance and more. She then delivers these words in a voice capable of either buckling knees with its effortless power or making eyes water with anguished restraint, singing: “I shouldn’t have to break you down to build me up”; “Sitting in the dark talking about my plans/To anyone who can hear me over this shitty Indianapolis band”; “Why can’t I be more like them?”

“It’s usually the stuff I’m most embarrassed to say [that’s worth holding onto],” Loveless said. “As a person, I’m extremely guarded, so kind of the only way I can open up is to use my [songs].”

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In an effort to help workshop participants open up, Loveless intends to begin the session with 10 minutes of object writing, where attendees will focus on writing about a single person, place or event for that stretch of time — sort of a condensed version of the three-page free-writes with which Loveless starts many of her days. Participants will then cull the best lines from this initial purge, further aided by assorted prompts and examples, including solo work by Darren Hayes, an Australian singer and songwriter best known for his time in Savage Garden. “His solo stuff is just so pure and honest,” Loveless said. 

While some songwriting workshops include an element of critique, Loveless said she wants to avoid that here, preferring to allow attendees to chase down those raw-nerve moments absent a fear of judgement.

“I was researching other people’s ways of doing things, and a lot of it is someone coming out and telling you your song sucks or the arrangement is super cool, and that’s really not the point here,” Loveless said. “This is more about getting people invigorated and getting them to start the creative process, which is often the hardest part.”

Loveless said this has been particularly true of herself throughout the pandemic, where the weight of everything unfolding within society has often sapped her own creative desire. “It’s hard to be totally isolated and find creative inspiration,” she said. “I missed the connection of being with my band, and just being around people. … But I’m trying to get back at it for my own sanity.”

Most recently, Loveless has started demoing tracks for a new album, centered on a series of more “streamlined” songs written amid the various stay-at-home orders of the last 18-plus months. “I think I’ve gotten more simplified with my songs lately just because I don’t always have a million things going through my head when I’m alone all day,” she said. 

First up, however, is a co-headlining tour alongside Lilly Hiatt that is set to kick off in Houston on Oct. 20, which will be the first concerts Loveless has played since the pandemic hit in March 2020. And of course this weekend’s songwriting workshop, which has required Loveless to become comfortable with the idea that she’s someone who has learned a few tips and tricks about that craft that she can now impart to others.

“It’s something I’m going to have to get comfortable with,” she said, and laughed. “I have such a low opinion of myself most of the time, but it’s time to put on my big boy pants and see myself as an actual artist, which obviously I must be if I’ve been doing it this long.”