Resistor of the Easy Road: An Interview with Lera Lynn

Lera Lynn, photo courtesy Rek Room Media/Alysse Gafkjen.

Lera Lynn’s new album Resistor is both robust and echoic, a departure from the singer-songwriter’s lyric-centric previous outings. This time, she paired up with producer and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Grange for the entirety of a lush, wholly musical recording. The pair bounced around its artistic impulses, filling Lynn’s remarkable compositions with exactly enough sound to create an atmosphere for the songs. In some places, they toy with rhythm, in others they tease out the spaces between notes, and in others still, the emphasis is Lynn’s vocal – so completely unique that I can’t think of a single comparison. Sometimes it sounds like a stormy wind, sometimes a placid lake. Like the lead single from the disc, her voice’s most solid description is that of “shape shifter.”

Overall, Resistor is crank-it-up-and-drive good, the perfect kind of music for a late spring road trip. Though many probably know Lynn from her songs that played on the soundtrack of HBO’s True Detective, this disc isn’t quite so dark. As she told me in a recent interview, she wants her music “to be all the things,” and there Resistor succeeds. While the dark tunnel songs do show up (“Run the Night”) they’re typically followed by the light that seeps in (“For the Last Time”). This disc shows an artist coming in to her own, which, it seems, is exactly what she was going for:

Kim Ruehl: Tell me about this new record and why it’s called Resistor. Where’d that come from for you?

Lera Lynn: Well, the record is named after the studio where we made the record. The studio is located really close to Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee. I think we decided to name it Resistor [because that word is] in the lyric of “Shape Shifter” – “Resistor of the easy road,” which can be a shot in the foot. [laughs]

We live right by Music Row, we see the posters all the time [that say] So-and-so sold two million copies of “My Truck Is Taller Than Yours.” I think being surrounded by that all the time makes us hyper-aware of what we’re trying to do, which is let art guide us in our decisions.

That definitely comes across. I was really intrigued by how artistic this record is. There are songs where you’re playing with rhythm, others that are really melody-driven. I thought it was interesting that, you’re such a great lyricist … the lyrics are great here but you can sort of float past them and get lost in the music itself. Was that the goal here or is that just how it hit me?

No, no. that was not a goal, definitely not. I think I’ve become a more succinct lyricist, but we definitely weren’t trying to place more attention on the production. We definitely weren’t trying to sweep the lyrics to the side.

I think maybe I mischaracterized it. It’s not that the lyrics are swept aside, but I think there’s so much happening musically that it’s richer than just a great song with lyrics and an acoustic guitar accompanying, which is what so many singer-songwriters do.

Ok, good. I think that’s right. We were really trying to paint a scene and evoke feelings through sound – and lyrics too, but just have the tone of the song run through everything. [We weren’t going for] just lyrics and a guitar. We really [wanted to] create a whole atmosphere – a whole world that that song lives in.

In reading what other people have written about your music, I notice it gets characterized as dark and moody a lot of times. But especially on this record, I hear so much light and openness. Do you feel like dark and moody is the wrong way to describe your music?

I think that’s part of it. I want to be all of the things. I want to be happy and sad and dark and light, and I think this record does a great job of visiting many different feelings.

Yeah, it’s very transcendent in a lot of places. And it feels very intimate and immediate, but it was just the two of you playing all the instruments, which means there were a lot of overdubs, right? How did you maintain that intimate feeling while layering textures on top?

Well, self-control, [laughs] knowing when to stop and not layering and layering. We work really quickly together and we sort of feed off each other’s ideas.

We’d typically start with just me playing guitar and singing, and then maybe Josh would do bass and then I’d go and do drums. With each new instrument added, I think the inertia and excitement and inspiration would build for both of us, so maybe that’s why it feels immediate.

[We also] have a tendency to trust our first ideas. Most of the vocals are the scratch vocal takes. There’s something about the first take you do – it’s new and you haven’t had the time to analyze everything you’re playing yet. We try to stick close to those first takes. We didn’t allow ourselves the chance to nitpick everything and make it perfect.

Yeah, a lot of times when people are layering with oevrdubs, they’re doing it in the pursuit of perfection. But sounds like you went the opposite way with it…

Yeah I feel like I have an annoyance meter in my brain. When the annoyance meter is around two, which is at the low end of the spectrum, that’s usually when I stop. We could keep working and make it go to zero, but then you lose something.

“Annoyance” being, “God that thing is sticking out and getting on my nerves.”

When you’re making a record like this, are you listening to other music or are you blocking everything out in the interest of making your own art?

There’s a lot happening around this record – [I was] touring on both sides and in-between. We just made it when we had a few days here and there. … The record was made pretty quickly with pretty limited time, which is another reason Josh and I just did most of it [ourselves], because we both have different schedules. When we lined up, it was like, let’s take advantage of this opportunity.

I guess you have to [listen to other music]. I’m not the kind of person who wants to shut everything out. I’ve met musicians like that before, who feel like it would interfere too much with what they’re doing, to listen to other music. But I am on a constant search for albums to devour, even when I’m working in the studio.

Working so close to Music Row and being in Nashville these days as an independent artist, how is the way that Nashville’s changing hitting you? Do you think it’s a good thing?

I think it’s exciting. It’s inspiring because there are so many different types of artists moving here. It’s not just Nashville country music [anymore]. There are so many musicians who do different genres. I think it’s great. I think it’s exactly what this town needs, and what the music business in Nashville needs:  Some diversity.

Right on, so what’s next for you, after this record drops?

After this record comes out on April 29, we’re going on a full band tour in the UK. Josh and I will be opening some shows for Ben Folds in England, then come back to the United States. Release the record and go on tour, release the next record and go on tour. Wheeee!

That’s the life, though, right?

Exactly. That’s the life!