Under the Covers with Lydia Loveless
On her breakout album, 2011’s Indestructible Machine, then 21-year old singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless sounded like a Loretta Lynn-Liz Phair hybrid, thanks to her sharp ear for catchy hooks and no-holds-barred lyrics.
Her new record, Somewhere Else – a fantastic release that blends alt-country, rock, and pop – winds down with an unexpected closing track: a delightful cover of Kirsty MacColl’s infectious 1979 single “They Don’t Know” (though comedian Tracey Ullman’s early ‘80s cover is perhaps the better known version). For the first installment of a recurring series, we caught up with Loveless for a few minutes to get the scoop on her version of “The Don’t Know.”
When did you first encounter the song?
My guitar player introduced it to me. We were sitting around writing songs and he started playing that song. I’d never heard it; I’m kind of a dunce. (laughs)
That was how I first ended up listening to it. I really liked that it’s sort of got an uplifting-melancholy melody. It’s a simple pop song, but it almost makes you sad because it’s so pretty. That was what drew me to it. I first heard the original version, and then a lot of people were like, “Oh, yeah, that Tracey Ullman song, right?” And I was like, “What? Why would Tracey Ullman sing something?”
Why did you choose to include it on the new album?
The album starts out pretty upbeat, then gets depressing, then becomes the most depressing it could get, and we just wanted to finish it with an uplifting pop song. Also, I was obsessed with the song at that time. We finished all the tracking for Somewhere Else and still had time, so I said we should do “They Don’t Know.” I made everyone learn it really quickly; I think they had about 30 minutes to get it together in the studio – I guess it was a way to test them, to see if they could pull it off; in that sense, it’s almost like a love song to the band. We recorded it live in the studio; it took us about three or four takes to get it.
A lot of reviews mention that I’m a badass, but I definitely don’t feel like a badass in real life. (laughs) It’s nice that I can show that other side. I have to use someone else’s song to show it, though. I think being part of the alt-country scene a lot of people expect me to come out with a flower in my hair and a fiddle; but then we come out and we’re like The Replacements.
What’s been the crowd reaction when you’ve played the song at shows?
We’ve only played it a couple times so far. In Canada, I remember someone yelled, “Tracey Ullman sucks!” That was the weirdest reaction we could have possibly gotten. But for the most part we’ve gotten a positive response.
Maybe it was Tracey Ullman herself; she does all those characters.
I’ll just pretend that from now on. It’ll make me feel happier about it.
What’s your all-time favorite cover song?
We play a lot of covers and I could probably think of a better one if I had more time, but I’ve always loved Me First and the Gimme Gimmes doing “Uptown Girl.” I like it more than the original; when I heard Billy Joel’s version, I was like “Why is it so sloooooow?”
If you could have anyone cover one of your songs, who and what would you choose?
I’d want Ke$ha to cover “Head.”
That would probably turn out pretty well. And you’d make some serious cash from that.
That would be the best part!
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