Relix Spotlight: Lera Lynn
By Mike Ayers
When Lera Lynn started to conceptualize her latest album, the Nashville singer-songwriter had the underlying feeling that, perhaps, she was heading down the wrong path. She’d often wake up in the middle of the night, pouring over the songs that she’d been co-writing with others—in short, she knew something was up.
“Nothing felt quite right,” she said recently, while calling from her home in Nashville nearly a year into the global pandemic.
So Lynn tossed everything aside and decided to write, record and produce what turned out to be her aptly titled fifth album, On My Own, by herself. The record feels like a creative leap forward for the brand of Nashvillian blues that she’s been honing since 2011, when she released her fittingly titled debut, Have You Met Lera Lynn?
In certain ways, her desire to go completely solo this time around actually stemmed from the particularly collaborative period that preceded it. A few years ago, Lynn achieved some notoriety—and won over a slew of new fans—when she appeared as a woozy barroom singer in the second season of HBO’s hit crime drama True Detective. (She also worked with T Bone Burnett on the show’s original music.) And on her 2018 set Plays Well With Others, Lynn shared duets with artists like John Paul White, Shovels & Rope, Nicole Atkins and Rodney Crowell.
“It was crucial for me to record myself and have unlimited time,” Lynn says. “I experimented more than I would typically. I was able to begin with basslines instead of guitar chords. It was a fun process, but [a lot of ] work and confusing at times.”
Lynn was born in Houston, but moved shortly thereafter to Shreveport, La. The migration was only complete when she and her parents finally settled in the Atlanta suburbs. Her earliest musical memories of are of singing at daycare and in a church choir setting. But it wasn’t long before the instruments Lynn saw around her house caught her eye—her dad had a Stratocaster and she remembers him jamming “along with Metallica” while her mom played acoustic guitar. And, for her 14th birthday, Lynn finally received her own axe.
“I had one guitar lesson, but it was the teacher playing his own songs for me,” she recalls.
After high school, Lynn moved to Athens, Ga., to study anthropology at the University of Georgia. But like many who settle there, she was quickly charmed by the legendary college town’s music and culture scenes, and started to set her sights on becoming a professional musician.
“I wanted to quit college and do music, but my family discouraged that. I had a Hopes Scholarship and I think they were all in fear that pursuing music as a career was risky. They insisted that I get a degree. Athens was a cultural mecca—a rural art town in the middle of the Bible Belt. I learned so much about music and performance and art and food—it has left a really important impact on me.”
Following her graduation, Lynn relocated to Nashville with the hopes of pursuing her dream, but she inevitably encountered some of the same roadblocks that have stopped countless emerging artists in their tracks.
“Money has been an issue from day one, always,” she says. “Trying to find the funding to make, manufacture, promote and tour behind a record—I still face those financial challenges as an independent artist.”
Have You Met Lera Lynn? and its follow-up, 2014’s The Avenues, certainly showed immediate promise; it’s clear that she has a knack for combining her soul-bearing voice with some tasty blues song structures. However, melodies and lyrics didn’t come as easy though for her back then.
“I had a different relationship to songwriting at that time,” she says, admitting that she doesn’t revisit her early work that often. “This big, special lightbulb would go off and I would have to capture it. I think I’m better at summoning the inspiration now than I was then. I try to do it more regularly, at least. I wasn’t good at tapping into it.”
On My Own sounds less steeped in countrytinged blues, drawing more inspiration from PJ Harvey’s first few albums and classic Cat Power—her originals are raw, but aggressive, and often confident. Lynn’s voice leads the way on gorgeous cuts like “A Light Comes Through” and “Dark Horse.” At the same time, on slower, more brooding tracks like “So Far” and “Let Me Tell You Something,” Lynn wrestles with her sometimes more optimistic outlook—and there is a notion of rebirth nestled within her electronictinged soundscapes. On “It Doesn’t Matter,” she solemnly sings, “Some days, I do nothing at all/ Close up the blinds, smoke weed and screen all my calls.” It’s a universal feeling, perhaps now more than ever.
“The through line is acceptance,” Lynn says about the song’s subjects. “This is where I am in my life, my career—the hand I’ve been dealt. And I’m OK with it. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to get a better hand. I feel like I’m happy with where I am. You always want to improve, tour better, grow your band. But I finally feel like, if that doesn’t happen— that’s OK. I have a pretty good situation.”