There are probably other grand titles you can give the season now heading into the home stretch. But if you’ve been tracking the blossoming career of a certain Nashville by way of Georgia by way of Texas songsmith and the rather explosive turn it is now taking, you might agree we are in the midst of The Summer of Lera Lynn.
The headline performer at this weekend’s Well Crafted Festival at Harrodsburg’s Shaker Village, Lynn began creating serious indie commotion in 2014 with the release of her sophomore album The Avenues. The recording boasts richly emotive and often darkly atmospheric songs that touch on elements of Americana, country, pop and more with a decidedly noir cast.
One especially smitten fan was David Letterman, who summed a Late Show performance by Lynn of The Avenues’ David Lynch-ian snapshot of country-esque longing Out to Sea with a proud boast. “Remember, you heard it here first.”
But next week, Lynn will expand on that exposure with the release of True Detective: Music from the HBO Series. It includes a set of newer songs produced by T Bone Burnett that are leaner in design and more quietly disruptive than her music from The Avenues. The singer has already been featured in a recurring role as a dour songstress performing in the series’ dank dive bar The Black Rose. Her performance of My Least Favorite Life, which played under a scene featuring True Detective stars Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell was especially arresting.
While the tune is also a highlight of the soundtrack, the album’s first single, The Only Thing Worth Fighting For, features a pair of very different celebs. It was jointly penned by Lynn, Burnett and Rosanne Cash.
“On the plane to LA, I was kind of having a pep talk with myself before my first session in the studio with T Bone,” Lynn said. “I was kind of saying, ‘Okay, Lera. It’s time to deliver. Get it together.’ It was intimidating, obviously, but he and Rosanne were both great – just really sweet and easy to work with and encouraging. Really, it was a dream come true.”
“It’s all thrilling in that I’m able to perform now for more people and connect with more people. I mean, the process itself was obviously thrilling, as well. But on the other side of that, it’s also exciting just to see people responding to the work that I’ve done previously by coming up after the shows and buying records. It’s all of that.
Lynn admitted Burnett encouraged her to explore her “dark side” when composing the True Detective songs. But such terrain isn’t foreign to her. She took a few strolls there when making The Avenues.
“It was actually a very natural process. I think it’s an element that has been present in my music for years. It’s just that it’s the thing people don’t think they can market, plus no one has ever really encouraged me to do it until now. I think that’s why T Bone chose me to do the True Detective music, because he could see that peaking through. He wanted to really highlight that. But it was fun. It’s an easy thing, the dark side.”
One might suspect with the True Detective soundtrack still a week away from release that Lynn wouldn’t be rushing back to the recording studio anytime soon. In actuality, she’s already there working on music for what will become her third album. But the collaboration with Burnett and Cash on the True Detective music has opened a new perspective on songwriting she says will play out on her next recording.
“I think the songs I did for True Detective have given me a greater confidence in doing what I find inspiring rather than what I find to be marketable. So with the new record, I’m trusting my instincts even more and digging a little bit deeper into the territories that I have hinted at in my previous records.
“There was a time in my life when I thought, ‘To be an artist, you have to be in pain.’ Usually to be in pain you have to be involved in drama. A certain part of that is true. I still experience pain and drama. But I think the writing process also involves drawing on other people’s stories and maybe implying my own feelings as they relate to something I’ve experienced. It’s just different for every song.”
But what of the music itself, the dreamscapes that ooze from one genre to another to create a sound that is introspective in its hushed beauty but cinematic enough to bring the corners of a shadowy but popular television series to life? For that, Lynn credits her upbringing – specifically, a household ruled by a rotating musical set list.
“I grew up with my mom playing Vince Gill and then skipping to Joni Mitchell and then Michael Jackson. I think that’s what most people do, really. I mean, why would you limit yourself to one thing?”
While translating that to her own songs has become second nature, finding a place for her stylistically disparate songs might be seem arduous if she had to answer to the whims of major record label marketing. Luckily, as a still-independent artist, she doesn’t.
“It’s difficult to find a balance between business and art. But I think the best thing you can do as an artist is to try not to think about what’s marketable and just do what moves you the most because chances are that’s what is going to move other people the most, too. That’s always been my M.O.”
Lera Lynn performs at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 8 as part of the Well Crafted Festival at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, 3501 Lexington Road in Harrodsburg. The festival begins at 12 noon. Admission: $25. Call (859) 734-5411 or go to shakervillageky.org/event/well-crafted.