Not many 26-year-olds can claim over a decade of experience in the music industry -- but Lydia Loveless is one of the few who can. And not many alt-country rockers can claim an album that fearlessly blends modern pop, classic country, honky-tonk and punk rock -- but she can do that too. Forging a unique path since 2004, Loveless has made a name for herself with music that asks hard questions and answers with raw honesty.

When The Boot sat down with Loveless during the 2016 Americana Music Festival, she was in the middle of a week of four different shows in Nashville, all in support of her latest solo record, Real. Released on Aug. 19, Real is Loveless' fourth studio album, one with a title that begs the question: What is "real" to her?

"What I kind of like about the word 'real' is that there's so many different ways you can take it," she tells The Boot, adding that her latest release is as much about asking what actually is real in her life as it is an attempt to make something real. "It's more of a question than my own statement of what's real; it's more about still seeking what is real."

Recorded in Loveless's hometown of Columbus, Ohio, Real is the singer-songwriter's fourth run in the studio with producer Joe Viers and for the independent Bloodshot Records label. And although Loveless now has a musical home, it's only after a long road of searching: When she was just 14, Loveless joined her two sisters and father to form the new wave pop band Carson Drew. Named after Nancy Drew's father in the acclaimed young adult mystery series, the band broke up in 2007, leading Loveless to begin releasing her own music in 2010, and eventually to Bloodshot for her first EP, Indestructible Machine.

Loveless says that the writing and recording of her newest effort was significant mainly because it feels like her most grown-up record.

"A 16-year-old writing a song is way different from a married 26-year-old writing a song, so to me, it's just relaxing to finally feel like I know what I'm doing," says the artist, who is married to her bassist, Ben Lamb. Loveless adds with a laugh that after so many years making music, she actually had a minor midlife crisis when her birthday rolled around last year. "I just turned 26, and the whole time I was 25, I was like, 'I'm old. I'm done. I don't even know why I'm trying anymore!'"

I love really honest songs that I can connect to night after night. And it’s exciting to me because then I feel like other people open up to it as well.

Thankfully, Loveless now knows that her years in the business have not exhausted her music career, but strengthened it.

"Now I'm realizing that, even with just my first two records, I didn't even know what I was doing yet," she admits. "But I've already gotten stuff out of the way, and I feel like now I can just be a grownup, and it feels really great."

"Being a grownup" also means that Loveless is a lot more confident in her music. With past records, she says she was "always struggling or feeling like I wasn't good enough" -- but now, she's ready to keep exploring topics that other songwriters might shy away from.

She's also ready to continue discovering and honing her unique sound. Part alt-country, part punk rock, part witty pop that's almost danceable (don't believe it? Check out "Heaven"), the tracks on Real each make their mark in a new way. Sly bass lines, rhythmic guitar hooks and Loveless' bluesy vocals complement brutally honest songwriting, keeping songs about inner turmoil, heartache and nagging internal questions from becoming heavy-handed. In the care of a deft musical talent such as Loveless, each song on Real walks a fine line between depth and lightness, creating an album that is just as emotionally and intellectually gratifying as it is fun.

In the end, the theme that connects every song Loveless writes isn't a single musical genre, but a fearlessly honest approach to songwriting: "I love really honest songs that I can connect to night after night," she says. "And it's exciting to me because then I feel like other people open up to it as well."

Not many 26-year-olds can claim music that is deep but catchy, that cuts to the core of the most frustrating human emotions while remaining immensely fun to listen to -- but Loveless can.

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