Lydia Luce

Lydia Luce

BEFORE EVEN GRADUATING COLLEGE, LYDIA LUCE HAD ACQUIRED AN EXPANSIVE EXPERIENCE IN ALL REALMS OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. WITH A MOM THAT SERVES AS A CLASSICAL CONDUCTOR FOR AN ORCHESTRA, LUCE WENT TO A CONSERVATORY FOR A YEAR BEFORE DECIDING TO ATTEND BERKELEY, WHICH RESULTED IN HER PLAYING A FEW GIGS WITH ROD STEWART, WORKING AS A FULL TIME EMPLOYEE AT THE SMITHSONIAN, AND LEAVING THAT JOB TO PURSUE AND EVENTUALLY EARN A MASTER'S DEGREE IN VIOLA PERFORMANCE.

LUCE FOUND HER TRUE CALLING IN SONGWRITING, AND HER HOME IN NASHVILLE WHERE SHE HAS BEEN PLANNING OUT HER DEBUT FULL-LENGTH ALBUM, WHILE TRYING TO FIND THE RIGHT PLAYERS AND PRODUCERS TO WORK WITH.

WE CHATTED WITH LUCE ABOUT HER TEACHING A CLASS ON HOW TO ENTER THE REAL WORLD AS A STRING PLAYER, HAVING A 9-5 JOB, AND HER FORTHCOMING DEBUT FULL-LENGTH ALBUM.

Give a little bit of your background.

My mom’s a classical conductor for an orchestra and I grew up playing in her orchestra. So I started on classical music and went to a conservatory for my first college for a year and hated it. I was like practicing 8 hours a day and was miserable and not liking it. Then I went to Berkeley eventually after a couple schools and got into Bluegrass and old time fiddle music and started songwriting - I started songwriting a bit before Berkeley but I would play viola and sing - I don’t really do that anymore. Then worked at the Smithsonian after Berkeley for a year, doing musicology and thought I wanted to do that. It was really cool; I learned a lot… I had this one project that was like 112 records from UNESCO from all over the world and I had to listen to them. I probably listened to 40 of them and I would listen to them, read the liner notes, learn about the culture a little bit and then write this blurb for the website. So just so much music and it was really cool but I wasn’t playing. So then I went to UCLA for grad school, doing viola performance, got a teaching assistantship so I was teaching like chamber groups, classical music at UCLA, the undergrads. My boss and I started this course - how to get a job as a string player in the real world when you’re used to being antisocial and locking yourself in a room and just practicing for 8 hours a day. How do you go out and get jobs after graduating? So I taught that course for a little bit. Then in between years, I moved out to Nashville for 3 months and recorded an EP and was like “songwriting is awesome”. I liked creating and with Classical music you don’t get to create, you’re interpreting, but you’re not creating, you’re interpreting someone else’s creation which is really great but it’s not as fulfilling. So I loved it and started songwriting and went back to LA and did that a lot. And I still played fiddle and I still play fiddle for other people, obviously, just trying to mix it up.

How long have you been in Nashville?

I’ve been here since last December.

And you were in LA before that?

Yes, I was there for like 2 and half years, after DC. I was working at the Smithsonian for like 9 months and really did not love DC. Mostly because what I was doing. If I was performing or was like utilizing my time better… I had a 9-5 and was there on a computer from 9-5, working on the archive and doing cool stuff but it wasn’t my passion, it was just not creative. And my boss was super cool, at one point I was like, I have to be performing I’m going crazy and I started weaning myself out of the job and I started studying viola again with this woman, she was like the principal violist for I think the Baltimore Symphony. I studied with her once a week and practiced like 5 hours a day and got my chops back up and got a scholarship to UCLA. Because I was like I need to playing, I’m not playing at all. At that time I thought I would go into string session work and be a string player, so I just wanted to get better at viola and stuff. One of the last things I did before I left Berkeley was to get to play with Rod Stewart. It was really interesting. It was easy string music but it was an incredible experience because it was an amphitheater and we played like 3 shows with him and Santana opened and I got to meet both of them. That was like one of the last things I did and then I went to go work at this Smithsonian and I thought “Man, I’d like to be performing and just be around musicians. Not the ones that are studying the music but also the ones that are playing.”

So what was the goal in moving to Nashville?

I was writing. I love LA and there’s a scene for Americana - Country music but it’s not as big as it is here and I just felt like Nashville was the move to get me going in my solo project more, as far as song writing and more of people trying to understand the genres that I do. I fell in love with Nashville, started visiting a bunch.

So what are you working on now?

I guess my biggest focus now is...I have all these songs, some of them I’ve co-written, some of them I’ve written on my own but really, fully discovering what my sound means to me and what it is. What my sound is live, what it is recorded, who I should be working with to help me find that sound production wise. I feel like I’ve recorded now with a few different people and I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning but really just getting to the bottom of what my sound is. I feel like whatever it is, I have to be cool with it for the next two years… Whatever project I release, be fine with it and be like this is me, this is totally me. I’m so cool with this for two years or however long and I feel like I haven’t found that yet. I’m getting closer but… And being able to just really articulate that as an artist and get in the studio and be like, “Hey strings are important to me and I really want this.” I want to be able to have more control over it and approach it from a knowledgeable place and not just be like, “Whatever, you choose, you’re the producer.” So I’m kinda just in this creating and growing phase. And also just discovering. And maybe it’s just rediscovering songs I’ve already written and deciding if I want them to be my current repertoire.

Do you think it’s a common occurrence that people go into the studio and come out with something that’s not really their sound, but it just becomes their sound because that’s how it was produced?

Totally, yeah. And I think that’s why, in my opinion I get stressed out playing with full band sometimes because the lack of control. I think it’s easy when you go into the studio and you have all these layers and you think the song could only exist with all the layers and it can’t exist on it’s own. And a good song should exist in whatever format. A good song should be able to be full band or just completely stripped down, no matter the genre. Maybe that’s just an opinion. It might be better with a full band but you should be able to really feel the song in whatever format. So I feel like yeah, maybe people can get lost in the layers.

What do you feel like you’re looking for in who you’re going to end up working with?

I feel like someone who has idea but not a brand or a set thing. There’s so many producer you can hear what producer that was. Which is a cool thing and that’s a part of the artistry and a part of the painting of the picture. But I think that someone who allows me to do what I want to do and be who I already am and also let my strengths show but only support it in a way that it’s beneficial to the song. Not just like, “this needs to fit in this category or genre,” but just letting me take control, and also experiment a little bit.

I don’t think you can take one formula and apply it to a whole bunch of different sounds or artists or whatever. Not to say anyone I work with has done that specifically, but yeah you have to really understand the song by itself and start from the bare minimum and work up. There’s always, I feel like with live stuff, I’m realizing my live band I’ve always been like, “throw drums on it,” and I don’t need it. Some of my favorite music doesn’t have drums on it, or had percussion, but the percussive aspect is treated in the same way as like a guitar player is improvising and filling in the holes rather than like, “this is my position and I’m gonna do this consistently throughout the song.” More of like a listening, this is what the song needs, vibing the song out.

There’s so many player that are technically great but they’re not listening. They’re like, “this is my part, I’m going to play my part.” And that works too. There’s so many different ways of performing and that works too, but I don’t think that’s what I want for my music. I want people that are like organic and feeling each other out when they’re in the moment. That sounds so hippy but there are so many variable that are happening when you’re performing live, so it’s being able to listen and feed off of each other's’ energies.