Last week, Nashville-based songwriter Lera Lynn kicked off her first major headlining tour of North America. During the near 35-day circuit, she hopes to reach a crowd that doesn’t mind a little darkness. After all, that age-old story of light versus dark is one that Lynn understands very well.
In late 2014, Lynn was commissioned by legendary music producer T-Bone Burnett to write original songs for season two of HBO’s hit series, “True Detective.” Working together in Los Angeles, Lynn and Burnett (along with co-writer Rosanne Cash) were able to create a handful of gut-wrenchingly dark tunes that set the mood of the neo-noir crime drama.
Before Lynn became a professional songwriter, she grew up in Atlanta listening to classic country and strumming the guitar at an early age. Eventually she landed in Athens, Ga. to attend the University of Georgia. Once there she began cutting her teeth as a live performer, drawing plenty of influence from the town’s prolific independent music scene, which birthed iconic pop bands like R.E.M. and the B-52s.
“Athens is sort of an anomaly in the South, because it’s a very liberal college town and there’s a very vibrant art scene there,” Lynn says. “I think it’s a very good place to get your sea legs because it’s a discerning audience. People are definitely not starved for music; they appreciate it, but it’s everywhere all the time.”
In 2012, Lynn headed for Nashville, taking her pop influences and competitive spirit with her. Eventually, her clever, upbeat, but quietly brooding Americana tunes caught the ear of former Rounder Records executive Sheri Sands, who became her manager in 2013.
Because Sands had worked with Burnett on Raising Sand, his 2008 Grammy-award winning album with Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, she was able to facilitate a meeting between Lynn and the producer.
“He was drinking very stiff drinks early in the day, so it made everything easier,” Lynn recalls. “Everything was very ambiguous from beginning on what [the showrunners] were looking for and how the music fit into the story, but I think that’s one of [Burnett’s] great strengths: to find the person who can do it most naturally.”
And while Lynn is still riding off her success from “True Detective,” she’ll use this tour to preview new material from her next (currently untitled) album, which is set to be released in Spring 2016.
Compared to the songs that dominated her previous records, including her most recent effort, The Avenues, Lynn promises that this new LP will go in a darker direction. If she has gained anything from “True Detective,” besides more dedicated fans, it’s the creative freedom to stray away from writing typical pop songs.
“Working on ‘True Detective’ has given me a platform where I don’t feel like I have to worry about being in a major key, being upbeat, or even hopeful,” Lynn explains. “It’s just given me the confidence to take more creative risks.”
This new take on writing stemmed out of Lynn’s time with Burnett. She admits that, at first, being in the same room with him was nerve-wracking, but once she figured out how he operated, it all fell into place.
“Sometimes he’d play a record and point out this singing that seemed completely unrelated to what we were working on at the moment, but I started to understand how he connected certain characteristics and wanted to pull certain elements from different music,” Lynn says. “We think in the same way.”
Taking a cue from Burnett, who has used his vast knowledge of traditional American music to create soundtracks for films like “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” or the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line,” Lynn has been putting a lot of thought into her live performances.
Although she has been delving into tracks from “True Detective” and creating more somber renditions of her older work, she’s also adding in a few surprise covers and plenty of jokes during each set. By mixing a little bit of light with a dash of dark, Lynn aims to impress audiences by giving them a more dynamic show that takes them on an “all-encompassing emotional journey,” she says, with a laugh.
“I love connecting with the audience; I like when they engage with us.” Lynn mentions. “And I like to horse around and be goofy. It’s so much more fun that way. There has to be some kind of balance to all the sad songs.”
With “True Detective” in mind, Lynn feels like she’ll be reaching the right listeners. Many of her current fans found her through the series and immediately fell in love with her other work.
“That makes me feel great,” Lynn concludes. “[My fanbase] certainly has expanded a lot and quickly, but it feels like a very natural progression for me, which I’m grateful for. Not that I would be ungrateful for overnight fame, but this seems like a very healthy and sustainable path.”
See Lynn at one of her upcoming concerts and check out her music right here.