Lera Lynn is more than the sad dive bar singer from "True Detective" season two
If you're a TV buff, there's a good chance you've seen Lera Lynn. The Nashville singer-songwriter was one of the more memorable parts of the hotly anticipated – and then divisively received – second season of "True Detective," playing the saddest strung-out dive bar singer in the world, providing the very sad soundtrack to mustachioed Colin Farrell's equally sad moral dilemmas.
I'm pleased to report, however, the unnamed version of Lera Lynn people saw on stage in "True Detective" is very far from the actual singer-songwriter who performs on stage in real life. During our phone chat, the real-life Lynn laughs and jokes, humorously debates with me about whether Milwaukeeans should've rooted for the Cubs in the World Series (she argues yes; I vote nay) and even delivers lighthearted cheese curd hot takes.
"I can't handle the cheese curds; it's like foil in your mouth!" she laughingly argues. "I love cheese, but I'm not OK with squeaking in the mouth."
The differences extend into her music as well. While Lynn co-wrote several of those often deeply depressing songs for "True Detective," her solo work – including her latest album, "Resistor," and especially its almost punky, upbeat opening tune, "Shape Shifter" – is much different from her nameless alter ego's, often trafficking in similar moods of melancholy and hurt but with an evocative Americana lift, and nowhere near as gloomy or grim.
Before she brings those tunes to Colectivo's Back Room stage on next Thursday night, I chatted with Lynn about dealing with those two personas – one a role, one real – her new album, her time on "True Detective" and the time she made Colin Farrell cry.
OnMilwaukee: What was that like, being on the set of "True Detective" season two and performing on the show? What was your time on the show like?
Lera Lynn: It was very exciting. I had never done any work in film or television before, so the learning curve was sharp, and there was no one there to really walk me through how it worked, how everything was going to go down. I didn't understand any of the terminology they were using when they were telling me what to do. (laughs) So it was thrilling, and obviously it's pretty special to get to watch Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams perform live, act live. And they were very kind. It was really, really fun, and I would love to do more of that.
It sounds like you did get to interact with the stars. What was that like performing a gig for them?
I remember the first day that I was on the set, and they played the recording of "My Least Favorite Life." We'd just written it and recorded it the day before, so I remember just going to my hotel room and trying to learn the song overnight (laughs) because you know when you first record something, it's like you don't know how to perform it necessarily.
Anyway, I played it, and I remember Colin Farrell was crying – and that was not in the script. Kind of had like a couple of tears and was wiping his eyes, and I remember him saying to the director, "Sorry, that song just really got to me." That was such an amazing moment, just to see someone be moved – no one had heard this song yet either.
How did you pick up on the set directions and teach yourself during the shoot?
I don't know if I did. (laughs) They just kind of put me on the stage and said, "Go."
I remember in the very beginning, they said, "Singer" – that was my character name – "we need to use you for an eyeline," and I was like, "What? What is that?" They're like, "Just stand over here so the actors can look at you while they're on camera." I'm like, "OK …" I think I had just met them both – just a "Hi, how are you?" – and then they went to work. So I remember that being a very awkward moment for me, because I did not know if I was supposed to look back at them while they were staring or if I was supposed to look at the floor or should I smile and wave. (laughs)
You also wrote several of the songs for the show with Rosanne Cash and T-Bone Burnett. What was that experience like?
It was great. T-Bone and I wrote several more songs than what was included in the show. And I remember him telling me beforehand that he wasn't much of a co-writer, that he wasn't really into that so much, so we didn't have very high expectations – because my experience was limited as well. But it worked! It worked really well somehow. We wrote very quickly. And then he introduced Rosanne into the mix, and of course she's amazing. So it was all very natural and pretty – I don't want to say effortless, because I try to bring my A-game. (laughs)
So there's other songs that might come out?
Oh no, I doubt it. I doubt they'll ever see the light of day. But that's what you do; you write a bunch, and you cull – although I think there's some really great songs that we didn't include.
What were your feelings on the reaction to "True Detective" season two? It was obviously very divisive from some viewers and critics. Why do you think that was?
Well, the first season was fantastic. I mean, it was flawless. Nic (Pizzolatto, writer) set the bar pretty high for himself and for everyone. I think the second season was pretty ambitious with so many characters. There were only eight episodes, and that's kind of a lot of backstory and character development to squeeze into that amount of time. It took a lot of brain power to understand what was going on.
But I think people just love to b*tch, honestly. (laughs) I think obviously maybe it's not as perfect as the first season, but it's still great television. It's still great acting, great writing. I think Colin Farrell gave an incredible performance, and Rachel McAdams was super badass, and I think those actors deserve more accolades for their work. But what are you going to do?
A dive bar was your main setting on the show. Do you have any favorite dive bar gigs from your real life music career?
There's this great bar in Pioneertown, which is near Joshua Tree (National Park in California), called Pappy & Harriet's. It's amazing. Pioneertown is like an old, wild west movie set. You're like living in the wild west when you go there, and it sounds like it'd be super tourist-y – and I guess it is to some degree – but there's so many weirdos living in Joshua Tree, it's super interesting. And I love playing there; we have a blast, and I hope we can go back. It's like a barbecue joint: low ceilings and a sh*tty sound system and just so much fun.
What was your process like for "Resistor"? I read that you worked on it a little bit during the "True Detective" shoot as almost a release.
Yeah, I guess it was kind of creating a little bit of a balance, coming back to Nashville and writing music for real life, not for a strung-out junkie. I was so busy just traveling and going back and forth between L.A. and shooting and also playing shows. It was an interesting balance, switching gears and getting into the headspace of working on my own record. It was good; I enjoyed it. It's nice to keep both things fresh by changing your landscape or environment. Because then you go back to the dark thing and you're like, "Oh, cool," and then you get tired of that and you go back to other thing and find inspiration.
Part of that inspiration, I read, was listening to "The Dark Side of the Moon." Why that album?
I rarely get the time to write totally alone. There's usually always somebody around, on the road or whatever. And I was trying to capture a certain feeling – I can't even really nail it down – but I got stoned and put that record on (laughs) to get in touch with my 16-year-old self and just try to write songs with that feeling in mind. I mean, it's not like I was listening to the record and going, "Ooh, that's a good chord change," or "That's the lyric." It was more summoning a feeling.
People who know you primarily through the TV show might be surprised by the first song on "Resistor," "Shape Shifter." What was that shift like from your TV stuff – and your previous material – to that more upbeat song?
It seemed very natural to me, because I've been living with myself my whole life – how profound a statement is that?! (laughs) I have so many other inspirations and feelings and moods that I want to explore. "True Detective" is just a part of something – and I think a lot of people have made the mistake of thinking that I was acting as myself on the show. But I was a character, and we wrote music for the character. Obviously, that sound is something in my wheelhouse, but that's not how I would sum myself up as a songwriter or a performer.
It's a show persona as opposed to your real persona.
Yeah, and maybe that threw some people. But good! This is who I am for real, so come with me.
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