The Southern roots of singer-songwriter Lera Lynn run deep. She was born in Houston, raised in Georgia and forged her career in the competitive Nashville music scene. Her role on True Detective's season 2 in 2015 had a galvanizing effect on her career. Since then she’s used that momentum to ensure her career trajectory continues to move in the right direction. Last week she returned to her birth state to kick off a tour promoting her latest studio album composed of duets, aptly titled Plays Well With Others.
Lynn performed at Cactus Café in Austin, The Kessler Theater in Dallas and The Heights Theater in Houston. Plays Well With Others features nine songs with eight different artists, including Dallas native Andrew Combs and Crosby, Texas, veteran country singer Rodney Crowell. She saw this album as an opportunity to fulfill her desire for a communal creative experience while conquering creative inhibition at the same time.
“I love to sing with great singers — that’s the self-indulgent side of it,” Lynn says. “For most of my career, I've written by myself and I’ve feared the collaborative aspect of songwriting. I thought this record would help with that. It was a little bit scary because you don’t know how other people work or what their process is like. There’s an uncertainty about the outcome. I thought, 'Will I like it? Will I want it to be on the record? Will we still be friends?'"
Duet albums are nothing new, but what’s unique about Plays Well With Others is each artist featured on the album created the song from scratch with Lynn — as opposed to just lending their talents to a concept that was already predetermined. Arranging one-off features for an album can be time-consuming, but handling the logistics of producing an entire project of duets can be an absolute nightmare. This became apparent to Lynn after the fact. When she pitched the idea to John Paul White, owner of Single Lock Records who released the album, White told her he loved the idea, but she had to coordinate the studio sessions.
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“I was like, yeah no big deal, and it became a part-time job," she says. "But we did it, we got it done and I’m really glad the scheduling part is over."
Coordinating schedules may have been a chore, but choosing her partners was simple. She had previously worked in some capacity with all the artists on the album. Lynn’s intent was to make sure each song was an equal representation of what she and her collaborators brought to the table as musicians.
“That was the main concept of this whole project," Lynn says. "I didn’t want to link up with other artists to write Lera Lynn songs for a Lera Lynn record. I wanted to meet in the middle, making it truly collaborative and making sure both of our voices metaphorically and literally came through."
The True Detective season 2 soundtrack increased her fame exponentially. Lynn was cast as a dark songstress with menacing stage presence who performed in several episodes at a dive bar frequented by characters on the show. Lynn was featured on five of the album’s 14 songs. Initially it was difficult for Lynn to make her new fans understand that her persona on the show was a character she was portraying and didn’t reflect her true image.
“My audience grew, but I also faced some artistic challenges," she says. "Most of the people who discovered my music from the show thought that was my identity as an artist. I go back and forth changing my mind about how I feel about it. I think now it’s given me so much liberty. I could go all the way to the dark side with my music if I wanted.”
As an artist, Lynn says her biggest challenge is dipping her toes into other genres. She’d like to try rock, pop and perhaps even hip-hop collaborations at some point but says she would never want to alienate loyal fans who have been with her since she released her first album in 2011.
“I’d wonder if that would confuse everyone, but I’m a fan of confusing people a little bit," she says. "I do think fans that have been with me for a long time expect me to turn my style on its head. It’s an interesting path you take to satisfy your fans while staying true to yourself as an artist."
If given the opportunity to delve into the world of hip-hop collaboration, Lynn says working with SZA and Kendrick Lamar would be at the top of her list.
“I really like the way SZA writes," Lynn says. "I love her sense of melody; I’d love to work with her. And of course, an obvious choice would be Kendrick Lamar. He’s kind of owning the world right now."
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Lynn’s fan base is large enough for her to consistently tour domestically and abroad. One of her favorite places to perform happens to be a country that finds its way into our headlines on a regular basis.
“Moscow is one of my biggest markets,” Lynn says. "We’re heading back there for a third time. It's surreal being there because it’s Russia and we’re on the other side of the world, but everyone is so kind there. The audiences really value music. They’ll stand completely silent in a sold-out room and then explode with applause in between songs. One time we played a show there on a stage that was floating on a pond and the audience was also on the pond with us.”
Connecting with fans and performing make up one of the most rewarding parts of being a musician for Lynn. She describes it as a “miracle” that people allocate time and money to come to her shows. Enjoyable as touring may be, Lynn sees writing and recording new music as her true calling.
“I love recording, and I love being home writing," she says. "Creatively it’s exercising an entirely different muscle. That’s when I feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do. That’s when all feels right with the world and everything feels good.”