LAURA SULLIVAN, host: There's a lot of heartbreak in the story of Amy LaVere.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SULLIVAN: 2009 was a rough year. Her producer, Jim Dickinson, died. Then one of her bandmates left, and she broke up with her boyfriend, the band's drummer. Amy LaVere may not have wanted that much inspiration to write her new album, but she certainly channeled that pain into a powerful collection. It's called "Stranger Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OFTEN ME")
AMY LAVERE: (Singing) Often happens when it's getting dark, my heart starts telling me little lies, like all of this is leading up to some paradise. And we're just not talking 'cause you don't have the time. My heart keeps lying, saying I'll be fine.
SULLIVAN: Amy LaVere joins us from WKNO in Memphis. Hello, Amy.
SULLIVAN: Amy, what a brutal time. How did you get through it?
LAVERE: I guess I just kept taking it as it comes, right?
SULLIVAN: Mm-hmm. One of the things that you went through was the death of your producer, that you were very close to. It was Jim Dickinson. And he - I mean, he worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to The Replacements, and he said this about you - let me pull this out here. He said: She has the whole package. You run across artists all the time that have part of it, but Amy has it all. What was it like to have him in your corner?
LAVERE: I didn't realize how much I had allowed Jim Dickinson to validate me. You know, I was such a fan of him, and I looked up to him so much. He was so nurturing to me, really, and he definitely inspired me to stretch and to follow my artistic muse. When he passed, it was sort of like, god, who's going to validate me now?
LAVERE: You know, he just - he really always was very supportive of me. So yeah, it was difficult.
SULLIVAN: How did you find that validation now?
LAVERE: I don't know that I really did. I think I just kept creating. I think I went into this one probably with more insecurity than I ever have. Just even the title of the record, "Stranger Me," is me saying, I don't really know who I am in this.
SULLIVAN: At the same time, in 2009, your guitarist, Steve Salvage, left for another ban. And then the drummer of your band, your boyfriend, you guys split. I mean, how do you rebuild a band that's been so torn apart?
LAVERE: I was nervous about it, but I was very happy for Steve. It was absolutely the right thing for him. So it was with my blessing, and I was really excited for him. So you know, Paul and I went around with a few different guitar players, but we also were going around and around with a few different things emotionally in our relationship. So it just - it seemed - I think it was one of those things where we both had been looking for an out for some time. And with Steve leaving, it sort of opened up this gulf of time to where we felt like, this is probably a good time for us to really blow this thing up, because we both knew that we were struggling to hold things together romantically.
SULLIVAN: I want to listen to one of these new songs. This is called "Tricky Heart."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRICKY HEART")
LAVERE: (Singing) Hey, hey, tricky heart, we can't just quit. I'm falling out again. He's calling me names.
SULLIVAN: Your ex-boyfriend - and drummer - ended up playing with you again on this album. And when you listen to some of the lyrics - I mean, this is a heartbreak album. You know, there are some arrows being thrown here, and he's just drumming in the back while you're singing?
LAVERE: Well, you know, by the time the record was getting created, time had passed. You know, this record was a long time coming, for a lot of different reasons. So Paul and I had been split for, you know, half a year by the time the record was being created. So having the opportunity to get back and play music together in the creation of this record, I think we both sort of got to re-explore what happened with us. And it was emotional at times; it was hilarious at times.
SULLIVAN: Like when?
LAVERE: Well, I can tell you that this song, "Tricky Heart," was not hilarious. "Tricky Heart" really is about, you know, the two years leading up to the end, where both of us were trying and trying and trying and trying, and just trying to find that kind of love again.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRICKY HEART")
LAVERE: (Singing) I want to stay, I want to stay...
SULLIVAN: My guest is singer-songwriter Amy LaVere. Her new album is called "Stranger Me." A lot of musicians, you know, you guys have a really busy tour schedule. And in a few weeks, you're off to the West Coast for a month-long swing. That means you have to sing a lot of these songs over and over and over again. Do they still bring up the painful memories?
LAVERE: Yes, absolutely. And I don't have stage fright necessarily, but I think a lot of the way that I cope with what might even resemble stage fright is, I definitely lose myself in the stories of the songs. I think about where I was when I wrote it just about every time I perform the material.
SULLIVAN: We should say that this album is not all doom and gloom. I mean, there's some really empowering moments here. There's some really, sort of inspiring lyrics. Let's listen to "You Can't Keep Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T KEEP ME")
LAVERE: (Singing) I'm stomping out of here. I hope the dishes rattle then, off your shelf. And if I see you first, I'll run like hell.
That song, I wrote for a film that I was in, an independent film here in Memphis, called "Eat." And it was a very hilarious, dark comedy about the restaurant industry in Memphis. And there's a point where my character in the film quits her job at this restaurant. And in real life, you know, I've worked in restaurants a good bit of my life. So in all honesty, that was one of the easiest songs I ever wrote.
SULLIVAN: You play the upright bass, and I've seen pictures of you, and this thing towers over you. How do you manage it?
LAVERE: It's a surprise to me that people would assume that it's this cumbersome thing. The electric bass slung over you - it's this anchor, if you just imagine this thing hanging around your neck. And then if you imagine just moving your hands out to the side and you're just dancing with this thing, it's so ergonomically correct for a small woman, in my opinion.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SULLIVAN: It may be hard to make a living as a musician, but Spin magazine called your new record the breakup album of the year. And that puts you in good company. That was Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors," Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks."
LAVERE: I have to say it's been embarrassing how well the record's been received. It's been - wildly exceeded my expectations. And I'm grateful for it, but I do fear that it's going to ruin my street cred.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SULLIVAN: I mean, those waitressing jobs are going to dry up. Nobody's going to take you seriously as a waitress.
LAVERE: I love touring so much. It would just be fine with me.
SULLIVAN: When you launch - when you start out again for your next record, hopefully you won't have to go through a breakup in order to get the inspiration for it.
LAVERE: I hope not as well. It might be more of a record of loneliness, I don't know.
SULLIVAN: Or maybe falling in love. Look on the bright side.
LAVERE: Maybe falling in love. Right.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
LAVERE: (Singing) This love song, you can turn it on. You can turn it up. You can turn it real loud when I'm gone...
SULLIVAN: That's Amy LaVere. Her latest album is called "Stranger Me." You can hear a few tracks on our website, at nprmusic.org. Amy, thanks so much for joining us.
LAVERE: Thank you for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
LAVERE: (Singing) Right now, I'll do it right now.