As she prepares for her third studio album, Somewhere Else, to be released on February 18, alt country star Lydia Loveless finds herself in a content place. Despite the singer-songwriter’s quick rise to fame for songs like “Boy Crazy” and a seemingly nonstop touring spree, her journey to the top started off rough. Loveless was at her lowest point around 2011—she’d ended a relationship, lost her job and was babysitting to make ends meet when she got the call to be signed to famed Chicago label Bloodshot Records. “There was nowhere to go but up,” the 23-year-old recalls. “It was completely perfect timing.”

Fast forward to today. On a chilly Tuesday night, Loveless is sitting outside of a bar in Columbus, Ohio, chatting it up with Boxx via phone about getting signed, her new album and the journey of finding herself. For the first time, the singer-songwriter—who was in a band with her two older sisters earlier in her career—is finally unafraid to flaunt the influence that early ’90s pop and rock had on her own style. “When I first started, I wanted to be full-on, outlaw country. Since then, I’ve embraced more pop. I was born in 1990, so I love pop music and that really inspired me as a kid,” Loveless says. “I have all these crazy influences, so my sound has gotten a lot more pop-rock since then, but I’m definitely less shameless about loving pop music.”

After two years of constant touring behind her first two albums, 2010′s The Only Man and 2011′s Indestructible MachineLoveless found herself in a bit of a funk. The guilt of being on the road with different nights in different cities left the singer-songwriter longing to write and record simultaneously. “You go on tour and then you have to put out an album. Then, once you put out that album, you already have to have the next one in the works, so I guess that was a big lesson for me. I realized that it never stops,” she says.

In between touring, Loveless married her husband and got a new drummer. Figuring out all the new chemistry together was a challenge she gladly accepted, though. “My drummer before was my dad, and my bass guitarist [Ben Lamb] is my husband,” she says. “My new drummer [Nick German] is punk rock. He’s from Detroit, and he brings a new energy to the band. We all bonded this last year on tour and this was a new place for me. We bounce ideas off each other whereas I used to keep ideas to myself. Now if I think of something, I go right to Nick, and we start working on beats.”

This time around, Loveless played by those new set of rules for writing and recording and, as a result, discovered that her mind and music are more elevated. The title track and “Chris Isaak” are songs on the record that are examples of a more mature Loveless, breaking boundaries and letting you know what’s on her mind. She is much more comfortable with herself and confident in her product now, and her fans can expect relatable music, she says. “I feel like I’ve improved a lot in the lyrical department. I feel like I have a more of a presence now. I’m 23. When I was writing songs before, I wasn’t even in my twenties. I feel like I have a little more clarity about being willing to accept and experiment outside of simple funny country songs. Now I just want to write songs that actually move people.”

It turns out Loveless has taken her own advice. “There’s so much pressure as a woman to fit into a specific genre. I would encourage women to write whatever comes out of them and not worry about sounding like someone who has come before them. To be truly yourself is to be completely unafraid,” she says. “It’s just so much better when you let go and stop worrying about what people think and just make the art that comes out of you.”

In fact, Loveless recalls an epiphany she had during the writing process of Somewhere Else that stays with her today. “My breakthrough came when I was writing all these shitty songs that I really didn’t like, and it made me depressed. And I realized that it was because I was trying to live up to a standard. The things that I write now just pop into my head, and it feels like I’m snatching them out of the air. You have to follow your own intuition. It [was a hard lesson] I had to learn.”