The Bluegrass Situation: Roots Culture Redefined

Hangin’ & Sangin’: Larkin Poe

Jan 30, 2018

From the Bluegrass Situation and WMOT Roots Radio, it’s Hangin’ & Sangin’ with your host, BGS editor Kelly McCartney. Every week Hangin’ & Sangin’ offers up casual conversation and acoustic performances by some of your favorite roots artists. From bluegrass to folk, country, blues, and Americana, we stand at the intersection of modern roots music and old time traditions bringing you roots culture — redefined.

With me today at Hillbilly Central … Larkin Poe! Welcome!

Rebecca Lovell: Thank you!

I think it’s actually Hangin’ & Bangin’ today with all these amps. Because we’ve not really turned it up so much as we’re going to today. I’m a little bit excited!

RL: Yes! Great!

So we’ll see how the crowd handles it! Such a random sampling of my friends have come forward this week going, “Oh my God, I love Larkin Poe!” What’s that about? Explain yourselves! Random people. Like I have one friend who listens to Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell pretty much exclusively, and she’s like, “Oh I just found them. I love them!”

RL: Well, we love Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell, and we like Black Sabbath. I mean there’s a very limited number of bands that we don’t like. I mean we grew up in Atlanta so we love hip-hop and urban music, but we grew up playing classical violin and piano as kids. Our folks put us into lessons, I guess, when I was three and you [Megan] were four? And we started violin. So we were classical kids until I guess our early teens.

Then you were grassers.

RL: Total grassers! I was a banjo, bluegrass fanatic for many years and swore I would never play the mandolin, swore I would never do a bunch of stuff that we ended up melding our way through.

And now look at you! Strat …

RL: I know. Now we’re playing electric guitars. It’s crazy! [Laughs]

The most recent release, Peach, last September it came out. You guys self-produced it, played everything, but that wasn’t the plan going in, right? Necessarily?

RL: It wasn’t the plan. You know, it’s interesting, so much of the way in Larkin Poe, it’s always sort of organically shown itself to us, as we’re on the way, you know what I mean? So we were in the studio writing and rehearsing, just trying to get together some ideas to record, and it felt like we were shoving a square peg in a round hole with all the different production situations that we were finding ourselves in. And I have very strong musical opinions and, together, we’re just like loggerhead, you know, bowling anybody else’s opinion down the rabbit hole.

Huh, I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed that. [Laughs]

RL: So we decided, and it was really at Megan’s behest, she was just like “You know what? We [always] get in a room with a producer and you’re just like a bull in a china shop. Let’s just do it ourselves! Why are we fighting this? Let’s just hang together.” And it was so freeing! It was just so fun! And I think that you can hear that on our record.

So while you were doing the writing and pre-production, was the sonic vision sort of coming into focus for you? So you knew you could pull off what you wanted to do?

RL: Yes.

Megan Lovell: Because, at the time, Rebecca was sort of playing around with GarageBand and making our own beats and stuff like that.

RL: To demo the songs.

ML: And we ended up getting demo-itis and really liking the demos. So we were like “Okay, well we can just try this,” and actually keep the vocals that were recorded through the computer microphone into GarageBand!

RL: Crazy. But you know, I think it is a big concern as an artist because you do take the songs that you write and the way that you produce them so personally. For us, I think that we were fighting with not wanting to indulge ourselves too much, and then we started playing the demos for friends and family and different people in the industry that we trust, and they were like, “This is really unique. You guys should just do this!”

And simultaneously, while we were rehearsing, we started making cover videos that we were releasing on Instagram and Facebook, and we had an overwhelming response on social media from the videos, which were literally just Megan and I sitting in a room playing guitars. And people were saying, “Ah, finally it’s just you guys. Make a record like this! We’ve been waiting for this! Your records are always too overproduced. You guys need to just make a record like this!” So, that kind of feedback with the feedback of people saying “Hey, your demos are cool,” we decided, let’s have a little courage.

And that’s what was in your gut anyway.

RL: Yeah! Move with it, you know? Follow the spirit!

When I was researching, I read an old interview with you guys that was talking about how The Observer had, this was a few years ago I think, put you guys between Jack White and Dolly Parton, in some article or something. That is the perfect [combination] …

RL: Absolutely! Oh my God, yeah. I think every artist, whether or not they realize it, you always sort of have your boundaries. Like genre speaking, who are your touchstones? And absolutely Jack White and Dolly are two huge ones. Because Dolly Parton, I mean, our mother’s from East Tennessee and so Dolly’s always been a big hero, just from her growing up close to Pigeon Forge and the whole myth and legend and fantasy that is Dolly. And, musically, she’s been such a big influence. And then Jack White, on the opposite extreme, you know? To be playful and poke fun at yourself, but then also be able to do sort of that Jack White-y alter ego and crank it up.

ML: But they both stay true to their roots which I love.

RL: Same!

And Dolly playing so many different instruments, that’s in there, too. When I read that, I was like, “Oh, that’s probably one of the most perfect, like you said, touchstones” for a fairly undefinable band, which I think you guys are.

RL: Well, thank you!

If asked “Well, how would you describe [Larkin Poe],” I’d say, “I don’t know, who cares!”

RL: Yeah! You know, we spent many years trying to figure out what to call ourselves. And I think, especially when you get in an office with the industry, then it’s very tempting to try and put labels on what it is that you’re doing musically, in order to let them know how to sell it, you know, and you can’t fault anybody for any of that.

Sure.

RL: But, we had a really moving conversation, we were out on the road, we were in Austin, Texas, with Elvis Costello — we toured with him for many years as his backing band. We had been sending him demos of our songs, and so he sort of had an insider view on our current creative forecast or whatever. And he said, “You know what? Be undefinable. Don’t let them put a label on you. You guys do exactly what you do. Don’t worry about that. If you’re worrying about that, you’re wasting your time, and your fans’ time. Just go for it.” And we’re like, “Yes, sir.” [Laughs]

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