LA Beat Interview: Larkin Poe

larkinpoeLarkin Poe are awfully young to be ten years into their music career. Touring on the bluegrass circuit as the Lovell Sisters in their mid-teens, sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell gained extensive road experience, including the start of a long partnership with Elvis Costello, before forming their own band in 2009.

Since then, Larkin Poe – named after an ancestor that connects their lineage to that of Edgar Allen Poe – has become ever more stylistically diverse, though always keeping one foot in the Southern rock and blues that defines their early sound. “Trouble In Mind”, the leadoff single from their new album Reskinned, hints at a shift in production values toward radio-ready hugeness. Somewhat surprisingly, it suits them just as well as heartbreaking balladry and Bonnie Raitt-style belters have in the past. Germany seems to be going particularly gaga for them at the moment– of all the recent TV interviews I located while researching them on YouTube, at least half were in German.

We met Rebecca and Megan backstage at the Ace Hotel prior to their performance with Elvis Costello, performing a duo set as his opening act, and joining him toward the end of his own show for rousing trio versions of “Peace, Love And Understanding”, “Blame It On Cain”, and their New Basement Tapes collaboration “Down On The Bottom,” among others. It’s easy to see why he fell for what he calls their “sibling harmonies” and decided to make use of them; they add a rich counterpoint to his songs that’s different from any of the other bands he’s ever used. Their own set was well-received and over all too quickly. Here’s hoping they return to town before long.

How’s the tour going so far?

MEGAN: It’s going great! We played here last night, it was a really incredible show. We had a lot of fun. I guess that was our third show?

REBECCA: We played Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara… It’s been wonderful.  The crowds have been really supportive so far. It feels like the energy of this tour is going to be really, really good. It keeps building, it feels like the pacing is speeding up. We’re out for another two and a half weeks playing shows, so it should be great.

Do you approach doing opening sets any differently in terms of the song choices and the pacing, than when you’re playing for your own audience?

REBECCA: Most definitely. I mean, for this set, we’re actually playing as a duo. And so generally speaking, when we tour as Larkin Poe, we’re with a full band. So I think the songs we pull from are very different. It’s a really fun narrative for us to put together a show as a duo, not only because we have thirty minutes, a very hard thirty minutes, that we have to fill. So want to make it stretch as far as we can. But also to have it be just the two of us on the stage, and how to bring it up and bring it down.

So from that perspective we get to play with it a lot more, and bring a lot more stories into it, I think in terms of a duo set.

One thing that struck me while listening to your catalog was the sheer variety of styles, emotions and things that you’re working with, and based on the track that’s been previewed from your new album, it sounds like that’s about to be expanded even beyond what we’ve seen so far.

MEGAN: Yeah. We’ve been working with him (Elvis) for about nine years, and talk about someone who’s done a variety of genres… anything that you can do, he’s done.

More than most!

MEGAN: So I think we’ve kind of taken a page out of his book, in that we haven’t confined ourselves to a genre. But I think there is a narrative that’s gone on. We started out in more rootsy, folky music. As time has gone by, we’ve played on bigger stages and our sound has just gotten bigger along with that. You know, playing Glastonbury… we’ve expanded to fill the stage, I guess. We grew up listening to a lot of classic rock and roll music, so that’s definitely filtered in, that love that we have for the classic rock and roll.

REBECCA: I think also just being relatively young humans, too. We’re in our mid-twenties, so we’ve been making music from our mid-teens to this point in our life. I think just the amount of change we’ve experienced in a public eye, has been really astonishing over the years. We look back at photos of us and we’re teenagers! And we were out there doing it, we were touring and playing gigs, and I think it’s really educational to watch that breadth of time and the amount of change that takes place. It’s very organic, you don’t sense it happening, But when you take a moment and you check, OK, that was point A, and this is currently point B, it’s really neat to see that change.

And I think it has taken us a lot of time to really figure out what our story is, what our message is, as artists. We are still fairly young songwriters, it’s been what, four or five years since we started REALLY writing songs? And it’s one of those crafts that I think, takes a lifetime to perfect, if you can ever even perfect it, which I don’t think you really can. So for us, it’s the kind of thing that’s gonna always keep changing. If it doesn’t, I feel like we will have died. Stagnant.

The music industry is certainly looking a lot different than it was ten years ago when you started out. Do you feel like this is a good climate right now to work in, for someone who’s trying to do something kind of personal and work independently?

REBECCA: That’s a very interesting question. I would think when we started making music as Larkin Poe, we never had designs on having mainstream or mass success in any way. We started off touring in the bluegrass scene. And so we just did it because that’s what we loved doing. We’re out there on the road, and we’re playing 150, 200 shows a year and just became kind of a new norm for us. So it’s only been in the last five or six years that we’ve been really taking note of how other bands are attacking “the industry”, if you will, and trying to play their music to a wider and bigger crowd.

MEGAN: I think one hand gives and the other takes away.

REBECCA: Absolutely.

MEGAN: I think that it is a hard time in music to make a living.

REBECCA: There’s a lot of noise to fight through, as an artist. You have a lot of competition.

MEGAN: But now we’re able to connect with the fans in such a direct way, which is amazing. It’s really incredible.

REBECCA: Exactly!

Do you take inspiration from your famous ancestor, who we’ve been reading about?

REBECCA: Absolutely! We grew up reading Edgar Allen Poe when we were very young. We were actually schooled by our folks at home.

What was your first thought upon reading that stuff?

REBECCA: Oh, it was terrifying! One, to realize that that kind of writing exists. You know, when we were that young reading his work, it was just devastating. It was like the scariest thing we could possibly even imagine, it’s just so gory and dark. And then to realize that’s somehow related to us, way up the family tree?

MEGAN: Because we didn’t find out we were related to him until our teens.

REBECCA: And then going back and revisiting after having figured it out, it felt suddenly very personal. Like you read his work with a greater appreciation somehow. It’s like, “well, he’s in our family tree.”

MEGAN: I kind of think that his darkness and morbidity, that, mentally a little off, has maybe kind of trickled down through our family though, because we have a lot of characters in our family tree. Especially on that side of the family, which is our dad’s side of the family. A lot of mental illness…. Rascals and mischievous people in general.

REBECCA: Very dark people! Obviously very intelligent people that were stuck in grinding poverty. So in that respect, I think a lot of our family, they had a lot of heartache. And a lot of the blues, I think our people would have had a lot of the blues in terms of being so smart, and just being stuck.

Has an admirer ever sent you a bottle of Amontillado?

REBECCA: That would be a clever…

MEGAN: Somebody do that!

REBECCA: Yes please, we would happily accept a bottle of Amontillado!

MEGAN: But no. We’ve gotten Poe beer though.

REBECCA: Yeah, there’s a Poe Brewery in West Virginia or Pennsylvania somewhere.

What do you think we’re going to see in the short term? You have this new record about to come out which has already surprised me.

REBECCA: April 15 is the release of the new record. And we’re really just going to keep touring in support of that record for the next few months. We got picked up by a lot of big festivals in Europe.

MEGAN: And what’s new for us, this year, is that we have a really great team behind us, which isn’t something that we’ve had in the past. Universal over in Europe picked up the album. And so the way that they are attacking it, and our people here, lots of press and publicity, and things that we’ve never had before. So that is very new for us and we’re excited. And also, our single is at radio, and is charting in a small way, so we’re kind of getting behind that.

REBECCA: It really does take a village, I think, in today’s climate, to break an artist and so we’re lucky to have really good people with us. But all the while, in direct opposition to, like, really strategic marketing and we’re gonna release a song here and do this… I mean, we’re always writing. We’re always messing around and trying to figure out what’s next.

MEGAN: Even in our live shows now, we’re already playing new songs that have not been recorded yet.

REBECCA: And we want to record them now! We’re very impatient. I’d say the next year for us is just a year of keeping up with ourselves.

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