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The Journey of Our Lives: How Larkin Poe Paved The Way to 'Blood Harmony'

Tuesday, 15 November 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Jason Stoltzfus

To listen to American roots duo Larkin Poe is to hear passion, authenticity, commitment and unity. All those qualities flow through the collective veins of siblings Rebecca and Megan Lovell, resulting in forward-thinking anthems built on a deep reverence for both their cultural lineage and the musical pioneers who’ve inspired their life’s work.

Skilfully steering this ship for over a decade with increasingly successful results, the Lovell sisters have evolved into a formidable proposition. This is a band who diligently honour the touchstones of the past, while grounding them in the present and making damn sure they have a bright future.  

Powered by Rebecca’s commanding vocals and Megan’s scintillating slide textures, the duo’s latest release ‘Blood Harmony’ finds them nimbly splicing together southern rock, blues, gospel, country and vintage pop melodies to sublime effect. A distillation of everything the sisters represent, and their career trajectory thus far, this very accessible seventh album could well see them crash the mainstream party, on their own terms, in the not too distant future. 

We spoke with younger sister Rebecca about their unique story, being respectful while pushing the envelope, and what a certain pivotal ancestor, whom their band was named after, might make of Larkin Poe resurrecting his distinctive moniker for such fiendish purposes.

You’ve described ‘Blood Harmony’ as a spontaneous and vibrant record compared to the more methodically produced albums you made in the past. What was different about the process for this effort? 

We started our record label in 2017, my sister and I, to bring all the creative freedom in-house. We took the reins firmly, began self-producing and decided we were going to experiment with playing all the instruments. Since I’m not the best drummer in the world that meant we needed to program drums. But creating music ‘in the box’ a little more, experimenting with different production styles and more of a pop process, meant a certain rigidity existed. 

So for ‘Blood Harmony’ we decided we did want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and try something completely new, step away from programmed drums and bring in the live energy. When we perform live, the four of us [the duo are augmented by Kevin McGowan on drums and bassist Tarka Layman when touring], we’re a lean, mean machine. In changing up our production process and allowing that energy to exist, and go a bit more on faith, when folks listen to the record they can hear who we are on stage.

Although opening cut Deep Stays Down starts quite stripped and sparse, we sense what’s coming and it’s like you’re teasing us while we wait for the inevitable explosion. It almost encapsulates your band’s journey to this record, with the start of the song saying ‘this is where we began on our early albums’ and, when it kicks in, ‘this is where we are now.’

I love that take. That was a song my husband, Tyler Bryant, and I had written. In the recording process Deep Stays Down went through no less than than four or five different iterations, in terms of arrangement and production. It was a stubborn song coming into the world. I think people can hear the dedication because it is very intentional, the way it starts small and requires patience. It’s like a tiger stalking its prey and, as you say, you sort of see what’s coming but you’ve got to watch the National Geographic channel in order to get to the ultimate pounce, and ultimate demise, of whatever came before. But it seems to represent our growth. I may not have thought that in the moment but, in hindsight, I absolutely see that it feels representative of our journey.     

During the chorus of Georgia Off My Mind I can almost hear you smiling as you’re singing. What does that song mean to you?

That brings me joy because I love cleverness for the sake of cleverness. Obviously identifying as Georgia Peaches and getting to write a song that piggybacks off our state song by Ray Charles, Georgia On My Mind. It does make me smile so I was grinning like a fool in the vocal booth cutting that. But it is a little bittersweet. It’s speaking to that transitional time, when my sister and I made the decision to move from Georgia back to Tennessee about six or seven years ago. Everyone can relate to that moment where you feel you’re in transition and on that tipping point of past and future and what’s to come. You can be nervous, excited or a little fearful and it’s all good because you’re rolling the dice and making that change. 

When you’ve written a song like Southern Comfort, is it only right and proper to put a little nod to one of the greatest southern anthems of all time in the opening lick? 

You have a very good ear. I love it. And that was an interesting writing process because it’s easy to throw stones at bands that are knitting within a certain artistic framework, built on tradition, and can feel a bit frozen in time. So when I wrote Southern Comfort, the very first draft, I played through the verse, spat some lyrics out, and then launched into the chorus. Very stream of consciousness. I recorded it to my phone, listened back and immediately deleted it. I was being very self critical like ‘This is just so passé. It feels trite.’ But in coming back to it the next day, I sat with myself and was like, ‘Well, did you enjoy singing it? Did it feel inspiring to you? Listen again.’ So I opened the trash on my voice memos, re-listened and was like ‘Alright, I’m gonna send it to my sis.’ 

Sometimes it’s easy to be self critical in the moment and self limiting about what you feel is cool, modern or if you feel like you’re just being a recycling machine. But if you let go of some of the criticism, don’t fall on the sword, or someone else has tried to stab you with the sword, you can live in the moment and let the songs come out as they will. Ultimately that’s how I felt about Southern Comfort. It’s acknowledging that it is derivative and everybody is derivative. All artists are building upon the blocks that have come before. 

You’re a big fan of The Black Keys and that influence certainly informs Bad Spell. How important were they, and The White Stripes before them, with regards to what they did for blues music and the notion you can be a modern day two piece within that genre and still create a big, varied sound that has mass appeal?

What The Black Keys and The White Stripes have done is monumental. Jack White, Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney, in their own ways, have harkened back to the blues in a way that’s very respectful. You cannot create within the roots music sphere without giving mentions to those who have come before.

I absolutely love what The Black Keys did with their ‘Delta Kream’ record. Bringing in musicians who’ve been movers and shakers and, with a sharp sense of dedication, speaking to their heroes by doing a bunch of Junior Kimbrough’s songs and covering the catalogue. It definitely serves as a mould my sister and I have tried to fit ourselves into. In the same way Bonnie Raitt absolutely shouted out her mentors. The Rolling Stones shouted out their mentors. It continues to be a pattern because it’s healthy and respectful.    

When it comes to pushing stylistic boundaries in order to give blues a contemporary stamp, how far is too far and where do you draw the line?

I feel that line is determined by each individual listener because what’s too far for one person may not be for the other. It comes down to unique perspectives and not letting fear dictate your choices about going too far. I don’t know what too far would mean for American roots music because it’s a great big world and so many of the gatekeepers within the music industry are slowly being picked off. An artist’s connection to the fans is immediate through social media, in many cases, and we don’t need labels or different entities to represent or condone an artist’s work. It comes down to what you choose to listen to as a music consumer. You can support people that you feel are taking it in a direction that is to your taste, or not.  

When it comes to personalities and musical skill sets, how are your and Megan’s strengths and weaknesses balanced out by the other to form what seems like a very complete whole? 

We’re really different people and there is a lot of the sun and moon, the yin and the yang, between my sister and I that’s taken time for us to figure out how to balance. We’ve always been best friends but learning how to become our own individual adults, while also being very much intertwined with one another, has been the journey of our lives. It’s something we have dedicated so much energy into. We were fortunate to both be on the same page about what we wanted to achieve with our music, that we liked the same styles, and were able to be effective collaborators. 

In accepting our differences, particularly in our early 20s, we had to go through some rough patches and learn how to argue well. Because touring for a living is certainly not a glamorous thing, particularly for a band in our genre and with our trajectory. You are put in positions where, even outside of being traditional bandmates with that extra layer of sisterhood, we had to learn how to celebrate one another, speak with respect and have certain boundaries we will not cross. That has made us incredibly strong together. We can pull as a team and make choices that are constructive in one another’s growth, never growing at the other’s expense.      

You said you’ve gone to great lengths to achieve creative freedom. Has that meant you’ve never had any pressure to dress a certain way or write hits for a specific audience?

Yeah. That was the major driver in deciding to go independent. We were approached throughout our career by incredible partners. Ultimately we decided not to go that way because we didn’t want to be placed in positions where we would be asked to do certain things. We naturally align with a DIY energy. We love to treat our band as a small business and have many hats on our heads; being producers, songwriters, helping design the merch, figuring out what the stage is gonna look like, knowing what the ads are gonna be, how we make the album art represent who we are and asking, ‘What does the logo say about who we are as a band?’ 

We enjoy the fine detail of getting to be an independent group and that’s served us well because I feel as humans we all, most of us, want to be pleasers. You want people to accept and like you and a lot of us do that by saying ‘yes’ to stuff. So in saying ‘no’ to outside business interests we’ve only said yes to what we want. Being able to live with our decisions and evolve on our terms has been something we’ve cherished.       

And in keeping with the whole lineage theme, what do you think your great-great-great-great grandad would make of you using his name to sell your devil music to the public?

I love devil music, yes. I’ve asked myself that question a handful of times and never quite know. I get different responses every time. We come from a line of very unique people so I like to think he would be proud of the fact that, at the very least, his bloodline was continuing to go against the grain.  

Larkin Poe’s ‘Blood Harmony’ is out now on Tricki-Woo Records.

Larkin Poe Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri January 20 2023 - ASHEVILLE North Carolina - Orange Peel (USA)
Sat January 21 2023 - KNOXVILLE Tennessee - Mill & Mine (USA)
Tue January 24 2023 - KANSAS CITY Missouri - Knuckleheads Saloon (USA)
Thu January 26 2023 - DENVER Colorado - Ogden Theatre (USA)
Fri January 27 2023 - SALT LAKE CITY Utah - Commonwealth Room (USA)
Tue January 31 2023 - BOISE Idaho - Knitting Factory - Boise (USA)
Thu February 02 2023 - SEATTLE Washington - Crocodile (USA)
Fri February 03 2023 - VANCOUVER British Columbia - Commodore Ballroom (Canada)
Sat February 04 2023 - PORTLAND Oregon - Wonder Ballroom (USA)
Tue February 07 2023 - GRASS VALLEY California - Grass Valley Center for the Arts (USA)
Thu February 09 2023 - SAN FRANCISCO California - Fillmore (USA)
Fri February 10 2023 - SAN DIEGO California - House of Blues San Diego (USA)
Sat February 11 2023 - LOS ANGELES California - Fonda Theatre (USA)
Thu February 23 2023 - DALLAS Texas - Echo Lounge & Music Hall (USA)
Fri February 24 2023 - AUSTIN Texas - Scoot Inn (USA)
Sat February 25 2023 - FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas - Georges Majestic Lounge (USA)
Thu March 09 2023 - WASHINGTON District Of Columbia - 9:30 Club (USA)
Fri March 10 2023 - PHILADELPHIA Pennsylvania - Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia (USA)
Sat March 11 2023 - NEW YORK New York - Webster Hall (USA)
Sun March 12 2023 - BOSTON Massachusetts - Royale (USA)
Wed March 15 2023 - TORONTO Ontario - Opera House (Canada)
Thu March 16 2023 - CHICAGO Illinois - Thalia Hall (USA)
Fri March 17 2023 - MILWAUKEE Wisconsin - Turner Hall Ballroom (USA)
Sat March 18 2023 - MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota - First Avenue (USA)
Fri March 31 2023 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Brooklyn Bowl Nashville (USA)
Sat April 01 2023 - ATLANTA Georgia - Variety Playhouse (USA)

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