Larkin Poe Returns to Byron Bay Bluesfest in 2020!
By Tracey Hammell
August 28, 2019
Rebecca and Megan Lovell, the two sisters who front Larkin Poe, hail from Atlanta Georgia and now live in Nashville. Larkin Poe took their name from the Lovell’s Great, Great, Great Grandfather – Larkin Haskew Poe, a historian who wrote about the 1862 Battle of Chickamauga, and was also Edgar Alan Poe’s cousin.
The Poe Family Cabin stands in Chickamauga Georgia, just north of where Rebecca and Megan grew up. They learned classical violin and piano at school and were then bitten by the bluegrass bug. Rebecca took up banjo and violin, and Megan took up the Dobro and then lap steel guitar, at 14 and 15 respectively. Then they started gigging as the Lovell Sisters with their older sister Jessica. They won a competition and started touring in the family minivan full time the first year. They were home schooled and their parents travelled with them, given they were so young. When Jessica left the group, Rebecca and Megan started Larkin Poe in 2010. Rebecca plays a fierce 6 string guitar and wails on lead vocals, and Megan wows everyone with her soulful lap steel and harmonies.
After being totally enrapt with all four shows, I was introduced to Rebecca and Megan at Byron Bluesfest at Easter 2019. I chatted with them again ahead of their second visit to Australia at Bluesfest in 2020 …
It’s fabulous news that you’re coming back to Byron Bluesfest in 2020 because Australia adores you! In fact, I just posted on Facebook that I’d be talking with you this morning and the likes came back thick and fast … “tell them we love them”, they said … so you’ve made an indelible impact on our audiences.
Megan: Oh, that’s so cool.
You are both very talented multi-instrumentalists, and equally, you both have powerfully distinctive voices which are a lot like instruments in themselves, I feel. Would you chat a little on how you developed your vocal styles?
Megan: Yeah, we started out singing in the choir, so as soon as Rebecca could read, our mum put us into choir lessons, so we were taught to sing harmony from a young age. But it wasn’t really until we started Larkin Poe that we thought about singing other than harmony parts because we had the band The Lovell Sisters, which included our elder sister Jessica, and she was our lead vocalist. And when Jessica left, that’s when the two of us were put in this position where one of us needed to step up and become the lead singer. Neither of us really wanted to admittedly, because our focus was always on the music side, and so we talked amongst ourselves and came up with the decision that Rebecca was going to become the lead singer.
You’ve cited influences like Thin Lizzy, Southern Rock, and even classical music as you were growing up, and you have developed your own influences from blues musicians such as Son House. I also can’t help wondering if there were female influences, such as Heart, with Ann Wilson on vocals and her sister Nancy on guitar, and their striking sibling harmonies. They’ve paved a road for women in music since the 70’s. Do they, or other women stand out for you as an inspiration?
Megan: Certainly Heart. I mean we definitely grew up listening to a lot of Heart, a lot of Alison Krauss, she probably had a big influence on our singing style, specifically with the very tight harmonies, which also Heart has the very tight sibling harmonies. Rebecca, you were also influenced by a lot of male singers as well.
Rebecca: Yes absolutely, we listened to a lot of very tight, very nice singers growing up as kids. For me, I think when we started Larkin Poe, I became a little bit more intrigued in sort of un-braiding the vocal stylings that we learned as children and young teens and I wanted to sing with more raw abandon. I’m like, espousing on the virtues of Howlin’ Wolf and the eviscerating qualities of his voice which I find inspiring. And you know, belters, who sing really hard, and they sing very raw. And I think a big one for me would also be Chris Whitley. Learning to try and sing in a way that it’s a bit more thrown off; I think he’s been a big touchstone for me.
Derek Trucks has been quoted as referring to Larkin Poe as “the little sisters of the Allman Brothers”, and he is of course married to Susan Tedeschi, who has taken great strides for women in modern blues. Are there women in the current music environment that you keep a track on?
Rebecca: Oh absolutely. Susan is a powerhouse vocalist. You know in the modern age I think that she’s one of the quintessential blues singers. I was actually one of the weird groupies that followed Tedeschi Trucks on tour. I went to quite a few shows consecutively and night after night, you know, Susan was singing a two-hour show and the lead vocals for all the songs, and she is just an undeniable force of nature. I love her voice. I also have to mention Bonnie Raitt as a singer that we really, really admire. Bonnie is the ultimate class singer.
Have you met Bonnie Raitt on the festival circuit?
Rebecca: We did, we met her, it was October of last year out in Los Angeles, and I had just purchased a Resonator guitar from a guitar maker called Waterslide out in Los Angeles and I brought it with me to the venue in Los Angeles, the Ace Theatre, where we were playing, and it was so cool ‘cause I opened the case in the communal ladies green room backstage, and as I’m opening the case Bonnie walks in and so, of course, I had to be that guy, and I was like, “Bonnie would you like to play my guitar, it’s brand new?”, and so she was the first person to actually lay her hands on my little Resonator, and that was really somethin’. She’s amazing.
Nice. So maybe a collaboration coming up at some point perhaps?
Rebecca: We would live and die for that moment wouldn’t we Meg. We wouldn’t look back.
You’ve been quoted as saying, “You’ve gotta have faith in yourself and go on those journeys of self-discovery”. I’ve watched your album releases with intrigue as you’ve mixed half originals/half covers and then on to more originals, and now you’ve posted a bunch of pop, rock, and blues covers on Youtube. It’s an interesting and clever creative choice. You’ve found fans in multiple genres by doing that, as well as opening up the reach and popularity of blues music to mainstream audiences that may not have otherwise discovered it, in a similar way that Stevie Ray Vaughan and even John Mayer have done. Is this something that was a conscious decision?
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s a very inciteful perspective. Certainly at the beginning, when Meg and I started the Tip of the Hat series that we put on Youtube, it was more of a myopic decision in pursuit of a practice method for Megan and I together as sisters, just to keep it fresh; because when you’re touring as much as we tour, and I think a lot of musicians can attest to the fact, it’s hard to keep things fresh in yourselves. You run the risk of becoming rote and stuck in your little touring lane, or the show that you’re touring at that time. So being able to stretch out and learn other songs is very enlivening for us, and in a lot of ways, it did teach us a lot about ourselves to be able to move into a repertoire of songs that spanned many genres. Like you were saying Tracey, pop like a Michael Jackson tune to like a Son House tune, to like a Black Sabbath tune. You know all of these songs are stylistically very different and exercising the tool of art. Here’s this song, so how do we make it sound like us? How do we be Larkin Poe inside this pop song, this blues song, this metal song? And I think that we learned so much.
But a bi-product that we didn’t expect was the fact that it would be such a community tool, and in meeting new people online, and making new friends, and it really has had such a real-world impact on our touring methods. You know, being able to have videos online that people are actually enjoying and sharing with their friends. It is such a community that we’ve found with people online on Youtube, and on our Facebook page, and those people they come out and they buy tickets and they tell their friends. So, in a lot of ways it’s been such a positive thing for us.
Megan: We certainly didn’t expect that it would happen to real world effects for us, but now we can go to places that we’ve never played before, never played even close to, and sell out shows, and it’s incredibly powerful. You realise how powerful the internet is and how powerful social media can be and we feel very lucky to have found a community of people that are very supportive of music and are huge music lovers that are searching for musical substance.
Reflecting on the Australian tour, did working with Keith Urban have any influence on you wanting to come here?
Rebecca: I would say yes. We’ve been wanting to come to Australia for a long time before this Spring. So, when we finally knew that we were going to be able to come over we were ecstatic because it’s been a long time coming. And it really, really lived up to our expectations. I mean the people are so incredibly kind. Of course, the Bluesfest is just an amazing introduction. New Zealand was awesome as well. We are just so, so excited that we got asked back to Bluesfest for next year, and we’re really looking forward to it. But yeah Keith Urban, man, I mean … who could not love him?
You write together, and close as you are, you both come from different perspectives, personalities, and experiences. Do you tend to write continuously to keep the songwriting muscle exercised and then find the little gems that come out of that collaboration, or do you write from particular events or circumstances that happen?
Rebecca: My personal relationship with songwriting I feel is fairly complicated. From a very young age I’ve been really intrigued and obsessed with words. So, a day doesn’t go by where I don’t write. You know, the notes on my toes, just playing with words making little stories, maybe poetry, lyric ideas that come to me, so I’m always jotting down fragmentary ideas. But when it comes to actually songwriting I’m a bit of a doom and gloom writer I think. Sometimes I toy with, you know, “Oh my God, I’ve written my last song, I’m never gonna write anything again”. Like kind of a ridiculous dramatic relationship with writing, ‘cause writing scares me to a degree. It’s probably a large part of why I love it so much, because it is the thing in my life that really does complete me, but it is difficult for me to do sometimes from an ego perspective.
This Fall, we’re gonna take some time off from the road to make the next record, and I’m so looking forward to Megan and myself having a little bit of time in our home studio over in Berry Hill with our buddy Roger Alan Nichols, to just actually breathe, instead of being so heavily in the tour focus mind, and to actually take a step back and be able to breathe that life into some new ideas with all the experiences we’ve accrued in the last 24 months of touring.
I can hear that you love words, you speak very articulately, beautiful use of language, if I may say.
Rebecca: Oh, thank you.
And yes, you have been doing a lot of touring. Does that tend to energise you or can it get tiring?
Rebecca: It’s a bit of both. I think that it’s one of the happiest things we can do, you know, getting to be out on the road. Making connections with people from many different walks of life and sharing the joint experience of music. But I don’t know how many days we’ve actually been home as well, I don’t know how many days this year, not many comparatively speaking to how many days we spend travelling. So, it’s kind of a give and take, but I do think that Megan and I are looking forward to making the record and just being in one place. And we are so generally centric that we look forward to being able to spend some time, and I guess that will help to re-energise us again to hit the road in Spring. You know it’s all cyclical and it all waxes and wanes and it’s all good, it’s all good.
Speaking of chilling out, I read that you love hiking. Did you, or will you get to see any of our rainforests when you’re here?
Rebecca: This past trip we didn’t get to. But I really hope that we actually have a bit more time to do some sightseeing because we were around in Byron Bay, and it’s such a beautiful part of the country, but we rarely get hours of time to explore. On this upcoming tour I really have my fingers crossed that we can get out and see it. Because I really want to hug a kangaroo, and my new obsession is, oh my gosh what are they called, custard apples, your fruit, oh my sweet Lord I love ‘em they’re so nice.
And the beaches?
Rebecca: Yes, well I say I love the beach; I hate sand but I love the beach (everyone laughs).
Megan: We actually got to go to a black sand beach which was very, very lovely and I love the sand and especially the black sand that I thought was so amazing. So, I’m hoping that we get to go back on the beach when we’re there.
I’ve listened to you being interviewed about your differences and how Rebecca you’re really outward on stage but it’s really you Megan that’s the live wire offstage.
Megan: We are very different people which I think in a lot of ways works to our favour because we get along very well and my weaknesses are kind of Rebecca’s strengths and vice versa, and so I think that we make a really good team in that way, even though we are very different in our personalities, and even our interests. However, we are very much on the same page as far as our goals are concerned, and the music that we love to play and where we see our careers going. So luckily, we match up in the right ways.
Rebecca: And if I could pop in and say I think so often people seek similarities in others … you want to find a common ground between you and the other person, I think. In our childhood and our teens, we were so, so tightly interwoven together and tried, in some ways, to be the same person. We were always a package deal and that was a really interesting experience that, as we came into our adulthood, and especially having toured so much of our lives together, to actually extricate ourselves from each other and realise that we are in fact very different, and we do things very differently. As Megan says, it’s an asset, it plays to our advantage, so long as you actually can allow space and respect. There are so many ways to skin a cat, and in every situation in life to really respect the differences that do exist between us, and to celebrate those differences, and I think that that has been such a coming of age for us in the last two or three years. I think that has shown itself in the making of the last two records for sure. When you listen to our albums Peach and Venom and Faith, you maybe hear the give and take between us as sisters, and we’re like “Here we are, there’s the two of us, and we’re gonna figure out how we can both be represented on our own.”
I can see that in your performances. You’re both highlights on the stage at the same time.
Rebecca: That’s beautiful. It’s true, and I think that that has been a large part of the maturation between the two of us, realising that, “Hey, a win for you is a win for me, like let’s both be strong together, and to be dual headlights on a car bearing down on everybody on the freeway like, let’s go, let’s go, let’s do this together.” And it’s such a joy, I mean getting to perform together, we’re in a hunky-dory groove with each other and it’s the most amazing thing, and if we’re not in a hunky-dory mood it’s equally interesting, at least there’s that to say.
You’re planning the new album to follow up Venom and Faith to come out just before the Bluesfest?
Rebecca: Yes Ma’am. It’s coming out in March if God plays his cards right with us and gives us the creative inspiration that we need to go with us on the journey.
Any insight into the direction that it might take?
Rebecca: Ah, the last two records I think, Meg and I have found our creative waifs, I feel like we’re on the right path. So, I think people can expect something that is in keeping with our past two albums but it’s going to be something entirely new and fresh. I’m really excited to kinda channel all this pent-up energy that we’ve been creating and experiencing with people in the last 5 or 6 tours that we’ve put on. We can’t wait to be really surprised at whatever it is that we make (laughs).
For all the new fans that you’ve made in Australia now – those who saw you at Bluesfest in 2019, and those that are coming to Bluesfest in 2020, what would you like to say to them?
Rebecca: I would lead off by saying we’re very excited that we have slotted in March for the release of the new record. We hope people will stay tuned on our creative journey of making that record. I really encourage people to come out to the shows ‘cause one thing that Megan and I have experienced time and time again in the 25 different countries that we’ve played in, you know, the process of a live performance is such a cathartic and beautiful experience for people to share together. The thing that really makes us more human is our participation in creative staging and creative experiences. You know, the art, live music, it’s so important and I hope that people will come out and bring their kids, and share that with us. I’d like to hear what you have to say, Megan?
Megan: Yeah that’s actually what I was gonna say as well. It’s beautiful to make a connection with people and we do hope that people will come out to the shows, and also we love to see the comments on our posts on social media … that’s another way of making connections … we really do love people and we like to spread joy in whatever way we can. So please everyone, reach back out to us.
It’s been a delight chatting today, you are both so engaging. Thank you. I think you can look forward to another really amazing trip out here and will have an even bigger group of fans clamouring into the marquis to see you.
Rebecca: It has been such a joy to speak with you. You’ve been so lovely and so kind. It means the world that you take the time to ask questions that feel very special, thank you so much.
Both: See you at Bluesfest. Bye bye.
Larkin Poe will be performing at Byron Bay Bluesfest in 2020.
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