Atlanta based sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe have been wowing audiences and critics alike since their formation in 2010. Having started out performing in the Lovell Sisters with their older sister Jessica, the band called it quits in 2009 leading Rebecca and Megan to regroup as Larkin Poe. With their rock-tinged brand of blues and roots music, they have steadily gained a fanbase over the years with their thoughtful, powerful lyrics and authentic nature. Having released 5 independent EPs within their first 3 years, the band signed a record deal with RH Music in 2013 and began work on their debut album KIN. In 2014, T Bone Burnett presented the sisters with the opportunity to play alongside Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and Rhiannon Giddens on Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes, with Costello going on to become their friend and mentor. They have since released 3 more albums, 2016’s Reskinned, 2017’s Peach and 2018’s Venom & Faith, which reached #1 on the Billboard blues album chart. The lyrics for Venom & Faith come from a much more personal place then previous albums, taking the listeners on more of an emotional journey. Although very much a blues and roots band, they are injecting their own unique spin to the genres and carving out a niche for themselves the industry. As they become more confident in themselves as musicians and the direction they want their music to take, Larkin Poe is preparing for a busy 2019, a year they say will be one of touring. Having spent 6 months touring last year with Keith Urban, they will spend January as support on Bob Seger’s farewell tour and have a packed touring schedule for the rest of the year. You can stay up-to-date with Larkin Poe and all upcoming music and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase their music via the following links. Check out their videos for “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues” and “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” below.
You toured last year with Keith Urban on his Graffiti U World Tour, after being discovered by him through Russell Crowe. You’ve said that touring with him taught you how to engage with an arena-sized audience. What do you feel that you learned by touring with him and how do you feel that it prepared you for your current tour with Bob Seger?
Megan- He’s one of the greats for performing to audiences of that size, so it was a front row seat in watching one of the greats. Keith is just amazing at interacting with the crowd and really has such a command of the stage. It was really, really awesome to get to pop up with him each night. We were featured guests on his tour and got to get up and jam for two songs. It’s just amazing watching him and learning how to engage with the audience and things we’d never done, like being aware of the cameras and how to reach the people all the way in the back of the room. I think that really did prepare us for the Bob Seger tour. After 6 months of touring with Keith Urban, we were definitely desensitized to the arena audience size, because it can be a little bit scary! Getting up there now is just an amazing feeling, to be able to reach that many people.
The two of you play a wide variety of instruments but craft your songs to feature the lyrics as prominently as the lyrics backing them. How did your love for powerful and meaningful lyrics develop and what do you feel goes into writing a good song?
Megan- That’s a great question! In the past 2-3 years, we’ve gone back to our roots and gone back to the songs that came before with traditional blues music. We’ve really discovered such a powerful love for the blues. One of the things we admire the most about those songs is how timeless they are. The lyrics are speaking to the emotions that all of us feel, such as love and loss, and questions like “What does it mean to be a human?” and “Is there a god?”. The lyrics are so timeless because of that. We’re always going to be asking those questions. We try to approach our music and our lyrics in the same way. Rebecca writes most of the lyrics for the band. I think she tends to be a bit of a morbid person (laughs) in thinking about the idea of death and heavier topics and writes a lot about those things.
Rebecca- You know, that is a great question and I feel is an answer that songwriters have been searching for over the last several hundred years. I feel that we are very young songwriters in the grand scheme of things and it’s a very exciting journey to be on, learning about how to craft a piece of music and lyrics that will hopefully resonate with a lot of people. For us, and we’ve said this a few times, but over the years for me as a songwriter, I’ve learned to have the courage to put more of myself into the lyrics of a song, which has been a big challenge for me. In the roots music tradition, story songs are very powerful . Learning how to bring a personal perspective into a lyric is something that I continue to struggle with, and I think it’s a good struggle, to learn how to be vulnerable with our songs.
You have mentioned feeling that you’ve been coming into your own as a band over the past couple of years, with your new album Venom & Faith being a product of that growth. Was there a specific motivation for your journey of growth and self-discovery or do you feel it’s something that happened naturally? What do you feel you have learned about yourselves as individuals and musicians during that process?
Rebecca- I think the biggest jumping point, if I can just dive right in, would have been a year and a half to two years ago when Megan and I started a video series called Tip Of The Hat. We used it more as a learning tool, as a way for us to keep sharp and record covers of songs that were important and inspiring to us growing up. We learned these tunes for our own benefit and we decided to start posting them online. The response that people had to the videos was overwhelming! We had such a ground swell of support from people for these really stripped back, rootsy and raw videos that we were releasing. We had a huge demand from fans in the comments saying that they really wanted us to make a record like this, to release the covers or make a record like it. That response from fans gave Megan and I the confidence to go into the studio to make Peach, and to make it with just the two of us, with no producer or other musicians and kind-of shoulder the entire creative burden to bring something to our fans that was, at its core, us. We put every bit of ourselves into that record. I think with Peach, having successfully done that, with just the two us us, we felt so empowered and liberated. I think that inspired so much growth and confidence in ourselves as artists.
Along that same topic, your new album Venom & Faith was also a self-produced album, which allowed you not to have a label or producer pressuring you into being something you’re not. Is that something you have experienced in the past? Have you ever found it challenging over the years to stay true to yourself and your vision as artists?
Rebecca- I would say a little bit of both. Megan, would you agree with that?
Megan- I would say so. I think that over the years we have been mostly independent, which has been by choice. We always knew that we would kind-of be taking the odd path. However, I will say that we have a lot of musical interests and I think that we could go a lot of different ways and be happy. We could have gone down the rock and roll path or the country music path. We could have done that, but in the past two years, since finding the sort-of stripped back blues love, that has felt really, truly authentic. That’s when we were like “Ok. This is it!”. Thankfully, people have been responding to that, as well. I don’t know if that’s because people are searching for the blues and having a resurgence of love for traditional blues or if it’s that people can feel that it is authentic within us and that it’s a really honest expression of us.
Rebecca- I would say, as well, that our parents did raise us to have very strong opinions since we were children and to take the odd path…the road less traveled. We’ve always sort-of played by our own rules. There is oftentimes, as any human can experience, the pressure to please other people. It can be confusing sometimes when we do it in an age of transparency, like on social media, where fans can comment on their feelings directly. That can be a little confusing at times, when you have so many opinions being lobbed at you from every angle. It can muddy up the waters sometimes and make it a little bit more of a conflict within yourself of knowing who your true self actually is. In that way, it is such an asset for Megan and I to have each other, because we have a completely shared life experience. We’re sisters and we know each other to the bone and can call each other on any bullshit that one or both of us might be trying to pull. It’s been one of our big barometers on what feels right…is this something that’s settling with our gut? I would say that Megan is our gut person and we definitely follow her instincts. They will typically guide us true.
You have mentioned that your writing for Venom & Faith came from a much more personal perspective then with previous albums. Do you feel that your journey of growth over the past couple of years has also caused a growth and a change in your songwriting, as well?
Rebecca- Absolutely! As you gain confidence and have a more clearly defined vision of who you are as a person, it becomes easier and easier to speak your own truth and to not necessarily fear that it will be unheard by other people. You can move forward with more faith in the hope of resonance. In that way, I have found it a lot easier for this record to go on some emotional journeys that I wouldn’t have had the courage to take on previous records.
You have both had the good fortune of having made friends with and been mentored by Elvis Costello! What was the best advice he gave you? Do you see yourselves at any point in the future being mentors to other artists?
Rebecca- Yes on both counts! We are very fortunate to have met Elvis and hope to be mentors ourselves to up and comers in the future. I think the best advice that Elvis ever gave us was the hope that we would disregard genre and not feel the pressure to put ourselves into a box. A lot of times when you are making records or promoting your music people are very eager to define what it is and say “This is a rock record!” or “This is a pop record!” or even what radio station it identifies with. That is something that Elvis has absolutely thrown out the window during his career. If you look at his discography and the records he’s released, they are so varied from a genre perspective. He would sit us down at a table in catering while we were on tour and impart to us the power of playing your own game and not feeling the pressure to sum up what you do and to just make music that you feel is compelling and authentic and trust that people will come to that. Build it and they will come!
Megan- I would also say that he has definitely inspired us to aspire to know our stuff. That man is a well of knowledge. He knows music unlike anyone I have ever met. He has such a deep passion for and knowledge of music. It’s really inspirational and makes you want to dig deep and go back and find out who your heroes were inspired by. That’s kind-of why we have really gone back into the blues and back into the people who inspired some of the music that we grew up listening to and some of our favorites, like The Allman Brothers which leads to going back to see where slide came from…who were the founders of slide guitar? He’s really the king of that.
You will be performing on both the Keeping Blues Alive At Sea V Cruise in February and the Mediterranean Cruise in August. How did you become involved with the cruise and what are you looking forward to the most?
Megan- We’ve been playing on cruises pretty much since the beginning of Larkin Poe and we feel so fortunate for that. There are some really cool companies that I think foster talent. I think the very first month that we were a band we got to play on the amazing Cayamo Cruise, which is more of a folk cruise. We actually played on Joe’s cruises for the last 2-3 years now and they are such an amazing experience, these floating festivals, if you will. The music is just everywhere and constant and I’m looking forward to just the immersion of music from 10am until, well, 10 am again-you can go and see artists playing on a stage somewhere. Also, we’re pasty white musicians, so the idea of being able to get out and just lay in the sun for a bit and maybe get some Vitamin D is a very attractive thought!
You will be performing soon in Australia for the first time! What are you looking forward to the most about the trip?
Rebecca- Yeah, we’re headed to Australia in a month and a half, I believe and we’re really excited!
Megan- We’re going to New Zealand, as well, which is exciting!
Rebecca- We have been very fortunate over the years in that we have been able to do a lot of international touring. I think what we love the most about traveling to countries we’ve never been to before is how much people are the same around the world. There’s something very beautiful about that, that you can find music lovers everywhere.
What are your plans for 2019? What’s next for you, aside from Australia? Any tours or festivals you are especially excited for?
Rebecca- Yeah, we have lots of touring planned. We’re on tour with Bob Seger for the rest of this month and that’s been a really amazing experience! He’s been playing arenas here in the US for his farewell tour. We’re actually going to be driving to Fort Wayne, IN tonight and then we’ll be going on a headlining tour through March in Europe and the UK, and the Australia and New Zealand in April and then some countries we haven’t been to. We’ll be going to Asia for the first time this year and we’ll be playing a lot of Summer festivals. 2019 is pretty much going to be a touring year! If people want to come out to see us they can go to larkinpoe.com/tour (laughs)!
Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk with me today!