Sisters First: The Perfect Harmony of Atlanta Duo Larkin Poe

LarkinPoe785x487Roots rockers Rebecca and Megan Lovell have had an incredible year, from playing with old friend Elvis Costello on tour to backing Conor Oberst on Late Show with David Letterman to well-received sets at Glastonbury and Newport. A new album Kin, released in October, is receiving the professional treatment with a promo team in place, a big-budget video and the support of a brand new label backed by Restoration Hardware. The day they returned home from a performance with Kristian Bush for the Austin City Limits Country Christmas celebration, the duo talked about their new album, famous friends and keeping family harmony on the road.

How was the Austin City Limits show?

Rebecca: It was just a great vibe. So many happy, smiling faces in the band and the stage is really great, you can feel the history there.

Tell us about collaborating with Kristian Bush.

Megan: He is such a hard worker and he surrounds himself with amazing people, great musicians and just talented folks. And we love to be a part of that circle.

And since his brother Brandon is in his band, there must be a communal kinship.

Rebecca: I think having that kind of combined sibling power is really fun. We all have a sort of understanding about what it’s like to work with family. And the fact that they’re from Georgia, too, was a great connection.

How did you first start working with him?

Rebecca: We actually met him for a songwriting session a while back. We got hooked up through mutual friends to get together and write some songs. That must have been a year and a half ago. He was just kicking off his solo project and he was on the charge for band members. So he said, “I’m playing some gigs now, do you guys want to be a part of my band?” We said, “Yeah, totally!” So the first gig was over at the O2 arena (in London), a few weeks later, for C2C, a really big country festival. It’s just a strong, hometown feeling, working with him. Like you said, it’s that kinship.

Kin is a very southern-centric title for your album, as well.

Rebecca: It is, and four years ago when we started, we named ourselves Larkin Poe as a kind of homage to our great great, great, great, grandfather. His name was Larkin Poe. But it took us the entire four years to realize that the word “kin” was hidden in the band name. It never occurred to either one of us until the graphics were ready for the album. It was a happy accident.

Megan: We ended up naming it Kin only about three days before it was pressed.

And it’s a very subtle nod to your sisterhood.

Rebecca: It really is. It feels like it’s an accident that’s sort of in the genetic code, like it’s meant to be, and we like that sort of stuff.

LarkinPoe_AlbumCover785.487

You’ll probably encounter a slew of Edgar Allan Poe fanatics because of the name recognition.

Rebecca: Right, there is that connection. As kids, we grew up obsessively reading Edgar Allan Poe but we didn’t find out until in our early teens that we were indeed related to him. We went to a family reunion up in Tennessee somewhere and there’s a genealogist in the family. She’d done some back-checking and here we are, 14 or 15 years old and absolutely obsessed with him and she goes, “Oh, by the way, we’re related to him.” We kind of lost our marbles in that moment and had a little pass-out. We love the connection and we’re such fans of his work!

And the implied literary connection is cool.

Rebecca: And we’ll take it! Whether or not there actually is any trickle-down effect, I highly doubt it, but we like to think that maybe there are some ghostly remnants within the blood.

Your album has only been out since October, and there’s already a considerable amount of interest in it, which is great for any debut.

Rebecca: This is our first album where we actually have a label and a team in place and a single being pushed to radio. It’s really a first for us. We’re kind of in awe of the whole process. We’re so used to being independent because we were independent for years, so to let up that control and see what a creative team can do with our efforts is pretty awe-inspiring, it feels really good. Everyone’s liking the music, and obviously for us, that’s a huge relief. As any artist knows, when you release a project, you’re really putting your feelings out on your sleeve…your songs, your babies, your playing, your skills, your everything. So to have it be positively received this far feels really incredible.

Your previous efforts sound nothing like this one; there’s a huge growth from the earlier stuff to now just in the span of a year or two.

Rebecca: We had a big ol’ growth spurt in the last year. When we started writing for this record, we had our sights set on a very different goal. On the road, we’d been working in more electric sounds and Megan’s playing mostly slide guitar and lap-steel and I’m playing a lot more electric. It’s been about a year and a half since our last project, Thick As Thieves, and this one, and we’ve had time to really get out on the road and do a lot of touring. And wanting to be that band that moves people, that band that’s playing after dark with the big light show. That was kind of what we were aspiring to and we really just enjoyed rocking out more.

And obviously that changed your writing style a bit, as well.

Megan: We had written separately before and had never really written together. We kind of call it sibling rivalry; maybe that kept us from writing together. But finally, when we started writing for this album, which was last November, we buckled down and decided to write together, which is a new thing and a brilliant thing for us.

How did it go?

Megan: It was seamless. We had no idea how easy it would be to write together. And I think that’s why this album sounds a lot more like “us.”

Rebecca: As opposed to a “Megan song,” or a “my song” type deal.

Many any bands never find that seamless spot. Whether it’s The Beatles or Indigo Girls, you can usually tell who did what.

Rebecca: Exactly, you can hear the differences and for us, I think, we were finding that was where the majority of our arguments were stemming, anyway. We really, genuinely get along good as sisters. We’re on the same page and we’re able to get on the road and tour for eight weeks at a stretch and not absolutely maul each other.

You are very lucky!

Rebecca: Oh, trust me, we understand that. But we were always feeling that friction as sisters and business partners and just creative cohorts in the writing process. So for us to finally be able to break through that barrier, it felt like we’ve become so much closer in the past six months with this project. That’s really awesome.

And if nothing else comes of this album, then you’ve already found the most important thing.

Megan: Precisely. That’s how we feel about it, too!

Rebecca: We’re sisters first, bandmates second.

What do you call this new, improved sound of Larkin Poe? It’s not rock and roll, and it’s not country.

Megan: It’s hard because there are so many influences. We’ve been calling it roots rock and roll.

You can definitely hear a bit of The Band in your blend of influences.

Rebecca: Thank you! That’s such a huge compliment. For us, that was the beauty of making this record. Our favorite bands when we were growing up were The Eagles or Pink Floyd or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and there were always the electrified elements of the rock and roll type thing, but they’re all really rootsy bands, or Americana or whatever you want to call it. But there was that “rock and roll” vibe that we were never able to achieve in three or four years of touring. So to finally unlock that little box within ourselves and to get on stage and turn up our Fenders and jam out a little bit more, it feels really right for us now.

Let’s talk about some of your famous friends, Elvis Costello, for example.

Rebecca: He’s been such a strong mentor and supporter over the years, it’s almost one of those things that feels surreal at this point because we’ve known him coming on five or six years now.

Larkin Poe performs with Elvis Costello.

Larkin Poe performs with Elvis Costello.

How did you meet him?

Rebecca: At Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. There was this all-star jam happening on Saturday night, like, one of the big events where everyone gets on stage and just kind of jams out and collaborates and it creates this cool atmosphere. He was the headliner of the festival and we were booked at some little piddling slot. He was doing some gospel and we obviously knew who he was…we were sort of sidling up next to him while he was doing gospel and just started adding harmonies. I think it was that boldness that maybe took him by surprise. So he got a copy of our album and started emailing us! He had us out to open some shows for him and took us on tour. It’s just been this really cool friendship that we’ve been able to maintain for years and he’s such a good sport.

Like you, he’s an artist who defies any sort of categorization.

Rebecca: His whole career has been an inspiration. Just seeing all the different records he’s made and all the different hats he wears. He doesn’t care about “the Elvis brand,” he’s not trying to fit into his own mold. He’s constantly trying to reinvent and do something fresh. And that’s so refreshing for us to see. No show is ever the same. He’ll pop songs on us when we’re on stage with him. Like, “Hey, do you remember the chords for ‘Alison’? Let’s go ahead and do that one” and we’ve never played it before, so it’s like, “Whoah, stay on your toes!” It’s cool.

He simply loves music.

Rebecca: That’s the most excellent part. During soundcheck, what’s cool to me is when you load into a venue, most bands just kind of hop up and do a quick soundcheck and go and do their thing. For Elvis, the biggest telling factor is he just stays and plays for about two hours. So everyone knows that if we’re loading in at one, then from two until five, Elvis just pretty much has free reign on the stage to play and write and play other peoples songs and just make music. And so for us, that is the most charming thing in the world and it’s so inspiring.

How was the October tour with him?

Megan: It was incredible. We were out with him for two weeks, in Germany, Norway and Sweden and rode his tour bus and everything.

Rebecca: Every night, he would pretty much pop two new songs at us to learn and work up. I think that pretty much fed into the frenzied energy of that tour for us. We were really accomplishing a lot every night. We’d do our own little Larkin Poe opening set and then play with him, too. We ended up learning an additional 15 or 20 Elvis Costello songs. And he played a bunch of stuff off the New Basement Tapes album and that was really fun. It’s interesting to see how he writes songs for his present voice as opposed to songs he wrote maybe 20 years ago.

Tell us about working with Connor Oberst. He’s obviously of a different mindset than Costello, but he loves music, too.

Megan: Definitely. We met him through Dawes. They’d suggested us as backup players and musicians. We went on Letterman with him and he’s really awesome.

Larkin Poe with Conor Oberst

Larkin Poe with Conor Oberst

Rebecca: It was cool to see how he works, too. He’s such an avant-garde lyricist…to learn his stuff…that’s something we really enjoy, digging into other people’s music and being able to understand it a little deeper. You appreciate it in a different way, once you’ve learned it and tried to mold yourself around that person and sing harmonies with them. For Connor, that was a really cool experience to wrap yourself around his words, in a really cool way. It was fun.

Megan: And he gave me a lap-steel!

Now that you’re an internationally touring act, will you remain based in Atlanta?

Rebecca: We really view ourselves as an Atlanta band. As long as we can make that happen, sustainably, being in Atlanta, we will. We love it, we really do. Atlanta’s got such a cool vibe and has such a broad spectrum of stuff. From all the urban music and the hip-hop world to the singer-songwriters, and with the country acts based out of Atlanta, it really covers all the bases. So for us to come and play home-town shows, it’s always really fun and also a little daunting because we have a lot of music friends who are in Atlanta. So when your friends are coming to the shows, you really want to impress them in a cool way. And one thing I really love, there are a lot of cool venues in Atlanta. And Terminal West is one of the best music venues I’ve been to in a while. It’s really nice.

So what’s next? This year is planned out, but then what? Another album?

Rebecca: When we wrote this album, we had upwards of 50 songs ready to go. So we already have a big pool, but we’re very impatient; we can’t slow down. Next year, I don’t know if we’re gonna be allowed to release it that soon, but if it were up to us, we’d have about six albums out by, maybe, March of next year! So we’ll see. Really, it’s about supporting this album and seeing what it can do. I think we’re curious and a little bit on pins and needles to see what ends up happening in the next six months and that’ll help build a road map for next year.

Megan: If next year builds on this year, we’ll have no problem. This year has just been so fun and so many experiences we’ve never had before. Hopefully, we can say the same about next year!

 

 

 

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