interview by Michael McCarthy
Roughly a year ago, during November of 2017, I interviewed the soulful sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell, otherwise known as Larkin Poe, about their exquisite sophomore album Peach, which was a potent blend of roots rock, Americana, folk rock and old-school country… with the occasional dash of hip-hop, trap-style percussion!
Well, the sister’s killer third album, Venom & Faith, will be out on November 9th and can easily be described much the same way. That said, this time around they’ve tried several new things, like adding horns to a song here (“Sometime”) and electronic flourishes to a song or two there (“Fly Like An Eagle” and “Ain’t Gonna Cry”). These touches, and better production all-around, are among the reasons why the songs on this record have more of their own individual identities and can be digested well as singles, if you’re so inclined, whereas the songs on Peach felt more like pieces of a puzzle that would be best appreciated as a whole.
That said, I’d still say that the songs on Venom & Faith would taste better when listening to the entire album. It’s just that it’s easier to tell these songs apart from each other than it might have been if you just listened to Peach without having heard any of the singles previously. To that end, I would have to say that their already excellent songwriting has improved on the Venom & Faith with more elaborate parts and contagious harmonies that make their choruses leap out even larger than before. Instead of just thinking, “Damn, that was a great album,” this time you might find yourself saying, “That album was fantastic and “Ain’t Gonna Cry,” “Sometime” and “Blue Ridge Mountains,” especially, were entirely brilliant.” Or maybe you’ll feel that all of the songs are equally awe-inspiring? I’m just here to turn you onto them and the best way I know how to do that is by letting the sisters themselves talk about the record…
First of all, how is the tour with Keith Urban going?
ML: Going really well! We’re in Minneapolis at the moment… it’s chilly, but no doubt the crowd will be hot!
Have you spoken with him much?
ML: Yeah, he’s a super nice, down-to-earth guy. It’s been a crazy fun tour.
Has Keith brought you out on stage to play anything with him at all?
ML: Actually, our role on this tour is “featured guests”, so we come up on stage and jam during his set for a couple songs every night.
What, if any, are each of your favorite Keith Urban albums or songs?
RL: Our all-time favorite album of his is “Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing”. Such a classic, amazing album. However, this tour has introduced us to some new favorites as well. “Horses” from his new album is our jam right now.
I see you’re headlining at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on November 19th. Any chance you might travel up north and do a headlining show in Boston?
ML: We’ll be doing a lot of headline touring this year and next year, so we’ll definitely try and make it to Boston!
When we talked last year, you were telling me about all the different instruments you can play. So, I’m just curious if you ever write songs using the violin or piano and you just haven’t released any of them because they wouldn’t fit the Larkin Poe brand?
RL: I’ve found myself writing on every instrument I own… gotta follow whenever the creativity sparks! I do utilize keyboards and beats during the writing process often.
You had mentioned that you banged out Peach in a weekend and that you played or programmed all of the sounds on the album. Was Venom & Faith made similarly?
ML: The making of ‘Peach’ was a joy — being in the studio close to home in Nashville with just the two of us was a truly freeing, wonderfully creative process. When it came to recording ‘Venom & Faith’, we had a pretty good idea that we wanted to follow in the footsteps of ‘Peach’. We allowed ourselves a little more time in the studio to experiment and play around this time, but we still chose to self-produce and — aside from a few instrumental features — we played and programmed all the sounds you hear again.
When was the new album written? Did you write while you were out on the road promoting Peach?
RL: We found ourselves in the studio so soon after the release of ‘Peach’ — only a handful of months — that a lot of the songs on ‘Venom & Faith’ were written only weeks or days before going into the studio. Both ‘Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues’ and “Blue Ridge Mountains” were written in the studio and barely made it on the record!
Where was the album recorded?
ML: We recorded in Nashville TN in our good friend and engineer Roger Alan Nichols’ studio.
Rebecca, I know you programmed the drums on your last album. Did you do that with the new one as well? Did you use Garage Band again?
Who taught you how to program drums or did you teach yourself?
RL: I did all of the programming on the new record as well and, same as ‘Peach’, I used Garage Band to create the base layer sound palettes that we built on top of in the studio. Through a lot of trial and error, I taught myself how to program.
Are the horns on “Sometime” live instruments or were those programmed? They sound fantastic either way.
RL: I wrote the horns section on ‘Sometimes’ using midi horns and then we had a great Nashville horns player, Thomas Cooper, lay down all the parts individually. Then to finish it out, Caleb Crosby came and recorded a rockin’ snare line. We love how it turned out.
I really like the message of “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues,” which seems to be at least partially about how you have to ride at your own risk but you’d better do it now while you’re alive. Is that part of it or am I totally missing the boat? (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, of course.)
RL: Totally. You gotta get into your life while you got it! ‘Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues’ is about a woman who is certainly taking life by the horns and living in the moment.
Related to the last question: do you know anyone who’s living like they’re not alive? I know a few people who are just letting the years go by and not fully living because it’s like they’re still waiting for their real life to begin.
RL: I’m sure we all have our moments like that… wishing our life away, waiting for the best parts to begin. “Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues” is a reminder to myself to be here and be present.
Tyler Bryant is featured on “Mississippi.” Did he co-write that one with you then?
ML: It was such a joy to have Tyler in to feature on ‘Mississippi’. He’s a wildly talented player and it was fun to riff back and forth with him on the reso-slide guitar.
Is “California King” about having a dream and telling yourself that it’s just a fantasy, that you shouldn’t pursue it, and that there’s something holding you back, so you couldn’t even if you wanted to? If not, what would you say it’s about?
RL: ‘California King’ is about the unsettling feeling of being young and not knowing what the future holds.
I love how “Ain’t Gonna Cry” tells a story and the interesting thing is that it feels like it’s deeply personal yet it’s an experience I think most people would find relatable. Was it difficult to lay your hearts on the line when writing the song? Were you trying to make it relatable or were you just doing something cathartic?
ML: Songwriting can be a very therapeutic experience. I think we were both feeling emotional while writing ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry’ and those feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty that the song speaks to are very universally human feelings. We’ve all been there in that headspace and can relate.
I could swear I hear some electronica type beats in “Ain’t Gonna Cry” and then at the end there are some other sounds that also remind me of old school electronica. “Fly Like An Eagle” also seems to have some electronic sounds, like those beats that only come out of the left speaker. Were they meant to sound like electronica at all?
RL: Since we grew up in Atlanta, which obviously has a huge rap, hip-hop, and trap scene, we like to sneak some of our contemporary sound and beat influences into our music. We consider ourselves a roots band, but it’s roots music in the 21st century.
Do you think that all of the songs on the album come from a place of venom and faith or would you say that certain songs are all about the venom and others are all about faith?
ML: Great question! I think all the songs contain a little venom and a little faith; there’s a hint of bittersweet in all the lyrics. From the tear-soaked/stiff upper lip of ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry’ to the self-critical/self-acceptance of ‘Honey Honey’, I think ‘Venom & Faith’ sees the world in shades of grey.
This is a question I’d love you both to answer: If you could have any instrument in the world today, what would you want?
RL: Resonator guitar
ML: I’d love a B3 organ
What was the first album you ever bought with your own money and what format was it?
ML: My first record was Jerry Douglas’ ‘Slide Rule’ on CD
RL: I bought the Bela Fleck and the Flecktones CD “Little Worlds”
Who were some of the more popular artists you listened to when you were in high school?
RL: the Eagles, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac
ML: Yeah, we were definitely listening to a lot of classic rock in our teens.
What do you do to work past writer’s block?
RL: Listen to as much music as possible and journal
ML: The more I read, the more creative I feel.
If a genie was giving you both three wishes and you couldn’t ask for money or more wishes, what would you wish for?
RL: Inner peace, outer peace, chocolate chip cookie dough
ML: A full studio in my backyard, a quicker brain, and an infinitely fast metabolism
If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead and they would be happy to be back, who would you bring back?
ML: Janis Joplin
RL: Chris Whitley
If someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and it all had to go to the same charity or cause, which would you give it to?
RL: This is gonna be the same for both of us… We would donate towards research and help for those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and mental illness.