Larkin Poe: A Band for All Seasons
So far, 2011 has been a rough one for family bands. Within a week of each other, bluegrass acts Cherryholmes and The Peasall Sisters announced they were splitting up. While the loss of two talented groups is hard to bear, those splits can lead to something good.
Consider the case of Larkin Poe, formerly two-thirds of The Lovell Sisters. Rebecca Lovell, 19, and Megan Lovell, 20, found their trio reduced to a duo at the beginning of 2010 when sister Jessica, 23, got married and left the band to go back to school. Rebecca and Megan decided to keep playing music together and have gone in a musical direction that’s taken them far from the acoustic string band sounds of The Lovell Sisters.
“Larkin Poe is a lot less bluegrass than The Lovell Sisters were, which is neither a positive nor a negative,” Megan says. “It’s just a thing.”
While there are still some bluegrass elements in Larkin Poe’s music (Rebecca plays mandolin, guitar and ukelele, and Megan plays Dobro and lap steel), the addition of drums, electric guitar and piano add rock, folk and some singer/songwriter pop elements as well. Similar to bands like Nickel Creek or The Duhks, bluegrass has become part of a more expansive sound rather than the primary focus.
Larkin Poe has also helped Rebecca and Megan find their songwriting voices. Rebecca notes that many of The Lovell Sisters’ songs were covers. Now, they are focusing on original material.
“I think Larkin Poe is a lot more representative of our personal stories,” adds Rebecca. “As Larkin Poe, we have our own songs, we’re telling our own stories, and we’re definitely blazing some new ground.”
The name “Larkin Poe,” incidentally, comes from the sisters’ great-great-great grandfather on their father’s side. They grew up hearing stories about him from their aunts and uncles, and he is very much a part of the Chickamauga, Ga., area history.
In order to showcase the new sound, as well as their songwriting chops, Larkin Poe released four EPs last year – Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter – featuring a total of 28 songs, all written or co-written by the Lovells.
“Changing a lineup when you have a good number of fans, I think you have the potential of losing people if you don’t put something out quickly to show what you’re about,” Rebecca says. “We wanted to bring everyone along with us as we kind of experimented and tried a bunch of different stuff. That was the best way, to be in the studio and just release whatever it was that we did.”
Megan adds that as the two sisters have been writing songs for just two years or so, it helped to have deadlines.
“We needed something to give us goals, and that was a good way to get a lot of practice in songwriting, for sure,” she says.
“Long Hard Fall,” taken from the Spring release, has been released as a single and performed very well overseas, where the band has toured extensively. Rebecca wrote it at the end of 2009, as The Lovell Sisters was in the process of disbanding.
“You have to embrace that uncertainty,” she says. “For me, that song was a way to address the ‘scared little child curled up in the corner’ feelings.” The end result, she noted, “sounded a lot happier than I intended it to.”
The video for the song was almost entirely sponsored by the Norwegian government, which gave the band a cultural grant in recognition of the Lovells’ frequent tours there. Rebecca says that places like Scandinavia and The Netherlands are very under-toured for Americana acts.
“I think there’s something about an American band playing American roots music that’s very compelling over there,” she says.
When they weren’t writing and recording the four EPs, Larkin Poe did two tours in Europe in 2010, including their first trip to the United Kingdom. They also opened shows for The Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile and performed on the Cayamo Cruise, along with the likes of Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt and Robert Earl Keen.
Megan noted that 2010 was a very fun, smooth ride, despite the hectic schedule and the pressures of starting a brand-new duo. Rebecca notes that touring with family members can be volatile at times.
“When you’re with family, there’s a greater propensity to push each other’s buttons,” she says. “I guess as family, you can treat each other more inappropriately than you would some stranger you’ve hired to work with.
“What works between Megan and I is to treat each other respectfully and keep in mind the bigger picture,” she adds. “If I’m ticked off at this moment, and I’m tired, that is the issue, not that I hate my sister or want to stop playing music.”
This coming year promises to be as hectic as 2010, but in a different way. While Larkin Poe has some festival dates lined up and return trips to the U.K. and the Cayamo Cruise, much of their spare time is going to be spent taking correspondence classes for nursing.
“We’re right at the age where it’s important to make sure that we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket,” Rebecca says. “Being RNs makes a lot of sense for us, because it’s very flexible. Eventually, we can schedule work around touring or having children.”
While there are no plans for Larkin Poe to get back into the studio, don’t be surprised to see them release a new EP or two during the course of the year.
“I think it’s nice to keep people updated, even if it’s recording two or three new songs and releasing a really short EP,” Rebecca says. Both sisters favor the EP format over the full-length album as a way to better keep in touch with fans.
“I think it’s a more healthy way to do things as well,” Megan says. “You’re putting out your latest ideas. It’s not from two years ago, it’s from last week.”
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