Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #131. Subscribe to our print edition here!
With their career-defining forth album, Larkin Poe cement themselves as two of blues-rock’s future hall-of-famers. Anna Rose investigates.
In Venom & Faith, sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell – better known as Larkin Poe – have created a rip-roaring, melody melting, sinfully soulful album. That’s lot of adjectives, sure, but it’s appropriate given the voluptuous colour of this blues-rock wonder.
As far as how the album represents where Larkin Poe are in 2018, younger sister Rebecca (the outfit’s lead singer and multi-instrumentalist) explains how by self-producing Venom & Faith, they were able to explore deeper into their own abilities, as opposed to 2016’s Reskinned and 2017’s Peach.
“There’s so much non-verbal communication,” she says. “We’re able to creatively have conversations. And to be able to make decisions without having to run them by anybody else. When people listen to Venom & Faith, they’re listening to what our souls really sound like, because we made every single creative decision on the record.”
That freedom Larkin Poe experienced, their relationship as sisters, and having to answer to only each other has served them well on Venom & Faith. The pair invoke a wonderful call-and-response technique in their vocals, which is evidence of that very special brand of creative communication. Of course, it’s not the only demonstration of Larkin Poe’s musical language.
“I feel like Megan, when she sings, her true voice is through her slide guitar. I think that’s where she feels most at home. Is that true Megan?” Rebecca asks if her elder sister has interpreted her musicality correctly. She has.
“Yeah, I love to sing harmony and I love to sing with Rebecca,” Megan begins, “But where I feel the most comfortable is when I’m playing. My voice rests more in my slide [guitar].”
“To that end,” Rebecca concurs, “Being able to sing and have Megan play back to me what I’m singing and have these two voices twinning, it’s a really natural thing that happens and we have so much fun doing it.”
By this point, Megan has played her lap steel with a lot of distortion, arguably a style of playing that has become something of a trademark for her. “It would be,” she says. “It’s what I’m looking for. I’ve always played with a Tube Screamer – I love the growling of the lap steel.
“What I don’t enjoy is when the lap steel sounds tinny, because it’s so much metal on metal. I’m always trying to hand that down and look for a mellow, huge tone. A lot of times you get that through some overdrive, through some distortion, using the pedal to take the bite away.”
For the majority of the album, it is a gritty, yet somehow clean, yet still a gnarly expression of true blues-rock – achieved, the sisters say, with minimal equipment. Outside of the introduction of programming operated by Rebecca, who would sit in the studio with a laptop and reference sound libraries to pull together the underpinning of the tracks, everything was pretty much just plug and play for Larkin Poe.
“Trying to marry a more modern production approach whilst keeping that raw, gritty feel... That was our goal,” says Rebecca. “We would just take our guitars, plug them into an amp, get ‘em cranking and just go for it!”
Tracks like the sinfully sublime “California Kings” operate with a clean wail in the guitars using space to achieve a darkness in the melody. “Being able to have the banjo as a touchstone was the main driver,” says Rebecca. “Once we tracked the banjo, we plugged Megan into a 3 Monkeys amplifier and had her run this beautiful, spacious verve. We loved what that created in the track.
“Laying down guitars, I didn’t end up running it through anything – the production on that one was a little bit thicker, like a house track with some strong pulses and deep beats. We like having that push and pull, where the instruments are gritty, but again, you’re marrying it that modern song arrangement.”
Rebecca, a true Fender girl arming herself with her trusty Telecaster and Fender Deluxe, and Megan, with her 1940s Rickenbacker Lap Steel (the only instruments she ever plays) Larkin Poe will make their debut Australian visit at Bluesfest 2019. The festival is commonly known to be a wonderful demonstration of the Aussie take on Americana, as well as putting out our own unique take on the more melancholy subgenres of rock.
Larkin Poe hope they might be able to bring over a little something that will help this cultural exchange. “Given the lineup, in terms of education, it’s like all these people who are heavyweights. So in the grand scheme of things, we have no expectations,” says Rebecca.
“In the grand scheme of things, we’re more of a fringe blues artist in the way we’re trying to extend our feelings for the blues – a lot of people wouldn’t relate immediately to the blues, but that’s our mission. What we’re hoping to bring to Bluesfest is, ‘We’re a new chapter in this long, meandering book of the blues.’ That’s the goal.”
Larkin Poe are, evidently, nothing if not pilgrims for their passion. “We will also be bringing with us a deep-seeded respect for the blues,” Rebecca adds, with Megan continuing, “We will be bringing with us a reverence, absolutely.”
Thursday April 18th – Bluesfest, Byron Bay
Monday April 22nd – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Wednesday April 24th – Howler, Melbourne
Friday April 26th – The Tuning Fork, Auckland
Saturday April 27th – Blue Smoke, Christchurch
Tickets on sale via larkinpoe.com