American southerners Larkin Poe will be bringing their soulful sister act to Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm this Easter long weekend when they take to the stages at Bluesfest’s 30th anniversary celebration, alongside an unbelievable lineup of blues and roots royalty and exciting newcomers.
Performing together since childhood but established as Larkin Poe since 2010, sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell deliver a singular new sound in roots rock, blending melodic Haim-esque vocals with gritty guitars and a decent helping of southern charm. They couldn’t be more excited to be bringing their show to Australia for the first time, they tell us from a hotel room in New York City.
“Everyone we speak to about Australia, they’re so effusive about how much we’re going to fall in love with the country and the people,” says Rebecca. “Also we’re coming here for Bluesfest, oh sweet mother-of-pearl! It’s such an amazing lineup, we cannot wait to be around for a couple of days to see it!”
As cheerful and engaging as the sisters seem, sibling relationships can be fraught, and I’m curious about the strain that working, travelling and performing together in such close quarters all the time can place on the talented duo.
“A lot of the time the sibling relationship is our biggest strength, and sometimes it’s our biggest weakness,” Rebecca states.
“Travelling is really difficult, and also being vulnerably creative with one another opens up a lot of avenues for people’s hackles to get up. But we’ve really worked on treating one another with respect and putting boundaries in place. We love and reassure each other, and it breaks our heart when we hear sibling bands that hate each other and break up while touring, it’s so devastating. It’s a high stakes game for the most part, and we really do get along.”
Megan chimes in. “We are sisters first, bandmates second, business partners third.”
This approach has definitely worked for Larkin Poe, who have toured consistently for the last nine years, building an impressive stable of loyal fans and an ever-growing industry buzz off their live performances, with their viral YouTube covers channel ‘Tip O’ the Hat’ greatly expanding their online fan base. Their recording output has also been prodigious, with five EPs and four studio albums under their belt to date, including their 2018 offering ‘Venom & Faith’, which garnered rave reviews.
“We’ve been blown away by the response to this album,” gushes Megan. “We’re so proud we debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Charts, that it in itself was a huge stamp of approval. We worked really hard on the album and it’s exciting to hear that people are loving it and loving the stripped-back nature of it. It’s just the two of us and I think people can really hear the authenticity.”
Rebecca jumps in. “This is the first album cycle where we’ve toured the record and people are showing up and singing the lyrics back to us, which is a revelation! It’s so exciting and I think it has enough songs on it that people can really dig in.”
While ‘Venom & Faith’ is clearly blues and roots rock (with a few distinctive contemporary twists), their previous offerings were a genre-bending mix of sounds and influences.
“The biggest evolution in our sound I feel is a big return to our roots,” Rebecca explains. “When we started recording we took a big musical journey for quite a few records through acoustic pop, heavier rock, even just some crazy psychedelic pieces. ‘Venom & Faith’ felt like a big homecoming. Not only was it liberating to work just two of us in the studio and have complete control of our creative range, we had the freedom to make the record to sound truly like us. It feels like it’s a true representation of who we are.”
Megan believes the journey was a necessary part of their growth as a band.
“We started Larkin Poe in our late teens, and our fans have watched us mature and grow up. We learned so much in our early twenties and learned to embrace our individuality and the differences between us, so I feel like the experimentation was essential.”
While obviously cognisant of the importance of their fans, the sisters try not to take too much public opinion on board, continues Megan.
“I think what people are looking for is the unique point of view that we have, so if we listened to what people are saying and try to shape ourselves too much, that’s not actually giving people what they want. The only thing that we can really give is ourselves.”
“Of course we live in an age in which artists and fans are so deeply connected on social media… there is a temptation to put a lot of stock in people’s opinions and that’s natural, we all seek validation, and we want people to love what we’re doing. But by the same token you have to steel yourself and guide yourself by your own stars. We’ve been learning to listen to people and respect their opinion, but then also stick to our damn guns!”
Megan laughs. “I will also say though we feel really lucky to have a fan base that have been super supportive through the years of us changing genres, hair colours, instruments, swapping from acoustic to electric, our fans encourage us to be original. They really want hear us.”
As do we. Fortunately, Bluesfest is giving Australians their first chance to check out the multi-instrumentalist sisters live – along with band members Tarka Layman on bass and Kevin McGowan on drums – when Larkin Poe stomps onto their stages this Easter. Mark your timetable, peeps. This’ll be one to catch.
Bluesfest returns from 18 to 22 April 2019, and will play host to legends such as Iggy Pop, Norah Jones, Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Paul Kelly, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic (in George Clinton’s last ever live performance), Hozier, Tash Sultana and many more. Tickets at bluesfest.com.au.