Multi-instrumentalist sisters Rebecca & Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe combine old world spirit and musicianship with modern day energy and attitude to create a unique brand of gritty, southern-fried roots ’n’ roll. Recently, legendary artists such as Elvis Costello, Bob Seeger, Joe Bonamassa and Keith Urban have taken the girls under their wing as major tour supports, further promoting the Larkin Poe name. Australia witnessed the dynamic duo’s stage show last year at Bluesfest and their associated side shows, where the Lovell sisters dazzled audiences and won many new fans. So popular were Rebecca and Megan at Byron Bay last year, that the folks at Bluesfest are bringing them straight back for their festival in 2020.
Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Rebecca and Megan for a chat about their career, gear and upcoming return to Australia. Photos by Jason Rosewarne from Bluesfest 2019
What were your impressions of Bluesfest last year?
Rebecca: We had such a blast coming to Australia for the first time. We had been told by a lot of people that we were going to have our socks blown off and we truly had a ball. Such an amazing line up, amazing crowds, even our headline shows surrounding Bluesfest were sold out and it was such a triumphant experience and we are really glad to be coming back.
Who did you get to hang out with at Bluesfest?
R: It was cool because on our recent festival circuit we ended up running into a lot of people. It sort of feels like a family reunion from festival to festival. Getting to see Garry Clarke is always cool, Marcus King. Seeing your friends half way across the world is inspiring to say the least.
Since Byron Bay you have been on tour with many people including Bob Seeger. Life sounds good.
Megan: We were coming off a tour with Keith Urban, we were featured guest on his Graffiti U arena tour, so we were really kind of desensitised to playing to such large audiences. So to run into the Bob Seeger tour and feel very comfortable with the size of the audience, it was so much fun.
You really mix it up with the type of gigs you do. You also recently did a cruise around the Mediterranean.
R: Yeah we’d made friends with Joe Bonamassa (Joe presents the Keeping The Blues Alive Cruises annually). It is fascinating to go from one type of gig to another. It really keeps you on your toes. We go from a festival in Denmark where it is rained out and people are jumping in puddles to a blues cruise in the Mediterranean and everyone is an obsessed blues lover. You’ve really got to bring your A game all the time because you don’t know what it is you will be walking into.
You have a new album out in March before Bluesfest, what can you tell me about it?
R: You will be the first to know that but as of yet, the record is not made. The record is in its nascent stage, it’s kind of dreaming pictures in our head and we are really excited to get off the road in October to start working on the record and we have big plans. It has been an amazing touring season for us. In the last 2 to 4 years we have just been out on the road and we are just chock full of ideas and we’ll finally get five minutes to breathe and get back into the studio.
Did you learn anything from making the last album or make mental notes that you might take into this one?
R: Absolutely. The last two records, ‘Peach’ and ‘Venom and Faith’, those were the first two projects that Megan and I self-produced together as sisters and we learned so much in making those albums. It was a very empowering experience to actually commit to being the creative decision makers one hundred percent for those two albums. I think being on the road and touring these albums, and seeing the response that fans have had to these two projects … because we are making music that is left of centre, we are playing blues music as a female fronted rock group in the 21st century with urban programmed beats. We are kind of making something that is quirky and it has been so fulfilling to get out on the road and find so much resonance with so many people around the world. I think we are going to get into the studio with that much more confidence and excitement just to continue to express who we are as individuals knowing that people are up for that journey and experiencing who we are as people in the making of this music. It feels wonderful.
Does a new album make creating a set list easier or harder?
R: Oh my god, I am loving these questions. Megan what would you say?
M: A little bit of both. We do have our favourites and it is kind of hard to say goodbye to some songs. We find that we have a harder time cutting out songs than needing songs to fill. We always seem to have too many songs on our set list. I think it makes it a little more harder becausewe have so many songs that we end up wanting to play for people but it makes it difficult to choose.
Would you ever take The Rolling Stones approach and take out a verse here and there and shorten songs?
R: Oh heck yeah. We have actually done that, a little bit of creative editing of songs for live performance but then again, as Megan said there’s a want to play, play, play. I end up singing the majority of the set, so sometimes there is the danger of me blowing myself out from show to show because things get so hyped up and you really want to go for it every time. So we try to be responsible but also make sure we’re continuing to tap into the creative side and keep things fresh, you gotta keep things fresh.
You both play so many different fretted instruments, I’m wondering what the initial attraction was to stringed instruments and not drums for example?
R: Well both Megan and I grew up playing classical violin and piano but violin was always the main draw for us. From a very young age it was ingrained in us… stringed instruments, that was the discipline. For Megan, even switching from violin to slide was guitar was a bit of a natural transition due to the ear training you receive as a child when you’re learning to play the violin.
M: I guess you could say that me and fretted instruments don’t really get along too well because I tried to play acoustic guitar, electric guitar and even some slide guitar and have never been too successful, I have always gone back to the dobro which is what I started out on in early teens and then switched over to the lap steel. I always run back to it.
R: I sorely wish that I was a drummer. I’m terribly uncoordinated but in my mind I feel like I could be a really good drummer, so that’s why I think I get my rocks off in programming all the drums for our records, it allows me to live out my wanna-be drummer fantasies because I am a terrible in actuality but we all have to keep the dream alive!
Do you ever jump behind the kit at soundcheck?
R: Oh to the great chagrin of our drummers. Sometimes I’ll do it and it is one of those things that looks easier than it actually is in real life because it’s like trying to jump up and down and rub your belly and blink your eyes and rattle your tongue. There is so much involved in drumming that I do have a great respect for drummers. One of these days! In my 60s I am going to take up drumming!
Megan, is it difficult to capture the slide sound that hear in your head in the studio?
M: We work with a wonderful engineer here in Nashville, his name is Roger Alan Nichols and he has been really instrumental in helping us capture the sounds that we want. We tend to just describe the sound we are looking for with confusing words like ‘snotty’ or ‘rude’ or ‘bratty’ and he kind of gets what we are going for and he helps us capture it.
Before Larkin Poe you were a trio with your other sister Jessica. Does Jessica still have any input in what you do?
R: You know she swore off pretty cold turkey. For many years she was our lead singer and our ring leader but there is a lot more to being a touring and recording artist than just making music. You really have to commit to the lifestyle and I think very early on she did realise it wasn’t her true passion. She stopped touring with the Lovell sisters back in 2010, taking a different pathway but sometimes we’ll get together and have a sing and she is very supportive of what we’re doing. It’s cool just to have your big sister rootin’ for you in the crowd whenever we play in our home town.
“I feel very lucky to have fallen into my sound pretty early on with a Vibrolux Fender amp, tube screamer pedal, volume pedal and the Rickenbacker and that is pretty much what I have stuck with all the way through.” – Megan
Did it take a while exploring different amps and instrument combos before you arrived at tone you were happy with?
R: Megan I think you landed on your sound pretty early on in the game.
M: Yeah I was pretty lucky that I had a fellow dobro player suggest to me a lap steel which was in an iconic music shop here in Nashville called Gruhn Guitars. They suggested to me to buy this Rickenbacker lap steel, so I did and I feel very lucky to have fallen into my sound pretty early on with a Vibrolux Fender amp, tube screamer pedal, volume pedal and the Rickenbacker and that is pretty much what I have stuck with all the way through.
R: I on the other hand am a tone junkie and cannot seem to make up my mind. I make changes every 8 or 9 months. Most recently I have found a lot of joy playing on the Stratocaster. I have two Custom Shop Fender Strats and they both have a similar pickup configuration with standard Strat pickups in the neck and middle and then in the bridge position, I have a humbucker which helps to fatten it up but who knows what Rebecca will be playing next spring, we’re all dying to see!
Through your network of famous friends you have managed to jam with or support a lot of great artists. Who else is on your wish list?
R: I gotta say we had the opportunity to play and meet very briefly Bonnie Raitt but getting to make some music with her in a very real way would be really big, a big bucket list for me.
M: I’d really love to back up Emmy Lou Harris.
R: Amen to that
What are you both listening to at the moment? What are you into?
R: I’ve actually been really intrigued by the new music that Miley Cyrus has been making lately. I think that she’s got a really cool, creative team around her as far as production. I find it very inspiring but also a complete departure, we were just playing a gig up at Bean Blossom, Indiana at the iconic Bill Monroe Bluegrass Music Park and we were sharing the stage with Cedric Burnside, the nephew of RL Burnside, one of ‘the’ Hill Country blues guys and he was so wildly inspiring to me. He’s an epic drummer, guitar player and singer, So I have been listening to a lot of his stuff and also The Record Company played, I think a Californian band and they are doing really cool things in the blues world as well.
What are you both most proud of in your music career?
R: I imagine Megan and I will have different answers to this but I always start off by saying the longevity. I think the fact that we have been doggedly tenacious in our pursuit to continue to create. I think with my sister and I, we really adhere to a lifestyle of creativity and that is really hard to achieve in this day and age and in such a competitive industry where it is so challenging to make a living making music. So the fact that we have been able to have such a supportive fanbase that allows us to continue our passion and create joyful experiences with people, I think that is my biggest trophy on the shelf. Here we are, I am 28 and Megan is 30 and we have been doing it since we were 15 or 16 years old and I think that is really special and I am proud of that.
M: I was going to say the same thing actually. I am proud of our persistence and we work really hard and I think that people can feel our joy and I do think we spread a lot of joy to people and we love to connect and I am proud of that. We have a lot of friends around the world and it is very special.
Here’s the full list of artists in the Bluesfest 2020 1st announcement.
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
PATTI SMITH AND HER BAND
THE CAT EMPIRE
THE MARCUS KING BAND
CHRISTONE “KINGFISH” INGRAM
THE WAR & TREATY
Bluesfest 2020 is being held from 9 – 13 April 2020. Tickets are on sale now via Moshtix.