I went to see a band play the other day. I had no expectations…just a fun night out. But hoo-yeah, this band kicked ass around the corner and back. It was Larkin Poe, a band that combines rock, blues, Americana, folk and a few other elements for a rollicking set of originals. Sentimental, sassy, sweet. Their stories were fun and full of life.
Lead by sisters Rebecca Lovell on mandolin, guitar and lead vocals and Megan Lovell joining in on lap steel and some pretty awesome vocals of her own, the band was also supported with bass and drums.
Their latest album, Kin, explores their rich family history and the impact it has had on their own psyches. The band takes its name from their great, great, great, great grandfather, Larkin Poe, who was a Civil War wagon driver turned historian and a distant cousin to Edgar Allen Poe.
I was so impressed by Megan’s kickass lap steel chops that I asked her to record some video for us. So check out this clip and then the live performance below. Then read our exclusive interview!
Here's Megan live!
What influenced you to play lap steel?
The first slide instrument I was introduced to was the dobro. At that time, I was taking lessons in guitar and mandolin and I couldn't seem to make headway with either of them. As soon as I saw, heard, and appreciated the slide guitar, I knew I had found my calling. I was immediately taken with the sound, versatility and almost vocal quality of the instrument. Later on, with the formations of our rock music with Larkin Poe, I found the need for a grittier, electrified sound and picked up the lap steel. I'll always love the dobro, but my true passion lies in the lap steel. I love how multifaceted the lap steel can be; the sound can mimic anything from a roaring electric guitar to a whiny pedal steel. I play a 1940s bakelite Rickenbacker lap steel and I couldn't be happier!
How did you start using that harness and playing standing up? It’s very cool.
Contrary to the name of the instrument, I knew I wanted to be able to stand and play the lap steel. I had performed a couple of shows sitting down and it felt limiting and energy draining to me. I started looking for a device or stand designed for lap steel, but couldn't find anything that fit the bill. A family friend owned a steel company, so I went to him and together we designed a holder for my Rickenbacker that allowed me to stand and play comfortably. Now I can run around on stage and interact with my band mates and the audience, although I can't tell you how many people come up to me after the show to ask why I'm holding the guitar like I do ("is it so you can see the frets?")!
You have backed several prominent musicians on tour. Do you have a favorite moment or two you could share?
2014 has been an especially wonderful year in terms of collaboration! We got to tour with Elvis Costello as his backing band in the U.S. and in Europe. Getting to sing "Alison" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" alongside one of the greatest legends in Rock history is a pretty amazing feeling. We got to perform with Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes) on David Letterman and then with Kristian Bush (of Sugarland) on the Today show. We feel very fortunate to have met and forged strong allies with some truly incredible musicians.
Are you involved with the writing on the album? Give us some insight into your process.
My sister, Rebecca, and I wrote everything on Kin together. Before we recorded this album, it was always challenging for us to successfully write songs together as sisters. In retrospect, sibling rivalry probably had a lot to do with it. But leading up to Kin, we decided to buckle down and write together. Once we made the commitment, it was surprisingly easy! So much of our communication is wordless, so we can arrive at the same musical or lyrical conclusion almost simultaneously. It's effortless... Which is one of the greatest perks of being a musical collaborator with your sister. Our writing process is very much dependent on each other. I like to think of a duo writing team as a check and balance system… We perform quality control on each other's ideas.
How is it touring with your sister? Do you generally get along?
I'd be lying if we said we never fought... 'Cause we definitely do, but it's almost always over little and unimportant annoyances. We're a team in every sense of the word and, when it comes to the big stuff, we're completely on the same page. No one has my back like my sister and vice versa. It's truly amazing to travel the world and share all these incredible experiences with someone I'm so close to.
Do you have a touring tip you’d like to share?
One touring tip I have is to never trust a cabbie with your precious instrument. We were on tour with Conor Oberst this summer, actually on our way to play Letterman, and, against my better judgement, I let the cabbie put my lap steel in the trunk. He slammed on the brakes (New York City driving! Eek!), the lap steel went flying and came away in two pieces. Luckily, I was able to find a replacement in time, but I'll never forget that lesson. Trust yourself and no one else. Always keep the important stuff up front with you.
Have you ever come across challenges being a female musician?
I think the greatest thrill of being a female musician is also the greatest tragedy. It's the challenge of dispelling assumptions. There has always been an underlying assumption in my experiences that girls don't play, and, if they do, they don't play as well as the boys. There's nothing sadder than being tagged as "a good player… for a girl.” There are so many wonderful female vocalists in the music industry, but a lack of truly sensational female musicians. The Bonnie Raitts and Nancy Wilsons of the world are out there, but we need more of them. It's always been so important to Rebecca and me to be empowering women role models to young girls. There's nothing we love more than to have influenced young women and girls to pick up instruments and strive to be the best… not just "good… for a girl."
What's next for you guys?
For the foreseeable future, we're going to keep touring in support of Kin, our first full-length album. This year has been crazy busy and we've been touring almost non-stop... and we expect next year to be the same. However, we'll make time to write new songs, experiment with different musical directions, and always practice, practice, practice. It's a never-ending challenge, and that's probably the best thing about being a musician. Who knows what's next?
Find out more at larkinpoe.com.