Exclusive: In the Nashville studio with Larkin Poe

Roots rockers Larkin Poe have hoovered up acclaim for their sage musicianship and DIY ethos. On the eve of new album Blood Harmony, we caught up with sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell to learn more about their process and collaborative philosophy

Founded back in 2005 under the moniker of “The Lovell Sisters”, Rebecca and Megan Lovell’s musical kinship found its true form when under the name Larkin Poe (the name of their four-times great grandfather), the pair released a salvo of top-notch EPs, before debut album Kin established a roots rock playing field. A field further furrow by the likes of 2017’s Peach, 2018’s Venom & Faith. Most recently the sisters paid tribute to their musical heroes across 2020’s covers compendium Kindred Spirits, before recently turning attention to their next studio album proper, Blood Harmony. Produced by the sisters along with Rebecca’s husband Tyler Bryant, Blood Harmony is an album shaped by surrounding world events, a collective family spirit and, most importantly, the pair’s strongest set of songs yet.

AMI: Firstly, we should talk about Blood Harmony, the upcoming new album. What was the starting point?

Rebecca Lovell: We started writing Blood Harmony in December of last year. We’d been out on the road non-stop after the release of our Grammy-nominated record Venom and Faith and also Self-Made Man. We had so much touring under our belt and had spent a lot of time out in the live space. We really wanted to bring a lot of that energy into the studio. I think when folks hear Blood Harmony they’re going to hear a more vulnerable, un-distilled version of who we are as people and as songwriters. It was a really joyful experience to make this album, we did it really quickly. We did a lot of it at home.  There is this homespun energy to it that I think suits us well. We’ve always been big DIY folks, with every element of what we do approached as an independent band in the 21st century, writing around themes of family and optimism and self-acceptance.

AMI: So you recorded with Tyler Bryant (Rebecca’s husband), what was the experience bringing his expertise to the table when tracking and producing this album?

 Rebecca Lovell: Megan and myself have developed a really fruitful, creative relationship over the last fifteen years of being in the band – the last four of our albums have been self-produced. I think we’ve really got into the swing of producing ourselves and mostly playing all of the instruments.

Megan Lovell: Tyler is such a creative person and has been developing his role as an engineer and producer himself over the last couple of years. He and Rebecca just have a lot of really great gear in their basement studio now. It just made a lot of sense for us to come together. We also collaborated before together in our spare time. We work really well together. So it just made sense to bring Tyler on board to help us with things we wanted to do – stuff like recording live drums and bringing in a bit of that live feel, as opposed to programming.

Rebecca: Given that we are a sister band, I think it was very courageous of us to bring in another significant relationship dynamic, luckily everything stayed on track and we all still love each other.

Megan: But barely! Legitimately, there were some moments of tension. Sometimes we have disagreements in the studio. Tension itself is not a bad thing, and sometimes it can bring a lot of energy into the process. Especially if you’re fighting for something you believe in. So, it was cool to have Tyler’s energy in the room for that as well, he served as a tie-breaker for certain decisions.

Rebecca: He’s also such a creative powerhouse, that to be able to have another music lover in the room who also holds very American traditions deeply in his heart is wonderful. It was better to have a kindred spirit than to bring someone else in, who didn’t understand where we come from. It really was a family affair. We had our road guys who’d been playing with us for like six years come in to play some stuff as well. It was fun to have all of their input.

AMI: Where did Bad Spell come from? It’s got a much more swaggering garage rock sound, it’s certainly going to be a great live track…

Rebecca: I love swaggering rock. I know that has been such a touch-point, especially in recent years. Bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys do it well. I’ve dipped my toe in it before, but I think with Bad Spell it really connected, it came from a really authentic place. I started the song with a title that I’d had in my writing notebook for years but I’d never quite got around to piecing everything together. I wrote Bad Spell down as a title after listening to I Put a Spell on You by Screaming Jay Hawkins, which is a quintessential blues masterpiece. Everything lined up. For me as a songwriter, that’s one of my favourite moments, when you take that leap of faith into creativity. We’ve been playing Bad Spell out on the road and it does translate great to the stage. We’re very very proud of it. That’s why it was the first single.

AMI: We’re guessing Rebecca and Tyler’s home studio is well-kitted out with state of the art gear?

Rebecca: That’s right yeah, we live in a small suburb of Nashville and have been building out this studio. Tyler somewhat unofficially holds the key to the kingdom, he knows how to turn it all on…

Megan: Tyler rules it downstairs, and Rebecca gets the kitchen table!

Rebecca: Oh yeah. It’s a beautiful space. Technically we live in a duplex, and the downstairs portion of the home is entirely studio. Tyler has made a couple of records there, so have we. Unexpectedly, it’s become a really productive, inspiring place to work. Tyler’s taste for gear slots together quite well with the type of music we all love, lots of vintage stuff. He’s got the Elvis-era microphones, old RCA stuff that still delivered really incredible sounds. Particularly for vocals and guitars.

AMI: Did the process of recording your covers web videos – and album Kindred Spirits – influence your direction on this record at all, or put you in touch with any approaches you might not have tried before?

Megan: It did, and here’s how. That cover video series has been really impactful for how we write music. It’s the two of us sitting in a room – just the two of us, performing a song to camera. You have to have a really good song for it to stand alone like that. When we began writing this record we decided we wanted to approach the songs as if we were going to perform them just the two of us, like the covers album. The idea was that the songs could stand on their own prior to production. If they couldn’t, it wasn’t going to be good enough. So we actually performed them as a duo as if we were making a cover video. That was what decided how we moved forward.

Rebecca: Also with our Kindred Spirit covers collection, it gave us a real confidence. We’ve been touring on the road for like fifteen years at this point. You’d think we’d have a sense of our power as performers, but whenever you get in the studio space, it’s easy to mistrust yourself, engineer and nip-and-tuck the audio to the point where it’s totally devoid of any humanity. In making the Kindred Spirits album we realised that the two of us could just sit together and organically create a vibe that sounds more like us. With that spirit we moved into recording Blood Harmony and brought more of our live sound into the studio, to let the humanity blossom. 

AMI: So it was a fruitful creative exercise delving into other people’s music?

Megan: Absolutely, I imagine we’ll carry on doing that because we continue to learn from it. Whenever we reach the point where it’s rote, or it’s just some type of social-media chasing tool then we wouldn’t carry on. But other music continues to teach us.

AMI: We saw you at South by Southwest a few years back playing alongside Keith Urban, who else would you love to collaborate with?

Megan: I think it would be really fun to work with Bonnie Raitt.

Rebecca: The two slide-queens!

Megan: I’d say I’m more the slide princess.

Rebecca: I think lately I would love to collaborate with Nick Cave, I think that’d be a very interesting combination. So yeah, I’m going to say Nick Cave.

AMI: Do you regularly encounter your heroes and, has anyone surprised you by knowing you?

Rebecca: We’ve been very lucky in that sense. It definitely bolsters you on the tougher days. David Crosby has tagged us on Twitter a few times and it is very shocking to have a name that you’re used to reading off your favourite album cover, reaching out and interacting. We listened to a lot of Crosby, Stills and Nash when we were young. He’s hugely influential.

AMI: If there were no option, what guitar would you save in a fire?

Megan: I would definitely save my Rickenbacker, it’s been with me for so many years. It also has a holder so I can stand and play as a slide guitar. That was such a huge turning point for me, being able to stand on stage as opposed to sitting. I don’t think I could really replace it. A family friend helped me fabricate that so it’s really special to me. It’s from the late 1940s.

Rebecca: I’d probably save my grandfather’s nylon string classical guitar. Even though I play that guitar only every so often, and it’s never toured, there is a lot of sentimental value to that instrument. Since we were children it was always in my grandparents’ house. It’s a little bit mysterious how it ended up with me so I still feel a blood oath to all my cousins and siblings to make sure that guitar is preserved for all of us.

Megan: So that’s where that guitar went!

Rebecca: I’d definitely want to save some of my Strats too though, or my SG. But Pappy’s old guitar would be the first thing I saved.

AMI: How did the pandemic affect your creative workflow, and would Bloody Harmony have sounded different had that not happened?

Megan: I really don’t think this record would have sounded the same if we hadn’t had that year break, because we had a year break for us. WE spent that year just playing a lot more, just the two of us. We spent time in front of a camera live-streaming. You become so much more comfortable with going out on a limb, or making mistakes or having fun with music. It reminded us of how we can connect people. We had some cool experiences.

Rebecca: When you preform on stage there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance just baked into the whole experience. You’re on a stage – standing higher than the crowd, it’s an interesting dynamic. But yeah, we were live-streaming from our guest bedroom in lockdown, or my writing room. There wasn’t that same level of ‘and now we shall perform’, we live-streamed sometimes when we were still learning some of the cover songs, so people could see what our process was. That very intimate place where people are seeing you before you even know what you’re doing yet was good for us.

Megan: I think it was an opportunity to take stock of your priorities. That applies not only to the way you spend your time, but how you feel compelled to speak through your art. It allowed us to reflect, and move on to the next chapter.

AMI: So, that next chapter then, are you thinking about where Larkin Poe goes next, following Blood Harmony?

Rebecca: Always. I can get a bit too far flung into the future, and sometimes my sister has to bring me back to the present. I’m always ‘on to the next’. We are very excited to be able to tour in support of this album. It comes out on November 11th, then we’ll be undertaking a headline tour in support in early 2023.

Megan: We’re also excited to be going out on tour with Willie Nelson this fall, for his Outlaw Festival. It’s a really sick bill every night. All your bucket-list bands play there.

Rebecca: We’re just very excited to get out on the road and share these songs with people.