Everyone knows what a family is. A string tied round the waist as a reminder we belong somewhere – a gravitational pull back to the warmest place in our memories. Everyone feels an overwhelming connection to someone, such intense love for them, that they must be family. Megan and Rebecca Lovell know the feeling. For their next album title, they stripped it down to two words: ‘Blood Harmony’.
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“People would say we had that ‘blood harmony’, because we’d been singing together as a family for years, so it felt like an appropriate title,” says virtuosic lap-steel player Megan, one half of Larkin Poe. “The [album] title is taken from the song itself and Rebecca had written it thinking about our mother, sitting at the piano and singing with us, and how these traditions get passed down from generation to generation. It’s a very sweet and touching feeling. We wanted to bring all of that into the whole record, because it is a family affair. It’s us sisters, self-producing the record as we have done with the past few.”
If there’s one thing more personal than writing songs for an album, it’s producing it too. 2020’s Self Made Man was an expression of exclusive trust between sisters. The excitement riles up from the very first thrum of power chords, like each song is blasted from a canon (one song is aptly named She’s A Self Made Man). And it’s all tied together as a self-produced record – for such a personal affair as being in a band together, the roots-rock duo might as well do up the whole process.
But Blood Harmony is a different kettle of fish. It’s an open book on trust between sisters, parents, husbands, cousins. It’s a celebration of every part of the family – so they committed. Rebecca’s husband, rising blues-rock phenom Tyler Bryant, co-produced the album and Megan’s husband helped produce keys. While Rebecca recorded vocals, guitar and keys and Megan took on harmony vocals, lap steel and guitar resonator, they also had long-time live band members Kevin McGowan on drums and Tarka Layman on bass.
“I mean, being a sister band, I’m sure people are intrigued about it – especially those who have siblings because they know how occasionally fraught the relationship can get,” says Rebecca, also on the line from Nashville. “I think that we were very bold to bring more close relationships into the creative process, because the creative process can be delicate, tough and trying, particularly if you’re trying to balance a multitude of creative opinions with ego.”
The result, recorded mostly at Rebecca and Tyler’s home studio, is both electrifying and fearless, yet gruff and jaunty.
“Bringing my husband into the millet was really fun – like, we actually ended up having an incredible time working altogether,” continues Rebecca. “There were tough moments where we were in the valley of indecision and unsure how to proceed, and that can be frustrating, but as a whole I think it was an incredibly joyful experience – and one that I really cherish.
“To be able to make memories with two of the people that I hold most dear in this whole world. It’s very, very special. And very fluid as well – Megan and I have such a respect for traditional American music and I share that same bond with my husband.”
Rebecca explains how she and Tyler formed their relationship off a mutual passion for blues – how they would exchange Alan Lomax records back and forth – and how it became a pillar of shared understanding.
“To carry it into making an album altogether – it does feel like a big celebration.”
Georgia on my mind
The foundations of this record are built all the way back in Atlanta, Georgia where the pair grew up. It all comes together as a sweeping rush of nostalgia. If you shut your eyes and listen to the rumbling bass of the opening song Deep Stays Down or the twang of Georgia Off My Mind, you can almost taste the tang of the country air. But it’s really a peak at memories they’ve shared as sisters. Like their mother teaching them about classical music or their father playing them classic rock gems from his record collection.
“Our sisterhood is definitely the axis upon which everything – in our band, business and relationship – orbits around,” says Rebecca. “So, to be able to have had such a close connection to a sibling and having spent so many years not only spending time together, but having been a part of Larkin Poe now for over ten years and actively working on our relationship, it continues to bear fruit. I do feel like our working relationship as sisters is surprisingly balanced – but it’s something that we’ve worked a lot on.”
It’s been a long time since Larkin Poe’s 2016 debut, so there’s been enough opportunity to agree on which direction to go. Underneath Blood Harmony’s comforting portrait of home is a flurry of blues, jazz, country and other tiny samples of music the Lovells love.
“I feel that whenever my sister and I made the decision, back in 2017, to start self-producing our albums, we were able to play a lot more in exactly that abstract way of; okay, we’re not bound by genre and we’re not trying to get a yes or a no from any producer figure in a situation of control,” says Rebecca. “We’re able to branch out and represent all of the different angles of who we are as songwriters and musicians. We’re just like anybody else – and, more and more, that means listening to every record under the sun. That’s one thing I find so freeing.
“In today’s industry, people can queue up their music of choice and jump around from hip hop, to blues, to traditional jazz, to bluegrass, to Americana, to thrash rock, to black metal, and it’s all connected by the greater umbrella of creative expression. Particularly with this album, I think becoming more comfortable with who we are means letting our roots shine and feeling comfortable with throwing it back to where we came from, which is so much music that my sister and I grew up loving.
“We’re making more traditional American music with blues and Americana and old school gospel and soul and music that speaks to the heart, while also being children of the nineties and loving a pop hook. So, trying to marry the different sides of our interests with this album felt a lot more freeing.”
It’s difficult to believe Larkin Poe were always confident about their style and direction. No one should believe that about anyone. Right enough, the sisters have a YouTube series full of cover song performances called ‘Tip O’ The Hat’. It’s gone viral a few times over the past couple years, like when a video from 2021 of the pair playing Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here reached almost a million views. In any case it’s the perfect stepping stone where they were and where they are today.
“For us, it’s very much a learning tool,” mused Megan over the line. “It’s like a way for us to stay fresh and learn other people’s riffs. And it’s truly taught us more about our own sound, oddly enough. As we’ve been sitting just the two of us, learning to perform songs in a very stripped back way, we’ve really developed our own voice. And this has been over the past five years that the combination of self-producing, of playing a lot of live shows – other than a year-long covid break, we’ve been touring constantly – and playing these stripped-back cover songs, it’s brought a lot of influence in.
“I mean, learning some of these incredible hits – we play a lot of songs from the sixties and seventies – we’ve figured out who we are because when you perform something stripped back in front of a camera, you really can’t hide behind anything. So we knew, when we went into making this album, that we wanted to approach it in the way of the song needs to stand alone. We actually sat in my basement and wrote and played the songs. And if they couldn’t be performed by the two of us, stripped back, with no adornments, they weren’t going to go on the record.”
Even a free-spirited album like Blood Harmony isn’t without crisp challenges. A song pushing in a different direction or a new writing approach seems like a good place to start, or finding ways to create something better than the last project could be another.
Rebecca chimed in: “I feel that Deep Stays Down was a song where we really pushed ourselves.”
“I was going to say that song,” agreed Megan. “It was such a challenge for us.”
“Deep Stays Down was a challenge specifically because, as a songwriter, when you strip a song down to its essential components, you’re left with melody and lyric,” Rebecca continued. “And my sister and I arranged Deep Stays Down, like, eight ways – we tried a hoedown, uptempo, a sort of jazzy situation, super cinematic and moody – we tried it out in many different styles.
“I feel that Larkin Poe five years ago wouldn’t have had the patience or the toolbox of skills to be able to continue to re-approach and know that we love the core elements of the song, but we haven’t found the right arrangement yet. And the patience to stick with it is something I feel incredibly proud of us in this recording process for – of having really upped our game. And the way that this song finally landed, to me, is really an interesting and edgy production. It really steams along at low heat for the majority of the song and it’s not until the last thirty, forty seconds that it actually kicks in. And I find that a particularly interesting moment on the album.”
It’s most intriguing to spot that strike down the middle of the record between untarnished, familiar tradition and fresh new takes. The idea that Larkin Poe have taken something so revered and special in their lives and reworked it so it doesn’t just maintain its worth, it renews it. It presses tiny challenges into the folds. And such a mix of nostalgia and change doesn’t seem like it works on the can, but it’s a seamless collaboration.
“Our decision to stick Deep Stays Down right at the very beginning of the record,” Rebecca laughs before adding, “it’s just nice to be able to raise a point – telling our fans that they’re going to have their ears opened – but that they’re going to join us on a creative journey with making some more daring moves on this album.”
Blood Harmony is out 11 November on Tricki-Woo Records.