“If you’re not going to kick down the door, why go into the room?”: Larkin Poe on new album Self Made Man
As Larkin Poe return with their most kinetic and powerful album to date, we sit down with Rebecca and Megan Lovell to talk meltdowns, kicking down doors, and remaining optimistic in trying times.
If the art of album sequencing has fallen by the wayside in the age of outside curation by streaming services, then Larkin Poe didn’t get the message. The roots-rock duo’s new LP, Self Made Man, sparks into life with the thud of a kick drum, the thrum of power chords and a molasses-thick riff. It’s a classic example of the opener as statement – the affirmation in this case being that things have changed around these parts. As guitarist Rebecca Lovell puts it, “If you’re not going to kick down the door, why go into the room?”
The song in question is the title-track-of-sorts, She’s A Self Made Man. It exists at an exciting remove from the brass-vocal workout Sometimes, which led Larkin Poe’s adventurous 2018 album Venom & Faith, and it’s not a red herring. As a whole, Self Made Man is a bold, confident left turn into chunky guitar lines and the golden hue of classic rock.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time self-discovering over the past three to five years and this album is a peak moment for us in our late-20s, early-30s,” says Rebecca, on the line from Nashville, where she’s joined by her sister and spiky lap-steel accomplice Megan. “We know who we are and we’re moving into our own.”
The foundations for this stylistic shake-up have been in situ for a long time. The Lovells’ music is a vintage fusion of influences and life experience, stemming from their youth in Atlanta, Georgia. As kids, they were schooled in classical music by their mother and glommed rock gems from their father’s record collection, eventually winding up in bluegrass territory and releasing three albums of acoustic folk as the Lovell Sisters alongside their eldest sibling Jessica.
That band split in 2010, leaving peace and quiet in the rearview mirror. Larkin Poe cropped up the following year, with their debut album Kin making a ruckus in 2014 with the blues-pop lilt of songs such as Don’t and the low-slung outlaw licks of Sugar High.
New album Self Made Man is held aloft by this varied personal history, blending honeyed harmonies with thunderous riffs and Megan’s snaking lap steel counterpoints. It’s no surprise to hear that the sisters view the record as a culmination of sorts, following the feverish work ethic that has helped them put out five full-lengths in six years.
“We were armed with a lot of knowledge from the previous records we’d made and, as we’ve gotten older, we’ve figured out what truly feels like us, what sounds represent us,” says Rebecca. “I think that comes out in the album, with more vulnerability, with more space, with a lot more harmony that harks back to our childhood growing up with the blues.”
It may stand apart stylistically but Self Made Man has something important in common with Venom & Faith: it was self-produced by the Lovells, with help from engineer Roger Alan Nichols at his Nashville studio Bell Tone Recording. But how do you go about pressing reset as a producer when you’re also the ones responsible for the nuts and bolts of the songs?
“I’m going to be a loudmouth sister and take this question as well,” says Rebecca, to peals of laughter. “At the beginning of every record, you have a mini-meltdown. I feel like I do, because it’s a big task at the outset. When you’re standing on the threshold of a new record, it can feel a little daunting. You don’t want to repeat yourself. You want to reinvent and to make something new, and sometimes that can feel challenging when we are ourselves – we know our stories and we know where we’ve been.
“You’re trying to figure out how to have an out-of-body experience and look at yourself from a self-production standpoint. As a producer, how do you look at yourself as an artist and figure out where to shape and tweak and pinch and twist and change? With this album, I feel that Megan and I, even more than on previous albums, came together as sisters and were very real with one another about what we thought was working and what wasn’t, from a production standpoint.”
The Lovells’ latest is very much a ‘studio’ record; the details came to life within those four walls. After wrapping up the tour for Venom & Faith, Larkin Poe took some rare time out and spent a month workshopping ideas. This period of rumination allowed the sisters to take stock of how their circumstances had altered, and they parlayed their recent growth as a live unit into their writing. “Even though the past three records have come in relatively quick succession,” says Megan, “we’ve been so lucky to have done massive amounts of touring between each one.
“You have all this fresh fodder coming through from touring. We were like road dogs between Venom & Faith and this album, and we were also playing shows like we never had before. Having entire tours selling out was a new thing for us and we felt a kind of groundswell beneath us. That prompted us to write differently too. We were enjoying singing with the audience, because they were coming in knowing the lyrics to every song. We’d never experienced that before, so imagining singing these new songs with people was very inspirational.”
There are plenty of moments on Self Made Man where the Lovells’ channelling of this rabble-rousing communal spirit is abundantly clear. The single Holy Ghost Fire sounds as if it were precision-engineered for crowd participation, bouncing from the lyric, “Who’s gonna help me carry my load?” into a call-and-response section before igniting in a shout-along chorus.