After a remarkable two-year run that saw them earn a #1 album and a GRAMMY® Award nomination while touring the world from Nashville to New Zealand and back again, Larkin Poe have returned with what is undeniably their most wide-reaching, artistically adventurous and self-determined work to date.
Once again taking the producer reins and releasing on their own Tricki-Woo Records label, Self Made Man – which follows 2018’s chart-topping, GRAMMY® Award-nominated fourth studio album, Venom & Faith – sees the multi-instrumentalist sister duo, comprised of the Atlanta-bred, Nashville-based Rebecca and Megan Lovell, pushing their music and message towards hitherto unexplored terrain, inspired by their epic world travels yet still powerfully rooted in the creative heritage of their beloved American South.
From the thunderous power of the album-opening ‘She’s A Self Made Man,’ through the nostalgic ‘Tears of Blue to Gold’ and fierce Chicago blues of ‘Scorpion,’ to the front porch jubilation of ‘Easy Street,’ the album is ambitious in both its eclectic, energetic sound and its resolutely welcoming mission, its universal lyrical approach fueled by tradition, invention, and Larkin Poe’s remarkable ability to touch the hearts and souls of their fellow humans worldwide.
“Connection is everything,” says Rebecca, “music is the thing that allows us all to express our creativity and our humanity.”
“This is, in a lot of ways, the first lyrically uplifting record we’ve made,” Megan says. “People can go through terrible things. People can weather immeasurable sorrow and hard times, and yet we can still come out on the other side, pull ourselves together, and thrive. This record reflects some of the joy and positivity that we ourselves feel and appreciate.”
The international success of Venom & Faith marked a milestone on what had already been a remarkable journey for Larkin Poe up to that point. Self-produced by Rebecca and Megan and released on their own label, the album arrived in 2018 and debuted #1 on Billboard’s Top Blues Album chart amidst global acclaim and ultimately, a GRAMMY® Award nomination as Best Contemporary Blues Album.
An incredible 18-month live run followed Venom & Faith, a nearly non-stop schedule that saw the band perform innumerable headline shows and festival sets around the world – including Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Mountain Jam – as well as full scale tours alongside the likes of Keith Urban and legendary Detroit rocker Bob Seger, the latter proving particularly educational and inspiring for the duo.
“Opening up for Bob Seger was truly an eye-opening experience,” Rebecca says. “It was exhilarating to perform in arenas for the first time and to feel the need to be bigger personalities on a bigger stage; the realization that there’s always more artistic space to fill. Ten years ago, we started cutting our teeth in tiny clubs and to be granted the opportunity to run with abandon on Bob Seger’s stage, in front of his audience, is such a gift.”
“We are playing shows in a way that we never have before,” says Megan. “It’s been a first-time experience to have entire tours selling out and people rolling up to our shows singing along and really knowing our music. So going into this record, that newfound sense of community definitely shifted our perspective with storytelling; we were asking ourselves different questions.”
The Lovell sisters returned home from the road in the fall of 2019 and began focusing in on what would come next. Invigorated and inspired by their recent experiences, they adopted a different slant towards their songwriting, thinking about their music from more of a communal perspective than ever before.
“The writing process for this album was liberating,” Rebecca says. “When I first started writing songs as a sixteen-year-old, I was consumed with my singular perspective; I needed to write from an intensely personal place. When we started working on Self Made Man I wanted to take a step back and think about storytelling from a broader perspective, and that really opened up a whole new vista. Listening to this album, now that it’s finished, I can hear the growth and I am very proud of it. There are so many moments in these songs that I can’t wait to sing with our fans.”
The Lovells were deep in the middle of their writing process when they received news that Venom & Faith had earned a prestigious GRAMMY® Award nod for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Larkin Poe’s first nomination thus far.
“It was an interesting energy to have suddenly enter the mix,” Rebecca says. “You know, you’re in the middle of creative self-discovery, sorting through scraps of paper for what’s going to become the next record, and all of a sudden there’s this unexpected shot of adrenaline in the vein. The Grammy nomination was definitely a boost in unlocking the energy of Self Made Man.”
Like its predecessor, Self Made Man is self-produced by Larkin Poe with “our good buddy and engineer” Roger Alan Nichols at his studio, Bell Tone Recording, in Nashville. Working in an industry with too few female producers, the Lovells chose to implement their independent spirit throughout their whole operation, further showcasing their grit, moxie, and determination.
“Taking the creative reins and producing the last three records ourselves has been a formative experience for us, as sisters and as artists; it has been essential in the development of our own artistic voice,” says Rebecca. “It has brought us even closer together as a team and has done wonders in crystallizing and distilling the vision that my sister and I share.”
“Being authentic is very important to us,” Megan says. “Rebecca and I are heavily involved with every decision that is made. We’re independent artists and it filters into everything that we do.”
With its playfully pointed gender twist, ‘She’s A Self Made Man’ both gives the LP its title and serves as the Lovell sisters’ anthem to their hard fought freedom, kicking off the proceedings with a big riffed assertion of their current intent and amplified artistic power.
“Life is all about balance,” says Rebecca. “Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes it’s sour. With ‘She’s A Self Made Man’, I wanted to write a song about the up-and-down ride that Megan and I have been on for the past ten years of building Larkin Poe. It’s hard to know who you are and it can take time to figure out what your purpose is, but I feel thankful that in recent years, my own feelings have started to click and make sense. Knowing and accepting yourself: that is empowerment.”
Self-proclaimed “rock ‘n’ rollers at heart,” Self Made Man sees Larkin Poe reshaping American music by tying together its many roots and branches into something fresh and altogether their own, an all-consuming approach that perhaps begins with the blues but includes a vast array of similarly inspired styles of Southern music, from folk to gospel to bluegrass to country and, of course, to just plain good old rock ‘n’ roll.
Within that framework, the sisters have created music that can speak to other peoples’ stories as well as their own. Self Made Man manifests a key aspect of the southern tradition with songs that present a sense of celebration and renewal amid the common struggles of existence, songs like the gothic gospel ‘Holy Ghost Fire,’ which offer a way to move through trying circumstances.
“When you’re going through a tough time, music has the raw power to galvanize your heart and help you rise above your sorrows,” Rebecca says, “Sometimes, you’ve just got to sing.”
This ethos seamlessly comes together as well in the badass boogie of ‘Back Down South,’ a fiery homage to the myriad music made below the Mason-Dixon line.
“As Southerners, we love the incredibly colorful dialect of our region,” Megan says. “I think that ‘Back Down South’ showcases a few pieces of our heritage that we cherish.”
“Roots American music is resurging,” says Rebecca. “And we’re excited to be a part of a new generation of bands making music that feeds off the old traditions. The South is a hotbed and one of the major cradles for American music; I love the fact that just a handful of states have given us so many bands and artists that shaped American music, from Little Richard to the Allman Brothers to James Brown. It’s an important torch to carry because this music, especially the blues, was hard won by some incredible artists for whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude. We wanted to write a song that helped remind people; we’ll take every opportunity to tell that story.”
Larkin Poe wrote most of the songs on Self Made Man, but the album does contain a few co-writes, including ‘God Moves On The Water.’ A traditional folk blues classic famously first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson, Rebecca and Megan take the familiar and add musical, lyrical and arrangement ideas that lift the song to new heights and bring it from 1929 into the turbulent 21st century.
“There’s a fun little research project for people,” Megan says. “Listen to that and then go back and listen to Blind Willie’s version. His story centres around the sinking of the great Titanic, but in our version, we wrote additional verses to try and expand the scope of that feeling, to include other events like that which took place in the course of history. Why just have one disaster when you can have 30?”
The empowered evolutionary path that led to Self Made Man see Larkin Poe breaking new ground as creative artists, businesswomen, and human beings. While they surely value the need to uphold tradition, the Lovell sisters are resolute in their desire to push the music and culture forward, always mindful of why what they do matters so very much.
“We are continually humbled by how far-reaching music is,” Megan says. “Music helps us ask the eternal questions: why are we here? Where do we go next? The music that we love speaks to some of those questions and that’s the kind of music we’re trying to make; music that resonates regardless of what language we speak, the kind of music that touches the soul.”
“We make music, but music has made us who we are. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”