Etymologists and genealogists could easily go astray when parsing the origins of Rebecca and Megan Lovell, the sisters behind innovative blues-rock act Larkin Poe. “Love” jumps out of their last name, but if you think their family tree is all sweetness and light and shiny fruit, you’d be way, way off-base. Lovell actually derives from louve, or “she-wolf” in French, and that’s a fit description for two young performers whose music has a powerful bite.
“Typically, you’d use that word in French to describe someone who is wolfishly bad-tempered,” says the otherwise open and sunny Rebecca Lovell, in a conference call with her sister from their homes in Nashville, Tennessee. “So I think that our name kind of suggests some of the really crazy, manic people in our family tree—the least of which, of course, would be Edgar Allan Poe.”
The band, in fact, is named for the sisters’ great-great-great-great-grandfather, a relative of the Baltimore author. The Lovells readily confess to a fascination with the southern-gothic genre, as expressed in Edgar Allan’s eerie poems and short stories.
But they’re equally drawn to the mythology of the blues—especially as voiced by the semilegendary preacher and pimp Skip James, whose “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” they cover on their latest recording, Venom & Faith. As the title of the new disc suggests, they’re proud of where they’re from—but they recognize the dark side that’s also present in their heritage and their region.
“We love the juxtaposition of faith and the snake-handling churches up in the mountains, and the fact that people walk among us that live that sort of lifestyle,” Rebecca explains. “That’s one of the reasons that I love southern culture so much—the incompatible ideas that walk side by side. We don’t have to get too specific, but I think it’s fairly apparent, in some terms, as to maybe what we’re referencing. There’s a lot of turmoil and a lot of cognitive dissonance in the way that southerners can sometimes live.”
Venom & Faith never gets explicitly political, but maybe it doesn’t have to: the idea of young white southerners finding strength and beauty in black music still packs some of the punch that it did back when Gregg and Duane Allman were inventing southern rock 50 years ago. On a musical level, the record finds the Lovell sisters moving relentlessly forward—as expressed in the unexpected horn section that blossoms out of the ultratrad field holler “Sometimes”, or the postmodern soul drum patterns underpinning “Ain’t Gonna Cry”.
”I think that with our last two records, we’ve at least found the trail,” Megan says, when asked what the future might hold for Larkin Poe. “We may not know where the trail goes, but we’re on it. Certainly, we’ve enjoyed producing ourselves, playing the majority of the instruments on the record, and having the freedom to strip it back and make it sound the way that we envision. Still, we’ve definitely dabbled in a lot of different directions in our career, everything from bluegrass to very hard rock, so who knows what we might mix into the next record?
“But whatever we do, we hope that it will always sound like Larkin Poe,” she continues. “We feel that we’ve found our voice in the past couple of years, and no matter what we do, it will always have that stamp of us on it.”
Larkin Poe plays the Vancouver Folk Music Festival’s main stage at 8:40 p.m. on Friday (July 19). For more information, visit www.thefestival.bc.ca/.