Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
11 Things We Learned About Larkin Poe At The GRAMMY Museum
Less than one week before they attend the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards as first-time nominees, and less than three weeks before they play their first show of 2020—at the Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai—American roots/rock sister duo Larkin Poe stopped by the GRAMMY Museum for an intimate conversation and performance.
After an introduction from host Scott Goldman, during which he noted that their currently nominated Best Contemporary Blues Album, Venom & Faith, is the fifth release for the duo—an impressive feat for the young two artists—Rebecca and Megan Lovell took the stage before a sold-out crowd donning T-shirts showing their respect for the great B.B. King and Ray Wylie Hubbard.
During the hour-long conversation, the duo—hailing from Nashville, Tenn., by way of Calhoun, Ga.—took the audience on a journey from their childhood musical beginnings, which includes a story about meeting Elvis Costello, to recording their latest album, receiving a GRAMMY nomination and working together as sisters.
"I think we’ve unraveled over the years that our relationship as sisters is the everything of our band," says Rebecca Lovell. "We have been a lot of things to each other for many years. … Best friends into musical partners into bandmates into business owners into producers into still all the while being sisters and needing to have respect and understanding between the two of us."
Following the conversation, Rebecca and Megan Lovell performed a fiery set of songs for the audience, with only a kick drum and electric guitar (played by Rebecca Lovell) and a lap steel guitar played by Megan Lovell. Among the songs performed were "Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues" from Venom & Faith and a cover of the rock and roll classic "Black Betty."
If you’re still wondering who this dynamic GRAMMY-nominated duo is, keep reading for 11 things we learned about Larkin Poe during their GRAMMY Museum program.
"Good And Gone" is Rebecca Lovell’s favorite song off Venom & Faith
The idea for the introspective stripped-down ballad "Good And Gone" was inspired by an idea started by Megan Lovell.
"I love to sing with Rebecca, but I really consider my lap steel more of my voice than my actual voice," she said. "We really wanted to have a song where I was singing along with her on a lap steel so it’s just her vocal and then my lap steel. So, I wrote this riff and then she sang along on top of it and that’s where the whole idea came from.
"I am, I think, a very heavy-handed frontperson in that I kind of write the majority of the songs and can be fairly hard-headed when it comes to the material that we perform," said Rebecca Lovell, "but Megan brought that song completely finished and it’s my favorite song on the record."
Their Tip o’ The Hat video series largely inspired Venom & Faith
Their viral YouTube video series Tip o’ The Hat—wherein they perform covers of songs that have inspired them—is largely what inspired the stripped-down approach they took on Venom & Faith.
"We love just sitting in the bedroom, just the two of us playing," said Megan. "So, we wanted to bring some of that energy to the record as well."
“As artists, you are what you consume,” continued Rebecca later on in the conversation. "The more that you listen, the more you learn. When you actually go out and try to embody someone else’s work you learn so much in doing that. So, I think this Tip o’ the Hat started out really selfish for us because I think we realized that, as sisters, together we were stagnating musically. She would go home and practice her lap steel or I would go home and practice guitar riffs, but learning something together and trying to make it sound like Larkin Poe, we learned so much by doing that with Tip o’ the Hat again and again. That had a direct impact on the way that we approached making our record."
Ozzy Osbourne is Rebecca Lovell’s favorite singer
Growing up, classic rock was heavily played in the Lovell household—from Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult to Allman Brothers Band, Alison Krauss and Crosby, Stills and Nash. "Ozzy’s my favorite singer of just about all time," said Rebecca.
The Lovell sisters first learned to play the violin
Before Rebecca was fretting away on an electric guitar and Megan was shredding on her lap steel, the two were practicing classical musicians.
"We started out in violin when she was 3 and I was 4," said Megan. "God bless our mother. She drove us to those lessons and listened to [us play]."
"Our violins were literally cardboard because they didn’t make them small enough," recalled Rebecca. "They sounded so bad."
MerleFest introduced Larkin Poe to bluegrass
It wasn’t until their first official bluegrass festival that Larkin Poe decided to switch gears, switch instruments and take up a new genre.
"As classical musicians, you grow up reading off the page," said Rebecca. "Going to a bluegrass festival and having our eyes opened to the glory of improvisation, we had never seen that before. And the joy that these people had onstage…."
"It was intoxicating for us," said Megan.
"We went to that bluegrass festival, [and then] literally quit all our lessons," added Rebecca. "Our mom was pissed but she got on board. Then we got banjos and mandolins and guitars and about six months later we were like, ‘we’re playing a bluegrass gig.’ So, we went to Signal Mountain, Tennessee and we brought sheet music onstage with us. We were so nervous, and we thought that we’d forget how to do our thing that we’d been practicing wholeheartedly for weeks."
Jerry Douglas inspired Megan Lovell to pick up the dobro
After trying her hand at the mandolin, banjo and guitar, neither of the instruments felt right in Megan’s hands, until she discovered the dobro.
"I started playing [dobro] at age 13 or 14," she recalled. “I saw it being played, and I was like, that’s it, that’s what I want to play. We grew up listening to Alison Krauss featuring Jerry Douglas, so I think that I had been hearing that sound for a long time, but I didn’t know what it was. So, when I saw it, I was immediately connected."
Larkin Poe met Elvis Costello as teenagers
In one of the most endearing stories of the evening, Larkin Poe recalled meeting Elvis Costello onstage at MerleFest, and how they didn’t know it was him at first.
“A couple years later, we were asked to perform [at MerleFest], and so we were playing on the Cabin Stage, which is about the size of a postage stamp,” recalled Rebecca. “Elvis was headlining the festival, but again, the beauty of the bluegrass festival—they have a super jam. So, at the time, because we were fearless children, we were getting up with everybody that we could. Somebody would start playing a song that we knew, and we would get on stage and try to take part. So, Elvis was singing a gospel tune that we knew, and we went over and crowded around him, not knowing who he was, and just started singing harmony. … So, we made really good friends and he’s become an incredible champion and mentor for us over the years.”
To this day, Costello is the first person Rebecca Lovell sends demos of new songs to. When Rebecca decided it was time to plug in and switch to an electric guitar, she went out and bought a Fender Jazzmaster, a decision that was also inspired by Costello.
Keith Urban taught them how to perform on arena stages
For most of 2018, Larkin Poe were the guests on Urban’s tour. For the duo, it was like getting a first-class education in how to perform before an arena-sized audience.
“We went out on the road with Keith Urban and that was our first time doing a tour of arenas,” said Megan. “He has such a command of an audience and he really connects with people, it’s incredible to watch, so I think we learned a lot from him on how to perform on a large stage like that. And it was perfect. It was leading right into opening for Bob Seger, and so we knew what it felt like to play on a stage like that and interact with an audience of that size. I feel like we made leaps and bounds that year."
Larkin Poe have never spent more than two weeks apart
In their nearly three decades of life, the sisters have never spent more than two weeks apart from each other.
“It’s a crazy number, and it’s absolutely true,” said Rebecca. “I would never trade that for anything. If at any point in time music got in between Megan and I, which it never could because we share it so intimately with each other, it would go away because we’ve been able to see the world together and be very fulfilled and work hard together and have exciting things happen.”
Rebecca and Megan first toured with their older sister Jessica
Playing together as a family for so many years has given Megan and Rebecca an unmatched ability to perfectly harmonize together.
"We have an older sister Jessica, and initially we toured with her as our lead singer," said Rebecca. "Megan was always the low third and I was always the high third to make the chord. So even now—it happens with frightening regularity—we’ll be in the car singing a song with the radio and then we turn the radio off and we’re still singing the song and each of us will automatically split to the harmony parts without there being a melody. Getting to sing with each other, it’s very effortless and there is something to the texture of the vocal and the way that we say our words the same way."
They consider blues and roots to be the "source music of the South"
When it comes to their Southern roots and family history, both play a large role in the storytelling that’s present in their songs, and their name. They named their band after their great great great great grandfather Larkin Poe.
"For me, as a songwriter, we grew up hearing a lot of stories about the generations that led to us," said Rebecca. "There’s a lot of very dramatic stories about our father’s side of the family during the Great Depression, living in Alabama, poverty-stricken, these people that were struggling so hard to just make ends meet and live, and I think finding a medium in which to tell some of those stories about our family, and in that way rooting yourself in your culture and where you come from and trying to continue to represent and preserve that story and the vibe of what it means to be a Lovell and a Miller and a Poe…that that has meaning to us because it connects to the generation that led to us."
Receiving a GRAMMY nomination means the most to their parents
When asked how it feels to be nominated for a GRAMMY Award, the sister duo pointed to the fact that, above how important it is to them, what it means to their parents is on a whole other level.
"Our poor parents have had to have their two daughters, for the last decade and change, running around the world with very little example of the fact that we had success," said Rebecca. "Our family has been incredibly supportive of what we’ve decided to do, and they come to our shows and they’re very proud, but to have gotten this GRAMMY nod, for them I think, even beyond what it means for us, what it means for our folks, it makes me want to tear up and cry because really that’s when you feel the power of it."
As for mom and dad Lovell, they’ll be cheering their daughters on from Staples Center when they attend the GRAMMY Awards with Rebecca and Megan this Sunday.