Classics: Larkin Poe

American Gothic
Classics: Larkin Poe
The Lovell sisters onstage in 2019.
Rebecca and Megan Lovell with the former’s Gretsch G6129T in Red Sparkle finish.

The latest album from Grammy-nominated axe-slinging sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell is a showcase of artists rising to new heights. Full of heartfelt tales and brawny guitar tones, Blood Harmony is an exhibition of craft that mines great stories from scribes of the American south and mixes them with elements of Southern rock, blues, and deft slide guitar into a tapestry that speaks to life’s joy and struggles.

The album streeted November 11, and the band starts an intensive 27-date American tour on January 20 in Asheville, North Carolina, before flying to Australia and New Zealand for six shows in early/mid April.

What inspired the new record?
Megan: We were really inspired by touring; we got back on the road in 2021 around the U.S. But we were also inspired by staying home, when we were doing a lot of live streams – just the two of us, stripped back and being able to go on tangents together. We played cover songs – and our own – in ways we’d never played before. So, we were very inspired going in, and we had the benefit of time; normally we’d have to fit recording between tours, but this time we had a few weeks to do pre-production.

Rebecca: As we have grown our songwriting muscles, I think our ability to re-write has expanded. When you’re a young writer, sometimes you feel that the one idea you have might be your last. It’s very challenging to crawl inside your compositions and edit yourself. That’s the one thing I’ve gotten more comfortable with over the years – being able to write more, write with other people, and view songwriting as a set of skills – the ability to feel your feelings and figure out how to put those feelings into lyrics, then ask yourself, “Am I saying this as truly as I can? Is this the most-honest way I can say this? Is this the best melody? Is this catchy enough? Is this really doing what I need it to do?” Then you have to tweak, change, and edit yourself.

Megan: We sat in my basement and did a lot of collaboration this time around, in particular with the idea of playing these songs with just the two of us and no bells or whistles. It was just a guitar and a voice, and we wanted the songs to stand on their own, a la the live streams where we played great songs without any production. They really do stand on their own. So, bringing that sort of attitude into the writing was different, but it did benefit the songs. It was like a barrier of entry – they had to work with just the two of us, or we couldn’t move on to the next phase.

Rebecca: That’s the biggest thing we’ve learned to do with our songwriting over the years. In a way, it feels very healthy and empowering. With Blood Harmony, our commitment to sit with one another, play these songs, crawl inside every detail, and try to make the best songs we could to the best of our abilities set this album apart in a new way. It makes me very proud.

“Might As Well Be Me” is quite the heart-tugger.

The Lovell sisters onstage in 2019.

Rebecca: Every album we write and record is a step and a journey. With every step, I feel like we’re getting closer to where we want to be as artists, and it’s very rewarding. With “Might As Well Be Me,” I think we allowed all the different ranges of human experience to be expressed. That’s very important. And for two empowered females, “Might As Well Be Me” is not a flattering look. It’s a song perpetuating a bad relationship, but so many of us find ourselves in those situations. I can speak from experience. It’s something that happens to everybody. Even though we want the best for ourselves, we should always aspire to get what we need. You get stuck in cycles, and it takes a while to find out how to move through your own processes. “Might As Well Be Me” is an ode to the stuckness of being somewhere where you know you’re in the wrong place, but you haven’t found the strength to leave. I think that emotional energy really hits home. Singing that song is a very emotional experience for me, and you can hear that on the album.

Megan: “Might As Well Be Me” is one of two songs that have been part of our live set for many years. We wrote it with a friend who has an incredible all-analog studio in L.A. We went to write with him one day, and “Might As Well Be Me” popped out. It hit immediately, so we started playing it live, and through the years, fans have been asking for a recorded version. Over and over with every record, we’ve never felt like it had a home until this one because we wanted this record to have that raw energy you feel at our live shows. Blood Harmony was the perfect vehicle to finally bring that song, along with “Summertime Sunset.”

The guitars on “Bad Spell” are huge-sounding.

Rebecca: As Megan said, we committed to having this album represent a live show – it’s a drummer, bass player, two guitarists, and a couple of vocalists. In the studio, there’s always this pull to triple-stack guitars and make them sound super-wide, and layer, layer, layer (laughs). We brought in my husband, Tyler Bryant, to help us co-produce this [with] a really fat drum sound – and commit to not double-stacking guitars. It gives it a more-nostalgic ’60s/’70s stripped-back vibe and allows room to get big guitar tones. On “Bad Spell,” it was balls to the wall. We had this incredible Royal Jelly pedal by Beetronics. It’s a rude fuzz (laughs).

Megan: I’m playing through a TB Drive Shakedown Special pedal, made by Uli Rodenberg. It’s Tyler’s signature overdrive, and we’re playing in octaves – I’m playing the higher, Rebecca the lower.

Rebecca: When I demoed that tune originally, I recorded in GarageBand and Logic, and got the tone with some echo and a Bit Crusher. I played it for Megan and Tyler, and they both loved the tone. We wanted to re-create something that wild, and I think we achieved it. It’s a really sick guitar tone.

What were your go-to instruments and amps for the album?
Rebecca: I predominately played a Strat; I’ve really gotten into the Strat over the years because it’s very versatile through a Deluxe or Bassman. I believe we used a boutique amp made by Tyler Amp Works for the song “Lips As Cold As Diamond.” It’s got beautiful tremolo.

I played a Tele on “Kick the Blues” because we were going for a spanky Keith Richards tone. I also played my ’69 Gibson SG on “Southern Comfort,” which was gifted to me. It doesn’t travel, but in the studio it’s fantastic.

One other cool piece of gear we used in the studio was an amp from Square Amps, in Austin. Matt Richards builds these beautiful amp circuits in old pieces of furniture or old radios. They’re super-low wattage, but we used a couple and just cranked them up. You would never guess that these massive tones were coming out of this little 15-watt head that looks like it should be in your grandma’s parlor (laughs).

Larkin Poe onstage in ’21, Rebecca using her Gretsch G6129T, Megan her trademark ’40s Rickenbacker Model B.

Megan: My old standby is the Panda – my Rickenbacker Model B lap steel from the ’40s that is always featured on our records. I also used a National acoustic lap-steel from the ’50s.

Megan, you’ve just unveiled a signature lap steel…

Megan: I did, and I’m so excited about it. It’s a collaboration with Beard Guitars called the Electro-Liege (see sidebar), and I’ve been playing the prototype since May. It has a unique shape and an amazing custom pickup by Lollar.

Who in the slide-guitar universe has been your biggest inspiration?
Megan: I have to shout out to Jerry Douglas. I listened to a lot of Alison Krauss & Union Station, and he’s the one who inspired me to pick up a slide. Of course, I grew up listening to the Allman Brothers, so the sound of slide has always been in my head, but I don’t think I ever really connected with what the instrument could do until my early teens, when I saw Jerry Douglas play and was blown away by the idea of slide. Playing classical violin, I’ve never played with frets, so the idea of a fretless instrument has always appealed to me.

When I first picked up dobro, I learned all of Jerry’s solos – he’s a master of slide guitar, and his pitch is incredible. I’ve spent a lot of time working on that side of myself. After we started to plug in, it just made sense for me to pick up the lap steel so we could play with drums. It’s just an electrified dobro. Then, I was inspired by players like David Lindley and Derek Trucks, who have fantastic pitch. Derek inspired me to play with that sort of otherworldly passion. He’s like an operatic vocal stylist, and I’m really inspired by that.

“Bolt Cutters & The Family Name” is an excellent example of how you cross-breed Americana, blues, and rock and roll into something unique.

Rebecca: That was one of my favorite songs in the studio because it wound up at a very different place from where it began. I wrote it with our bass player, Tarka Layman. He sent me a musical idea that sparked the initial inspiration and I wrote some swaggy lyrics, but it was a very straight groove in a different key and a different vibe. I brought the lyrics and melody to Megan, and we both connected to the fact we dug the lyrical quality, but wanted to take it somewhere different. And of course, I’m a huge ZZ Top fan – I love Billy Gibbons. The vibe and the swinging-ness is definitely like a classic ZZ cut. So, I changed the groove and we restructured the song, but even then it felt a little premeditated, like we were trying to shove a square peg in a round hole. So, we decided to strip it way back, so it’s me on electric guitar in the control room, with Megan on her slide. Tyler has this cool vintage marching-band kick drum he found at a drum shop, and he started using his hands to play a traditional shuffle/ZZ-style beat on it. He has all these rings on his fingers, which gave it a really cool tone. Megan played like a wild woman having a conniption, and it coalesced into what you hear on the album. It was very spontaneous, very raw, and very wild. I love that we were able to preserve that energy in the final cut. It was definitely one of the “party moments” in our recording process. It’s one of my favorites.

What’s on deck for you in 2023?
Rebecca: A lot of touring. We’re a road band, so we’re going to be out, taking the music to the people. We’re in rehearsals, getting ready, and I can’t wait to finally play the new songs.

See this month’s “Hit List” for our reviews of Blood Harmony and Shake The Roots, the new album by Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown.

This article originally appeared in VG’s January 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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