The Lovell sisters and their go-to instruments: Megan with her beloved 1940s Rickenbacker lap steel and Rebecca with her Jazzmaster replica—her first guitar. “I got that because we were playing with Elvis Costello, and that was his main guitar and I just thought it was so badass,” says Rebecca. Photo by Robby Klein
It has been a long musical journey for the Lovell family, with plenty of twists and turns along the way, and it all started at a bluegrass festival. Sisters Jessica, Megan, and Rebecca Lovell had been studying classical music from a young age and were surrounded by an eclectic mix of music at home—exposed to everything from Alison Krauss to Black Sabbath. But it was the sound of live bluegrass that served as the catalyst for their mutual epiphany.
Rebecca Lovell explains: “We were just blown away by the passion and spontaneity of bluegrass, with everyone improvising and everyone out dancing. That was a very different experience than we’d had thus far performing in classical trios and quartets and symphonies and orchestras. We were bowled over by it and instantly flipped 180 degrees. We put away all of our classical instruments and quit our classical lessons. That was the genesis of our really involved love of music.”
In 2004, the teenage sisters formed their band, the Lovell Sisters, and hit the ground running. They made records and toured the country, appearing on A Prairie Home Companion and at the Grand Ole Opry, as well as winning the John Lennon Songwriting Competition in 2008. But by 2009, oldest sister Jessica decided to leave music. “It’s a very strange way to make one’s life,” says Rebecca.
The younger Lovells regrouped and took the opportunity to make a fresh start, electrifying their sound under the name of their great-great-great-great grandfather, Larkin Poe. The new band built on the Lovell Sisters’ momentum, introducing Larkin Poe to the world in 2010 by releasing four EPs that year. It didn’t take long before their sound caught the ears of folks like T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, Steven Tyler, and Keith Urban—all of whom have tapped the Lovell sisters’ talent for recordings and performances.
The duo released their newest album, Venom & Faith, hot on the heels of Peach, which dropped in late 2017. There is a sonic narrative between the two records: Megan and Rebecca decided to eschew outside help and to produce, write, arrange, and perform all of the instrumentation themselves. The result is a pair of albums that embrace a stripped-down sound based on nontraditional arrangements that focus on the sisters themselves. While Peach is a raw take on the bluesy side of their sound, Venom & Faith moves farther afield in its influences, drawing on the sounds of Southern hip-hop and alternative rock artists like Radiohead and PJ Harvey.
Premier Guitar caught up with Larkin Poe while they were on tour with Keith Urban and getting ready for the release of Venom & Faith. We discussed their recent recordings, how they’ve embraced their influences, and how their family relationship influences their sound.
When your band changed and you became Larkin Poe, you electrified. What inspired that change and how has that progressed?
Rebecca Lovell: We started Larkin Poe at a very similar musical place where we left off with the Lovell Sisters, and it was a transition that happened gradually and took time. I think so often artists aren’t given that time and space that they once were to develop and to grow and to experiment. We feel very fortunate to have stuck with it over these years.
We’ve been Larkin Poe now for eight years. I think it took us eight years to start making records that we finally feel represent the music we hear in our heads or the music we envision playing. So it was really just a baby-step-by-baby-step journey to realizing the dream of what it really means to be Larkin Poe.
You’ve changed your instrumentation a bit. Rebecca, you started playing guitar after playing banjo and then mandolin.
Rebecca: After picking up the banjo, I eventually migrated full-time to mandolin and became a raging, obsessive, competition player. During that time in my mid-teens, acoustic guitar was always in the picture, but mostly in the background. A few years into the formation of Larkin Poe, as we delved deeper and deeper into the blues, it slowly dawned on me that the sonic palette I was searching for was the guitar. I purchased my first electric guitar in 2013 and started the journey of actually becoming a functioning guitar player.
Megan, how did you end up playing lap steel? Were you a regular 6-string guitar player first?
Megan Lovell: Well, I tried out guitar, I tried out mandolin, I tried banjo—all of the fretted instruments never really worked for me, never quite clicked. I saw a Dobro being played for the first time and that’s when I was like, “Oh! This may be my instrument, this intrigues me.” Later on, lap steel came into the picture because when we became Larkin Poe and our sound became a little bit more electric, we introduced drums. And so the lap steel was kind of an obvious choice to go from acoustic to electric.
TIDBIT: Megan and Rebecca Lovell produced and recorded Venom & Faith themselves. “We tried to push more boundaries in terms of introducing a more modern and contemporary sound palette,” says Rebecca. “Given that we write songs that harken back to the ’30s and ’40s blues structure, we thought it would be cool to try to interlace the old with the new.”
Do you remember that first meeting with the Dobro?
Megan: It was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I heard Lou Wamp, who plays Dobro. I was familiar with the sound of the Dobro from Alison Krauss with Jerry Douglas, of course, but I never really made the connection of what the instrument looked like, how it was actually played, with the slide, with the banjo picks. And when I saw it, that’s kind of when all the pieces came into place: “Oh, this sound is this instrument, and I can play it!”
You both seem pretty loyal to your guitars. What are your go-to instruments?
Megan: I play my old Rickenbacker lap steel. It’s from the 1940s and that’s my standby. I’ve only ever played Rickenbacker lap steels. I have four—they’re my babies. I’m obsessed with them.
Rebecca: I have a little stable of guitars that I’m constantly expanding. My main guitar, and actually the first guitar I ever bought, is my seafoam green Jazzmaster. I got that because we were playing with Elvis Costello, and that was his main guitar and I just thought it was so badass.
Megan, how do you tune your lap steel?
Megan: It’s tuned like a Dobro, in open G. From low to high, that’s G–B–D–G–B–D. I use a Scheerhorn stainless steel slide and a Shubb GS1 Gary Swallows slide.