"Throughout my late teens and early twenties, songwriting was definitely a really cheap form of therapy for me," Rebecca Lovell, the more vocal half of the Georgia-bred, Nashville-based sister duo Larkin Poe, tells Apple Music. "But touring changed our perspective in wanting to write songs that would serve as connective tissue between people—songs that sound better when they're being sung by 200 people than they sound being sung by one voice." Self Made Man, the fifth album in the band's decade-long existence, reflects not only this intentional broadening, but a perfected process. Serious-minded students of Southern and classic rock, and the blues that influenced that, Rebecca and her sibling collaborator Megan Lovell produce themselves, program propulsive, earthy beats, and lay down almost all of the sinewy, dialed-in, hand-played instrumental parts. Says Rebecca, "I am every day kind of bowled over by Megan's ability to create melodies within her solos that are so memorable and very concise." Here the sisters walk through each song on Self Made Man.
She’s a Self Made Man Rebecca Lovell: “I do think that there is a large dose of tongue-in-cheek with any blues lyric writing that I so strongly relate with. I think that that is such an effective means of drawing people's attention to topics that could be threatening. Being able to take a sentiment like ‘She's a Self Made Man’ and give it that kind of braggadocious, sassy edge, I think it allows people to listen to the song without immediately getting their hackles up or feeling like we're making some political statement. When I sat down to write 'She's a Self Made Man,' it really disturbed me a little bit that as a woman, I was frequently saying the phrase ‘self-made man’ and not even realizing how barbed a sentence it actually is. Basically you're qualifying success based on gender, which is completely absurd and completely against everything that my sister and I have stood for with our band and being extreme do-it-yourselfers and starting our own record label and producing our own records and trying to play all the instruments. That has nothing to do with being male; that has everything to do with the hard work that you're willing to put in. Being able to find a way to laugh at it, it really allowed us to say something that actually lies very close to our heart while not scaring people away from it.”
Holy Ghost Fire Rebecca: “Pulling from the vocabulary of the Southern gospel hymn book, I think, is a really powerful way to bring people with you on a lyrical journey. I think of any number of Bill Withers tunes, or when you dig deep and you have these really come-together lyrics that I think the church is so adept at writing, and the songwriters that create the hymns, that they just have it on lock. Trying to create something that we could all sing together, that anthemic thing, was really musically what I was going after. One thing that we love to try and put across in our shows is a safe harbor for people to come and escape their everyday life for a minute and just connect with the people around them.”
Keep Diggin’ Rebecca: “I love sitting down and making these fleshed-out demos and sending them to Megan as sort of a foundation or framework. I was just sitting at my kitchen table, and I program a lot of the songs using Logic on my laptop.” Megan Lovell: “Normally we tend to write a lot of the songs, just the two of us or just Rebecca, but that one was co-written with Tony Esterly. We went in with him for a couple of days just to see if we could come up with something. That idea kind of started there, and then Rebecca took it and made it what it is today.”
Back Down South (feat. Tyler Bryant) Rebecca: “Tyler's my husband, and he has his own rock band, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown. Typically, we both tour so much that we don't have time to write with each other. He had come up with the guitar riff for ‘Back Down South’ and kind of fleshed out a little drum part underneath and sort of baited me by playing it for me. Instantly, I really wanted to work on it with him. I do think that having grown up playing bluegrass music between my sister and I, and also Tyler having grown up in Texas as a blues guy, there is a lot of shared reverence between our families for the amount of incredible Southern music. It's a fairly small portion of the country, all things considered, and [there are] really explosive ramifications of all this incredible music that was pioneered through pain and suffering and a lot of incredible dues paid by people to create this music that we absolutely cherish.”
Tears of Blue to Gold Rebecca: “We wound up going on a road trip to Graceland. It was just such a magical experience. We stayed at a hotel and we woke up the next morning and attended church where Reverend Al Green still preaches. That weekend had so much weight musically and creatively for me that it sat with me for probably six months, and I just kept thinking about the parallels that exist between people who come from the same place and yet they end up in radically different places. I was just dreaming up the comparison between someone who lives a really star-studded life like Elvis Presley, and thinking about the gift of a normal life as well, the relationships and the memories that really shape your life, and that having as much value as living the life of a king.”
God Moves on the Water Megan: “When you're listening to a lot of blues music, you'll often hear shared verses here and there, or maybe a chorus that almost seemed stolen from another song. Blues is so much like an oral history that we love the idea of kind of continuing that tradition with taking up somebody else's song and making it a little bit more applicable to our lives now. Rebecca approached me with the idea of taking ‘God Moves on the Water,’ which is a Blind Willie Johnson song that's originally just about the sinking of the Titanic. She was like, ‘What if we gave it a little bit of a broader scope to talk about more than just that one occasion? Speak more about how even though disasters happen all over the world, what is so meaningful is when we reach out hands to each other and God moves, whoever or whatever God is.’”
Every Bird That Flies Rebecca: “I'd been watching a lot of Peaky Blinders whenever we were writing that song. The soundtrack for that show, it borrows so much from artists in the vein of PJ Harvey. So I was on a jaunt of listening to that real hypnotic, kind of trance-like looping. When I brought it to Megan, it was monotone and kind of mournful. I thought that introducing a drum line [sound] is such an effective way of having percussion without relying so heavily on the construct of your typical drum kit. I have these sound libraries where it's just a snare drum being hit or a floor tom, or in this case it was a marching band. I just went to town and I had so much fun.”
Scorpion Rebecca: “I think it's somewhat derivative of ‘Green Onions,’ like that style of early rock where it's very driving. I think the lyrics, they don't necessarily go hand in hand with the music, but sometimes I like juxtaposition. I think Scorpios get kind of a bad rap for being fairly intense. So I wanted to write a horoscope-inspired song about a scorpion. That's actually one of the more challenging songs to perform. There's so many instruments that are playing the same riffs together, with so much repetition, that it's like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.”
Danger Angel Megan: “I liked that that song. It does feel a little bit like a flashback to our more folky days. But Rebecca does love to turn a phrase on its head with the whole ‘Danger Angel’ that you're kind of drawn to somebody who is maybe not the best for you.” Rebecca: “As girls that were born in late '80s, early '90s, we grew up watching so many Disney shows and TV shows in which the women characters were portrayed in a very male-dominated purview where it's like the damsel in distress. And all the shots are called by the men. The women are there in the pretty dresses and yada, yada, yada. I think at a certain point, so many of us are like, ‘All right, I've had a bellyful. Let's embody the characters that we want to see.’”
Ex-Con Rebecca: “I wrote 'Ex-Con' directly as a response to Johnny Paycheck's ‘I'm the Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised).’ There aren't very many female versions of that style of song, where you have the ne'er-do-well that wreaks havoc in their youth and they may or may not really atone for their bad behavior. But the one thing that connects a lot of these stories is they're being troublesome, but they don't want their mother to be mad at them. I wanted to write a girl's version of that, where she's out there stirring up and raising hell for sure. The only reason that she might even possibly feel somewhat bad is because she has displeased or disappointed her mom. Our own mother, she did get kind of a kick out of that song."
Easy Street Megan: "For the last track, we did want something that felt really classic. I was just playing around on that feel and playing that riff. We just wanted to make the rest of the song feel very familiar and take the record out on that joyful note."