Larkin Poe ready to 'wing it 'with Costello

Lincoln Journal Star: Cory Matteson: 26th February 2015

The marquee outside the Rococo Theatre has for months advertised Elvis Costello's sold-out show as a solo event, and its aim is pretty true. But concertgoers can expect a visit to the stage from sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell during Costello's set.

Then who knows what'll happen.

The Lovells, who together make up the opening act Larkin Poe, said they, too, likely won't know for sure what Costello has in mind until the day of the show.

"It'll be like 2 p.m. before an 8 p.m. show, and he'll email us two MP3s and be, like, 'Hey, we should play these tonight. Learn these,'" said Rebecca, 23. "And then we do them that night."

While this method of collaboration between a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and an up-and-coming duo might sound nerve-wracking for the up-and-coming side of the partnership, the Lovells dig it this way.

Raised by parents who valued Bach and Beethoven (mom) and classic rock (dad), the Lovells took to music at early ages. Megan, now 25, first gave the violin a try 20 years ago. About a week after that, Rebecca, then 3, got her hands on one. Their oldest sister, Jessica, was in on these preschool jam sessions, too.

"Our mom was a saint to have gone through multiple children playing violin," Megan said. "'Cause it's like one of the most obnoxious sounds on the planet."

The three quickly graduated from the owl talon-on-chalkboard stage of their music education. For years they played together as the Lovell Sisters before Jessica decided to focus on college and family.

Then came Larkin Poe, where the two younger sisters bring lifetimes of musicianship to their band. Rebecca takes lead vocal, guitar, mandolin and violin duties. Megan plays lap steel and dobro guitars. Drums, piano, hand claps and more play key roles in Larkin Poe's roots rock sound where some songs lean very heavily on roots and others more so on the rock. (Go listen to "Don't" on JournalStar.com for a rock offering of Larkin Poe's. There's more of the interview online, too.)

The two released their first full-length album, "Kin," last year, and it takes a few tracks at most to figure out Costello's attraction to the band. (They'll have copies of "Kin" on vinyl with them for sale at the Rococo.) Here's an edited Q&A with Rebecca and Megan that gets into how they came to meet, tour and record with Costello. Take it away, Rebecca.

Rebecca: So we first met Elvis Costello close to five or six years ago at a really amazing festival in North Carolina called MerleFest. And there was like this big all-star jam thing and we were booked at the festival on some little piddling stage, and Elvis was on as a headliner.

So we were all onstage, and we ended up sidling alongside Elvis and singing harmonies to him on this gospel song, being very bold. I think, were we to do that now, we would be understanding the implications. Then we were just 16, 17 -- just kids. Havin' fun! Getting up and harmonizing. I think he took a liking to our energy and what we were kind of putting out in terms of harmonies and general musicality.

He's been an incredible supporter of us through the years, going beyond and above what would even be considered polite. He's had us out as an opening band for gigs. He's had us on two or three tours now as his support band. We've managed to come into his circle when he's been doing a lot more solo tours, just Elvis Costello tour stuff -- him and his 16 guitars and piano out on the road. And so Megan and I have been able to get onstage with him and act as his band during his show, which we feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have that kind of an experience. It's mind-boggling. It's mind-blowing.

GZ: Can you tell me how you ended up playing with the New Basement Tapes? (That's a supergroup featuring Costello and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons and plenty more. They all recorded music based off unearthed Bob Dylan lyrics with producer T Bone Burnett at the helm.)

Rebecca: Oh yeah! We recorded our first full-length record, the "Kin" record, out in Los Angeles, in February of last year. So while we were out in Los Angeles making that record, we heard through the grapevine that Elvis Costello was in town working on a project. And we didn't know what the project was. So we just sent Elvis a message, "Hey we heard you're in town, would love to see you, yada yada yada."

And he wrote back and said: "Hey girls! I'm glad you're here. I didn't know. We're at Capitol Records, and we're making this project." And he listed off the names of the people who were involved in the project, and our jaws kind of dropped.

And he said: "Hey you should definitely come into the studio. We'd love to have you sing some vocals and play some solos. We're almost done recording but we'd love to have some fresh blood. Come on over."

And we, of course, jumped at the chance and ended up recording vocals on two or three tracks that made the record. There's a mandolin solo of mine that made the record. It was just an all-around unbelievable day.

GZ: I watched the video of "Six Months in Kansas City" on YouTube, and it shows this studio room filled with talent play the song and then it kind of fades off right at the end of the song. What was the next minute like in there?

Megan: I'll tell you what it was like. They rehearsed it one time. They ran through it once. Nobody's played it before, except for the person who wrote (the music), Elvis. Then they said, "OK, let's record it." And so we recorded that version. And they were, like, "OK, we're done." That's it. That's all.

Rebecca: Then everyone piled out of their respective booths and went into the control room and listened to it. And there's mistakes in it. When you listen to the track there's like some false starts and stuff. And everyone listened to it and was, like, "That's got the vibe. All right we're good."

GZ: I've seen you all have covered a song or two of his on your YouTube page. What song of yours would you want Costello to cover of yours?

Both: Oooh.

GZ: Think it through. I have my own guess.

Megan: I think I have mine.

Rebecca: What's yours?

Megan: I would love for him to sing the song, "Overachiever."

Rebecca: Ooh, that's gonna be mine too.

GZ: I wrote down a pick to see if either of you said it, and I was completely wrong.

Rebecca: What was the pick?

GZ: I was gonna go with "Jesse."

Megan: That was actually my second choice

GZ: Uh-huh.

Rebecca: I could totally hear him doing that.

GZ: I could see him delving into the mood in that song, if that makes any sense.

Rebecca: I do believe that was his favorite song off the record.

Megan: He had mentioned that as the one he thought was well-written, particularly well-written.

GZ: So that's where me and Elvis collide I guess.

Rebecca: That's the name of your memoir.

GZ: When I first heard he was coming here as a solo performer, I imagined piano accompaniment, acoustic, maybe all his quieter stuff. Then I found some cellphone clips from a solo tour last year. And that's not the case. He rocked. You all rocked.

Rebecca: He pulls out all the stops.

Megan: Yeah, he really gives the audience their money's worth, and he plays to exhaustion every night, which has been pretty inspirational for us to see. To see somebody of that caliber, after all of these years, he still wants to go on stage and give it his all.

Rebecca: And push himself outside of his own comfort zone. Like we'll be on stage with him, and instead of just playing bass and playing an arrangement how he played it a couple of times before, he'll just go on tangents and trust us and expect us to follow -- even though it could be an absolute train wreck. I think that as an artist is hard to do, because there's pressure when you get on stage to want to deliver a good show and have it be all hunky-dory and tidy and nice, and not have any glaring mistakes.

But I think one of the reasons that we do especially love making music with Elvis Costello is that it's so spontaneous, and it's very free, and very freeing as an artist to get on stage and kind of wing it and go for it. And if you fail, you fail. And oftentimes you don't, and that's great.

GZ: The reward of walking the tightrope.

Rebecca: Precisely.