In June, Pokey LaFarge released his fourth full-length studio recording, Pokey LaFarge. The album is his first long-player for Jack White's Third Man Records (who also put out his 7" single of "Chittlin Cookin Time in Cheatam County" as part of their Blue Series).
Mr. LaFarge and his partners draw from early country, western swing, traditional jazz, jug bands, and string band music. His traveling show continues to impress loyal listeners, as well as reel in newcomers wherever he performs. I'm putting my money on Third Man exposing Pokey to lots of new listeners and as a result, I'm thinking his days of playing intimate clubs, sadly, may be coming to an end.
Pokey LaFarge has been already receiving much praise before the album dropped in June and the reviews began rolling in for it. I had the opportunity to line up a second interview with Pokey in May (you can read the first one I did with him did regarding Middle of Everywhere here). This time around, we chatted up Pokey's friendship with Jack White, which led to him joining Third Man, as well as the making of his new record.
After Middle of Everywhere, why did you decide to release the live album (last year's Live in Holland)?
Pokey LaFarge: I had been wanting to release a live album for awhile, for what I assume is the same reason most people want to release live albums: to showcase the relationship between us and the crowd. Also, a lot of our fans had been calling for it.
When did you first meet with Jack White?
Pokey: He heard me on WSM and called me up. He said he liked my voice and asked did I want to make a record.
Can you talk about your touring experiences with Jack? How was performing for his fans?
Pokey: The first thing that comes to mind was the venues we got to play. We got to open for The Raconteurs at Ryman Auditorium and then for Jack at Cain's Ballroom, Red Rocks, Radio City Music Hall and more. Also, Jack has a very wide ranging and open minded fan base who apparently took to my music quite well. We seemingly won them over each night.
Why did you decide to sign with Jack's Third Man Records?
Pokey: They've been supporters of me for awhile now. They are in my corner and there's a lot if mutual respect.
What are some aspects of the label (and the recordings they are producing) that convinced you that there was a philosophical connection?
Pokey: That perhaps, not every band is for everybody, or at least not to make music strictly for mass consumption. You have to try to do what makes you happy first.
Can you give us a rundown of your band members, which instruments they play, and what you see as their greatest assets to the band?
Pokey: Ryan Koenig plays drums, percussion, Harmonica, and BGV's. He brings a unique sense of style to everything he plays and has good stage presence. Joey Glynn plays the upright bass an he brings versatility, rhythm and soul. Adam Hoskins handles guitars and he puts in a number of different influences into his guitar playing. TJ Muller plays the cornet, and he is becoming a very good melodic-oriented player. Chloe Feoranzo plays clarinet and she is the x-factor and a virtuoso.
Coming off of the success of your Middle of Everywhere album, touring for the album, the release of Live in Holland, when and how did you get started on writing the new album (and how did those experiences influence you)?
Pokey: Well, I can't help but write. It is who I am. I want to speak through my music. Though I have some old fashioned sensibilities, I am very much living in the now. I realized after the last album that it was time to realize a dream of mine, which was to create a larger ensemble. This would ensure a bigger sound for the arrangements of the songs I write.
I was limited on my previous albums with time due to touring so much. We literally went from the road to the studio and we would finish the album in two days with the road band. Now that I have the means for a larger ensemble I am able to get closer to doing justice to my musical vision.
What was your vision for the new album? How did you want it to be distinguished from your previous albums? What commonalities did you want the album to maintain?
Pokey: I wanted it to move people more. Provide some driving rhythm on some tunes and lazy, melancholic and yet hopeful tunes. All of the things that are sometimes me: I wanted to do some firsts: a female vocalist to sing with, and have some string arrangements. The constant is to make a core of the same: acoustic rooted, raw, beautiful and entertaining, quality original music.
What were you listening to during the writing and recording of the new album that you found significantly inspiring?
Pokey: Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills, and Jimmie Rodgers: the usual. There's a lot more but these guys are huge inspirations of mine and masters of pure quality expression.
What are some of your non-musical sources of inspiration?
Pokey: Family, land and nature of the U.S.A, home, trials and tribulations, underdogs, veterans, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck.
Can you discuss the recording of the album? What was your set-up and what were some of your strategizes for capturing the songs?
Pokey: I actually recorded this album at Stadium studios in Hendersonville, TN. It was engineered by Morgan Jahnig and produced by Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show. We aimed to capture the live energy of our shows with the vocals being emphasized a little more.
Can you describe your working relationship with Jack White and what has been most rewarding for you?
Pokey: He's brought a lot of recognition my way and that has allowed for some big opportunities. Perhaps he has helped validate my music with people that may have not been interested otherwise.
How collaborative is writing and recording with the band?
Pokey: It is almost exclusively my own at the beginning. Ketch and I co wrote "City Summer Blues', Adam and I wrote "Day After Day". However it takes good musicians to make a song great and that's what my band is.
Was there a song(s) that set the course for the album?
Pokey: "Central Time" we knew was going to be the single. I feel that helped the sessions knowing that. "City Summer Blues" Ketch and I wrote in the studio. I had never done that. I had the melody, the instrumental hook and chorus but he helped me finish it. "What the Rain Will Bring" and "Close the Door" have added a lot of depth. They've also been going over well live.
Traveling and performing live seems to be such a big part of what you do. How do your experiences performing live help you grow creatively?
Pokey: Honestly, although I live for performing, I feel that time away from performing is the most essential to crafting my songs. I do learn a lot from people while performing though.
What have you been listening to lately?
Pokey: Wayne Hancock's Ride, J.D. McPherson's Signs and Signifiers, as well as the usual dose of traditional jazz, old blues and country, western swing, Early Calypso, and lots more.
What's next for you?
Pokey: There will be a lot of touring and a lot of shows too.
I'd also like to mention that since this interview, Pokey LaFarge and JD McPherson (interview) teamed up for a single together called "Good Old Oklahoma". The single features the two artists coming together to cut a rendition of the Bob Willis classic. 100% of the proceeds benefit Oklahoma City Community Fund's Tornado Relief endowment. So head over to either Pokey's or JD's websites to learn more, purchase the song, and help the good people of Oklahoma!
(This post was written for and originally appeared on The Bluegrass Situation earlier this month)