There are plenty of musicians who are trying to transcend music. Individuals who are taking creative liberties to develop something different. However, this attempts often involve the use of many of today’s new technologies – from synthesizers, computer programs, you name it. But few are doing it like Pokey LaFarge, the St. Louis-based singer-songwriter and entertainer who is taking the music often associated with past generations into new territory.
However, don’t tell LaFarge that roots music is “old” or “out of date”. As is written on his Facebook page, “It’s not retro music, it’s American music that never died.” Now LaFarge is attempting to take roots music to new places, or, as he told Scott Recker of LEO Weekly, “to the future”. He’s not using any gimmicky tricks or using the assistance of any software. Instead, he’s taking traditional instruments – guitar, banjo, standup bass, drums, piano – and making roots music sound new, refreshing, and even more timeless.
With Something in the Water, Pokey LaFarge and his band have released the first edition of this ambitious endeavor. The album is made for live audiences, encouraging audiences to dance or to be swooned by LaFarge’s Midwestern drawl. LaFarge and his band are currently on tour, including stopping at Ritual Nightclub in Ottawa on Friday (tickets) and Club Soda in Montreal on Saturday (tickets) (full tour dates below). I had the chance to catch up with Pokey LaFarge, asking him twelve questions ranging from tour life, the move from Jack White’s Third Man Records to to Rounder Records, and the music that represents him.
Twelve Questions with Pokey LaFarge
Thank you Mr. LaFarge for taking time to answer a few questions, especially while in the midst of a tour. Speaking of which, your previous album included a song called “Pack It Up”, which could mean a lot of things. Would you consider this to also be a depiction of life as a touring artist?
PL: It is indeed a song about life as a touring artist or traveler of any kind.
I’m curious about your touring experiences because you’re constantly on the move. First question, why continue to persistently tour?
PL: First of all because I like it. 2nd for the fans we have around the world and 3rd to make a living.
What’s the most exhilarating part of touring? And what’s the most difficult thing?
PL: The experiences; different cultures, food, booze, architecture, etc. The most difficult is the monotony of it all. Wake up, breakfast, drive, soundcheck, and play. Then do it all over again every single day. Monotony zaps your creativity.
Interesting (I’m anticipating Mr. LaFarge’s response). Last year, your tour stopped in parts of Canada, including two shows at the Ottawa Bluesfest. Why return to Canada and Ottawa, specifically? What draws you back to this expansive country?
PL: Great crowds. Great people. Beautiful landscape. Down to earth existence.
I’ve met a few artists who have had some unique experiences at the border. Do you have any border stories to share?
PL: Nothing too crazy. We’ve had some delays but I’m sure it’s nothing more crazy than any other musicians. I’ve known people to get turned away or have to pay some money to get in.
We should touch on your music. First, congratulations with signing with Rounder Records. For those who don’t know how it all works, could you please describe how the partnership came about. Who reached out to whom? What your own personal reaction was to the deal?
PL: I believe Rounder reached out. I considered and ultimately considered signing because of the responsibility I felt in taking American roots music into future generations. Both Rounder and I are trying to do that.
Has anything changed for you since signing with Rounder?
PL: Sure, Third Man and Rounder are very different. Both are great, just different. As a result, I’d say slightly different fan base and maybe different press opportunities.
On your new album, Something in the Water, it leans more towards swampy blues than the rip-roaring Americana of your previous efforts and is even a touch heavier at points and there are traces of Latin influences. Why move in a new direction? What influenced the new approach?
PL: You could say that. I’d say same direction, same approach, just a new chapter. The road is always winding, it never stops, there’s always a new town. Every town changes your mind a little bit. Everyday you evolve a little bit more. I’m not changing anything, I just AM.
Speaking of influences, when you were growing up, what music do you remember hearing in the home that influenced you to become a musician?
PL: I can’t say anything I heard growing up in my home influenced me to be a musician. I discovered music outside the home.
How about currently? Now what are you listening to?
PL: Been listening to a lot of things. Early Calypso, Tom Jones, Dr. Dog, Cults, Gene Pitney, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jimmie Rodgers, Phox, J.D. McPherson
That’s a really great and diverse list. Final question, if there was one song you’ve written that best represents who Pokey LaFarge is as an individual, what would it be and why?
PL: Currently “Goodbye, Barcelona” cause it represents my life spent traveling and showcases a memorable experience there in. It shows that you can’t peg my style; it’s always evolving.
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