INTERVIEW: Pokey LaFarge | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Anyone who’s paid attention to the last few Pokey LaFarge albums – wonderful blends of country blues, western swing, jazz and vaudeville – will have noticed that there’s been a considerable growth, both in the size of the band and in the scope of the music and arrangements, so I kicked off a chat with him by asking if it was a conscious decision, or just a result of his growing confidence as a songwriter.

“Maybe both. I know I’m definitely not resting on my laurels or trying to stay comfortable in my songwriting, I’m always trying to do things to keep it interesting… If you have new feelings or experiences, you’ll try and get sounds to do justice to those, or represent them. I definitely don’t have one style, I think of myself as being very versatile and I’m trying to grow – as a person and a songwriter – so things will continue changing and I guess going forward, expect more change, perhaps a bigger leap with the next record. “

Pokey has been full of praise for his producer Jimmy Sutton, who seems to have helped him in that process. “The main thing with Jimmy is that he’s a rhythm man, you know? He’s all about the rhythm, he wants to make sure that the groove is there, as a foundation, as a base for everything else to build on top off. And I really bought into that, and I really wanted to add drums and percussion to my music, to solidify it, so you’ll notice on this record and in the live show that there’s a lot of drums.”

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“I definitely don’t have one style, I think of myself as being very versatile”

Pokey’s lyrics usually deal in the same subjects all the best songs do – women, drink and having a good time – but all his albums throw up something a little more politically or socially conscious, like Close The Door on 2013’s self-titled release or Underground on Something In The Water. “It’s important to me to be understood and create a feeling, and some truth. With Close The Door, that was coming around the time that Obamacare was being talked about. I guess with Underground, in the United States it’s such a diverse country – culturally but also environmentally, with the landscape. You have beaches, you have swamps, you have plains, you have deserts, lakes, rivers, everything. So then you have tornados and floods and earthquakes, poison spiders, wildfires, natural disasters. So that’s what that song was about, that all across the country those things can be happening at the exact same time. That’s what nature does to replenish itself, but of course when humans get in the way we try to slow that whole process down or eliminate it all together.”

When looking at the careers of most of the artists operating in a similar milieu to Pokey –perhaps Meschiya Lake, or Daniel Romano, or past collaborator Caitlin Rose – you see that most of them have a past in punk, indie or rock bands before hitting on their chosen styles. But Pokey seemed to have planted his flag in his music from the outset. “My first love was the written word, so my early creative expression was in the world of writing, so that’s my foundation. So when I was looking for different ways for my words to be showcased and looking for different ways to influence my words, to play with them if you will… it all kind of came together, I was hearing music at the same time but it wasn’t too conscious. The best creativity is subconscious, it just kinda comes naturally, so I gravitated towards to this music, not just for the words obviously, there’s a lot more colours and styles that make me so interested in it. I could write a book about that! But no – I didn’t have a punk rock phase…” Pokey is also clear that he doesn’t see it as his mission to turn his audience onto his own musical influences. “I’m living today and writing today and looking towards doing more of that in the future… I certainly will try and expose people to some of the great music out there from today but also from the past but I don’t believe you have to listen to Sleepy John Estes, who I do really love, or Jimmy Rodgers, or any of the other musicians of the past in order to like my music or Caitlin Rose’s or Meschiya Lake’s”

In an earlier interview Pokey had mentioned that he regretted kicking back quite so hard against authority and tradition when he was younger. “Certainly, there was a healthy amount of revolt, I guess, as a youngster. I just think I could have benefitted from more discipline, if I’d listened to and inherited some of this foundation of knowledge that my elders had – parents, grandparents. Whether it was to work on cars or build houses better, just to be a handyman. You know, just be more patient, think before you speak and little things like that. Things as you get older you wish you were better at. As you get older, you have less time to learn new skills. I know a lot of these skills were available to me as a youngster and I just didn’t really gravitate to it… Life being the fleeting thing that it is, these things have escaped me.”

Pokey LaFarge brings his band to Newcastle University on Saturday 10th October. His latest album Something In The Water is out now on Rounder Records.

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