Interview: Pokey LaFarge, WOMADelaide

Pokey LaFarge
Image Courtesy of Pokey LaFarge

Americana singer-songwriter Pokey LaFarge is possibly one of the most interesting artists I’ve ever had the chance to interview. His music draws on a rich American tradition – folk, country, jazz, blues and Ameriacana – to create something unique. I would like to say that I interviewed Pokey LaFarge – but if you read the below it may be that he was the one asking the questions.

Gareth Hugh Evans: How are you?

Pokey LaFarge: Gareth I’m doing well. I was just talking to Paula there about weather. You guys are opposite us right now, you’re in summer and we’re in winter time.

GHE: Yeah and we’ve been having heat waves and you guys have been having arctic winds and things.

PL: Correct, yeah. Weird how the rest of the world is quite warm right now, even for summer standards. And of course we’re quite cold, even for winter standards.

GHE: Thanks for taking the time to chat to us today – I appreciate it.

PL: It’s my pleasure. I’m very much looking forward to the trip over there. Being the first time I’m all up for doing whatever I need to do to let people know what I do.

GHE: My site Timber and Steel which focuses on folk music in the broadest sense of the term – encompassing everything from traditional music to singer-songwriter, to Americana, alt country and beyond.

PL: Well that’s what folk music is. It’s very broad. It’s something that you can never quite explain and it’s something that you can never sum up. I’m glad you guys are continuing to follow modern folk music as well – some traditionalists get really boggled done and are closed minded, think that music hasn’t gotten any better since the 20s and 30s and 40s and 50s. To a certain extent I’d agree with them but there’s a lot of new music out there to listen to and appreciate.

GHE: And the folk process is about taking what’s come before and reinventing it for a new audience. Taking styles of music and themes of music and evolving them.

PL: Absolutely Gareth. I want to ask you something – have you ever heard of TED talks?

GHE: Of course!

PL: I’m actually doing one in St Louis and I’m going to be talking about that very thing that you just said. Which is sort of my underlying premise. My title is called Evolution Through Preservation.

GHE: So it’s obviously something you’re passionate about.

PL: Certainly. My music and my lifestyle on stage and off stage is pretty much one and the same. That’s what some people don’t realise. It’s coming from a good place, it’s coming from a true place. It’s the way that I’ve been living and studying since I was very young. It’s interesting to hear it because the traditionalists see me as progressive and modern, not traditional enough. But to progressive people who don’t listen to a lot of traditional music I’m seen as a novelty or as retro. It’s an interesting place that I’m in.

GHE: You probably find your audience falls somewhere in between the traditionalists and people who aren’t as familiar with the traditions you draw from. Speaking of which, how did you find yourself drawing on traditional American music forms to begin with?

PL: This music was my punk rock – that’s what I used to revolt against a lot of modern music. At the same time I was writing a lot – I started writing at an early age before I ever started playing music. I also started getting into early American literature so I was seeing a different part of America that I wasn’t being taught in school, that I wasn’t seeing around me today with qualities that felt were lacking.

GHE: It seems that a lot of artists are drawing on early 20th century literature at the moment. There’s lots of Steinbeck and Hemingway creeping into modern music.

PL: As well it should. I think that they were the Lefty Frizzell’s, the Hank Williams’s, the Johnny Cash’s of the literary world. I certainly feel the connection between good American literature and country music, certainly. There’s even great modern writers who are in the same world but just like a lot of the best music they’re all in the underground.

GHE: So you said this is your first trip to Australia and New Zealand, is that right?

PL: It is, yes. I’m looking forward to it.

GHE: And you’re doing a couple of festivals while you’re out here – WOMADelaide and Port Fairy.

PL: We’re doing WOMAD in Australia and New Zealand right?

GHE: Yeah. And there’s a couple of headline shows as well.

PL: Yeah, in each country.

GHE: Does your live show change depending on whether you’re doing a festival or a healdine show?

PL: It depends. Certainly the venues alter your plan of performance. In a festival setting you traditionally get a shorter set. You can’t play really more than an hour. In my own show I’m playing nothing less than an hour and a half.

GHE: That’s awesome. I think you’re going to really enjoy WOMADelaide in particular. It’s in the botanic gardens in Adelaide. It’s a bit different to other outdoor festivals in that instead of being out in a field it’s in amongst the trees. It’s really beautiful.

PL: That sounds wonderful. I’ll make sure to bring my safari gear! Let me ask you – we’re used to hot weather at festivals but you’re saying it’s in the botanical gardens and there’s going to be trees and things like that? Is there going to be poisonous snakes and spiders and stuff like that there?

GHE: No – it’s right next to the city. Generally the snakes and spiders and things stay away from built up areas. There might be a couple of spiders but you should be alright. Nothing to worry about.

PL: [laughs] Well we get all that stuff here too you know. But isn’t Australia home to the most varying species of poisonous snakes?

GHE: We have some of the top ones yes.

PL: Oh my God. That’s crazy. You’ve got black mambas and stuff like that?

GHE: No black mambas. You have to look out for king browns or red belly black snakes. And death adders as well.

PL: But they’re out in the outback right?

GHE: They’re all out in the bush. You don’t need to worry too much.

PL: I’ll be alright.

GHE: So Pokey LaFarge is really a band right?

PL: That is the case. And it’s been the case now for about five or six years.

GHE: And you’re bringing the band out to Australia.

PL: That’s true. Me plus five. I’ll have my whole current setup with me.

GHE: That’s great news – I know how hard it is to bring people out here. A lot of artists end up doing solo shows out here.

PL: I’m not going to discount the opportunity to do that in the future. But do you know what? I need to express myself more when I have more people around me expressing themselves. It does more justice to my songs as well.

GHE: I’m really excited that you’re coming out here – there’s a big scene of people out here interested in Americana music in all its shapes and forms. You’ll find an audience here for sure.

PL: That is great.

GHE: Well that’s all we have time for today – thanks again for taking the time.

PL: My pleasure as well.

Pokey LaFarge’s full Australian tour dates are below:

Friday 7th and Saturday 8th March – Port Fairy Folk Music Festival, VIC
Sunday 9th and Monday 10th March – WOMADelaide, Botanic Park, Adelaide, SA
Wednesday 12th March – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 13th March – The Basement, Sydney, NSW

1 Comment

  1. January 24, 2014 at 14:53

    […] “That’s what folk music is. It’s very broad. It’s something that you can never quite explain and it’s something that you can never sum up. I’m glad you guys are continuing to follow modern folk music as well – some traditionalists get really boggled done and are closed minded, think that music hasn’t gotten any better since the 20s and 30s and 40s and 50s. To a certain extent I’d agree with them but there’s a lot of new music out there to listen to and appreciate” – Pokey LaFarge chats to Gareth Hugh Evans. Interview here […]


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