Megan and Rebecca Lovell are all about family, so it was a stroke of genius (or marketing savvy) that led the stunning sisters to put the "kin" in Larkin Poe.
"We have an 11-year-old younger brother who is the package deal," Rebecca was saying during a joint phone call with Megan in early September. "He's got the brains; he's got the good looks. It seems like our parents finally got it all together with him."
Listening to those wise-beyond-their-years, self-proclaimed "Georgia peaches" during an hourlong interview, it's apparent David and Trissa Lovell got it right long before that.
Larkin Poe has the potential to show as much heart as the Wilson sisters.
Kin, set for an Oct. 21 wide release in the United States through RH Music, is the gripping, thunderous full-length studio album debut by Larkin Poe. The darling duo with a knack for headbanging and shredding put family first by naming their act after their great-great-great-great-grandfather, a wagon driver during the Civil War who was a distant cousin of Edgar Allan Poe.
The record -- available in Restoration Hardware retail stores on Tuesday (Oct. 14) -- came out this summer in the United Kingdom. Larkin Poe experienced the "whirlwind craziness" of its initial success, which peaked when The Observer named the band "best discovery of Glastonbury," getting mentioned alongside two all-American mainstays.
"In the paper, we were right in between Jack White and Dolly Parton," pointed out Rebecca, the brunette lead singer and multi-instrumentalist (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, keys, violin) who lives in Atlanta and enjoys making music "that just feels bad-ass."
"That's exactly right where we want to be, in between Dolly and Jack," added Megan (lapsteel, dobro, keys), the blonde who lives in Marietta, up the road from her kid sister. "Yes, please, and thank you."
Just like their personalities, the Lovells have varying musical skills. Megan's impressive slide guitar work caught the ear of Derek Trucks at last year's Crazy Sista Beach Party in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Rebecca's powerful voice and mandolin jams (notably on the Jimi Hendrix cover "Bleeding Heart") make their mark on YouTube, where other inventive homemade videos capture their vocal talents in such disparate locales as the shower or a stairwell.
They are sensible enough to realize, though, that fame can be fleeting, and sound like a resolute pair that's willing to stick with it for the long haul.
"I think that at 23 and 25 [years old] now, we do understand that we've chosen a very treacherous and tricky career path," Rebecca, the younger and chattier of the two, said midway through an extended explanation about when they decided to become full-time musicians.
"Obviously, it's our greatest passion. And we love it. But it's hard to make a dime playing music professionally when there's so many amazing acts out there you're competing against. It's thrilling, and it's wonderful, and I really see us doing it for the rest of our lives in some capacity. I think it's now part of our DNA.
"We've definitely put our eggs into this basket right now, and we're going for it. ... It makes our parents [dad is a pathologist; mom was a physical therapist] nervous for us because they want us to be successful and be able to pay for food, which helps with the whole living thing. [Laughs.] They really responded, and I think our parents really respect the energy and the passion with which we've approached what it is we're doing.
"Because it's not like we had a really big machine to lean back on. It's not like poor, little, dizzy pop starlets who are just kind of a pretty face, and then you've got this big corporation back behind you, pushing you through all of the noise to become a household name. It's definitely a very different process -- a process that requires a lot of work."
That certainly didn't happen overnight.
The Lovell Sisters
Before Megan and Rebecca came along, there was Jessica, 29, the oldest of four siblings, who began playing classical violin at the age of 5. And before Larkin Poe, there were the Lovell Sisters, an Americana-oriented trio that was charming and innocent yet accomplished enough to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and Bonnaroo over the course of playing nearly 200 shows a year on the road.
"Yeah, that was a period of our late teen years," Megan said, "getting to ride around in the minivan with the big sister."
Playing in an all-acoustic string band that was family-friendly -- and "felt like one big, happy accident," according to Rebecca -- didn't exactly age well as the sisters matured, especially for the younger two, who were born to rock.
Growing up in the north Georgia town of Calhoun, they were nurtured on music from their dad's CD and record collections, including T. Rex, Queen, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac, along with Simon and Garfunkel and Jeff Buckley.
Their mother was raised near Sevierville, Tennessee, the town that proudly touts Dolly Parton as its biggest claim to fame. The link -- coincidental or not -- continued with Trissa's middle name -- Jolene.
"She used to always hate her middle name," Megan said. "She told us, 'Oh, my gosh, I can't believe my mother picked such a Southern middle name for me.' And we're like, 'Mom, it's awesome. Are you kidding? Have you heard Dolly sing about you?'"
When Megan and Rebecca were little kids, they would visit their grandparents and go with the family on side trips to Parton's hometown and Dollywood, the nearby theme park.
"Which, for us, was really inspiring, 'cause she went from being obviously so dirt poor, then trying to do her best to pump what she had succeeded back into her community," Rebecca said. "People probably have mixed feelings on going into the beautiful Smoky Mountains and putting up Dollywood, but for us it's all very heroic and really cool to see that kind of a role model for us."
Developing such a broad range of musical tastes to accentuate their heritage helped make them transition to a sound "definitely grittier and dirtier and more Southern ... and a lot less polite," Megan said.
So when Jessica decided to leave behind her life as a professional musician in 2010, Megan and Rebecca became soul-searching soul sisters.
3 Minus 1
"It made Rebecca and I step back and reevaluate and make sure that we were on the career path we really felt passionate about," Megan said. "And within a few moments, the answer was yes."
While not directly addressing Jessica's departure, Rebecca did say, "The decision was based more on trying to make the healthiest decision for us as sisters. ... Ultimately, that is the most important thing, being able to have those relationships intact and healthy. Touring on the road and being in a band and doing business with family is hard. I think everybody says you're not supposed to do business with your family, right? ...
"It's a double whammy in that we're family and you're doing business stuff ... and you've got three heated, bullheaded little girls, who are all sisters, playing together. It was time for her to move on and do something else and let us all be friends."
Also contemplative, Megan added, "I think it has really served us the best. And Rebecca and I are really close in age. We've always been very close growing up, just inseparable. ... We've never spent more than two or three weeks apart in our entire lives."
Home-schooled "from the cradle up," Rebecca said that helped to educate them in the ways of the world. "We're both obsessive readers, and we're constantly seeking out new information in whatever capacity we can."
Taking college correspondence courses from Kennesaw State when Larkin Poe first formed while getting "entrenched in music up past our elbows," they decided the latter needed their full-time attention.
"We're like 'all in' that we barely have time to do our laundry," Megan said. "It consumes us."
Both Lovells began writing right away, separately at first, and completed 60 to 70 songs in one year while putting out four Larkin Poe recordings that were more substantial than a typical EP, with nine tracks on each album.
"So there was suddenly a lot that we had to say," Rebecca offered. "Like that year, to me, we really pushed ourselves hard. And I think that set the standard for us to move forward to see how fast we wanted to go and how much progress we wanted to make and how quickly."
Larkin Poe's Rebecca Lovell (left) and Megan Lovell
All the Write Moves
To make Kin, Megan and Rebecca decided to write together for the first time, beginning last November, then headed into a Los Angeles studio in February.
The beauty of being raised Southern was that family history provided a rich and proper backdrop with songs such as "Jesse" (inspired by their great-grandfather's struggles) and "Banks of Allatoona," though they admitted taking some poetic license.
The waterhole in the sexy number where "Our bodies are cold / Our breath is warm" is actually "this really ugly manmade lake," Megan revealed.
"We enjoy writing about our family history, and ... we want to tell it like it is as honestly as we can," she said. "So we do write about mental illness, and we do write about all the crazy stuff that's happened in our family, and sometimes that gets us in trouble with family members."
Rebecca had a different take, though.
"In other ways, it's just like, 'Oh, well, that's the girls; they're the artists in the family.' You know, all the eccentricities that exist within our family have absolutely crystallized in us. Like it goes from being just a general sense of 'Wow, we have a very colorful family,' and then we're just the rainbow because it's like we've been able to totally express those things in ourselves as artists since we were kids."
The finest cut on the album might be "We Intertwine," a made-for-encore anthem that ranks with the best of Brandi Carlile, its swelling chorus sure to bring tears, goosebumps or both:
"And when my heart can beat no more,
I hope I die for all the good that's left in the world."
That it took almost three years to join forces as co-writers and deliver such moving sentiments -- a process they now consider easy and enjoyable -- might be surprising to some. But not to them.
"Well, honestly, that was the main fight that we would have, the creative fight between Megan and I, with her songs vs. my songs," Rebecca said. "We're generally very much on the same page, and we're able to make decisions together. But that was the one fight that we would have routinely -- just the angst that arises from each person having their own idea of what, creatively, we were trying to do together as a team. You got to merge. ... And I think we need to find that overlap between us and then really go for that overlap. Because that's the most genuine Larkin Poe that we can find. ...
"I think, deciding that, just realizing, 'You know what? We're done fighting about this. Let's just go ahead and put aside all the little egos and the silliness and just sit down and be able to share something deep.' And so in that way I think our bond has become that much stronger as sisters. And as a duo, just as a partnership, there's nobody else's opinion that I would respect more than Megan's, and I think that she feels the same way about me. So being able to share that experience, I think, is really setting us up to do something really cool in the next few years as we get better at it too."
They also share a lot of memories, which can be a plus when, Rebecca said, "we sit down and we talk about some obscure reference to something that happened years ago as children and are able to understand what that means to each other."
Each has her own most personal songs from the album. For Rebecca it's "Overachiever," a beautiful ballad she wrote, then sang in total darkness at the studio; for Megan it's "Stubborn Love," their first co-write and "a love song to each other" that encapsulates their sisterly relationship.
"I love the lyric 'I've been all around / You've been all around / Tell me have you / Found anything better? / Than our stubborn love,'" Megan said. "Like, I don't want to say that 'I need you and I love you' all the time, but it's like that's always there."
The song also could exemplify some hardheadedness in trying to hold on to their individuality as songwriters.
"We were being really resistant to it and kind of just needed to get our butts kicked for a minute and then move on and be better for it," Rebecca said, laughing.
Sister Action Figures
If there was a sibling rivalry between the two, it was well-disguised. In fact, though they admit they've had their share of fights, nothing has disrupted what Rebecca (left) called a "really interesting little witches' brew of sister weirdness."
Rebecca even credits Megan for helping her deal with a really bad stutter she developed at the age of 6 or 7.
"I just had too much to say and I couldn't quite get it all out in time," Rebecca disclosed. "Nobody could understand me except for Megan. So for many years, I think that Megan was my translator to the world -- not in a dysfunctional way, just kind of the way that we learned to communicate on a very, very deep level.
"When I lost the stutter, then I kind of was like, 'Oh, my God, I'm not gonna stop talking for years.' And being the younger sister with that kind of the big, big, verbose personality, as opposed to Megan -- she's more of the laid-back, kind of cool cucumber. And so, balancing that loudness vs. the younger sibling and me constantly trying to impress Megan. Because I think that's all I really want in the world, most of the time, is just to make sure that Megan thinks I'm cool."
Asked if they ever need a mediator when there's a disagreement, Megan (far right) laughed. "We are pretty good about sorting it out ourselves, although, hey, maybe it's not a bad idea," she said. "We're very close to our older sister as well. And so if we're ever really having a time of it, we'll call her and talk to her. She knows everything that's going on with the band. And she cares about it a lot."
Added Rebecca: "So the sisters go to the big sister for the real sisterly advice."
The giggles in the background proved that a pair of serious Southern belles don't mind having a few belly laughs.
Still, spending their lives together as sisters and musicians on the road presents its fair share of hardships. They vow not to let anything -- or anyone -- get in their way.
Neither cares to publicly discuss outside personal relationships. "It's a beautiful mystery," Rebecca said, well, rather mysteriously before laughing.
They prefer to talk about musical relationships with acclaimed artists such as Conor Oberst, Sugarland's Kristian Bush and Elvis Costello.
As social media mavens, the ladies of Larkin Poe want to connect with their fans too. Saturday night, for example, they posted a photo on the group's Facebook page of them playing with the artist previously known as Declan McManus in Leipzig, Germany, as a series of European dates with the onetime English bad boy wind down. Their message:
"BEST. TOUR. EVER."
Larkin Poe's "complete life commitment," as Rebecca called it, resumes in the U.S. next week with part-time backing members they refer to as their "dudes" -- Robby Handley (bass, keys, harmony vocals) and Marlon Patton (drums, percussion).
The brief tour coinciding with Kin's release begins Oct. 21 at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. Only the Lovells really know where it goes from there.
"I think that it continues to probably be the hardest part of the job for us is how to work with each other and how to make decisions as a group and keep writing those songs," Rebecca said. "And I think it's been the best experience, and I think that it's something we'll go to our wheelchairs as little old ladies with these amazing experiences, and somebody who shared every moment with you."
Maybe somewhat less expressive but just as astute, Megan summed up their intriguing dynamic by saying, "We'll always know we'll be together. And we know we'll be OK."
For these two lovely -- and incredibly talented -- Lovells, who actually consider themselves overachievers while aspiring "to do great things," that personal assessment is all relative.
Concert photos by Paige K. Parson. Publicity photos courtesy of RH Music.