LOOKING TO THE PAST
Folk singer, country troubadour and roots aficionado Pokey LaFarge had a bumper year in 2013 that included a new album on Jack White’s record label and a calendar overflowing with live shows and TV appearances. On the eve of his first Australian tour LaFarge talks with Chris Familton about his formative years and the importance of musicianship and presentation.
Pokey LaFarge looks and sounds like a man from a different era and it’s always been that way. From an early age he looked to the past through the eyes and ears of older generations and it ignited a lifelong passion for American culture of the past.
“My grandparents were very influential in my life, taking me to bluegrass festivals and exposing me to different things in American history that had positive qualities that I felt were lacking in modern-day society. There was a quality that I felt was lacking in music and I felt more of a kinship with older music and some of the struggles that people were going through in that music. I was more enamored with their style, expression and the music’s rawness. I fell wholeheartedly for it from a very young age, it became my revolution, my punk rock and my way of rebelling against modern society. Very few other people my age listened to old time music at that time so that was why I probably took to it so much because it felt like my own little world.”
LaFarge may seem on the surface to be ploughing the fields of traditionalism and nostalgia yet it quickly becomes apparent that his musical values are an extension of his wider views on modern culture and a belief that much of it has been dumbed down.
“For me its really about finding music that is tasteful, has melody, is rich in tone and music that demands an adept musician to play it. My critique of music today is that the standard we accept is so much lower than back in the day. These days you don’t have to be able to sing, you can be auto-tuned. You don’t have to learn to play an instrument you can do it on a computer. People who don’t know or understand my music might consider it novelty yet many traditional American music fanatics would say my music is pretty progressive. It’s an interesting dichotomy.”
Take a look at any press photos or video clips of LaFarge and it is obvious his enthusiasm and passion for Americana roots music extends to his style and presentation and he is quick to point out it’s an inherent part of who he is.
“Ever since I started listening to early American music I realised that it wasn’t just a higher quality of music it was a higher standard in a lot of things. Clothes and appearance is one of them and you have to come up with an idea for yourself when you look at your role models versus the role models in modern society today. I think that if you present yourself in a respectable way that perhaps puts you in a position to garner more respect. It certainly make me feel better about myself and it’s really just the way I express myself. Its something I do everyday and something I have done ever since I was a kid. It’s not a costume like some of these other upstart folk bands.”