When Nu Deco approached Larkin Poe to collaborate on a livestream event in December of 2020, the timing could not have been more perfect. Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell had no tours in the foreseeable future and an itch to perform their 2020 Self Made Man. Handing the tracks over to the safe hand of the Miami orchestra, the pair trusted the team with the new arrangements, which would all play out at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami, part of Nu Deco’s socially distanced tour and recording the orchestrated event on Paint the Roses: Live in Concert, out Sept. 17.
Reinterpreting their music with Nu Deco co-founders and artistic directors Jacomo Bairos and Sam Hyken, Larkin Poe pulled mostly from tracks off Self Made Man and the Bessie Jones’ 1960 song “Sometimes,” and recording their previously unreleased “Mad as a Hatter.” Paint the Roses paints a more expansive portrait of Larkin Poe.
“Given the timing of the collaboration, the fact that we were gifted with this truly mind-blowing experience coming out of the year that was somewhat desolate, I think it really did open up possibility and the role that creativity plays in all of our lives,” says Rebecca. “It was giving us a sense of the unexpected, the unknown, the possibility and hope to fuel us towards a more creative future, and it was really cool to realize some dreams that we had laid foundations for in the past.”
Despite the environment of the past year, it’s been one of the first for the Lovell sisters. The pair released their first covers album, Kindred Spirits, in 2020, then reimagined Self Made Man with an orchestra. Another first for the sisters was bringing an unreleased track “Mad as a Hatter” to recorded life. The song—written as a tribute to the pair’s grandfather, who struggled with mental illness—has pulled in millions of views on YouTube and was never officially recorded by the sisters.
“We really opened up our entire catalog and also asked for their input as to which songs they felt they work with, and ‘Mad as a Hatter‘ is an unreleased, unrecorded Larkin Poe song that we took to them,” says Megan. “It’s truly one of my most favorite moments of the album, and we’ve been looking for a way to perform the song and hopefully release it, and the ways in which the arrangements came together, it’s really a seminal moment on the album.”
Megan adds, “It really took off, grew some wings, and it is flown somewhere beautiful.”
Expanding on “Sometimes,” off the Grammy-nominated Venom & Faith, originally recorded with a more turn of the century blues intention in mind, was extended by Nu Deco with warmer percussion sections. “We’ve never been able to perform that song live without those kind of bombastic elements,” says Rebecca. “It’s really cool, for the first time ever, to be able to stand in front of an incredible collection of musicians and a great conductor and a great arranger to bring everything together and to actually realize stuff that we had been leaning towards already in our creative development. It really blows the mind of what’s possible.”
Megan interjects, “So basically what she’s saying is we’re spoiled now. We have recorded versions of some of these songs that have these particular musical lines. We’re missing them now. We hear them in our mind, but we have to try and find some way to recreate them now.”
The first song requested in the collaboration by Nu Deco, “Sometimes” also fit the ethos of their ensemble perfectly, says Hyken. “This arrangement preserves all of the fantastic elements found within their studio record while adding new string lines and percussion to create an exciting and virtuosic opener to our album.”
Bairos fell in love with the march-driven element of “Sometimes,” which made him nostalgic for his marching band days as a kid. “This pump-you-up, full of energy song is just what is needed to rocket you off towards an amazing day,” says Bairos.
Both sisters trusted Jacomo and Sam to choose which tracks would work in the orchestral setting then showed up for a brief rehearsal with the orchestra a day before the performance.
“Our goal is to always elevate the work of an artist that comes in and collaborates with us,” says Hyken. “Larkin Poe was actually our very first roots rock and roll collaboration, so I spent time living in their music for a couple of weeks and getting the arrangements ready, and throughout that process finding all the different, unique elements in studio recordings and live recordings that we could use the orchestra to enhance, bring out new colors and elevate the music and artistry as much as we can.”
Having worked with artists like Ben Folds, Wyclef Jean, Jacob Collier, and rearranging the works of Aretha Franklin, Queen, Daft Punk, Aretha Franklin, working with Larkin Poe was also a first for Nu Deco, as the first roots-rock artist the ensemble has collaborated with since forming in 2015.
Working with Larkin Poe has opened a door for Nu Deco, into a more roots-based rock.
“I think there are other artists of the genre we can work with now,” says Hyken. “We just didn’t know that this is something that would blend so well, and it helps that their musicianship is so high level.”
Bairos adds, “It’s just been such a dream collaboration. They brought the musicianship and they bring the artistry, but they’re humble, down-to-earth people who really care about quality, and being authentic and true to their voice and issues that are meaningful to them and that’s why they have such a great following. That’s why their audiences are so interactive and connected.”
A dream collaboration, more work with Nu Deco is not off the table. For now, the Lovell sisters have set several weeks aside to make more “mischief’ in the studio. Approaching their seventh season, Nu Deco is working on newer collaborations but hopes to reconnect with Larkin Poe again, in the studio or on the road, someday again soon.
“This set the standard for us,” reveals Hyken. “It doesn’t really get any better than that for us. Jacomo and I consider ourselves to be tenacious people, but we definitely found our match.”