>> BACK <<
|1997-04-04||||MSNBC - The Site|
|MSNBC - The Site
Poe is an hour late by the time she breezes into the Sound Factory nightclub, tucked away below the rushing traffic of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Strolling into the room without her band, she greets me warmly and apologizes. "I had to find some herbal tea for my throat," she says sincerely, then embarrasses me completely by asking me a personal question that I will not be repeating in this article.
With dozens of attractive female singers posing for Spin and Vogue in the latest fashions and singing bland songs of faux feminist angst, I'll admit that I wasn't expecting much from Poe. The media coverage (and her record label's marketing team) tends to focus on her obvious attractiveness and little on the music itself. The album is good but didn't really grab me. But as the afternoon faded into night and we talked for more than an hour before her sound check, it's clear why Poe is gathering a body of incredibly loyal fans and critical acclaim. She's funny, bright and, in her own words, "extremely interactive." That interactivity is really evident when you see her performing. She prowls the stage with hyperkinetic grace and belts out her literate songs with verve and a wicked sense of humor.
The songs from her debut album (recorded with a studio band) gain a lot in the live conversion. She managed to spark a fire under the mild-mannered audience gathered for a computer trade show and by the end of the gig, she was making calls on someone's cell phone and stage-diving into the crowd. Interactive, indeed.
1. Control over Creativity...
The Site: Let's just start out by talking about your background a little bit, where you grew up. What's the story?
POE: All over the place, actually. My dad made documentaries and kind of avant garde movies, so we lived in Africa, India, Spain, Switzerland, England, just kind of gypsied around for the early part of my childhood. Then we went back to New York, and then for high school, we moved to Utah, which was the most foreign country of all of them.
The Site: And how'd you get started making music?
POE: I think watching my dad make movies, I realized that you have to raise all that money and have a crew of all those people, and the things that go wrong. I've seen plenty go wrong, believe me. The idea that you could sit down and create this little piece where you're the writer, director, and actor, and it's three minutes long, instant gratification, got me started.
The Site: And a lot of control?
POE: Perfect. It was awesome. I mean, I had no control over my environment, moving around that much, so if I played-- I learned three chords on a piano, C, G, and F, and wrote like 40 songs with C, G, and F. I'd write a song a day about my day at school.
The Site: And so you were doing that while you were going to school?
POE: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. But then Princeton was much later. Earlier-- I left home, went to New York City and started working with this guy named Ron Recino who had a four track and had played cello for David Bowie on Broadway, so I thought he was a rock star. And he had a bunch of old, early, early sequencers, and that's when I started getting into the sequencing and understanding what that was all about, and then went to Princeton and started a band which was more organic, but also got into recording. I built a little eight track studio there.
The Site: Built your own recording studios? You've got a lot more control that way.
The Site: I'm getting this control theme throughout this. This is kind of good.
POE: Yeah. I mean, you have to in some way. It's important, I think, for everybody to control their own environment, especially when it comes to your creativity.
2. The Angry Psychos...
The Site: That kind of jumps into the Net aspect of things. I mean, you have a pretty strong fan base on the Internet. They seem to be pretty rabid fans. Tell me about Poe.Org.
POE: They're amazing. They're Angry Psychos. OK, I'll tell you a few Poe.Org stories, right? First of all, they show up in every town. Every time there's a show, there's an Angry Psycho there, and most of the time they're armed with digital camera equipment.
The Site: Armed with digital cameras. I like the way you say that. They come in loaded for that.
POE: Oh, sure. I dropped in the other night into the chat room. I have-- they gave me this special handle. I have to have a code. It's a little purple Poe so no one can impersonate me. And it was like two in the morning, and I'm like, "Hi. I'm Poe. Anyone here? If you are, I'll give you a free ticket to Las Vegas." And this little guy-- there's one guy there. "I'm here."
The Site: And so you sent him a ticket to Las Vegas.
POE: So he's going to fly.
The Site: Talking about Poe.Org, you obviously spent a lot of time helping these guys out. I mean, I saw you posted something from the road when you were on tour.
POE: Yeah. There's a little section of road notes that we were trying to start in the newsletter for the Angry Psychos at Poe.Org. My modem was busted for a while. The last place it was found on tour was at the bottom of a beer cooler, and so I was kind of out of touch for a little while, but since I've been back, I've been talking to them a lot.
The Site: What do you do when you're on the road?
POE: I've got a laptop. I guess a 540 Mac. My interest in technology started obviously with music and sci-fi stories like William Gibson and Phil Catik and all those guys.
The Site: That's one of the things that I noticed about "Hello." It's got a real strong Net story behind that.
POE: Yeah. "Hello" has a reference to MOD, who are the Masters of Deception, and they were some of the earliest hackers that were well publicized in kind of a touching story. And they haven't necessarily all been found. And then a guy showed up at one of my gigs, who I'd heard about through the press, some really good hacker had called himself Angry Johnny.
The Site: Oh, really? I didn't know that's where "Angry Johnny" came from.
POE: Well, it didn't. No. This guy copied it from me. Yeah. And he shows up at a show of mine in Denver, with two big guys with him. Big, big guys. And he's got a hat on, dark coat and he's like, "I'm Angry Johnny. This is where you can reach me. MOD, I put them to shame. Anything you need, I got it." And then leaves. I'm like, whoa. I am in a movie. This is wild. So, who knows. The whole area is amazing. I can't wait 'til we can all have universal avatars and make them up ourselves and stuff like that.
The Site: Let's talk a little bit more about the Angry Psychos and-- are you ever worried about some of these guys? I mean, it seems to me that some of these people get pretty intimate in their questions, and they come to you-- they feel like they know you. You ever worry they're being a little too close?
POE: So far, no. Angry Psychos are really the sanest people I know. And, I mean, a lot of them were people I met at the very beginning of the tour who became die-hard fans. Like this one girl had written me this heartwrenching letter about this horrible relationship she was in. She was about 16. It was semi-abusive. So when we got to her town-- she lived like an hour and a half outside the town, and we called her up and sent her a car and brought her and all her friends into the show and I gave her this book. Great book called Reviving Ophelia. Saving the souls of adolescent girls in America, and she was just totally blown away, and she became involved with this. And this other guy Jarrod worked at a radio station in Phoenix, and he sort of put the whole thing [the Poe.Org website] together. And there are people that I know personally, you know, just from shows, or fans that came up to me that at the beginning we spent an awful lot of time with. So none of it really feels very intrusive. They feel like my friends. Yeah.
The Site: That's really nice.
POE: And they bring their friends, so their friends are mine too, you know.
The Site: You ever get worried that it's going to become too big, you'll get too many emails that come in. You can't respond to all of them. How do you deal with something like that?
POE: At this point I can't respond to all the emails, but usually if I drop into a chat room at any given time, the main things people want to know, they're going to ask you right there, and you can catch up pretty quickly.
The Site: So you can get it out to a lot of people. If you can reach-- 30 people hit the chat room, they want to ask you the same question, you get a kind of conversation that way.
POE: Yeah. And if one person asks it to you and it's important information, whether it be tour dates or what are you doing with the Activision thing or whatever, you can answer them and then usually Jarrod or the guy running it will pull out the things that everybody wants to know and print them or bulletin them.
The Site: Jarrod is the one who runs Poe.Org?
POE: Yeah. Totally. He's groovy.
3. Music and Technology
The Site: Let's talk a little bit about the music and technology, how you use technology in your music. I mean, "Hello" has a much different sound than, say, "Angry Johnny" does.
POE: Well, it started out-- what happened was I was in a band, like I said, for four years, and then the band broke up after college. So I got into samplers. I knew a lot about recording, and I knew a lot about sequencers and MIDI, but samplers just started getting really good and cheap enough to buy. So, was like, well, I don't have a band, so I'll sample the best drummers in the world and just make these songs. And I ended up getting signed off the stuff I wrote in my apartment, pretty much.
The Site: That was pretty much your demo tape.
POE: Exactly. There are three songs on the record which you wouldn't think were the ones done on a Pro Tools computer system, but "Choking the Cherry," "Beautiful Girl" were both done entirely with real drums on a computer.
The Site: So you went straight into the computer--
POE: Straight into the computer and we never downloaded it to tape. We just used a little-- for tech junkies, OK?-- we used a Macie board 24-A bus, and then this friend of mine had this huge hard drive, massive. So we had 16 tracks of computer stuff, and on "Choking," what we did was I just made two loops. I had a drummer I could get for like a few minutes. We had no money, right? And so I had him do two loops, and then I looped those and created my own fills around them and then had a guitar player come down. And you can cut and paste any track you want to, and then mix it inside the computer.
The Site: How do you deal with stuff that you don't want to sound like it's computer-generated?
POE: Well, the amazing thing is that now you can do things on the computer that don't sound anything like a computer. I mean, you're basically using the computer as a multitrack and they now have these React units that run your digital sound through tubes and re-analog it. I mean, it literally sounds like it's coming off analog tape without having to dub it from the computer onto analog tape.
The Site: You're using more advanced technology so it doesn't sound like technology anymore.
POE: It doesn't sound anything like technology, but it's quicker, you can manipulate it better and it's digital sound, so it never really screws up. That means you could have your computer there and a simple mike, and do an amazing acoustic piece and it's also gonna make recording a lot more home oriented. I mean, the cheaper these things become, the more every single minute people are making records in their houses.
The Site: And doing it themselves.
POE: And doing everything themselves, which is wonderful, I think that's great.
The Site: Do you think that changed the way you developed as an artist, in that you were able to do so much of this yourself?
POE: Yeah. I mean, what's fascinating is, you know, I've always had an enormous amount of control over the recording environment because of having ended up on my own and using these samplers and stuff like that. But then I went on tour with my band, and the last thing I wanted was one machine. I just didn't want to see another machine for another year, you know? And I didn't want the drummer to have to play to a click track, and I didn't want anything on tape, so you know, to me, technology or not, a song is a song, and if you can play it on an acoustic guitar or sing it to a finger snap, you've got a great song. And otherwise the production's just gone too far. And you can just take the technology and stick it up your... nose.
4. Poe as Multimedia Avatar
The Site: Let's talk a little bit about your image on the Net. The Poe.Org fansite has got a different feel from what Atlantic is trying to project.
POE: To me, Poe.Org is more connected to touring, in the way Atlantic is connected to records or CDs. Poe.Org is all about people you meet on the road, I mean, and not all of them, some of them are just record fans and some of those websites I've totally never met the people, but it just-- I don't know. Like I said before, the people on the website that I talk to, especially on Poe.Org, feel like my friends. You know, I'll tell them... I held a vote the other day. I got offered a small part in a movie-- I'm not going to talk about it yet-- so I held a vote. I'm like, should I do this? And all the Angry Psychos voted, it was awesome. They voted yes actually, so we'll see.
The Site: You said you're also working on a game.
POE: Yeah, Activision is doing a game with Bruce Willis; it's kind of part action movie, part game. It's incredible, it's sort of like, all these things take place that are really high quality, even the music, all that stuff. And then all of a sudden when the action movie would go into its chase scene, you're playing the game, and you're Bruce Willis's buddy. It's about this evil reverend who transmutes his energy into the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Death, Famine and of course, the Plague.
The Site: And you'd be playing... ?
POE: The Plague. Yeah, and when you first see me, I'm playing a gig in a graveyard with my band Mary Magdalene.
The Site: Very cool.
POE: Totally awesome. So, I'm so excited about that I can't even tell you.
The Site: Do you get to wear the outfit you wore when you were eight and got your nickname?
POE: Well, the weird thing is how they do this. They hook you up to all these sensors, and you say all your lines. And this is the part where you have no control, if you're me. Because they can dress you. They can do whatever they want to you. So if I'm a real idiot bimbo in this, it is not my fault, OK? 'Cos you're kind of part cartoon, part real, you know? You can definitely tell it's me, because I've seen the Bruce Willis footage. I haven't shot mine yet, but it's me. But you're a cartoon version of yourself. It's wild.
The Site: This is kind of like the avatars you were talking about earlier, this is almost the same thing.
POE: Yeah, in fact, I wanted to ask Activision if they'll let me use that character as my own avatar. I don't want to make money off of it or anything, I just want to have access to use it and represent myself on the Net in the worlds that I can use an avatar. I can't wait till they have universal avatars. That's gonna be the coolest.
The Site: So you're pretty comfortable with this technology?
POE: I'm never comfortable with it. I mean, it's developing so quickly all the time. It's like with anything. I'm more comfortable with studio equipment than I am online. But compared to some people I know a lot, compared to others I know nothing. And it evolves so quickly that you can be in one part of the Net and be totally comfortable, and then you move over here and your computer crashes and you don't know why, and then you realize you did something really stupid, you know?
The Site: Yeah, but it seems like this is something that's given you a lot of chance to have control over your career, control over who you talk to and what your fans are going to be like. So that's positive.
POE: Oh, totally. Technology's been extremely positive for me that way. But what's been astounding to me is some of it's come to me, I've been very lucky. I didn't invent this Poe.Org place. They did it for me. For that, I'm so grateful. I would not have had the time to sit and create a place for them. I mean, they programmed it, they created the website, everything, And that's what blows me away. It's like, wow.
5. Substance Over Style..
The Site: Your image on the Net is kind of high fashion. But you're kind of geeky in the music thing, you know a lot about technology. Is there a disconnect? I mean, you're obviously a smart woman, and do you ever worry that people will see you as one of those one-hit wonders who's a lot prettier than she is intelligent?
POE: I'm not worried about that, 'cos I don't think I'm that pretty. So if I don't have my intelligence, which lasts you a lifetime, then you really have nothing. I have so much in my brain that I want to create. It's not about a hit. I don't know where my career's going, I don't look at it and say, "I wanna be a rock star." I love making music. I'm fascinated by what's happening on the Net, I'm fascinated by interactive media at this point, what you can create as a whole world of its own. I mean, there are ways in which you can connect, you know, maybe all these parts of myself. From performance to just visual representation to music to ideas. There might be a broader form for me in the future, which might be along the lines of a game or an interactive CD-ROM that looks at music in a different way, maybe as a just this CD single-oriented thing. But all I'm saying is that maybe I don't have a clear image. I know I could create some character and say, "OK, this is my persona for this season with this record." But the truth is I think myself and everybody else in the world is much more multi-faceted than that. 6. Loungeapalooza
The Site: Tell me about Loungeapalooza.
POE: Loungeapalooza is a record celebrating all that is lounge. One great thing on that record-- it's coming out on Hollywood in a few months-- is Steve and Edie from Las Vegas. Do you know who they are? They did a version of "Black Hole Sun," by Soundgarden. It's hilarious, it's like full string orchestra, lounge Vegas vibe, you know, (sings) "Black hole sun. Won't you come." It's great. And they're the real thing too, they're not camping it up, they believe it.
The Site: That's like the Pat Boone metal CD that came out.
POE: Yeah, totally, which I haven't heard, but I don't even know if I want it. This one's brilliant in its own way, because they're the real vintage stuff. Anyway, we did a song on there called "A Rose Is a Rose," which my brother wrote, because my brother used to write all these songs in the shower to a finger snap, this big band stuff. They all sounded like classics to me and I had no idea where they came from. So, one time I recorded one for his birthday so that he would see that it was actually good. And, he was like, "Wow, man! This is a really great song." And I sent Hollywood Records that tape of him singing to a finger snap this new song, and they let me do it, and it turned out just amazing. I've done this song in a lot of shows, just with the one cello, just kind of a standup bass feel to it, and what blows my mind is I was playing a show once, where we were getting in the heavy part of the show, and the whole crowd is just moshing, right? So, after that song's over, I'm like, "Hey, anybody like big band music?" Right? (laughs) And all these people who were moshing one minute are like, "Yeah!" Right? So, the next thing I know, like within the next 30 seconds, the same crowd that was moshing, is going, "Yeah." They're lounging it up and snapping their fingers with us, and it blew my mind. That tells you something about technology too, because, you know, the degree of the things you can hear back-to-back, like CD changers, which is going to get even quicker now with computers, and buying over the Net which will eventually happen. But, people aren't just locked into one thing, they're not just, "I just listen to death metal," or "I just listen to this." Most people have a pretty broad taste.
Copyright 1997 - Ziff - Davis Inc.
Transcribed from a FAX by Cyberfan Corporation 7-27-97