Pokey Lafarge interviewed
“We’ve been sacrificed at the hands of what has been a point of emphasis towards a global economy. We’ve become sort of expendables.” It’s safe to say that Pokey Lafarge can, despite the jokey sounding name, be a serious guy. The conversation has steered towards the subject of the Midwest of the USA. Lafarge is from St Louis, MO, and says "It’s like being from Birmingham. Ask the people in the Midlands in England how they feel; it’s probably not too different to how we feel.”).
Still a conversation about the state of the US and its attitude towards its own towns and people (“America is struggling to survive,”) is not the usual topic to discuss with someone promoting a new record but Lafarge is a thoughtful and directly spoken individual, taking responsibility for his music (“The songs come from me, so it starts and ends with me,”) and for spreading the word of his home state (“I think I have a certain amount of responsibility to represent [the Midwest].”)
For the last decade Lafarge has been bringing old school American music to the people, with influences including ragtime, blues, country, skiffle, jazz, Western swing - the genres that are ingrained in the American DNA. With a fully formed band accompanying him everywhere, we catch up with the 32 year old enroute from Baltimore to Philadelphia (“an absolutely beautiful, gorgeous drive”) where he’s giving the first airing to his latest record Something In The Water.
And it’s a record that Lafarge is pleased with. “I think I finally made a record that for the most part I’m proud of. I mean, I was proud of the previous stuff in certain ways but I think that this record says who I am.” Making the most dramatic change to previous output is the presence of musician Jimmy Sutton in the producer's chair. “You can hear [what he brings] in the recording. You can hear it in my performance. I think that’s what any good artist will do, they’ll have their stamp on a recording, on a song, on a performance, and he definitely had all that. It’s a testament to his personality, his style, and his experience.”
Something In The Water marks the first time the St Louis based artist hasn’t produced his own music, though that was through necessity. “I was in a hurry and I was poor. I couldn’t afford [a producer]! I think I definitely sacrificed quality of the song and the quality of the recording.” The finished product means he’d “love to work with Jimmy again.”
One thing that hasn’t change is Lafarge’s process of writing. “I’m writing all the time so some songs are written for this record, some are written five years ago. They come together in different ways.” Having a library of songs to choose from means that “some of them are just lost forever”. For Lafarge choosing what makes the record from the 25 or so songs that go into the studio depends on a number of things. “What I’m performing well at the time. How does my voice sound on that song at the time? Have I been able to wrap my head around the idea of the song? The studio, the producer, how’s he feeling it, there’s so many factors. A lot of times it’s just about a feeling, what feels right. You wanna do what feels good.”
This record was recorded in Chicago’s Hi Style Studio. The city itself is an important place for the singer: “I spent a lot of time there as a kid. A lot of my family comes from there so it was kinda like going home.” Deciding to record there was not only because “that studio is sort of a legendary studio in terms of underground roots music,” but also becasue it’s owned by Jimmy Sutton. “I mean Jimmy’s from Chicago, and some of the musicians I wanted to record with are in Chicago, and Jimmy’s studio is in Chicago, so it was a package deal. There was no other option.” It turned out that recording in the Windy City “was a point of pride” for Lafarge being so near to his birthplace.
And pride is the word that sums up Lafarge best. He’s proud of his heritage, his birthplace, and the music that he’s making and he’s passionate about his country. You get the feeling that if he can encourage some hope in the people of the Midwest he’ll be a happy man. “You don’t have to have money and you don’t have to be pretty to sing a song. You can still express yourself no matter who you are. I’m just thankful that I’ve got a voice and a guitar.”
Something In The Water is available now at all good record shops and online outlets.