A rather deep and healing,not so haunting, interview with POE
Poe is a complex and enigmatic individual. She may look inaccessible and bizarre, but from across the line I had the chance to connect with her, one on one. I found Poe to be extremely open, even perhaps vulnerable, but only as you would expect to find a friend to be.
Poe has a lot of skeletons haunting her and shes opened that closet wide. On her latest release, Haunted, she spills her life to the world. Part of this life involves her lost father, esteemed lecturer and award-winning documentary filmmaker Tad Danielewski (1962s No Exit, 1965s The Guide), a newfound relationship with her mother, and then her best friend and her brother, Mark Z. Danielewski, who recently published House Of Leaves.
She has been trying to exorcise all these demons, and perhaps the therapy was truly in the music. We spoke on all of this and more. Here is the world according to Poe.
Good. Alive and kicking.
Did the album title and release date work out or what? (title: Haunted, release date: October 31, 2000)
Its almost a little too perfect.
So it wasnt a plan?
It was actually going to come out in September, and we were still working on some stuff so it made sense to bump it a month.
What were you still working on?
We were mastering and adding some multimedia stuff and working on the web site. We wanted to get all the pieces in place, so rather than rush it, we pushed the album back.
I heard the album was recorded in your house.
Well, not my house. I found an empty room, which I moved all my gear into. It was amazing. I was so sad to see that place close up because its something Ive always dreamed of. I had this room blocked out twenty-four hours a day and had all the resources I needed to make noise. It was heaven.
How long did you record for?
Probably a good two years. It took a while. That is what you get for leaving me up to my own devices. It was all done in Pro Tools, and there are so many options in a program like that and I wanted to try them all.
So you got into it a little too much?
Did you find yourself going over tracks again and again, getting really anal about it?
In this case the actual writing and production happened simultaneously, because with Pro Tools you could do these at the same time and save them onto the hard disk, and a lot of the time the live performances may end up somewhere else they werent meant to be. Wed have a guitar player come in and that track may end up on something else. So there is a part of the process that is the best of both worlds. Its not like when you have a sample and only have a few seconds to work with or loop. Ill have a whole performance I can treat as a sample and manipulate it. For me, the songs themselves weren’t about being a perfectionist. I think songs either work or they don’t. If you have a machine that is busted, there is no in-between. It either works or it don’t. Until it works, its busted. When the songs were done, it was clear to everyone it was done. But I can get anal at times, but its a really creative process for me so it doesn’t feel like I’m getting anal. But maybe I am. (laughs)
How are your songs born?
Its always different. It depends on the song and how it comes about. The best stuff for me is when I have an idea of what the song will be about and have a title or concept. That drives what the song should be. If you know what a song is about, like “Haunted” is going to be a song, then the sonic environment should be slightly spooky. It kind of gives you a place to start and narrows your options. But I also had some great co-writers that would come up with a riff and wed add a drum loop and Id just start signing over it. Then there are times when I get melodies in my head. Each one is different, but I do like having an idea in my head first.
I think a lot of people just dont realize how hard it is to work out a melody. There are lots of people who can write great, but they dont have the knack for melody.
Right. The musical side of the song is in two parts. The main elements are you have to have a pocket, meaning it has to groove, be it slow or fast, and then melody. That is your scaffolding. Anything you add to that is easy.
I think most people will ask where the heck youve been for five years.
Well, I was on tour for two and a half years, and when I came back my life was in shambles, so it took six months to get going. I had a bad management deal that I had to get out of and then I started setting up shop and recording the album. So that all equals like five years. (laughs)
People forget that you are on tour if you arent coming to their town.
I know. Its been five years, but I had to be on the road for a long time.
Its not like the Beatles days where they could release an album every six months and only need to play a few radio shows.
Oh, to be a Beatle. (laughs) They wrote three hundred and something songs in like six years and every one of them is amazing. Isnt that unbelievable?
I hear that. I couldnt imagine a band doing that today.
Now you spent two years on a record, did you have any time to relax? And if you did, what do you do to wind down?
I have to tell you I did none of that. I would start around noon and go until five or six in the morning. If I took a day off, then I didnt move. Id just stare at the ceiling. It was a deep cathartic experience. While I was on the road the last time, I broke up with this guy, well, I didnt break up with him, but anyhow, its a total heartbreak story. Anyhow, it was something I was in for seven or eight years and that made it tough. And when I made the first record, it was right after my dad passed away. By the time I got home, I had a lot of demons that I had to talk to. I dont know if you know this, but the guy speaking on my record is my dad. I found these tapes of him talking and I sort of chopped them up and was listening to them. I went into this really personal space of tracking my whole life up until that point. I needed to get over the shit that was bugging me. I disconnected from just about everyone but my brother, who is my best friend. I was just kind of out of sync with the world for two years. It was good. I needed to do that. It definitely hurt my social life. The record is done and now Im coming out of my shell and Im like, Wow, people. Im single. (laughs)
Now you have to get your bodys cycle right.
That is sort of happening naturally.
Youre like in vampire mode.
(laughs) I know.
Whats up with the answering machine in the beginning of the album? (Poe calling her mothers answering machine)
That is all true stuff.
Its pretty spooky.
I had a sort of alienated relationship with my mother, who left when I was sixteen, but I loved her, you know? I would leave these answering machine messages for her, trying to reach her, and some where totally psychotic. And one of them was me calling her that my dad had died. So I would make up these songs and leave them on her answering machine, hoping she would call me back. It was me reaching out to her very much as a child to a mother. Now we are really close. I asked her how she felt she was represented on the album, because shes not represented well, because shes not picking up the phone. And it was amazing to see how far our relationship had come. She said she had no problem with it because it was the truth, meaning that she wasnt there. To have her say that was amazing because it acknowledged what I went through and that she had been able to forgive herself and admit it and realize the world isnt over. Kids unconditionally love their parents and Im not saying that is a good thing, but I think when a parent does something wrong, like abandon the kid, the parents dont want to be around them later because they are ashamed of that. So to reconnect, it isnt the kid who has to go after the parent; the parent has to be at peace with themselves. So it was a great, amazing moment when she said that because I realized things can heal. And we healed that relationship and I never thought that was possible.
So this album has been an incredible amount of therapy.
It really has been. It is therapy in some ways, but I have to say I went into therapy before my last record. I dont think I could have made this record if I didnt have real therapy. You really have to heal so that you arent in the middle of that shit. You need to sit in a place where you feel safe and look at that stuff. Like listening to my fathers voice is one of the scariest things Ive ever done. It was so spooky because I hadnt heard his voice since he died. The minute I put that tape on, it was like he was in the room. It brought up so much stuff and it was good and bad.
How did you come across the tapes?
It is really weird. I hadnt had dreams about my father since he died or since right around that period, but I had this dream where he was in my dream and he was telling me he wasnt dead. And he was sick and I didnt want to see him sick and he said, You are forgetting my voice. He told me I had to find his voice. I woke up and was just creeped out of my mind. I couldnt shake this dream. It just crossed my mind and I wondered if there were little cassettes of him. I was looking for an old answering machine cassette with his voice on it that was lost when everything happened, so I went into this storage place where we had his stuff, and in a little cardboard box was a beautifully organized container of tapes. They were organized and dated and I brought them home. I put one on while my brother was there because I couldnt deal with it myself, and there he was. He was talking into a tape recorder to my brother. He was like, Hey, its me talking into this tape recorder. Its fun talking to you like this. He was just rambling his thoughts. It was so intimate and mind-blowing. Slowly I got through all of these tapes. Some were him talking to me when I was like two years old. I have to say I wouldnt trade these tapes for ten million dollars. It returned parts of my history to me that I had almost written wrong. Like one of the tapes on it had my dad and my mom singing this little French song, it is actually hidden in the record on “House Of Leaves”. (Poe begins to sing it) And what blew my mind is that they were happy. They sounded so fucking happy. I was like, Wait a minute, they were in love. These were moments in life that you shouldnt forget. So I was able to find these little gems and enjoy it and I was able to get an infinite bond with the people I love. I think it was those little treasures that I was looking for and I found them, but you have to understand there were things in there that I didnt like about my dad. Its a wonderful idea, but it doesnt work. (Poe speaks a line as her father would) That kind of stuff. I learned so much about him just listening to him. This wasnt something I could talk about at the time to others other than my brother. I mean, I had the record label calling and asking, Is there a hit? (laughs) And Id say, I found this tape of my dad singing this song, and theyd be like, Oh, shit. Were in trouble here. Were never going to get a good record. (laughs)
Did that leave you with a lot of material?
Yes. I have tons of songs, some that didnt have a place on this record and that I cant wait to finish. They just went out on tangents and didnt make sense on this album.
Is it weird knowing that such intimate moments like with your father will be out to the world?
I think that is cool.
Because what makes you different from, say, a Britney Spears is that I think listeners want to understand and really do relate to the lyrics.
Totally. I just hope there are people out there that will go the extra mile to explore the record. I know its a lot to absorb. Ill tell you one thing that puts me in a really vulnerable situation is that Im sharing my dad with the world. So I guess to answer your question before, it is weird. It would suck if no one gets it because then Ill really feel alone. Its a really strange place to be right now because the album doesnt come out for over a month and I just have no idea how people are going to react.
But if the reaction isnt the same, do you think it might be that where music is at now is entirely different than where it was four or five years ago?
Exactly, but I still think that there is no way that everyone is happy with pop music. There has to be a margin of people that feel ignored. This record is very specific. Its for people whove been through some shit, that dont have perfect families, that dont look like Britney Spears, and have shit to deal with that is really complicated. Maybe not everybody in the world wants to go there, but I tried to put in some light things. I had a friend whose little sister listened to the record and she said, Some of it really spooked me, but when it got too much, I just listened to “Lemon Meringue”. So then I thought everything was cool.
I think people still truly want to be fulfilled by music in some way, because that makes it much more satisfying.
Right. People like to go to a more intimate place.
When I was in school, of course there was the New Kids On The Block and they were all the rage, but still for everyone that loved them there were kids like me who hated them.
I know. The trick is that I hope the kids find out the record is out there.
After more talk about her upcoming tour for her cd and her brothers book, Poe asked what my favorite songs were. We pick up there.
I like “Control”, “Terrible Thought”, and “5/12 Minute Hallway”.
I think “Control” is cool. I think people are afraid of the angry woman thing.
The song is relentless.
(laughs) It is Ive got you in my trap you little
But I also like “Spanish Doll”.
Im glad you liked that. That makes me so happy. “Spanish Doll” goes back to some of my happy memories, but then there are people who think the song is just too slow. But Im like, Fuck you. (laughs)
I think what is creepy is in my review I wrote, Poe is in a place of her own and I have to admit I wouldnt mind being there too.
Yeah, that is wild. I needed some company and you let me down. (laughs)
+ charlie craine