Welcome to the house of “HAUNTED,” the second album from Atlantic recording artist POE. A door swings open
From the first moments of the ethereal, curtain-raising “Exploration B,” the multi-talented POE composer, singer, producer, engineer sets out on a musical road which she calls “a journey towards intimacy.” From the heart-felt, soaring title track to the dynamic, scorching “Walk The Walk” (the first single) to the flamenco-flavored “Spanish Doll,” the trajectory of that intimacy is dual-purpose: getting to better know her late father, the esteemed lecturer and award-winning documentary filmmaker Tad Danielewski (1962s No Exit, 1965s The Guide) by sampling his voice from old cassette recordings and structuring what she calls “a conversation” with him; and gaining a better understanding of self.
Exploring her own life through her relationship with her father from her childhood to his protracted death in 1993 the album is both beacon and satellite dish, distress signal and flag of truce. In the process of confronting the deeply personal, POE proves courageous and compelling in her ability to uncover universal truths about family, love, and loss, and our coming to grips with who we are.
Equally unique if not unprecedented is the albums thematic links to the recently published House of Leaves, (Pantheon), the widely acclaimed debut novel from POEs brother, Mark Z. Danielewski. Ten years in the making, the book is a groundbreaking blend of mystery, madness, and terror all driving towards its underlying question: What am I afraid of? As POE explains, her album and Marks novel are two individual creative responses to the same events. Her brother says of the album, “Its not a soundtrack for the book. Its a parallax view of the same history.” The characters that populate “HAUNTED” (which POE unequivocally calls a concept recording) are likewise found at the heart of House of Leaves, as are the foreboding, the quest for resolution, and the reverberations of an all too often intangible past.
“The story that Mark has written is a reflection on experiences we shared growing up; but I must add that these experiences have been woven, with his extraordinary craftsmanship, into a version of fiction that, in my opinion, defies definition.” says POE. “On a personal level Marks book represents for me a validation of what I experienced during those years: I was not the only witness to the strange spaces that existed between the people living in our house; nor am I the only one who hears the echoes of my fathers all too powerful voice; nor am I the only one who “still gets nightmares”. If I thought I was, I might have gone mad. But Mark lived in that house too and his experiences there are alive in all their glory and terror in this magnificent book of his.”
As POE Explains, the convergence of Marks book and her album began long ago. “Weve always riffed off (or shall I say ripped off) each others ideas as writers” she says with a laugh. “We were always very close. Connections exist between things we wrote even as children. As for “House of Leaves”, it tips its hat to my first record as well. Johnny Truant, for instance (one of the main characters in of House of Leaves, ) is inextricably connected to Angry Johnny. There is a reason my brother and I chose Johnny, the most all-American name possible. We share many of the same associations to that name, some of which derive from my fathers perceptions of this country, as seen through the eyes of a Polish refugee. As for this new album, there was never a moment during its creation when either one of us said, lets connect these two things there were only moments when it became clear how deeply connected they already were. The two works converse with each other in very much the same way my brother and I have conversed for years. They converse about the death of a father or a father figure; they converse about the terrors that riddled and finally destroyed our parents marriage and our home; and they converse about the dangerous journey toward making amends with the voices and events that haunt us both.”
“HAUNTED” was recorded on POEs computer, in her present hometown of Los Angeles with her “partner in crime,” co-producer Olle Romo. Ever-dedicated to her hard drive and Pro Tools digital audio workstation, POE composed and constructed the album with a method best described as hi-tech collage. “For instance” says POE, “we might take a guitar performance that was part of a particular song and end up splicing it into an entirely different one.” Throughout the recording and mixing process, songs morphed, evolved, and completely changed shape until POE felt shed hit upon the right sound, mood, and tone for any given track. “Olle and I were determined that if we were going to make this record on a computer with Pro Tools, then it should be a record that you could only make in Pro Tools,” says POE. “Otherwise, whats the point? Make it on tape. Why use a computer to do the same thing? There is no way this record could have been made on tape in under twenty years at least. Im proud of that, because the album really does belong to its medium.”
The songs of “HAUNTED” are woven together by narrative segues that POE created with the actual samples of her late fathers voice. “It is structured so that all of the songs descend into this world of surreal memories, and are born out of that world as well” says POE. “The last song resolves in a marriage of the two: segue and song; past and present.” When asked about where these samples of her fathers voice came from, POE describes a dream she had where a telephone call wakes her up in the middle of the night and an anonymous voice on the other end tells her that her father is still alive.
“I have bizarre dreams all the time, but this one really stuck with me haunted me if you will,” she says. “I asked my brother to come with me to the storage facility where the last of my fathers belongings had been stored. What we found there shook us both to our foundations. We found his voice literally. In an old cardboard box, labeled in his handwriting, we found a collection of old audio cassettes that contained recordings of him speaking. One was a letter to my brother that he had rambled into a tape recorder years ago; another was the recording of a speech he gave during his tenure as a university professor; still more were random recordings of forgotten family noise. Neither my brother or I had heard his voice since his death. It was eerie, like we had resurrected a ghost. It was as though he had left us a second chance–to listen to him, to learn about who he was, and to make our peace with him. Not coincidentally, in my brothers book, Johnny Truants life is changed by the manuscript he finds in the apartment of an old man who has died. Both the album and the book document the process of interacting with the dead or the unreachable, through the things, “the splinters”, they have left behind.”
“HAUNTED” finds some sense of resolution in the stirring, confessional “If You Were Here,” the albums closing track, in which POE sends a simple, direct message of love and longing out to her father. Dramatic in its minimal guitar and string accompaniment, the songs vocal track was recorded with POE alone in the studio. “I was singing and writing at the same time, which can sometimes produce something very magical,” she explains, “because the emotions that inspire the writing exist in total purity within the actual recorded performance. There I was, listening to my father say all the things that I needed to hear and so seldom remembered him saying things like Im so proud of you and I love you I was hearing him and responding to him, crying out for him, and letting him go, all at once. That is what lives in that recording for me and I will treasure it forever, because it captured all that was good about my relationship with my fatherall that I want to keep alive inside me.” When asked to explain in 5 words or less the message contained on her album and in her brothers book POE answers simply: “confront your fears.” And adds, “we all live with the echoes of a past that can be terrifying. Chase those whispers and they will whisper back to you the story of who you are and who it is youre really meant to become.
Among those also in the studio helping POE construct “HAUNTED” were Daris Adkins on guitar, bassist Mike Elizondo, guitarist Heitor Pereira, programmer/multi-instrumentalist John OBrien, and a trio of drummers: Josh Freese, Michael Urbano, and Trevor Lawrence, Jr., and co-producer Olle Romo. “Olle runs all the same programs I do and so we immediately had an essential language in common,” says POE. “We also had the same priorities. Olles priority in a production setting, is always the music. Its not, as is the case with other producers I tried working with, about how many points am I getting or how is this going to look on my discography. Those things are not his concern at all. I asked Olle how he felt about coming on board and he said, Cool, lets try a few songs and see how we like them. A year-and-a-half later we had an album. He was willing to work in the space I had defined, and contribute to the process very organically. He was able to add to every element of the production without disrupting the things that were already working. He was also willing to work insane hours!”
Though originally from New York City, POE spent her childhood years on-the-move Europe, India, Africa, and points all across the U.S. as her mother and Polish-born father traveled to wherever the work led them. Some locales proved inspiring, while others left her feeling alienated and alone Provo, Utah among them: What can I say? It was a desert for me in more ways than one. The mountains were beautiful, but the Mormons took one look at my Sex Pistols T-shirt and decided I was satanic,” she says with a laugh. Through it all, however, was her brothers presence in her life. Continually uprooted, always changing schools, they found stability in each other. “We were best friends,” says POE. “We hung on to each other for dear life. The only real connection we could maintain was between the two of us. We supported each other while simultaneously challenging each other. Or as Mark has said, we would constantly raise the bar. Basically we took our natural sibling rivalry and made it work for us.” We nurtured each others dreams and kept them alive for each other–which is why this year is so exciting.
When, at age 16, POEs parents divorced, she packed up and headed for New York City where she helped make ends meet by selling counterfeit subway tokens. All the while, she worked to come to terms with the dramatic turn her life had taken. “I suddenly had an identity complex,” says POE. ” I had what I thought were normal parents for a while: they took me to school; fed me; and put me to bed. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed and I was on my own. I became very unsure of who I was and who the people were that I had been living with all my life. To take an image from my brothers book, it was as though there had been rooms in our house that I had never been in; rooms in which things had taken place that would affect the rest of my life dramatically. I just didnt know, at that time, where those rooms were or what had happened there.” As an emancipated teenager, she earned a full scholarship to Princeton University. “I had been living on my own since I was 16, and then all of the sudden I was at this country club,” POE explains. “There was a full music studio that I could use, there were theaters to rehearse in, there were video editing facilities, and there were plenty of musicians who could come to a rehearsal without worrying whether or not they would make enough money to keep eating. I remember watching these kids who would walk around complaining about how much they hated it there, and I was like, What, are you crazy? This place is heaven.” Needless to say, it didnt take long for her to seize control of their production facilities and rehearsal spaces.
POE had started writing songs at the age of eight, later stumbling upon the wonders of the four-track recorder. At Princeton, while honing her production skills, she put together a group that was part rock band, part spoken word performance art. However, it was after college, writing and recording on her own, that she truly thrived. The results of that period led to her 1995 Modern/Atlantic debut album, “HELLO.” Executive produced by Dave Jerden, the album was produced by Jerden with RJ Rice and POE, along with a studio team that included Matt Sorum of Cult and Guns N Roses fame. The album drew a dedicated fanbase, in part, due to the top 10 success of the alternative hit, “Angry Johnny,” along with the driving “Trigger Happy Jack” and the cool groove-oriented title track. One of Atlantics first artists to truly embrace the Internet, POE launched her own site with the help of fans that same year, The Angry Psychos, at POE.org. In January of 1996, POE and her band hit the road, opening tours for Lenny Kravitz and Seven Mary Three with scarcely a week off through most of the year. Along with her set at the Midem music conference in Cannes, France, she made her network television debut that fall with a performance on Late Night With Conan OBrien, soon after which she launched her first-ever headlining tour, traveling across North America with support from the Eels. Before 1996 turned its last calendar page, “HELLO” scored an RIAA gold certification as POE found herself listed in the top 10 of the Rolling Stone Readers Poll.
In the summer of 1997, POE hit #1 on the Billboard “Hot Dance Music/Club Play” chart with the remix release of “Hello,” and in the fall her Matt Sorum produced recording of “Rose Is A Rose” appeared on the multi-artist “LOUNGE-A-PALOOZA” collection. In 1998, POE contributed her song, “Today,” to the Atlantic soundtrack to the motion picture Great Expectations, appeared on Fastballs “ALL THE PAIN MONEY CAN BUY” singing a duet Miles Zuniga, and released “Rise and Shine,” her self-produced AIDS benefit single featuring vocal contributions from Gwen Stefani. In addition, her “Strange Wind (Part 2)” track was featured on last Novembers Atlantic soundtrack to Anywhere But Here. Working with Danny Elfman, she also provided a vocal track that was woven throughout the films score. Meanwhile, POE had begun shaping what would eventually become “HAUNTED” which, as she says, is “the album Ive wanted to make for as long as I can remember. Finally, I had the resources I needed and the freedom to focus on nothing else but the task at hand.”