Posted On 13 Apr 2018
As a performer, David Poe has toured the world with the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Jayhawks, Chris Whitley, Glenn Tilbrook and Tori Amos. His work also appears in a variety of film, TV, dance and theater projects. His songs have been recorded by producers including T-Bone Burnett, Larry Klein, Buddy Miller and Dave Sitek, and performed by a wide array of artists, including Curtis Stigers, Oh Land, Ana Moura, C.C. White, Thomas Dybdahl and the cast of Nashville.
Solo recordings include his most recent effort God & The Girl, as well as a self-titled debut, produced by T-Bone Burnett, The Late Album (Sony/Epic), Love Is Red (Universal Music/The Lab) and two live recordings, iTunes exclusive David Poe: Live From The Artists Den and a concert film, David Poe Onstage at World Cafe (Universal Music/Decca DVD) and a collaboration with Duncan Sheik on music for the motion picture Harvest. Poe has also created three scores for dance: The Copier: Music for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet , Shadowland: Music for Pilobolus and the forthcoming Shadowland 2. His most recent release is a single and video entitled What The President Said, featuring guest vocalist Sister C and voices from the Women’s March.
David Poe is a composer fellow of the Sundance Institute. He has scored seven films, including an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival. Shadowland, a collaboration with contemporary dance company Pilobolus, has been on tour since 2009, performed on every continent, for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and was released as a feature film in 2014. Poe has produced recordings for other artists including Regina Spektor, Kraig Jarret Johnson, Grace Kelly, Jenifer Jackson, Amy Raasch, John “Scrapper” Sneider and Brendan Hines.
Transplanted from the American Midwest to New York City, David Poe served as the sound engineer at CBGB’s 313 Gallery before signing to Sony/Epic. He currently lives in Los Angeles.
Learn more about David Poe in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So where does this interview find you? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
Today, I’m headed to subzero Minneapolis to work with Kraig Jarret Johnson of Golden Smog and the Jayhawks on a new record of his which I helped write and produce. But I relocated to Los Angeles from New York City to escape winter.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your career? What are you most excited about for this year? What is one big goal you have for 2018?
Part of any artist’s job is to articulate their times. Now the world is on fire. So, for a songwriter, business is booming.
Music can help show us the way forward. A song of mine called “Who Built The Wall” was released near the end of the presidential election cycle, then one sung by Curtis Stigers called “You Are Welcome Here” to benefit a homeless shelter in the fall, and, pretty soon, one benefitting pediatric AIDS research called “You Mean The World.”
As far as goals for 2018, It would be cool to hear someone singing ”What The President Said” from inside a voting booth when we all go to the polls in November. “Don’t let ‘em, don’t let ‘em get away with it ….”
Growing up, did you ever think that this would be the kind of life that you would have? Has music always been a big part of your life? Can you recall your first ever musical experience?
Yeah. Well, kind of. My parents were both educators who advocated for equality and opportunity for all. My sister and her colleagues do more good for the underserved than any politician or millionaire I’ve ever met. They are my main inspiration.
My mother was a music teacher, and a great singer. So I sang in school and church and community choirs, then started a rock band and moved from the Midwest to New York, where I worked at CBGB’s 313 Gallery until I got a record deal and made my first album with T-Bone Burnett.
I learned from him, and by playing with excellent musicians like Sim Cain, Marc Ribot, Matt Johnson, Jay Bellerose, Jenifer Jackson, John Abbey, Lili Haydn, Bill Dobrow, Kristen Toedtman, Ed Ackerson, Philip Krohnengold, Milo Decruz, Morgan Taylor, Stephan Said, Ben Peeler, Duncan Sheik, Everett Bradley, Doug Yowell, Rick Parker and John “Scrapper” Sneider, and from my colleagues at the Sundance Institute. I got lucky.
How do you think growing up in your hometown has influenced your sound and who you are as a musician?
Back then, the Dayton Church Supply shared a storefront with an erotic bookstore, which I always thought of as a visual metaphor for that town. You see, the country is not as divided as some would like us to think.
Let’s talk about your newest single “What The President Said.” What was it like writing this song and releasing it to the world? How did you get to work on the track with the soul singer Sister C? I love that the song features actual live audio of hundreds of women shouting from the Women’s March last year!
Me too! The song began at the Women’s March. The crowd was chanting “this is what democracy looks like,” and I recorded it on my phone, then set it to a beat.
So that song was built around the voice of the people. Some who have heard it say they can hear themselves in the track. That is what democracy sounds like.
Sister C is one of the more remarkable singers I’ve ever heard, so it was fortunate she wanted to record this tune. We sang the harmonies together multiple times to build the big choir sound you hear in the track.
The lyric is unlike most of my other stuff in that it is short, on the nose, totally void of any metaphor or imagery. More like a tweet, I guess. Seems fitting.
How creatively involved were you with the making of the animated music video for it? What did it feel like to have feminist icons Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda share their positive reaction to the video?
Because this is a totally indie, grass-roots effort, it is genuinely thrilling to have icons of feminism show their support for the song and video, as well as to have friends and strangers share it. This isn’t like a big album release that has a lot of hype around it, where there is money to be made, or spent. It’s just meant to invigorate voters seeking positive change.
The video was animated by Vanessa Sweet at Sleeping Fox Studios in Shishmaref, Alaska. She is one of the great living animators, I’d say. The script I wrote called for Americans of all walks to be represented, but it’s her vivid visual sensibility that makes that crowd come alive in the video. Vanessa Sweet made the Statue of Liberty dance.
When do you hope to release more new music and full album of new songs? Are you currently working on new music? Do you find that you are being inspired to write new material these days?
Always writing songs, some with and for others, some for film and TV, some for myself. I worked on records recently released by Brendan Hines, Amy Raasch, Kraig Jarret Johnson & The Program and another forthcoming from TV’s David Anders. A few evening-length pieces for the dance company Pilobolus that I scored are on tour. And there are more protest songs like this one, enough to offend an audience of NRA supporters for at least an hour.
Where do you find that you sing the most these days, in the shower, in the car, in the studio or elsewhere?
The porch. Never the shower, due to drought.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
It would be my dream to hear “What The President Said” sung by the Resistance Revival Chorus, a musical collective of 60 women who get together and sing protest songs. They’re phenomenal. Or someone like Toshi Reagon, whose musical activism was an influence.
I’m most inspired by my current musical collaborators, especially Blake Morgan, Larry Klein, Tarq Bowen, C.C. White, Ed Ackerson, Andy OK, Angela McCluskey, Curtis Stigers, Larry Goldings, and Scrapper, as well as all those I mentioned earlier. I love everything I hear from the Chocolate Genius and Grey Reverend and T-Bone Burnett. I still like Yip Harburg a lot.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
The words and melodies.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about yourself and your music?
Please share the song and video for “What The President Said” if you’re so inclined, check out local chapters of groups like Swing Left and Indivisible, engage with your members of Congress. Vote. Resist.