David Poe on Personal Music: 'Authenticity Is for a Diary Entry or a Facebook Post'
Photo by Marina Chavez
"I never wanted to be a solo artist. I had no interest in it. I wanted to be the guy in a cool band, but it didn't turn out that way," says singer-songwriter David Poe. "I had started around six bands that all broke up, so I became a solo guy because no one else was going to show up for the gig." Poe, who moved to Los Angeles from New York three years ago, is currently touring behind his latest record, God & the Girl. Recorded in three weeks, Poe would write a song, record it the next day, and repeat the process until the record was finished. The result is a dulcet collection of intimate acoustic songs filled with insightful and confessional lyrics about love, heartbreak, yearning, and release to which anyone, whether falling in love or enduring a breakup, can easily relate.
“All great songs go from the personal to the universal,” says Poe. “There is nothing more boring than authenticity. Authenticity is for a diary entry or a Facebook post. Art is not about self-expression. If you want to express yourself, go on Twitter. Art is an expression of the self through the things that have influenced you and how those things relate to the world.”
Poe’s career, including a stint as a sound engineer at CBGB’s 313 Gallery, has been varied and colorful. Having initially picked up the guitar at ten years of age in his native Michigan, during high school Poe and his classmates won a battle of the bands and one of their songs ended up on the radio. “There was nothing better than being a senior in high school and having a song on the radio. My life turned around in 24 hours. I was able to put myself through college playing songs.”
When he moved to New York at 21, armed with simply a guitar and $400, Poe lived in a one-bedroom apartment with four other people. Eventually he recorded an EP and, when he was signed to his first major label (Poe would eventually put out two solo records on Sony and one on Universal), he had been earning just $30 a night. His self-titled first record (1997) was produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett, with whom Poe has cultivated a lifelong relationship. “He's been one of my greatest champions. I've learned so much from him. I still do.” God & the Girl is his fifth effort, and it's self-released.
In addition to songwriting and performing, not to mention having toured with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Tori Amos, Poe has written songs for the TV shows Nashville and Dexter as well as upcoming feature The Diary of a Teenage Girl. In fact, he has scored seven films (and been named a composer fellow by the Sundance Institute); written for and with artists including Daryl Hall and Grace Potter; and produced artists including Regina Spektor and Kraig Jarret Johnson.
Though a lauded and critically acclaimed songwriter, Poe hasn't had a chart-topping hit. On this subject he remains unfazed. "There's a big difference between a culture that rewards people who are different and one that rewards the conformists. I'll be forever stamped as one of the former. But in a way I'm happy I never had a mega-hit, because I never have to repeat myself. I’m just a songwriter. But it’s really exciting to be a songwriter, because you write a song hoping someone else will listen and hoping someone else will want to sing it, even if it’s just in the shower.”
David Poe plays Rockwood Music Hall on July 31. For ticket information, click here.
Follow the writer @pamelachelin
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