Alot of things factor into recording an album. There are the players and the songs, of course, but also the external factors that leave their mark, such as location, studio, and producer. Every factor, big or small, influences the direction a given recording takes, and there is probably no better example of this than Po’ Girl’s elegant new album, Deer in the Night.
Recorded last summer in Austin, the album is the perfect encapsulation of time and place. Incorporating songs both new and old, and a collection of players that takes advantage of the band’s extended musical family, Deer in the Night not only is a testament to Po’ Girl’s already impressive legacy, it consciously ventures somewhere new. It’s also a spirited salute to the countless souls who have contributed to Po’ Girl’s enchanting musical evolution thus far.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole idea of patronage lately,” confessed Po’ Girl’s Allison Russell. “A lot of the most beautiful and inspiring works of art would not exist without patronage. They are products of a culture and a time and a vast amount of faith and generosity on the part of people who aren’t making the art themselves. Music isn’t about labels supporting the artists anymore; it’s gone back to support from the community and, for us, the last year-and-a-half has been a real lesson in the kindness of strangers.”
When it came time for Po’ Girl to start thinking about a follow-up to their 2007 recorded undertaking, Home To You, one of the most inspiring messages they received actually came from a prominent figure in our own community. Since the Canadian ensemble played S.B.’s monthly Sings Like Hell concert series a couple years ago, series producer Peggie Jones has been keeping a watchful eye on the band. Which isn’t all that tough, seeing as how her Austin homeland constantly is hosting shows by many of the series’ alums.
“I was in Austin for a couple of weeks in April,” recalled Russell. “We knew we wanted to record, so we plotted a window of time that was going to be very small because we were touring so much. We had three weeks in June and we were figuring where to do it. Peggie offered us her home to stay in while recording and took us to all these different studios. So we toured down the coast and across into the southwest and then headed out to Austin.”
It was while they were being shuttled around by Jones that Russell and her Po’ Girl colleagues, Awna Teixeira and Benny Sidelinger, crossed paths with Brian Standefer, Bukka Allen, and Robbie Gersoe. For three weeks in June, the ensemble holed up in the trio’s Screen Door Studios, where they, along with musical friends (including John Cale, drummer Michael Jerome, and various members of JT and the Clouds), set their sights on making an album. And Austin quickly proved itself the perfect setting for the undertaking.
“When you’re home, it’s really easy to get distracted because there are all these other parts of your life that factor into your time,” explained Russell, “so being in Austin allowed us to completely surrender into the process of recording. And it’s such an inspiring place in itself. The level of musicianship there and the respect for music that permeates that city couldn’t help but inspire us.”
Not that home is all that definable for Po’ Girl these days. With Russell hailing from Montreal and Teixeira from Toronto, the pair (who met about six years ago and have since released three albums together) have earned quite the reputation, playing 13 countries in the last 12 months.
“Awna and I have literally been without a fixed address for about three years now,” confessed Russell. “We have our storage locker in Vancouver and our van, and have essentially been touring 300 days of the year for the last two years. So we have accustomed ourselves to being at home on the road and being able to write in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. In some ways, writing is the one familiar thing we have, and it becomes our home.”
Whether it is art imitating life or life imitating art for Po’ Girl, it doesn’t seem to matter. The important thing for these modern-day troubadours is the journey that music offers. And, fittingly, it is both the journey and the communities that embrace them along the way that in turn fuel their craft-oftentimes in more ways than one.
“There is so much material for songs in the relationships you form and the people you are constantly missing,” said Russell. “Figuring out who we are and our place in the world is all part of the journey and is heightened when you are in transit and constantly putting yourself in unfamiliar situations like that. All of that lends itself to the craft.”
Po’ Girl & Friends headline this month’s Sings Like Hell installment on Saturday, December 13, at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon PerdidoSt.). The show starts at 8 p.m. Call 963-0761 or visit singslikehell.com for tickets.