Pokey LaFarge has often been accused of pining for the past. A snapshot of LaFarge and his music could easily be confused for a picture of someone who lived long ago, but speaking with the artist is it very clear that he has both feet planted firmly in the present. He will be performing a solo show at The Continental Club May 31, en route to the Kerrville Folk Festival.
“I’m not as concerned about traditionalism as I used to be,” admits LaFarge. “I think a lot of things I was sort of force fed as an American, and I try to hold onto them for certain kinds of authenticity, but I’m more trying to get to the pursuit of truth. Really I’m more concerned with being a human and a citizen of the world and preserving things that are beautiful and timeless than I am anything that has to do with being American.”
He has made a name for himself in a little over a decade with his unmistakable voice; shaky yet strong as iron, and songs that embody true roots music. Always dressed in classy vintage style, the kind of rare man who probably still carries a handkerchief. LaFarge kickstarted his career with his self released and well received Marmalade in 2006.
He went on to sign with Rounder Records and Jack White’s Third Man and has released eight albums since. He is currently back with Rounder and working on his ninth studio album, Rock Bottom Rhapsody, set to be released next year. He describes it as, “I would say that it’s kind of like Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday got together in the south of France in the ‘50s and drank too much wine.”
He has never wavered from his signature sound pulling from ragtime, jazz, country and blues but with a unique ability to sound fresh and authentic. He may be bringing in elements from so far past that it represents the future as well. “My pursuit has always been more one of style and being stylized. Being an innovator for me means not trying to sound like anyone and I think I’ve achieved that.” says LaFarge.
Whether with a full band or solo, LaFarge demands attention and often engages the audience in call and response clap alongs and foot stomping good times that could just have easily filled a barn house in the ‘20s. His entire presence seems fitting for the stage but most recently he has dipped his toes into the world of acting.
LaFarge will be in the 2020 release of the Netflix original movie, The Devil All the Time. A dark thriller set in rural Ohio and in the decades between WWII and the 1960s. “I have never pursued acting. I always said that if I was ever going to act, it would have to be a role that was exciting to me but specifically something that was dark, weird and really challenging. That’s what this film was for sure.”
The stretch from singing to acting in some cases seems unnatural but for LaFarge, it is not a shocking transition. “I would say that in a lot of cases my performing and any kind of theatrics have been relegated to a stage. It’s a completely different medium and there’s so many specifics that make it different but I think my years of performing certainly lended itself to a certain level of comfort and confidence.” says LaFarge.
When asked if he has felt like he’s somehow playing a character onstage LaFarge says, “I think if you ask any performer, they’d probably be lying if they said they weren’t.” He adds, “I think when you’re performing, and you’re singing songs where you’re channeling things consciously and subconsciously, really everything you are as a person comes out.”
“When you sing it, play it and perform it, it’s hard to say if you’re completely yourself or playing multiple characters at the same time. It’s complicated. It’s a very spiritual experience as well. I think it’s important to be aware, if you do believe in God, that you are communicating and praising God while you’re performing.” he continues.
The artist recently moved to Los Angeles after many years in St Louis, a fitting move not only for his new acting role but allowing him to inhabit the stomping grounds of many of his heroes, including Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski.
Another big change for LaFarge has been his recent spiritual awakening, “I got saved in mid January but I got water baptized on Easter.” When asked what led him to make this commitment to Jesus LaFarge says bluntly, “I just encountered God on the Pacific Coast Highway driving to California and I had no choice but to go forward, there was no going back. I’ll just leave it at that.”
LaFarge has taken his commitment to Christ to the hard living streets of Skid Row in downtown LA taking supplies and kindness to the homeless there. “I felt the calling when I came here a year and a half ago to help the homeless because it’s an epidemic. It says in scripture faith without good works is useless, so it’s not putting your money where you’re mouth is, but putting your faith to work.”
“It’s kind of just a band aid you know. It’s not like it’s taking care of a deeper issue that’s more of a political issue. At the same time just going there and showing love to people, letting them you know you care, are willing to listen to them and you’re not judging them it’s doing some positive. You just can’t underestimate the result that can come from repeated positive actions.”
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This style of old time religion and grassroots goodness only adds to LaFarge’s sweet authenticity, “We’re all connected like grapes on a vine. It really is a trickle down effect and the love that we can share to our neighbors, I think that can transcend throughout the entire world if everybody’s doing it.”
When discussing the ability for negativity to spread like wildfire through societies LaFarge philosophizes, “There are some things we can’t comprehend and we never will be able to comprehend so I think it’s just really simple to love one another.”
Pokey LaFarge will perform with The Broken Spokes Friday, May 31 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, doors open at 9:30 p.m. $29-51