10 Questions: Allison Russell of Po’ Girl

Allison Russell of Po'Girlfe

Their fifth album, Deer in the Night, is set for release next month sometime later this year and they’re hitting the road for a series of shows in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico starting April 9th in Fort Collins.

Taking some time for our phone call last week while the band was in Austin playing SXSW, Allison Russell played our 10 questions game.

Q: What was the first instrument you learned to play and how old were you?

A: The first instrument I learned how to play was the clarinet, I guess. I started playing that first. Oh, well maybe piano, if you go way back, when I was I guess about four.

But I’ve never been formally trained on anything but I guess I started playing piano first. My parents are both classically trained pianists and they were very strict about their ideas of what constituted music. I just enjoyed dabbling by myself… and I went my own wayward way.

Q: Did you ever consider another career path?

A: When I was a kid I thought I was going to be a doctor. I got as far as the first year of college but when it got to the actual practical application of theory and dissecting fetal pigs and I realized that it wasn’t the right path for me at that point.

Q: Of your songs, which are your favorites to perform?

A: I think it switches, we’re always writing. Awna and I are both writing lots right now, at this point in our lives. We’re constantly adding new material and I usually get the most excited about the newest thing. It’s funny because you fall in and out of love with different songs.

I’m really enjoying “Deer in the Night” and this new song that Awna’s written called “Montana” that I just love.

Q: What was the first concert you attended?

A: The very first formal concert I went to, well I went to a lot of free concerts that the students of the university put on at the Conservatory at McGill in Montreal. But I guess the first real concert, I went to New York with my family, I guess I was about ten and I saw the opera “Hansel and Gretel.” That was my first show.

And then as a teenager, the first show that I ever managed to get into, although I was underage was a band called “Me, Mom, and Morgentaler.” They were big in Canada at one point, in the ska scene, and I loved them. I was too young to get into the show but my friend knew the bouncer so he let us in. That was the first, kind of rock show. I was about 14.

Q: What do you always take with you on tour?

A: Essential oils. I cannot live without my lavender and neroli and rose geranium. I find them very calming.

And I can’t live without my running shoes, I run everywhere we go. That’s how I stay sane on the road and get exercise and get to know each city. So running shoes and essential oils.

And my passport of course, never leave home without my passport.

Q: Do you have any favorite meals while on the road?

A: In Albuquerque we’ve become very fond of the Flying Star cafe… and Sophia’s in Corrales. It’s the best taco, little tauqeria ever, it’s just wonderful. But we don’t know Colorado very well, we haven’t toured there as often as New Mexico.

Our drummer, JJ Jones used to live in Fort Collins and she’s touring with us now, she took us to a little cafe. It was great, it was like, all organic but I cannot remember the name.

Q: Where would you file your music in a record store?

A:I guess under ‘Urban Roots.’ I feel bad for record stores because, well I know they have to give the customers some sort of idea, but I just feel like the genres are not very specific, it’s so hard to nail down any group or artist. I’d file it under “Good music, music you might like to hear. Check it out!”

Q: Are there any songs you’ve always wanted to cover but haven’t?

A: “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper. I totally want to do it. And “Back to Black,” when we’re our alter-ego.

Q: If you could sit down for an hour with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?

A: Elizabeth Cotten. I would love to be able to go back in time and talk to her. She’s one of our big inspirations, she was an amazing songwriter. She wrote a song called “Freight Train” and “Shake Sugaree” and she was this amazing woman from North Carolina in the ’30s and ’40s she set out on her own with her guitar.

She had this incredible finger-picking, she was a left-handed player and she played a regular right-handed guitar but she’d turn it upside down. She traveled all over the country, by herself and she was one of the big inspirations for Odetta and Bob Dylan.

She kind of fell into obscurity in her 60s and 70s, she was working as a nanny for the Seeger family. And they realized who she was and they relaunched her career. Yeah, definitely Elizabeth Cotten, I’d love to talk to her.

Q: Where did the name Po’ Girl come from?

A: The name Po’ Girl is a nod to the great musical melting pot of the city of New Orleans. It refers to the women who fed striking railway workers in one of the first labor rights movements in North America in the late 19th century. The music that arose during that time in New Orleans has been a great influence on us and I would hazard to say on most modern musicians in one way or another.

Po’Girl will be at Avagadro’s Number in Fort Collins on April 9 and Swallow Hill on April 10.

Visit Po’Girl’s website and Myspace

Photo by Sarah Rhude

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