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Harley Poe defines 'Acoustic Punk'

Imagine, if you will, the spawn of Elvira, Mistress of The Dark, Charlie Parr mixed in with a little Violent Femmes, and you would get Harley Poe. A talk with the band's architect, Joe Whiteford.

By Alan Brostoff

Imagine, if you will, the spawn of Elvira, Mistress of The Dark, Charlie Parr mixed in with a little Violent Femmes, and you would get Harley Poe

I’ll have to admit that I am late to the party with Harley Poe, but after listening to them a lot lately, I needed to learn more. The band's architect, Joe Whiteford, was more than happy to oblige with in an interview, below. 

Joe Whiteford of Harley Poe, publicity photo.

Joe Whiteford of Harley Poe, publicity photo.

GOLDMINE: Where did the name Harley Poe come from? 

JOE WHITEFORD: I was on tour with my old band, almost 20 years ago, and we were spending a night in a Wal-Mart parking lot. There were three of us. I don't think we were getting along, and I wasn't wanting to play that music anymore. I wasn't wanting to be in that band anymore. I wanted to do my own thing, and I wanted to be an alias. I wanted a stage name and I wanted to be in charge. So, I just put two words together that I liked, that had a good ring to it. Harley came from the movie Pumpkinhead. Ed Harley is the protectionist in that movie and Poe comes from a guy who I used to respect and look up to when I went to a church & youth group, and his name is Jesse Poe. I always thought he had a cool name and I thought he was a cool dude. I just put those two words together and… at least that's the story I'm giving you. 

GM: How would describe the music of Harley Poe? 

JW: I don't know. I always thought it was just punk. Acoustic Punk because we generally play acoustic instruments but not always. A lot of times we’ll have keyboards or electric guitar or something. At the time the band was started I think the bands that were influencing it were — at least the bands that I listen to — were The Dead Milkman, The Violent Femmes and Dead Kennedy's. I was just trying to write songs that were catchy songs about whatever I'm feeling at the time. I usually just compare us to a band like the Violent Femmes or something like that. If you like this, you might dig it. The Cramps, The Tiger Lilies; lyrically I get a lot of influence from those bands. 

GM: On April 24th you released a Pinocchio Pariah, which is a six song EP that came out on I-Tunes and Bandcamp. Is there going to be a physical release of that any time? 

JW: Um, not any time soon, eventually, maybe. I got an eight track recorder right after Christmas and my washboard player got one and the base players that played on the last Harley Poe tour got one. I just wanted to be able to sit in my bedroom and lay down some tracks. So, I have all these recording on my eight-track recorder are mostly demos and I have a lot of songs that I have just recorded on my phone, and I’m just trying to get them out and release them. I hope to do a bunch of these eight-track recordings, whatever, EPs and maybe we can get the band together and do a nice studio album with my favorites from each release. I’m working on the second group of songs and hopefully in the next month I start laying them down. Once I’m done with these, expect a pretty good album with a lot more going on, more instruments and more things happening on it. That’s my plan now but I change my mind so frequently. So, I don’t know if I’m going to stick with that or not. 

GM: Before this interview I spent a little time trying to find your records on some of the different sites. Harley Poe music may be some of the hardest physical music to get your hands on. I could only find one copy of a tour edition LP for $275.00. Why do you think it’s so hard to find physical copies of your music? 

JW: I just think that maybe it’s growing in popularity over the last couple of years and we've never pressed a lot of CDs. I'll get new CDs or new vinyl made before tour, just to have stuff for the people at some of the shows, but when I’m done with the tour I tend to shut off and I just don't want to think about the band and so I don't want to be sitting on all these CDs or records. I mean, I don't have an excuse. I'm lazy and we are working on that. The guys I play with have brought it to my attention that a lot more people want physical copies then they used to. So, we are working on making more CDs and vinyl available but it’s a process. And with everything else going on, I’m not always on top of it. 

GM: A few years old, through Horror Hound Magazine, you released a 7-inch single collection, & Inches of Hell. Share the process of doing something like that? 

JW: Yeah, we had just put out Satan Sex and No Regrets with Chain Smoking Records, and then Jessica and Nate from Horror Hound got a hold of me and wanted to put out an album. So we kind of rushed it and got to the studio, when maybe we should have taken a holiday. I don’t know if we were ready to get back to the studio, but we did because we were excited to put out something with Horror Hound. After we were done with that, I was talking with Nate from Horror Hound how we thought it ‘d be cool if we did this 7-inch thing and just put a new one out every month. It was a rush; I was writing songs that we could put out, and rewriting songs from the first album that are different versions. My bass player Eric mentioned we should go electric, full band, distortion and everything. We were trying to make it different and it was a fun project doing the things we wanted to do. I just don’t know if we went in well prepared and I was going through a hard time in my marriage so that experience of trying to get songs recorded every month was a lot and something I constantly had to be thinking about. It was too much at the time. 

GM: What has been the effect of Covid-19 on you and the band? 

JW: We would have just been getting home a couple of days ago. We should have been on tour all last month and that sucks. Hopefully there won’t be a more severe outbreak in November, and everything gets canceled again. It kind of sucks, sucks for everybody, obviously. It just kind of pushed plans back. It did allow me to put out Pinocchio Pariah, which I don’t think I would have released those songs when I did if we were on tour. It did allow for that, but I would have liked to have gotten the tour. 


GM: You also came up with a creative way to get rid of the tour shirts from the tour that was canceled. 

JW: Using my Storenvy site, over the next four Fridays, I’m selling the four different logo shirts, including the traditional shirt we tend to sell on tour. 

GM: Who would you love to sit down and write or record with? 

JW: Gregg Manfredi, there are certain members of Harley Poe that I have been doing it with for a long time. Gregg Manfredi has contributed so much to the band. He’s really great to come up with cool ideas with. Jamey Johnson, I just love what she does with the band. I have worked on the last two records with her. There's a lot of cool people that have been on the albums and have gone on tour that are just awesome musicians, and just enhanced and embellished the music in so many ways. Just friends, people that have always just contributed and given good ideas to the music. 

GM: Do you collect records? 

JW: Yea, I collect records, but only with certain types of bands or music will I buy vinyl. Other than that I will listen to Spotify or YouTube if I want to listen to a band. I do have all the tapes and CDs that I have had over the years, and I don’t buy those anymore. I just buy vinyl when it’s something that I really want to have. 

GM: Anything that you might be looking to add to your collection that our readers might be able to find for you? 

JW: That’s a good question. I’m sure there is, but let me think…right now I’m in the process of collecting all of Ratatat’s music on vinyl, because I love the way it sounds. And those Girls in the Garage compilations that they have, I think they have 10 or 11 maybe more than that. They come out for Record Store Day every year. I’ve been seeking those out and I have volumes 1-5, I think. It’s just such fun music, catchy, poppy. I love their voices. 

GM: Any record stores you like to visit? 

JW: The only record store I go to, unless we are on tour, is a record store in downtown Kokomo, Indiana called American Dream Hi-Fi. It’s run by Mike Wilson who played bass on the last couple of tours with Harley Poe. He also did some back up vocals on Have a Great Life. I’ll go to his record shop and see what he has for me. Other than that I go to eBay. 

GM: What are you currently listening to? 

JW: Well, the last couple of days I've been painting in my shop and I have this collection, these five volumes. I think they called They're Playing Our Song. It's all like classics love songs from the last century. It's from the '40s all the way up to the '70s, maybe. It's just like well-known popular love songs. I've been listening to that. Also, instrumental music of the band Zombie. My son is into the video game, Cuphead, and recently I found a double record release with all the music from Cuphead, which is all big band, jazzy, swingy. It’s just amazing and I’ve been playing that a lot. I got into Jug band music from the '60’s, a lot of Shel Silverstein, and a lot of folk music from the '60’s that I have been collecting a lot of records from. There are some new bands I’m listening to that I found on Spotify, one is Together Pangia, and A Giant Dog... two amazing bands I can’t seem to get enough of, and I seem to keep listening to them. 

GM: Finally, What’s the best way for fans to stay up to date on Harley Poe? 

JW: I would say, just my Instagram. It’s my personal Instagram but I push all the Harley Poe happenings. There is a Facebook page, which is up sometimes.