Pokey LaFarge has been on the road for a month. He sounds strangely serene -- his voice relaxed and dripping over the line like warm molasses over johnny cakes -- despite the winter rain currently killing his vibe in North Dakota. "I'm freezing my butt off," he laughs.
It's the stretch between dates in the West and the long-ass haul back to God's Country. He's more interested in observing the weather as the van rolls down highways and two lanes than watching the Internet for show reviews, fan photos and exclamatory sentences about his forthcoming album, Pokey LaFarge. He's seen 90 degrees and torrential gullywashers in Louisiana, weirdo cold in the desert, those lukewarm rains that enslave the Northwest and the kind of California heat that can cause one to soak through one's cotton best in minutes.
"I'm looking at the world through a windshield," Pokey says. But he's not complaining; his wanderlust runs as deep as his blue-collar soul. Pokey left home at seventeen, though anyone with a passing familiarity with Bloomington, Illinois, can see why he chose to busk on street corners in the West instead of attending the local university. "Luckily I've been traveling a lot since I was a kid; it's what I've always been on a quest to do," he explains. "I'm hungry to see more places. I've been to enough places to know what I want to go back to, and there'll be some people there waiting for me. Whether it's friends or fans, I have an obligation to keep playing music for them."
By his own admission, he's duty-bound to the American people who still don't really know American music. After all, what is America without swing or ragtime? What is the South or Chicago without the blues; what are any of us without jazz? "For the people that haven't been exposed to the plethora of American music that I have, I'm quite a student of it," he says. "As long there are people out there who haven't heard real American music, there are millions of Americans who don't know the artists and people who paved the way for what we have today."
He met two-thirds of his band (St. Louisians Ryan Koenig and Joey Glynn) doing just that: playing music streetside in Asheville, North Carolina. Adam Hoskins joined up soon after to form the South City Three, but early 2013 saw the next step for the St. Louis band -- the addition of two new members, TJ Muller and Chloe Feoranzo, on trumpet and clarinet/saxophone, respectively.
On the new disc -- the group's second on Jack White's Third Man Records -- the evolution manifests in a bigger sound that's been delighting fans since February. The album is named after the group's leader. "It was a direct response to me dropping the name 'The South City Three' and just showing, now that I have more band members, it's just going to go back to my name," he says. "With the instrumentation on this album, there's a lot more than just the three guys I had playing with me. It's a broadening of the sound; it's a fuller sound. Of course, they're all my songs, as usual. I think it just made the most sense for the next step, as this is kind of our major label signing."
St. Louis is never far from Pokey LaFarge's mind or his mouth -- he's certainly doing his part to redefine the St. Louis blues. "I like being from St. Louis because it's an underdog city -- people are very humble -- and perhaps that keeps people off the road and at home for some reason or another. Being that I've always been a world traveler, I've kept my Midwestern roots, and it has helped people start talking about St. Louis. And that's what we want."
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