Eating pho with Burke, Va.’s Poole gives some insight into what family dinners at the Evans house must have been like. The meal starts off with some minor teasing when the band members—brothers Harry and Harv Evans, and Jeff Booth—practically groan me away from the table for putting a teensy drop of hot sauce in my mountain of plum sauce. Then there’s the breaking of bread, although we gladly substitute the Vietnamese beef soup (pronounced by Harry “fa,” as in “a long, long way to run”) for more traditional fare. And there’s some minor debate—although it’s more of a joke—about whether or not drummer Brian Barnhart went to the other location of the Pho 75 chain on Wilson Boulevard instead of this one on Route 50 (to his credit, Barnhart couldn’t make it for lunch). Once it’s determined that we’re at the correct place, it’s time for “What did you learn today?” Booth asks what the numerical part of the restaurant’s name stands for, and Harv suggests that the “75” stands for 1975, the year of Vietnamese reunification. But Harry puts it into perspective: “So it would be the same thing as calling the American version ‘Stew ’76.’”
Bad jokes aside, the discussion is really about the band’s task at hand. At the moment, Poole is D.C.’s great pop hope, since the demise of Velocity Girl and Tuscadero’s slow rise to success have made this city a fading blip on the indie-rock radar screen. Poole definitely has what it takes, with radio-friendly tunes and favorable clips in indie-rock magazines (one recently ran in Option). It’s not only musicianship that is a major group asset, though, it’s each member’s keen ability to keep himself in check. The bandmates have a certain kinship—it’s even reflected in the name of the band’s publishing company, Poole Family Publishing. They’re a bunch of fine, upstanding fellas, but are they up for the job?
Poole thought about that while recording its latest record, tentatively titled The Late Engagement for SpinArt at Studio 45 in Hartford, Conn. Harry describes the tracks they did there as “bluesy,” which is fine but not exactly what everyone wanted. “I think that one of the things that happened was that the vibe up [there] was really, really, really, really, really, really, really supermellow,” Harry says, in an excited voice that’s a cross between Richie Cunningham and Winnie-the-Pooh. “So all of the slow songs are really, really good.” But the band members think there’s some reworking to be done, and Harry archly suggests a plan for that: “We’re going to [do it] in some place like Harlem, where there’s a lot of stress. Try to get a little energy happening.”
Some of that energy will come from making Poole a five-piece. The addition of longtime friend Pall Masters, who will take over on bass, allows Booth to move to guitar and keyboards. The idea came from watching Garbage’s performance at the last HFStival; for a few songs, singer Shirley Manson played guitar, enriching the band’s sound. But Masters’ joining Poole makes more sense in light of the band’s family ways. “Pall is one of our best friends. Previous to him being in our band, we’d hate going to play shows where we couldn’t take him along,” says Harv, adding that to keep Masters around, they made him Poole’s tour manager, before finally putting him on third guitar. The filled-out sound, Harv adds, is a direct departure from the sugary, simple pop of the band’s first CD, Alaska Days. “It’s a whole new Poole. The guitar arrangements are a little more complex, not just chords and solos anymore…” He stops for a second and lets his brother complete the thought. “We’re like Skynyrd now,” Harry says.
Or at least a more mature version of their former selves. The second incarnation of Poole is a chance for the band to move past what Harry calls the “indie-pop fuzzy bunny” scene. With three guitars, Harry and Harv will remain on rhythm and lead, while Booth’s riffs will allow him to display his technique for mixing effects. “One thing about Jeff is that he’s a perfectionist,” Harry says, “and he would have no problem working 14 days on a reverb sound.” Booth’s new parts won’t be merely an excuse for playing with pedals, though. His affinity for noise toys isn’t just about defining a band “sound,” especially since Harry and Harv play with hardly any effects at all. It’s more about how the sounds he creates can be used to enhance the Evans brothers’ raw guitars. “If we were all effected,” Harry says, “we’d sound like that horrible English band that plays the JC-120s—Slowdive.” He thinks for a second and puckishly adds, “That’s not your favorite band, is it?” I say it isn’t, and all is mended. Harry lets out a sigh of relief—”Thank God.”
What’s important isn’t necessarily what effects the Evanses don’t use, but how the band’s resulting sound pays props to its influences. Harry explains it simply: “What if Malcolm Young got an Eventide? That would be so wrong.” Of course, he insists, the AC/DC guitarist would never use any effects processor, but Young might be intrigued by Poole’s gentle take on “You Shook Me All Night Long,” a cover the band usually saves for choice gigs. “When we [were in] Tennessee or North Carolina at the end of the summer,” Harry says, “we played it every night. Inevitably, [the sound guy] was a fan of AC/DC, so we’d try to make a good impression so they wouldn’t make us sound bad.” The band members insist the choice had nothing to do with reliving previous lives as heavy-metal teenagers hanging out in the parking lot.
No one wants to discuss the past, though, especially not the Evans brothers’ stint in their high-school band, Messenger. (“What, do you want to destroy us?” Harry asks.) Formative bands are often humorous in retrospect, but this one has the dubious distinction of being filed under “Godrock.” In the old days, the Evanses were headbangers with a higher purpose, but the mentality that comes with that genre, the respect for personal beliefs, is Harry’s defense for the music. “There’s a lot of really great Christian bands out there that don’t get a fair shake simply because they’re Christian bands, because people are afraid of them,” he says. “People are like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to listen to that because they’re going to tell me to stop doing what I’m doing.’”
Evangelism doesn’t have to be exclusive, though, as Harv points out, mentioning that one of the finest examples of ultrasensitive testifying rock is Rage Against the Machine. That gives Harry enough ammo to prove his point. “Yeah, and what are they doing? They’re preaching at you. It’s just not a spiritual preaching, it’s political preaching. Preaching is preaching, no matter what you’re talking about. I mean, Fugazi is one of the most damn preachy bands in the whole world.” Harry is quiet for a second, as he confronts the vehemence of his own bit of dramatic discourse.
Realizing he meant to show appreciation instead of disrespect, he sheepishly grins. “Maybe you shouldn’t write that.”CP
Poole performs Oct. 22 at the Black Cat, 1831 14th St. NW.