Several years ago I went on the hunt for horror music. No, not the scores from horror movies or music you would play at Halloween, but I mean good music with distinct horror themes. It was then I came across Harley Poe.
When it comes to horror music, many bands with horror themes are metal, rock, rockabilly, psychobilly, etc. The difference with Harley Poe is that the creepy, silly or disturbing horror-themed lyrics are paired with a snappy and upbeat background.
There’s nothing like snapping your fingers to a kicky banjo with lyrics about death, murder, werewolves, vampires, zombies and demonic possession.
I got a chance to talk with front man Joseph Whiteford and pick his brain about the band.
Hey and thanks for talking with me! I’m very curious to know where did the name Harley Poe originate from?
Harley Poe was this wretched old shithead who used to live two houses down from my parents’ home. I hated that dude, and he hated everyone. The neighbor kids and I would talk about breaking into his home and beating him up or killing him. It’s not like we really meant it. He was just such a dickhead, none of us could stand him. Kinda like the ghost lady from the movie Monster House, he would keep our toys if they landed in his yard. He kicked my friend’s dog once. We had really good reasons to hate him. He was also very wealthy, and as my friends got older they began getting into trouble and had made actual plans to rob and beat him. I remember them telling me about their ideas to get into his house, but I didn’t think they would ever really do it. They ended up breaking into his home and murdering him, brutally. I’m not sure why I used his name as my alias.
Whoa, that is hands down the most intense name origin story I have ever heard. Why center the songs around horror themes?
I love horror films. I grew up with horror films. I was a bit obsessed with them for while. Not so much now, but I still try to keep up with what’s coming out. I think they just remind me of my childhood. I loved those days. It’s fun writing folksy punk songs about weird shit. It gives me a sense of purpose.
A follow up to your answer, why choose such happy, upbeat folk music for such dark themes?
I like happy, catchy tunes. I like the contrast the darker lyrics bring to an upbeat, fun sound. I’m not sure listeners would think the songs as humorous or fun if the music was as dark as the lyrical content. It lets people know that this is make-believe. This is Return of the Living Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. It’s entertainment. It’s fiction with some truth sprinkled in. It should be fun. And also, because that’s the kind of music I like. Most horror related bands fall into the category of punk, metal, psychobilly, or dark electronic music. I’ve never been good at playing any of that. I play acoustic guitar, and I like when the audience can understand what I’m singing. What’s the point of having lyrics if you can’t convey your message?
What musical artist(s) influenced you?
I discovered the Violent Femmes when I was a teen. I fell in love. Later on found out about The Cramps, Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen, The Dickies, Green Day, Weezer, Cake, Pixies, The Demonics, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club…man the list goes on. Pretty much whatever I’m listening to and loving is possibly going to be heard through my own writing. There are just so many great bands out there. Lately I’ve been really into Jeff Rosenstock, Frank Turner, The Reverend Horton Heat, Rocket From the Crypt, Ratatat, Man Man, The Taxpayers, The Presidents, Pale Young Gentlemen, Portugal.The Man, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Shannon and The Clams, The Mountain Goats, The Babies, Ezra Furman, Fugazi, Millencolin, A Giant Dog…now they are an awesome band!
I’ve heard of a few of those, but I will definitely check out the rest. Did any horror authors in particular influence your songwriting?
I don’t think so, but maybe Edward Gorey.
Great choice! The Ghastlycrumb Tinies is one of my favorite short books. There were recently two reunion shows. Are anymore planned in the future?
Only time will tell. My focus these days is really on my two sons. The band was taking up a lot of my life, but I don’t think Harley Poe is forever finished playing shows. I, at least, have no plans to stop writing songs. We’ll just see.
The new album “Lost and Losing It” recently released. It’s considerably different lyrically than the past Harley Poe albums. What was your influence for this one?
I’m very sorry to hear about the divorce. For a bit of a lighter question, you do your own Harley Poe and other horror themed artwork; what made you choose the style and what inspired you?
The style is just what I enjoy. I don’t think I’m out to copy anyone, but I’ve always loved children’s book illustrators. I dig Tim Burton, Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, and the myriad of great artists those masters have inspired. Instagram is full of amazing artists. I’m inspired every time I browse.
What can we look forward to in the future for Harley Poe and your art?
I usually post my art on Instagram. I plan to release my figures whenever I can, and at the moment I’m illustrating a children’s book written by director Joshua Hull. I will begin recording the next Harley Poe album hopefully this winter. I think it’s gonna be a fun, nasty little album. And as I said, I don’t Harley Poe is finished playing shows. Stay tuned, I guess.
Congratulations on the book illustration! I look forward to seeing the finished product. And I definitely hope there are more shows in the future. What is your favorite horror movie?
It has always been The Return of the Living Dead, but I’m not sure anymore.
What is your favorite Harley Poe song you’ve recorded?
I have no idea.
I can only assume that’s because there are so many awesome tracks to choose from. Whether you’re listening to “Olivia,” “Corpse Grinding Man,” “I’m a Killer,” “Don’t Go Into the Woods” or one of the newer tracks like “Persevere,” you’re guaranteed a good time, some great lyrics and a heavy helping of horror.
If you’re more in tune with artists like Marilyn Manson, be sure to check out his scary as hell Instagram page he’s running.
Photos courtesy of joewhiteford.blogspot.com