Pokey LaFarge makes his second appearance on Walking the Floor this week, joining podcast host Chris Shiflett for an hourlong conversation that bypasses his early days as a street-busking newcomer and, instead, focuses on the fall from grace and spiritual reawakening that inspired his upcoming album, Rock Bottom Rhapsody, out April 10th.
There’s a lot of ground to cover, from LaFarge’s relocation to Los Angeles — a move that found him leaving St. Louis, his home base for nearly a decade — to the wide range of influences that shaped his eighth record. And while the songwriter doesn’t go into specific detail regarding the temptations that ended his 2018 on a sour note, he does talk about the activities that have helped him regain control, from boxing classes to church services.
We’ve rounded up a few highlights from the conversation below.
Rock Bottom Rhapsody‘s diverse sound is a result of LaFarge’s varying musical tastes.
“You think of music playlists, and they have a vibe,” he says. “It’s reggae or it’s soul … [but] when I make a playlist, it’s going from some beautiful, female guitar player and singer from Ecuador in the Forties to rockabilly to roots reggae to funk. Every song will be completely different.” A similar spirit runs throughout Rock Bottom Rhapsody, whose influences include everything from Roy Orbison to old-school French jazz. “Every song is completely different, kind of like a mixtape,” he says proudly.
He began writing Rock Bottom Rhapsody during a period of rapid change.
“There was a culmination that I was building toward, with leaving St. Louis after living there for nine years,” he begins. “Moving on from the band I’d been working with for that long, as well. Leaving a long relationship at the exact same time. All these things were ending at the exact same time.” LaFarge resettled in Los Angeles, where many of Rock Bottom Rhapsody‘s songs were written. Two years later, though, he’s ready to move on again.
LaFarge has been spending the past year engaging in charitable work to benefit Los Angeles’ homeless population.
“Jesus said, ‘Faith without good work is useless,’ ” says LaFarge, paraphrasing a Bible verse, “so I just felt like I needed to put that love into action. I think being Christian was a catalyst for getting me to go out there and help people, but I’ve always had a certain yearning to do something.” After joining members of his church on some initial visits to L.A.’s homeless encampments, LaFarge began making trips of his own, passing out water, sanitary items, and food to those in need.
Another recent development? His appreciation for boxing.
“I started boxing last year,” he tells Shiflett, while rattling off a list of healthy activities. “Getting into it and learning the different body movements — and the little subtleties of how not to get hit, and how to then react to the other person and hit them — has been incredibly challenging. It’s like a dance move.”
Finally, he’s reminding himself to be appreciative of his job, no matter how strange it gets.
“As musicians, we have the easiest job!” he says. “If we lost everything, we could go out on the street right now and make money, whereas a filmmaker needs a million dollars or something just to make an indie! But at the same time, as touring musicians, we have maybe the hardest job. We’re part sailors, we’re part soldiers, we’re part truck drivers, and it kind of feels sometimes like we’re a bandit or a criminal. You’re coming into a town, you’re taking their money and their liquor and their women, and you’re going on to the next [town] and doing the same thing, and everywhere you go, everyone knows you’re not there. You just have that feel — that look to you, the way you’re looking around for a coffee shop, or saying, ‘Where the hell do I find a breakfast burrito right now?’ “