by Dara Schindelka
There’s something unique about northern Saskatchewan’s newest indie pop group, Poe Lacey. For a brother and sister that grew up only a few hundred feet from the Montreal River as it winds it’s way into Lac La Ronge, the theme of water is definitely no surprise. Neither is the fact that these two are turning angst into tuneful offerings. RJ and Poe grew up with music in their home and in their veins. Some of their earliest memories are of watching live concert DVDs of the Eagles and other classic bands with their dad and being mesmerized by it all.
“I still get chills thinking about it…” RJ says, referring to the first time he saw Phil Collins doing the drum solo to “Coming in the Air Tonight”. It wasn’t long after that RJ knew he wanted to be a drummer and ultimately, part of the world of music. A drum set showed up on Christmas morning that December, as did a string of other instruments over the years, and thus began RJ on his music journey. For Poe, the music gene kicked in at a later time and definitely brought her writing ability to the forefront.
Both RJ and Poe Lacey’s parents play music and sing. Their mother is a pianist, their dad plays guitar and a host of other instruments, and the parents passed on the raw talent. Growing up in a musical home also gave this group a variety of influences from both their current generation and from the decades before their time. Poe Lacey’s music draws on their favourite groups such as Rush, Pink Floyd, Duo Lipa, Vulfpeck, Phoebe Bridgers, Billie Eilish, Half Moon Run and progressive rock bands of all kinds.
However, even with a musical background and amazing taste in music, no formal lessons took place. Rather, it was through the Northern Spirits Showcase in Prince Albert a number of years back, that both RJ and Poe got their first taste of performing music.
“RJ had been in Northern Spirits and met his band mates from Between Bridges through it. He got me to try out and I started singing publicly through that. It’s great. You can sing on stage and they have a [live] band for us. They give us workshops. They teach you how to be confident in yourself, how to be confident on stage. They get a producer to come in and they help youth learn how to produce music. They also have an open mic night and encourage youth to pursue music and see it as a possibility,” explains Poe.
Another important place for the brother and sister to gain musical skills was through the garage band program at Churchill Community High School in La Ronge. They tried out various instruments, created bands with other youth, and started writing their very first songs. After these small but important beginnings, both of them sang and took part in the northern music festival, the Napatak Ramble. This gave them new opportunities to share the stage in other bands that led them to try new genres of music and writing. After traveling around the province in different musical collaborations, RJ decided to follow his passion of producing. He completed his studies with RAIS (Recording Arts Institute of Saskatoon) the year before the world was hit with the Covid pandemic. He already had a small recording studio at his family home called Pine Trail Studios, but now he had the skills and training to match his talent.
For Poe Lacey as a writing group, the format is pretty tight. Poe comes up with the lyrics and melody hooks and RJ plays the instruments as well as produces the songs. Obvious references to Finneas O’Connell and Billie Eilish are inevitable and that is ok by them. They enjoy the process of talking and sharing ideas and then working on things at their own pace. They also find their own personal struggles with ADHD and mental health issues as a constant in their writing process and outpourings. They come up with ideas and share those with the other person and together they create something that they both love both musically and on a personal level as well.
These ideas take time to go from the idea stage to final production because RJ doesn’t rush the process. Each line and each musical layer adds meaning behind the songs. While their first release, “Stargazer”, came out of deep references to family, “Swell” is the personal story of feeling mental illness as a familiar comfort. The theme of struggle is prominent here. In fact, the idea of “Swell” came about by Poe thinking of a dark time where she just felt like covering herself under her emotional struggles. There is nothing but authenticity and vulnerability in both the voice and lyrics that give colour to the musical details in the instrumentation. Altogether, both of Poe Lacey’s indie pop releases paint colourful canvases of sound and story that makes their listening audience eager to hear what will come next.
When asked that question, Poe Lacey explains that time will tell, but there is definitely more in the works. More music for sure, and more members to the group once the 2021 Covid lockdown ends and the world allows for more music venues and live events. It has been a bit of a miracle then, that these two siblings have been able to create such intimate musical magic in the midst of this pandemic. Lockdown in their family home has meant they have worked together and used their creative mental health outlet to help navigate the stressful times they find themselves in. As Poe explains, “We both understand each other. We always said we were going to do this, but actually doing it has been a good bonding project for us. And for me,” continues Poe, ”I hold on to things a lot that I’m dealing with. So, if I can write it and put it in a song and then share it with people, then it’s not in me anymore.”
The tag line for the group on their Spotify page reads, “Welcome to poe, two siblings just making music and having poor mental health together. Please enjoy. Stay awhile.” Talk about a searingly honest musical offering. After listening to the first couple of powerfully polished first releases, there will surely be more fans joining the journey.