A Conversation with HARLEY POE’s Joe Whiteford

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Originally publsihed at Fangoria.com on January 6, 2010

The band, HARLEY POE, mixes horror and humor into their folk-influenced songs, such as “Corpse-Grindin’ Man” and “I Could Always Eat Your Brain.”  Lead singer, Joe Whiteford, spoke with me to discuss music, his artwork, and the upcoming new Harley Poe album.  

JS/FANGO: How did the name “Harley Poe” come up for the title of the band?

JW: There’s really no good answer. I always give a different answer for this because it’s kind of lame. I was on tour with my other band (Calibretto 13) and we were on the verge of breaking up. I knew I wanted to start another band with a horror theme. I thought it had a good ring to it. That’s really about it. People think it’s from Harley Davidson, Harley Quinn from Batman, and from Edgar Allen Poe. I love Edgar Allen Poe but I liked the name Poe. I wanted it to be the name of a person.

JS/FANGO:  Your myspace page describes the music as “Violent Femmes meets a slasher flick.” Tell me about your musical and movie influences.

JW: I try not to compare myself to Violent Femmes because I know my voice sounds a lot like him and I started writing my music while listening to them. Of course, there’s a lot of influences in there. I don’t want people to think we’re copying Violent Femmes. I’m not trying to. The biggest inspiration as far as lyrical content for Harley Poe would have to be The Cramps or The Tiger Lilies. In both of those bands, especially The Tiger Lilies, there’s something about them that’s so jaw-dropping. The Cramps is my favorite band of all time. I’m really into the trashy bad movies; that they’re so bad, they’re good.

JS/FANGO: Some of your songs are titled: “Vampire’s Night Out” and “It’s Only the End of the World.” What is the songwriting process for you like?

JW: “Vampire’s Night Out,” is from the first album (In the Dark; or a B-Movie Trash). When we did the first album, I was listening to a lot of Johnny Cash. I honestly don’t remember where that song came from. I don’t know what I was listening to or watching at the time. It was one of those that came up one night and I liked it. For “It’s Only the End of the World:” I was in my apartment, like five years ago, the melody came and I messed around. I liked the melody a lot. I wrote it in one setting right there. I was sitting on the floor playing it. Next thing you know, the song is about zombies. This version is on our second album (The Dead and the Naked) but we’re redoing the song for the new album that comes out in a couple of months.     

JS/FANGO: You wrote and drew two storybook collections: “Herschell Goes to Heaven” and “In the Dark; or B-Movie Trash.” What were the inspirations for the rhymes and artwork?

JW: For “Herschell Goes to Heaven,” I just drew a little boy in the snow. I thought I should make a story out of this. I made the first poem for the first page. Then I drew the second page and wrote the second poem. I just wrote it and I made it up as I went along. “In the Dark” was something I had done over the years. I liked doing the little rhymes and drawing creepy characters with it. There really is no theme. It’s just a collection I wanted fans to see. The “In the Dark” storybook actually comes with the first album. The CD sold out but they made extra storybooks. I have extra storybooks that I have no idea what to do with. “Herschell Goes to Heaven,” is a Xerox copy because I was pissed off that no one would publish it. Screw it. I’ll just do it myself. I went to Staples and got 200 copies made. I gave it to my friends and you guys (Fangoria) just for the fun of it; just to say I did it.       

JS/FANGO: Do you see yourself more as an artist or a musician? Do you have a preference over drawing or writing lyrics?

JW: I don’t know. I don’t think of myself as a musician. I’m not really a good singer, not a good guitar player. It’s just something I like to do. The bands I listen to I don’t think they’re necessarily good musicians. I just like that sound. Like the Dead Kennedys, the Dead Milkmen, I don’t think they’re great musicians; it’s just a fun, punk-rock sound. I wouldn’t call myself a musician. I need an outlet for my writing and the best way to do that is my little stories and my lyrics. But I think maybe I consider myself as a writer. I think I’m not there yet but I’m attempting. Art is my passion. So I would love to do children’s storybooks for a living. I wouldn’t consider myself a great artist but it’s something I love to do. If you look around, a lot of people aren’t really good artists. It’s not about being a good artist, a good musician, or a good writer; it’s about having the passion for it.   

JS/FANGO: Tell me about the new Harley Poe album you’re working on.

JW: It’s definitely more mature than the last album (Harley Poe and the Dead Vampires) we put out. This newer stuff has a lot more electric guitar and more organs. It’s a lot more folky rock, almost rock-a-billy influence there. All the songs are either about death, religion, and God but darker, pessimistic, and older. It’s the best we have done. I’m really liking it. Two more songs left to record. Then we’ll search for a release. I don’t think we’re going with Standard (Recording Company) this time. Maybe we’ll release it ourselves, which could take till the summer. There’s a label on my mind that might be interested. If all goes well, this album will be out late spring.

HARLEY POE will be performing at local shows in Indianapolis during the following months. You can order the previous three Harley Poe albums at www.standardrecording.com. You can also hear their music here: http://www.myspace.com/harleypoe.