Dougie Poole is a country musician and songwriter living in Brooklyn, New York. Coming of age in Providence, Rhode Island he dabbled in heavier and more experimental music before maturing into a country auteur. He writes earnestly about his experience (life in the big city, heartbreak in the digital age) and approaches country music with honesty and a deep respect for the genre’s traditions.
Poole has long had ties to several artists in the experimental music scene including Jerry Paper with whom he toured nationally while playing in Paper’s live band, and in 2019 he appeared on the Drugdealer album Raw Honey, drawing praise from Pitchfork for his “sad-eyed Elvis croon” on the track “Wild Motion.” Poole’s solo debut, 2017’s Wideass Highway, was his first public experiment with country music and was an immediate favorite of publications like The FADER, who praised his ability to bring classic country songwriting into a “contemporary space” with an album that “articulated a generational self-consciousness.”
On his sophomore album, The Freelancer’s Blues, which is out June 2020 on beloved Brooklyn indie Wharf Cat Records (Palberta, Bambara, Public Practice), he graduates from drum machine and synthesizer bedroom country to a full band with honky-tonk harmonies, wailing pedal steel, and carefully constructed arrangements that whole-heartedly embrace the country sound he only hinted at on his debut. Produced by Jonathan Schenke (PC Worship, Gong Gong Gong, Public Practice) the album does the seemingly impossible by staying true to Poole’s heritage in the DIY scenes of New York and Providence, while simultaneously certifying him as a bonafide country songwriter, and captures the lived experience of Poole and his contemporaries in a way that resonates with both the current moment and his classic country forebears. On The Freelancer’s Blues Poole approaches the storytelling backbone of country music for an audience that is city-dwelling, romantically alienated and financially precarious, using the same threads spun by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson before him to write anthems that will resonate with hardline country music fans and newcomers alike.
Dougie Poole is a Brooklyn-based country musician and songwriter; Jae Matthews is the vocalist of the Northampton-based electronic band Boy Harsher. Dougie recorded a Christmas song called “Cancun Christmas Morning” — which we’re premiering right here — so to celebrate, he and Jae got in the holiday spirit and talked writing drunk, not being a natural performer, and more!
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Dougie Poole: The whole write drunk, edit sober thing — it took me a while to realize that’s maybe just sort of a metaphor, and you’re not, like, actually supposed to do it. [Laughs.] Whenever I sit down to try to do it like that, I’m instantly derailed and never get anything done.
Jae Matthews: Yeah, totally!
Dougie: I had a revelation about it the other night, which is, maybe what I’m doing with that is trying to speed up the process of the feeling of disappearing that you get when you’re really locked in and working on something. I think that’s sort of like trying to cheat at that game a little bit.
Jae: Totally. I think “disappearance” is the perfect word in this scenario, because I’ve definitely played that game as well, where it’s like, OK, the reason why I want to have this drink now before I write is because I want to allow myself to disappear a little bit. I mean, ultimately, this is maybe too heady for this talk — but it’s like, why do we drink? We drink because we’re trying to allow ourselves to not have to be in constant control. Or at least that’s my thing.
Dougie: Yeah, no, that’s me too.
Jae: Yeah. And then being able to disappear, even just this tiny sense of it — and that’s a feeling, sober or not sober, I’ll definitely get on stage if all the pieces are there. That’s the perfect performance feeling, being totally like, Poof! She’s gone.
Dougie: Yeah, totally.
Jae: And that’s the lesson. You can’t replace it or figure out a way to cheat the system.
Dougie: Right, right. There’s no side door. That’s cool to hear, because you’re such a dynamic performer. I wouldn’t have known that that’s something that also you think about. For some reason, I also had it in my head, maybe, that you were sober.
Jae: [Laughs.] Maybe I do come off as a little like — you know, I’m easily read as a control freak, and if you work with me, you’re so aware of it. And oftentimes people don’t realize that I also like to get fucked up. [Laughs.]
It would be interesting to hear what your transition was, from doing writing and math in college to performing. I never, ever was planning on performing, or even made music or sang. I just fell into it in this way, and had severe stage fright. Because Boy Harsher kept on playing these bigger shows — like started in basements, and then up into noise fests — and the only way I could counter it was just being like, Alright, go up there and pretend you’re strong and aggressive! And that has just become my stage performance.
Dougie: Yeah, I definitely also don’t feel like a natural performer. It’s something that you just pick up from doing it. At some point I was just like, I like making music alone in my room, and if I want to keep doing that at some point, I’m probably going to have to perform it. My band broke up, but I still wanted to make music. I also did the same thing, playing in basements and then kind of moving up to smaller bars and stuff. But I’m also definitely not a natural performer. Drinking definitely greases the gears.
Jae: Yeah. I think too, there are these people — and maybe it’s something I’ve made up in a fantasy — but who, from a really young age, were like, OK, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to perform, I’m going to be seen, I’m going to perfect every craft that’s involved within that industry. And you meet them and they are just like, already hyper performers, naturally.
Dougie: Yeah, totally. It’s really impressive. I feel like when you see somebody on stage who’s got that natural thing, it just comes through instantly, the way that they just fill the space — physically, but also the sonic space, whether it’s banter or, I don’t know.
I feel so aware of, like, every time we’re tuning or something. I can hear the crickets.
Jae: [Laughs.] Yeah, those people are captivating. And then meanwhile, I feel like in between songs, I’m like, “Thank you. My name is Boy Harsher.”
So are you a lifelong New Yorker? That’s part of your identity, I suppose.
Dougie: Yeah, I guess it is. Well, I lived in Rhode Island from, like, 2007 to 2014 or ‘15, and came back a little bit in between. So I actually lived in Rhode Island for a really long time, from the ages of 18 to 25 or 26. And so I almost feel like that is just as much baked into my identity — if not more, just because it’s where I came of age and learned how to make music, and learned how to be an artist and be part of an artistic community, because that wasn’t part of my life growing up really.
Jae: Did you start writing music in that period of your life?
Dougie: I guess that’s sort of around when I started playing around with it. I started playing the guitar and stuff when I was really young, like fifth grade or something. I didn’t to listen to a lot of cool music growing up — I listened to the Grateful Dead and The Strokes.
Jae: Hell yeah. [Laughs.] Nice.
Dougie: And so then I got to college and there were all these people from all over who had really refined music tastes. I didn’t know that a person who wasn’t affiliated somehow with a record label or an agent or something could make their own music and record it and release it, and that people would listen to it if it was good. And so I think when I got to college is when I learned that from my friends, and just being part of the community where it’s like, if you made something and you put it out on a tape, or even just on Bandcamp or whatever, and you showed it to your friends, they would listen to it and they would send you theirs. That’s probably the big part of what I learned from going to college, that that’s possible.
Jae: Yeah, I mean, that’s a fundamental awakening. I can really relate to that, but coming at it in a different way. My undergrad, I was so consumed with wanting to be the best filmmaker or whatever — and I’m, like, not, I’m horrible. But I didn’t really start thinking about music until… I listened to music, of course, but it’s the same feeling of kind of being blown away that people I know would make it. And so when I moved to Savannah and met Gus [Muller, Jae’s partner in Boy Harsher], he was throwing shows here and I just was so fascinated by that. And I think — also this is the sad, lonely part of me, but I really desired being part of that community, and being a show booker, you are instantly inserted in that community, especially in DIY.
Jae: I think I value that more than most things in my life, just getting involved in that community.
Dougie: I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but sometimes I feel aware of an artist that has blown up somehow without that, and it just feels very different or alien or something.
Jae: Yeah, without having to do this, like, scrappy tour, or just fucking around.
Dougie: Or, I don’t know, just having people around you who are rooting for you who also are doing it.
Jae: That’s so important. And I think there’s something special about being like, “Oh, yeah, I saw Dougie Poole, like, five years ago or whatever at this strange show in the woods. And now, Dougie’s playing at Bowery.” People love feeling like they’re kind of part of the trajectory.
Dougie: Yeah, definitely I do, with other other bands.
Jae: Seeing anyone ascend is such a special experience.