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Poor Old Lu was one of the coolest “Christian” bands, back in the pre-Tooth and Nail days when Seattle grunge rocked the mainstream. For many fans, their breakup in ’96 was quite saddening, but still their memory has lived on. Then, in 2001, after five years of non-existence, one of Christian music’s most beloved bands reunited. Since then Poor Old Lu has been working on a new album, which is scheduled to be released this fall on Tooth and Nail.
I recently caught up with Lu vocalist Scott Hunter for an interview before their performance at the Pre-Cornerstone concert in Galesburg, IL. The two main subjects he discussed included the new album “The Waiting Room” and more importantly, just how good it is for the band to be back together.
Matt M: I was reading an interview with Jesse in which he said that Jeremy Enigk, of Sunny Day Real Estate, was the lead singer of Poor Old Lu along with you for a while. Do you guys still keep in touch with him?
Scott Hunter: It was about in eight or ninth grade and we were all in a band together. It was Aaron doing basically keyboards and some guitar, Nick doing bass, and Jeremy and I would split the vocals. Jeremy did about two-thirds of the songs. I did about one-third of the songs. We did maybe one performance of that, but it was junior high, kind of early, early high school. But it was a couple of years before any Poor Old Lu stuff. Then, you had a question about keeping in touch with Jeremy. He and Nick grew up together, they went to school together and they were good friends. Aaron and I knew each other and then a couple of years later, Nick and Aaron met up and that’s how Jeremy got in. So [we’re] from different sides, but Nick was always the one who was keeping in touch with Jeremy. But I don’t think he’s talked to him in awhile, I’m not quite sure what he’s up to.
MM: I just thought that was interesting tidbit.
MM: I understand you’ve got a pretty big following on the Internet, especially the message board at Gorillaforce.com. Why have the fans kept the Lu memory alive?
Hunter: I kind of stumbled onto that message board like late in the game. There was just a core of people who had Poor Old Lu in common and were just hooking up and talking about stuff. They will agree they have a tendency to get off the subject. Anyhow…
MM: So did you come on there and?
Hunter: I come on there and I’ll post a message here and there. Sometimes it’s Poor Old Lu stuff. Usually it’s Poor Old Lu stuff saying, “Hey, we’re in the studio,” or “We just finished the album.”
MM: Do they believe you?
Hunter: Yeah, they believe me, oh yeah. And I’ll respond to some of their questions and sometimes they’ll write questions specifically to get me to respond. They’re just a crazy group, but they’re tons of fun and they have good stuff to share.
MM: So what have you guys been up to musically and otherwise since the band broke up?
Hunter: Well, late ’96 we quit doing stuff. Ninety-seven through 2001, I wasn’t doing anything musically per se. I was doing stuff at church with worship, but that was about it. Aaron of course had been doing Rose Blossom and had been doing his solo stuff. Nick had also been playing with Aaron in Rose Blossom and playing in some other projects. Jesse of course had been doing World Inside, and helping out with Morella’s Forest and other bands like that. And then, in late 2000, we started talking pretty seriously about wanting to do something again. Agreeing that if we waited too long, people weren’t going to care anymore. So in March 2001, we had reunion shows, played a couple shows, played Cornerstone last year and some other festivals, and had a really good time. And then after that, [we] settled down to start doing an album. [We’ve] been doing that for a while and we just finished that up last week.
MM: What made you ink with Tooth and Nail? You were on Alarma in the pre-Tooth and Nail days.
Hunter: Well, all the labels that we were on before, starting with Frontline, Alarma and moving to KMG moving to something else, they’re all gone. They’re all totally folded. And we wouldn’t want to resign anything with them anyhow. We were just kind of looking for a deal that we could do one album, just one record for now. [We were looking for a label] that would understand where we’re coming from, “Hey, we want to do another album. We would like it to sell well and we will support it to a point, but we’re not going to do elaborate tours.” We have other stuff going on, so it’s hard to get too crazy. And we’ve known Brandon for a long time, from Frontline, from Alarma. And [we] just started talking with him and he gave us some of the benefits that we were looking for out of the whole deal, they’ve been really good to work with actually.
MM: So what do you think was the biggest reason the band broke up? Were artistic differences an issue?
Hunter: I don’t know, maybe all the guys would say something different. But I think at the time, it was just the time to do it. I think Aaron especially was looking for some different outlets artistically. We started so young and even up until the time we broke up, we were very young even though we had put out however many CDs and had done quite a bit. It was just kind of time and it was a hard decision to make for everybody. It wasn’t like one person was like “Forget it!” and everybody else was crying. It was a hard decision to make for everybody. We made the decision and stuck with it. Like I said, years later, five years down the road or however long it was, we realized that we wanted to do another project and that we had to do it or not do it.
MM: So what have you heard, I know you talked about the message board, but what have you heard from Poor Old Lu fans about getting back together and what has the anticipation been like for this new album?
Hunter: Our normal fan base are really excited about it because they want to hear something new from us, because it’s been so long. We really have a large fan base that has gotten into Poor Old Lu since we broke up in ’96. Really a lot of people that started hearing about us, in ’97, ’98 and ’99 or whatever, from friends and picking up [an] album. So I think it’s kind of exciting for them, because a lot of people got into Poor Old Lu and were like “Aw, this is great!” then found out that we broke up and of course they’re really bummed. So I think they’re really excited about it. As far as the buzz around the new thing, I haven’t personally heard a lot of real specific stuff. People are just like, “Hey, I want to hear the new stuff.” But I don’t know if there’s some doubt as to “Is this going to be good or?” People just want to hear it and see what Poor Old Lu can do after six years.
MM: So the biggest question I have is: Is Poor Old Lu emo now?
Hunter: Are we emo? You know, I’m the lousiest person to ask because I don’t really even know what emo is.
MM: You had Jeremy Enigk, I mean…
Hunter: Yeah. Well, you know if you listen to our past albums one of things that’s fairly consistent, if anything is consistent about our music, is that we change quite a bit throughout the course of an album. You’ve got some songs that are a bit darker and some songs that are happier. You’ve got usually a funky song on there. Probably the album that’s the most consistent is “Sin” and it’s not very consistent. Honestly, you could hear one song off of there and then hear another one, and you wouldn’t really know they’d on the same album. I think it’s been hard to ever put us in a genre because we don’t stick with super-heavy stuff, we don’t stick with real downbeat stuff; we just kind of do whatever. I think it’s one of the reasons people like listening to Poor Old Lu, because there’s always kind of a different song.
MM: So for the record, “No, you’re not emo?”
Hunter: I’d say no.
MM: So how long have you guys been working on this upcoming album? What is it called?
Hunter: The album is called “The Waiting Room.” I think we started working on it about ten months ago probably. I think last September (2001) we started working on it and then just finished it up at the end of June 2002. Now we weren’t working on it straight. We worked for a week here and a few days here, and then did most of the work in probably March and May/June of this year, definitely did more of the work in late or mid-2002.
MM: So what’s kind of like a preview of what this should be like compared to past albums?
Hunter: Well, I was trying to think of which album of ours you would compare it to and I couldn’t come up with anything. In a lot of ways it’s probably closest to “Eighth Wonder,” our last real [album], because it’s definitely more produced than say “Sin” was. The songs are definitely more constructed, more put together. It’s just too hard to call, our sound is all over the place and we just do whatever.
MM: So what do you like about this new album, what are some of the highlights or?
Hunter: I think there are definitely a few of the songs on there that are the best we’ve ever written and I think people will definitely notice them right when they hear them. Actually the title track on the album, called “The Waiting Room,” it’s the very last song on the album; it’s about five and a half minutes long. It’s pretty cool-it’s got a nice feel to it. It’ll be a fun one to play live. But it starts off with a bang and it just makes some nice transitions.
MM: Have you grown since you were last in the studio? What things have become sharper or progressed?
Hunter: I think musically. One of the things that Aaron has been doing over the last five/six years is a lot of producing, a lot of engineering and so his ear is very different than [it] used to be. So he definitely has the producer’s mind when he’s doing albums and when he was doing ours. And I listen to music probably a lot more now than I used, I think all of us in the band do. So we’re listening to the album, I think we notice things a lot more than we did before. We notice when a background vocal is lacking. We notice when something needs to build a bit more. We notice when something cuts off too quickly or what the progression of the verse-chorus-verse-chorus should be. So we have grown musically and I think in a number of ways lyrically. I think they’ll be some interesting surprises lyrically on the album. Nothing super crazy, but there is kind of a theme running through the album.
MM: Is that faith-based or not so much or?
Hunter: Oh, definitely faith-based, but the name of the album is “The Waiting Room.” There’s a song called “Now.” There’s a song called “Today.” There’s a song called “A Month of Moments.” There are just a number of songs that kind of deal with time. There’s just a real element of: “What are we doing? What are we waiting for? What are we doing if he appeared now? What have we done with our past? What are we doing with the future?” just a lot of time-based stuff and how it relates to our walks in Christ. I just let people go through the lyrics, I don’t claim to ever sit down and be a real genius with writing lyrics. People tend to like them and I give all the credit to the Lord, because I don’t usually remember writing the lyrics. It’s not like I’m possessed or anything, but they just flow sometimes. I’m always curious what people find, because people usually find really great stuff that never even came to my mind. Mainly because I’m usually not thinking of real crazy stuff, when the lyrics are being written. I’ll be interested to see what people find.
MM: I guess I got to ask just about how you guys feel about music and ministry. What are your views and have they changed since you were last doing the band?
Hunter: This is one that I probably couldn’t speak on behalf of the whole band. I would have to do my own views. I’m also a youth pastor. I’m a high school youth pastor and I see what the kids in my youth group are listening to. I see how that affects them and I really take that to heart. There are a number of bands that are pretty flippant about what they’re doing, what they’re saying and how they’re being portrayed in the industry. I’m not pointing fingers or naming names, that’s the Lord convicting their own hearts. I would like people to know that when they listen to Poor Old Lu and when they hear our lyrics, [what] they see is genuine and [is] something that is pointed toward God. Are we super-evangelical? No. Are we doing altar calls? No. But we’re honest, we’re sincere and we love the Lord, and I think the lyrics show that.
MM: At this point what type of commitment is there to the band, and what do think the future holds as far as touring and more albums after this one?
Hunter: Oh man, that’s so hard to say. We just finished this album and that was a pretty long process. I could probably speak on behalf of the whole band. I think we would like to do another album. We would like to have it be more normal. Jesse was out of town, out of the state, across the country for most of this album and it would be great to have all the guys together. He’ll be moving out to Seattle again in about a month. It’d be great to have all the guys together writing songs, and then going into the studio being able to lay them down and just make them. Make the album that way and to have it be a normal album, so I think we’d like to do that. As far as touring, we’re definitely going to play some shows. Especially the fact that Jesse will be out in our area, we’ll be able to play shows more frequently. We don’t have plans of playing every week. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to tour. We would like to do half a dozen shows around the U.S. just to support the album, do some major places and just do some bigger shows. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen or not, but I think we’ll try.
MM: Are there any last words, thoughts, comments, suggestions, totally open-ended.
Hunter: I think the main thing is it’s been a lot of fun hanging out with these guys again. In some ways since ’96, they were kind of swept out of my life and Poor Old Lu has been able to bring us back together to hang out. Not only to just have fun, because we’re pretty goofy guys, but also spiritually to talk about stuff. To get back in to each other’s lives and say, “Hey, what’s going on? Where do you need to grow?”-because we do have a big impact on each other in a lot of ways.
For more information about Poor Old Lu click here.
Aaron Sprinkle has been a household name in the Christian music industry ever since Poor Old began. But when the band broke up in ’96, Aaron continued with side projects like Rose Blossom Punch and his solo career, along with producing and engineering for other bands in the recording studio.
Like a good number of people, I’ve followed Poor Old Lu and much of Aaron’s other work for years. So it was a cool opportunity that I recently had to interview him at Cornerstone. In the interview Aaron shared mostly about his solo career, but also touched on subjects like the Christian market, along with Christianity and the Arts.
Matt M: So what’s going with Rose Blossom Punch these days?
Aaron Sprinkle: Nothing.
MM: How many albums did you guys have before you broke up?
Sprinkle: We did “Ephemere” and then we did a record called “Sorry to Disappoint You.” It was EP that never came out because Jackson Rubio went out of business before it came out.
MM: You also work as a producer with bands like MxPx, Squad Five-O and Pedro the Lion. What other bands have you worked with and what do you find challenging and rewarding about producing?
Sprinkle: I’ve made about 50 or 60 records, so a lot of bands actually. I love working with other bands, just helping them pull more out of their music. I really enjoy it. I enjoy the technical side of recording. It’s a great way to make some money, since I can never make money making music.
MM: Well, besides doing Poor Old Lu, Rose Blossom Punch and producing music, you also do some solo stuff. How many albums have you done solo and what’s been the overall response to your work?
Sprinkle: I’ve done three solo records and I’ve started my fourth one already. The response has been great. I mean everyone that has talked to me about them seems to really like it, but none of them has sold really well. But I think it’s just the timing has been off and maybe not working with the right label, but I don’t know we’ll see what happens with the fourth one.
MM: Being a one-man show, you’re probably compared a lot to Dashboard and Pedro, but who is an artist who that you feel is stylistically similar to your music?
Sprinkle: That’s hard. I get compared to Elliot Smith a lot too. But I don’t know. I’ve been very influenced by Matthew Sweet, who is kind of a one-man show too. And stylistically though, I don’t even know, it’s really hard for me to have any perspective on what my style is. I just sort of do what I like and then it comes out. It’s kind of weird. Sometimes I feel like it’s too all over the map. I don’t know. I’m not really sure.
MM: Do you tour much solo and what age groups does your solo stuff attract?
Sprinkle: I don’t. I have yet to tour as a solo artist, I haven’t done one tour. I guess I did a little one down the West Coast with a band, which I do play with a band occasionally for my solo stuff, about 25 percent of the time. The age group seems to be mostly college age, but it depends. Half or more than half of the shows I play in Seattle are in bars, so obviously the age group is going to be over 21 at the bars. But then I play some all ages shows and it seems to be a pretty good mix. The all ages shows, it seems like there’s young teenagers and people old enough to be my parents. That’s kind of what I like about my solo stuff, age-wise it really spans over a lot of years.
MM: Can you preview the new record a little bit?
Sprinkle: I never really can, because I don’t ever have any idea how it’s going to turn out until it’s done, because I just let the songs do what they want to do. [I] don’t try to force them to be anything.
MM: Do you think it will be similar to what you’ve done in the past?
Sprinkle: Yeah, it will be similar, but it will be different. It will be influenced by some of the stuff I’m listening to right now, but probably not directly, because my stuff rarely ever is. I don’t know we’ll just have to see what happens.
MM: As a solo process artist, is the writing process similar or different compared to your writing involvement with Poor Old Lu?
Sprinkle: Well, in Poor Old Lu, I don’t really have anything to with the vocal melodies or lyrics. So it’s totally different, like a completely different thing for me.
MM: Supposedly you were looking for more artistic freedom from what I’ve read in interviews. Do you think your solo career has provided that for you?
Sprinkle: Yeah. Definitely. I couldn’t be any more free artistically really, because like with the solo stuff, I don’t answer to anybody, which I really like having that outlet. I do miss being in a band and I’m trying to get another band started. But I think it’s been really good for me because I still think I really know or understand myself as a songwriter and it’s the best way for me to get closer to that.
MM: Your CDs are available in the Christian market. What is your opinion of that industry and do you want to be part of that in the future?
Sprinkle: I don’t really like the industry at all to be honest, but I love the people. I love a lot of the people in the industry and I love all the people that buy the stuff, that support the bands-they’re good people. So I would never intentionally not allow my stuff to be sold in the Christian market. I’m not ashamed of it. As far as the people go, I am ashamed of it. I guess in general it bothers me that it exists in the first place. I don’t understand why it exists honestly or why it has to. But I’m not at the point where I’m done like, “I’m not going to sell my stuff in the Christian market.” If I was on a label that just didn’t do it, then I don’t think that would be the worst thing, but I definitely am not against my music being in it. The people that buy my music at Christian bookstores are the people that have allowed me to keep doing what I do-supported me.
MM: You said you’ve caught some flack for some of your lyrical content. Can you give some examples of that?
Sprinkle: Sometimes I get flack from people just because I don’t sing directly about the gospel in my music, which I obviously don’t think is bad, but it’s just not at this point in my life that’s what God has given me to do-that’s how I feel. I’m not interested in forcing lyrics and I think it’s fake, and if I were to do that I would be forcing it. I think that that’s worse than if I don’t sing about that because then it’s not real. So I get flack about that and I had a song that said, “It makes me ill the way you love me still.” It’s about God actually. Some Christians thought that was bad to say that God makes you feel ill, they thought that was weird. Generally, the people that seem to like my music stylistically seem to kind of go along, seem to don’t really have a problem with my subject or what I’m trying to say and people tell me all the time how much my music ministers to them. Because I don’t believe it has to be directly about the book of Matthew to minister to you.
MM: You’ve talked about Christianity and the Arts. How do you think God uses art to minister to people?
Sprinkle: I can only say that through my own experience of how God used art to minister to me. Sincerely, the majority of the art that God has used to minister to me has been created-to my knowledge, by people that don’t know Him, which might sound really weird. I think there’s a little bit of a skewed perception of what it is that God intends for artists to do that believe in him. Like John Fischer’s book “Fearless Faith”-I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard a lot of excerpts from it. He talks about how he believes you really need to prove yourself as an artist before you even have a right to bring God into your art on a deliberate level. Art, in and of itself, speaks to the existence of God the Creator to me. I’ve been ministered to R-rated movies and songs that cuss in them, because I think it’s such a beautiful thing that God has created us in his image as creators of something. I think art is the most beautiful that we create, whether it is film or fine art or music or whatever. But I think every artist’s responsibility is their own thing between them and God. I think making Christians who do music feel that they have to be pastors is a really dangerous, dangerous thing. I think it already has proven itself to be a dangerous thing and really backfired, personally.
MM: At the end of the day what do you hope that your listeners will take away from your music?
Sprinkle: I hope that people don’t know Christ that hear it would really listen to it and experience it, and that it would touch their lives, and in some way that they would know God. And for people who are Christians, I hope that it would let them know that it’s okay to be a real person and be a Christian. It’s okay to go through all the stuff that we all go through, it’s okay to talk about it and feel it, and think about it and question things. My goal for making music is to connect with people-that’s it. I just trust God that my connections are going to be something that help Him-that’s all I can do.
MM: Any last words, thought, comments or suggestions.
Sprinkle: It’s really hot.
For more information about Aaron Sprinkle visit click here.