“The Rainbow Wheel of Death” and more
Dougie Poole doesn’t make the type of music you might expect to come out of the woodsy state of Maine. The cosmic country singer flaunts a bygone sound that seems to have emerged from the same smoky back rooms that gave birth to the legacies of artists like Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons and Johnny Paycheck. With album titles like wide highway and refrains such as “Now here I am, a red-blooded American cliché/ I was a Buddhist for a couple days” (from the aptly titled The blues of freelancing track “Buddhist For A Couple Days”), his character falls somewhere between the nonchalant Angeleno cool of a Big Lebowski character and the proven wisdom of a veteran trucker. But Poole doesn’t bear much kinship with the stereotypes that surround the dusty tropes his writing leans into.
“I don’t feel like a cowboy at all,” Poole tells me in a video call. “There are all these kinds of things intertwined in the history of country music, one of which is the history of Western cowboys – whether it’s Hollywood cowboys or being on the beach Or other. I don’t really know about that because that’s not really the sticking point for me in the country. Poole only started wearing a 10-gallon hat as an elemental signifier – it let people know he was different from the folk singer-songwriters he was adjacent to on the Brooklyn music scene years ago. 2010. And he is quick to counter my assertion that country music is an inherently geographical medium. He references Canadians like Shania Twain and Hank Show to challenge my preconceptions about the genre’s Southwestern heritage. For Poole, country is about the stories that surround us, no matter where we kick our boots at the end of the day – a perspective exemplified by today’s warm and melancholy new single “Nothing On This Earth Can Make Me Smile “.
Poole grew up in midtown Manhattan. As a child, he learned the piano and says his self-proclaimed “Ed Sullivan Show moment” happened when he saw a Comedy Central advertisement for the Beatles 1 Compilation CD. As a teenager, he picked up the guitar and fell further down the classic rock hole. He became obsessed with the Grateful Dead, which eventually resulted in the formative discovery of Merle Haggard. Later, when Poole went to college in Rhode Island, he performed in the psychopath-tinged noise act. cool world. Impacted by friendships with like-minded creatives (notably Andy and Edwin White of freak-pop stalwarts Tonstartssbandht), a harder, more accessible musical career began to seem possible. But despite his involvement in an ambitious corner of the DIY scene, Poole still found himself making country songs in his spare time.
It wasn’t until Poole returned to New York that he figured out how to use his Americana chops to complement a punk background. In 2016, he released the lo-fi Olneyville System Special EP under his own name, which was followed by a collection of live “bootlegs”, captured at Pete’s Candy Store bar in Williamsburg. But he really found his footing with his aforementioned full debut in 2017. wide highwaywhich was followed by a Roy Orbinson-like feature on the track “Wild Motion” from Drugdealer’s 2019 album raw honey. By the time The blues of freelancing dropped in 2020, Poole had firmly cemented his place in response to Orville Peck for cool kids.
Finding comfort in the structure and constraints of timeless songwriting, Poole’s solo production is always familiar yet enigmatic. He effortlessly blurs the lines between the absurd and the mundane, thanks to prominent lyrics on things like vaping at work and becoming anxious while taking psychedelics with a romantic partner. The end result of this duality may be funny, but don’t twist it: Poole isn’t trying to write comedic music. Instead, it seeks gloss ridiculousness in normalcy. “I feel like the musicians are going, I’m pretty basic,” he says. “Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of basketball and playing video games, and I like swimming, and I like birds, and I look at my phone a lot.”
When I comment that an essence of fantasy always seems to emanate from his ordinary hobbies, Poole’s response suggests that there is some depth to those interests: “Deep down, I don’t understand sport at all. . What I like is drama and stories and, like, high-stakes stuff. It’s like Lord of the Rings. All of this just escapes the surreal and scary stuff. Poole says he lets humor become a crutch to avoid pain and sincerity. The spirit that defines his verses often stems from fear and his tendency to turn away from the seriousness of others.
Poole’s latest feature film, The Rainbow Wheel of Death, continues this series to embrace the strangeness in the familiarity. However, the music is comparatively buttoned up and refined this time around. After working as an art manager, Poole is now a part-time coder, which requires him to spend much of his day staring at a screen. The album aptly takes its name from the sinister technicolor ball that appears on a computer screen when it stalls. Asked about the influence the internet has had on his recent output, Poole says it’s not as obvious as it seems. He sees no barrier between our digital and bodily worlds and inadvertently draws inspiration from the first space in his writing as he believes that coexistence with an online realm silently shapes much of contemporary media. (Poole also purposely points out how scary it is.)
The Rainbow Wheel of Death came to life quickly, but is ironically inspired by waiting, patience and aging. At the start of the pandemic – when Poole realized he wouldn’t be able to tour for a long time – he took his current job and quit making music for a while. He would occasionally book Airbnbs out of town and slip away to write for a few days, but for the most part he shut down as an artist. Finally, after the vaccination, the spark returned. Poole took a few months off to process the toll COVID had taken on his life and record the changes that had occurred during his time in solitude. The Rainbow Wheel of Death is a by-product of this rumination.
Where the production processes of Poole’s earlier efforts were tied to generating textures in Ableton, this new batch of songs were written on a guitar with no recording techniques in mind. Eventually, he reached out to Frankie Cosmos collaborators turned Poole neighbors Katie Von Schleicher (Purple Mountains, New Pornographers, Neko Case) and Nate Mendelsohn (Market) to help flesh out these demos. The crew loaded up a bunch of gear and traveled to Von Schleicher’s childhood home in Pasadena, Maryland for a few days, accompanied by Poole’s support group. They recorded all nine tracks live, which Poole says gave him a newfound ability to let go.
The album that emerged from these sessions is organic and heady. The single “High School Gym” finds Poole reflecting on the trajectory of his life over a synth-heavy Springsteenian shuffle. “Nothing in this world can make me smile” and closer “I hope my baby comes home soon” are equally stoic and subdued. “I hope it won’t be long / I hope you do what you gotta do,” he sings over a sprawling, dripping instrumental on the final cut. “I Lived My Whole Life Last Night” sits between 70s radio pop and American primitivism. And the title track is a feisty outlier, carried by droning sound effects, amber-tinged slide guitar and a cheerfully soulful melody. The sorrows of the modern age abound in Poole’s lyricism, his hesitant, weary and judgmental attitude. Even at his most mature age, however, Poole remains affable – he always smiles, but on this album that metaphorical smirk is more coy than loud.
Once The Rainbow Wheel of Death came out into the world, Poole’s ambitions are rather modest. More than anything else, he wants to promote the record in a sustainable way. “It’s funny. I feel like my last record got enough recognition that I realize no amount of recognition will fill the void,” he says. Above all, Poole wants to be able to pay his band well, hire a nice van and staying in hotels.For him, the rewarding part of being a touring musician simply comes down to whether or not the music sounds good on stage.
Outlaw grits through Poole’s music, but he considers himself more of an indie rock musician than some sort of New England-based Nashville hitmaker. “If I could make dance music, I would,” Poole says, confessing he wouldn’t mind being able to channel the fashionable accessibility of pop stars like Charlie XCX and the late SOPHIE. Poole makes roots music because that’s what he’s good at. Nonetheless, he’s excited when I confess that stumbling across his stuff through the Spotify algorithm in college was a big part of why I let myself fall in love with classic country records. Genre, geography and lofty goals aside, Poole’s hold on unassuming poeticism already holds water against the work of the greats. The Rainbow Wheel of Death evokes a Numero Group compilation – namely you are not from here – repurposed for a generation of young people seeking light calm amid societal turbulence and widespread malaise.