Poor Old Lu: The Show Must Go On
Poor Old Lu was never my favorite band. That distinction was reserved for the more grungy bands of my youth. But, there were always in my top five. I always made sure I had their latest album, the latest t shirt, made sure that I was at the shows. The Seattle based alternative rockers combined elements of new wave with grunge and punk, and even some elements of 70’s classic rock and straight forward 90’s pop rock. From the unusually sonorous vocals of Scott Hunter, to the consistently creative drums of Jesse Sprinkle, to the Stratorific guitarwork of Aaron Sprinkle, and the steady but deadly bass riffs of Nick Barber, Poor Old Lu brought unmatched creativity and skill to a crowded 90’s CCM scene.
I met Scott (you can’t miss him. He’s about 90 feet tall) and the rest of the band in the Summer of 1996 at TOM Fest in Skamania County, Washington. This yearly festival featured over 120 bands set against the backdrop of the ubiquitous Columbia Gorge. Poor Old Lu was scheduled to perform the headlining slot that evening, but due to car troubles, they missed the set, replaced instead by up and coming ska band Five Iron Frenzy. Poor Old Lu eventually showed up, around 3 AM. I watched as they pulled in. They were still planning to play.
I don’t remember how I hooked up with them initially, but I’m guessing that is had something to do with Festival Founder Mikee Bridges. Ten years my senior, he was a friend of my dads’ and, back before I was in my own bands playing the festival, he would let me into the Festival for free. I just had to do favors for him on occasion. This was one of them.
So, me and MC Lu (We made this name up because Scott was rapping as we journeyed and said if he founded a rap group, he would call it MC Lu.) sauntered around the fairgrounds housing the festival. Remember, this is three am. We walked around yelling, hitting tents, banging things. Many, of course, were already awake. Some, like me, barely slept during the week of Tom Fest. Those that weren’t awake, though, weren’t going to miss the show. We were heralds for Poor Old Lu, with Poor Old Lu (named, by the way, after a line from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). By the end of this heralding I felt comfortable calling Scott a friend, even though he was well into young adulthood and I was little paeon 16 year old.
And, as with any good art, the show must go on, and go on it did. They started about four am, and I swear they weren’t done until six am. Consummate professionals, they didn’t want to disappoint their fan base.
The band official broke up in 1997, but have released a couple of albums and singles in the interim. Aaron is now an in-demand record producer, Jesse is a prolific drummer who has been in every band that every existed, including Demon Hunter, Morella’s Forest, and Vekora. Scott and Nick have stayed bust for the most part. I’ve kept in touch with Scott and, when I was in Seattle last summer, concurrent with the vinyl release of the Poor Old Lu album “MIndsize” I decided to catch up with my old friend and ask him some questions. He was gracious enough to give me a half hour of his time. And, while it took me nearly nine months to transcribe the conversation, I have birthed an interview that fans of the band will hopefully find interesting and illuminating.
Thank you for taking the time to read it!
Justin W Price: So, Scott. How and when did Poor Old Lu form?
Scott Hunter: Well, technically the band formed in 1991 but that was because of the name. We were doing stuff before that year but under a different name and if you rewind even a bit further Aaron (Sprinkle) and I were doing some musical stuff in junior high, seventh and eighth grade. And then before Jesse (Sprinkle) was in the band we: Aaron and Nick (Barber) and Jeremy Enigk, from Sunny Day (Real Estate) and I were in a group. We played like one show on like Aaron’s parents porch and then we did you know some recording of our own stuff. So those are archived in a vault somewhere with Jeremy and I both singing with very prepubescent voices. That stuff exists.
Then, you know, Jeremy went and did his own thing we started to do our own stuff and then in '91, Jesse joined the band and we changed our name to Poor Old Lu and recorded some stuff and our first full length in ‘92. And on and on. It’s been a long time.
JP: What’s your favorite Poor Old Lu album and why?
SH: That's a hard one. I think it would be easy to choose “Sin” because it is really kind of a fan favorite but I I think that "[A Picture of the] Eighth wonder" is probably the one that I would choose. We had even more ownership in that. I felt like it showed a real maturity for us musically and we also took some risks in that. I mean, the opening song having a very long intro and, you know for the industry that we were in, some kind of edgy lyrics for some people. Not that we were trying to offend or not offend but it was just it was pushing the envelope a little bit for some people and we wanted to we did want to kind of ostracize people they were little bit on the fence kinda keep to our core audience.
You know, that the entire recording process producing, engineering all of that of "Eighth Wonder" was all us and then we didn't bring anybody else Mixed it when we brought in Gene Eugene. But he didn't he didn't know any of the stuff until came in to the studio and was hearing it for the first time and we just brought him in the polish it up, make it sound better. Gene was on a lot of stuff back then.
JP: As far as songwriting, what was it like? Was there a primary songwriter? Was it a collaboration?
SH: It was ultimately always a collaboration but it would nearly always take one person to start with some chord changes, with a piece of the song and then they would start jamming on it. And the rest of the band would come and join in. I don't know what percentage but a majority of the songs started with Aaron playing something. It would be as simple as a portion of the verse of a song and then he might have a change and then kind of a part of the chorus. Nick would start in and do his stuff and Jesse would experiment something. Once we kind of collectively figured out what the length of that would be it if there's gonna be a pre-chorus and chorus and start getting a little bit of the structure, I would start working on a melody and some lyrics. Usually I would just try to have to work out a couple lines so I could figure out the cadence of things. I could figure out what I needed to rhyme and what direction that the song was going. And then sometimes you know, especially if we are recording in a bit of a pinch, I would have Aaron just record that bit for me and I would go into another room and get that over and over while I was kind of writing lyrics . They might be working on some overdubs or writing something else.
That honestly is how most of the songs came about. Nick started some. Jesse started some. I even had a couple where I just came up with Iike an initial three or four chord riff or something, but that's almost entirely how our songs came about.
Gene was on a lot of stuff back then."
Poor Old Lu "All Pretty for the TV"
There were songs that we didn’t like to perform because we got tired of them."
JP: Were they all written in the studio?
SH: The further along we got, the more the songs were written in the studio. When we were doing "Mindsize", most of those songs we had already done from "Star Studded [Superstep]" and then even in between the albums, we had recorded some of them ourselves. So we kinda knew.
Then when we started recording “Sin”, we went out of our way months beforehand to write a bunch of songs so we at least had the basics. By the time we got to "Eighth Wonder", we were like “Okay we want like a least 11 or 12 songs on this album and got two weeks of studio time. We’ve got four songs written, we have two weeks to do eight more songs. “ Then we would slack or not get anywhere and we would be like “Now we have one week to write seven songs. Okay, Now we have three days to write four songs” and it started just getting real compressed like that but we work pretty well under the gun. Most of "Eighth Wonder" was written in the two week span in the studio.
JP: And there’s only ten on there too!
SH: Is there only one ten?
SH: So we didn't even meet our goal! [laughter] Which is probably why we had some longer songs on there.
JP: “Rail” is about seven minutes.
SH: Yeah. And I think the album was close to about 45 minutes, which is generally what you're trying to reach.
JP: Do you have any favorite tour memories?
SH: I have some horrible memories. One of them, which is a popular for the other guys talk to mock me a little bit, on our first big tour, in ‘95. Aaron had been married already. Nick and his wife we just got married and I just got married and so we called this the “Honeymoon Tour.” But there was a heat wave across the US. It was really rough. But at some point we came over from Canada into Niagara Falls and we split up for a couple of days because my wife grew up in Connecticut and she wanted to see her old house. We went to a thrift store and we picked up some cool shirts and most of them were legitimately cool.
One of them I picked up being, the naïve youngster that I was, I didn’t really pay enough attention to it because it was just a softball shirt. Like a local softball team. I wore it in some pictures that morning in front of the old house and then we drove to meet the rest of the band in Pennsylvania for the show.
Played the entire show. Got done. And we’re saying "Hi" to people. Talking to people. Doing autographs and all that Kind of stuff. This guy leaned up to me and says “Hey. I think your shirt’s kind of phallic.” I’m like “What?” I look down and clear as a bell, it’s two baseballs and a bat and it’s called the Hard Attacks. H-A-R-D. And I had been wearing this thing all day and no one no had said a word. I took the shirt off immediately. I was like “oh my gosh, that’s horrible.” But I kinda wish I still had it but at the time I was pretty terrified.
JP: Are there any songs you love on the record but didn’t like to perform?
SH: There were songs that we didn’t like to perform because we got tired of them. Hence, the “Peapod” jokes of old.
JP: That was always me yelling “Peapod”
SH: Oh, I’m sure!
JP: I didn’t even like “Peapod” that much.
SH: No. But it became the “Freebird” of our existence.
There weren’t songs that we necessarily didn’t like to perform. What was frustrating was that there were some songs, for a number of reasons, that really didn’t translate well into live. You can look at like “Sergeant Peppers”, right? The Beatles stuff later on where it was just so complex that, unless they had a whole backing group, they weren’t be able to play this stuff live and have it sound very good. We weren’t that complex. Some of them just didn’t have the energy. One of my favorite songs of ours is actually “Bones are breaking”, the second song off of “Sin.” We played it live a couple of times and it just didn’t have any bite. It didn’t click. It didn’t have the energy that I think the album had so I think eventually we just had to drop it.
So that’s what would happen more often than not. It wasn’t that we didn’t like a particular song, it just didn’t work. And so we had to play other stuff.
JP: Your lyrics tend to be vague and poetic and thoughtful. Any specific inspirations or common subjects or themes that you like to write about or found yourself writing about?
SH: The vagueness was mostly intentional. The point of that being I could write about my own personal experiences. If I made it too direct, it could be hard for some other people to relate too. I don’t feel like a lot of the lyrics were trying to supply an answer that was gonna work for everybody. It might simply be stating a struggle that nearly everybody could have and just to simply say “Hey, I’m there with ya. I understand.” As you get older and you’re taking to people, I think that resonates more with people than “Hey, here’s what you need to do to fix that.” It’s “Hey, I just need someone to listen and to understand and not to judge me.”
But I think the, you can’t even say “Christian overtones.” They’re overt. The older I get, the more I listen, the more I realize how overt the lyrics really were at times from a religious standpoint. But a lot of the subject matter had to due with guilt. With struggles of who am I? What am I worth? Will I get through this difficult time? Those kinds of things that, unfortunately, were as true then as they are today. You get older and you think you’re gonna be past all that stuff and you’re not. You find other ways to cope or you find good people to talk too. But I think shame and the struggle was really a lot of the lyrical theme that went on throughout our albums.
"Where were all of you" live
On "My world falls down."
That one is honestly one of our strangest songs and yet, I’ve talked to some people where that is just their favorite song ever."
JP: The air guitar. How did that come about?
SH: Two Things.
Part of it was just a necessity of I didn’t want to look like Joy Division just standing there making out with the microphone. And there’s not much else to do. And so it was just something to do with my hands. And I do tend to do that when I’m listening to music, feel it as much as I hear it. Especially when you’re on stage. You’ve got monitors blaring, amps blaring, people getting into it. There’s an energy there would be kind of consuming in some ways.
I know some the chicken flailing, that you've called me out on (which is hilarious). The band Live, some of their early videos, you can see Ed (Kowalzyck) doing some similar stuff with his hands. And I was like “That’s kind of interesting. Like, it’s weird. It’s distracting in its own way, but it’s kind of cool.” And I knew I got a little bit of it from that as well.
SH: Were any babies made during Poor Old Lu performances?
SH: No. none that we’re aware of. But we would pay good money to find out if there were. Proof.
JP: A baby named Scott, Nick, Jesse, or Aaron?
SH: Or, better yet, all four just rolled into one. Middle names.
JP: So I’m gonna jump ahead now to some of the songs.
SH: Okay. Cuz I talked too much. Is that why?
JP: Well, yes [laughter]. So the first one, the first one I really clicked with overall: “Sometimes Cry.”
SH: And what was it that clicked with guy about it? Was it the energy of it?
JP: I love the line “Run away to Yahweh”. Just hearing “Yahweh” in a modern song was just kind of interesting.
SH: On the website, I have a lot of disclaimers for lyrics like “Hey, I don’t remember writing this stuff.” And that’s still very true. Like, I don’t remember what was going on in my head or in my life when I wrote this stuff. I think that the chorus of that song was, again, pretty I overt. A running to God sort of vibe. That song was on “Star Studded.” I think that was one that really stuck out to us early on as well as being— not to sound prideful. I mean, we weren’t a very prideful band— as feeling to us like one of our early, well written songs. That there was a real hook to it. It had the right kind of arrangement. It wasn’t weird. It was pretty straight forward. It was driving. I think that’s something that stuck out to us about that song. It ended up becoming maybe not as much is a major track on “Mindsize” because we had been playing it for awhile and we had better stuff by that point.
JP: From that same album [Mindsize]: “All Pretty for the TV.”
SH: That remains, potentially, our most popular song. In the top five.
JP: The video’s great.
SH: The video helped. The video was fun. That was had a video at all usually just sets it above other songs.
Back in that time, in the early 90’s, there were a lot of TV preachers: Robert Tilton, Jerry Falwell kind of stuff. Even at the time, being young and naive and perhaps a bit glassy eyed about some things like we were. Those TV evangelists felt like such an affront to everything that was good and right. Fleecing the people and “Send me a hundred dollars for this prayer cloth that I’ve touched the corner of.” Kind of crazy stuff and so the song was written really a lot about that. Kind of a commentary on that.
JP: One of my favorite ones live: “My World Falls Down”. What’s the story on that one?
SH: What is the story? That one is honestly one of our strangest songs and yet, I’ve talked to some people where that is just their favorite song ever. There’s a... I’m not totally answering the question...an interesting byline in the song that you wouldn’t know. When we were on tour in ‘93, the band was out at a Taco Bell. The band was here. I was at the next table. I was eating a churro and a Pepsi because I’m young and calories don’t matter. I had a bite of the churro and drank some Pepsi which is carbonated and I hiccuped. I was like “Oh, that’s kind of weird.” And I fell over in the seat and hit the seat next to me where the band was sitting. They just thought I was joking cause I was the class clown. And then they’re like “Oh. He really passed out.” And so then there were jokes forever that I would die for a churro and a Pepsi.
There were lines in “My World falls down” “‘Cause I’ve choked to tell.” That kind of stuff that we’re a direct reference. In fact we were recording the song and then I had sung the vocals and then we’re listening back to it doing other stuff. And Nick at some point after hearing it like thirty times in a row he was like “Are you talking about the churro thing right there” And I’m like “I absolutely am!” And he’s like “That’s awesome!” Anyhow. A story rather than an explanation.
JP: That’s fine. “Bliss is?”
SH: There was a time when I think I had a negative view on my family and kind of the way grew up. I was the religious one of the group. Nobody else was. The last for years of high school I was the only kid in the house. It was me and my parents. "Bliss is?" was written almost as a preachy “Hey! That’s not right! We should be more connected. We should be deeper intellectually and spiritually with one another than we are.”
What’s funny is, I don’t feel that way anymore. My parents haven’t changed in that sense but I’m very close with my family and have been for years and years. But at the time, you know. It could be teenage rebellion. Stick it to the parents.
JP: What about “Digging Deep”?”
SH: I don’t remember if that song was even written necessarily to have Jeremy singing. When we we were recording “Straight Six” that was us doing everything and us having complete use of the studio. We could go in there and record something twenty times if we wanted too. People would kind of come in and come out out which is why there’s a lot of guest stuff on that album.
Lyrically, I think the vibe in it was kind of getting a little mores deeply in ourselves and finding the good stuff. I’d have to almost to look at it again kind of line by line like “What is this song talking about?” It was super fun. I mean I think one of Nick’s things about that song was Jeremy and just how different of the singing style.
JP: Yeah. It sounded great live.
SH: It was a lot of fun live.
JP: We’ve talked about this one privately. My favorite song is “Chance for the Chancers.” You’ve told me what It’s about but why don’t you share the story behind it.
SH: The title actually comes from an Ian Mcullough album, of Echo and the Bunnymen. Echo and the Bunnymen was one of my very favorite artists through junior high and high school and Ian McCullough was always one of my favorite vocalists. That actually comes from his solo album “Mysterio” where he says: “Chance for the chancers. Fate for the poor.”
But I know that that was really written about this divide I felt with my brother. My brother is four and a half years old than me. He and I have always been really good friends. Even in grade school and junior high. For that big of an age gap, was kind of a surprise. He lives in Portland now but before that, I don’t think that we ever lived more than twenty miles apart. We’ve lived close. We’ve talked several times a week. But I had this gnawing in me— again, from a religious standpoint— that if he died right now, he would go to hell and I wouldn’t. I felt a real burden for that. And my brother ended up being a subject of a couple of other songs, namely “Do I?” A little bit less directly. The lyrics are more vague and referring to a female gender but the foundation was about him.
JP: What about “Weeds that grow around my feet.”
SH: That was a really funny one ‘cause I really had a hard time with that song while we were recording it. That was one that I think Jesse wrote the initial cords for and then Aaron went with it. And just something didn’t click with me so it was really hard to kind of get through writing the lyrics and being happy with it. What’s funny now is that I love that song. I love the minor key that it’s in. And the strange downbeat kinda off kilter vibe it.
The flora and fauna sort imagery of it and things growing and sunshine up here helping things grow but still kind of being down in the weeds. Going back to themes of my lyrics, I was just smack dab in the middle the struggle. And “Hey! If I stay in one place for too long are these weeds just gonna get grow around my feet and then you’re stuck.” How long do you stay before toes kind of captured in that whatever it is. And also how long do you spend thinking about that stuff. This quandary.
JP: “Sunny Weather?” One of time best live ones too.
SH: That was one of the few songs that I wrote from a marriage perspective. I didn’t write really about girlfriends or being engaged and then my wife. We are since divorced but that was one of the only songs I really wrote that was from that sort of relationship, spouse angle.
The lyrics, against tend to reference some other people, it was about talking about “I know i’m this immature person. Know that I mess up in many ways. I know that I’m a struggle to be with. Can you hang in there with me with all the rough edges?”
Which, nowadays is every bit as apropos. Probly more so that it was back in the day. I thought I’d be a better person than I really i am. Just find the right person who will stick with ya through It.
JP: Last one, “Revolve.”
SH: yeah. “Waiting room” is the album that we performed the least. By far. And sometimes I even have a hard time remembering all the lyrics for those songs. I think I’ll have to pass on that one because I don’t even remember it.
JP: It’s the first one on that record.
SH: It is. Yeah. I know that. It’s a good song. I really do enjoy it.
JP: That was a good comeback album. Going back to general, how hard did Tooth and Nail pursue your guys and why did you end up going with Alarma?
SH: So Tooth and Nail didn’t exist when we signed with Alarma. It’s kind of a funny story. It’s sad. I have this in the lyric book that’s coming out with the”Mindsize” rerelease. There’s a separate photo book that we made which is really really cool.
When Alarma was interested in us, they said we wanna come up and see a live show and kinda see how you guys do in front of people and your energy and that kind of stuff. So we threw together a live show. Middle of the day just told a bunch of people “Hey, come out. We just wanna fill in the room.” The people that came up were Michael Black who was the Vice President with Frontline/Alarma. And Brandon [Ebel] who worked at Frontline/Alarma as an A&R guy.
They saw us. They were like “We think you guys are great. Loved the show. We’ll be in touch.” So they offered us a recording contract and whatever. We kicked a bunch of stuff around and eventually signed it.
We went down to California for the first time and Brandon was mind of our main point of contact. We had a conversation one time, just in passing, where Brandon said “Someday I’d like to start my own record label that I want to call it Tooth and Nail.” And we’re like, “That’s cool.” Just a conversation. Not like he was doing it tomorrow. Or even in a year. He just wanted to do that.
Well literally that afternoon, the record label has a goodbye cake for Brandon and let him go. And that was really pretty much par for the course for Frontline. Alarma was just a subset of Frontline. Frontline was really the record label. And they could be pretty horrible about that. They could be pretty clueless. At the end of the day, they were just a means to an end for us. But at that point we didn’t go with Tooth and Nail because we had signed a contract with Frontline. And also, you know, Brandon wasn’t real established even by the time that we were doing our first few albums.
But, going with Brandon when we did “Waiting Room” was kind of a no brainer. Aaron was already doing a lot of studio work for him and we knew Brandon really well and had known him for years, obviously and we knew that they would get the job done and that our music fit with their niche.
"Chance for the Chancers" by Poor Old Lu
Nick wasn’t known for thievery. "
JP: Are you doing anything now musically?
SH: officially, no. There’s some people that I’m usually talking too that I’m kicking things back and forth with. So, I would like too. I don’t know if or when anything is going to happen but I would love to do some signing and recording again and get something a little maybe a little bit different out there.
JP: How many kids do you have?
SH: I have three kids. Sebastian is 21, my daughter Trinity is 19 and my youngest son Brighton is 16.
JP: Any plans for a Poor Old Lu reunion tour, concert, follow up albums or anything like that?
SH: No there isn’t. Honestly, that’s like not even like I have to tell you that because we have to keep a secret. There really is no plan. But, honestly, The way things work with the other guys and the way things work with our schedules it would probably have to be off the cuff, quick. Because we’re not going to be able to talk about it for a year and get something done and be like “We should do something.” And then three months later you know we’re recording.
So, no plans at this point but, there wasn’t actually any plan to ever do “Waiting Room.” You know, that literally came from other conversations of like “Hey, if we’re gonna do another album, let’s do it now. So we did.”
JP: If you were to reunite, you have a ten song show. What’s your set list?
SH: We would have to play— you know, I think unfortunately it would end up being a lot of the stuff you already see on the "Final Performance" album. There’s some songs you have to do. We have to do “All pretty.” We would have to do “Chance for the chancers.” We would have to do “My world Falls down.” “Do I?” would end up in there again. Stuff off of “Waiting Room” is a bit more tricky because we would have to learn it again. But it would be fun to do “Revolve” would be a lot of fun.
You know “Great Unwound” has never been played live. It’s never been played as a band. That song was written with Aaron and Jesse going in the studio and laying down some stuff and then Nick and me coming in and saying “Can you edit this and move some stuff around?” And then Nick putting down a bass-line and then me taking forever to get lyrics done. So we would have to completely learn to play that as a band but that would be a lot of fun to play.
So, I think a lot of the classics would end up being there. “Complain” would be fun. “Where were all of you” was always a popular one. Probably, now I can’t even think of it, off of "Straight Six."
JP: “Digging Deep”?
SH: Well, if Jeremy was there. We wouldn’t do it without Jeremy. Now I can’t even remember it— “For the love of my Country.”
JP: That was the set opener for your last show.
SH: probably was.
JP: I was there in the front row. I know.
SH: Were you?
JP: Yeah. I’m on the cover!
SH: Are you in the cover?
SH: Yeah! A couple of people that are on the cover that are like “Hey! That’s me!” That’s awesome.
JP: I thought you just picked it specifically because I was in the picture.
SH: Yeah. We’re like “Justin’s right there.”
JP: Who are your primary musical influences? You mentioned Echo and the Bunnymen.
SH: We shared a number of influences as a band and then of course everyone would diverge into their own. Certainly The Cure was one of our biggest influences. Echo and the Bunnymen was one that we all shared. U2 was another one that we all shared. And then other artists like, you know, early on. Especially in our younger days. Altar Boys was an influence because we kind of went through a pseudo-alternative/punk phase. Umm, Daniel Amos was a big influence for us.
And then, you know, the members would diverge. Other guys were into The Alarm or R.E.M., which I would enjoy but never really had any of their albums necessarily. But a lot of that eighties to, you know, early nineties college radio kind of stuff. Alternative rock. Whatever you want to call it back then.
JP: The last question. Everyone’s dying to know. Did Nick steal the necklace?
SH: He absolutely stole that necklace. And that voicemail that’s on there is totally real of him stealing the necklace and then Jeremy going to his house and being like, “Is that my mom’s necklace?” Because Nick answers the door wearing the necklace and Nick was like “No! I got one just like it. Just like the one that your mom had that she no longer has.”
Nick wasn’t known for thievery. I don’t know why he took it. But that voicemail was completely real with Jeremy calling again in his prepubescent voice, you know, just telling him off. “I know you stole that necklace.” And you can hear his brother in the background backing him up and his mom like “Jeremy!” Wanting time stay out of the whole thing. We just laugh about it now because Nick totally stole that necklace. And gave it back, to be fair.”