Great songwriters and hard times are no strangers. Allison Russell is a case in point.
Russell fled Montreal as a teenager to escape a sexually abusive adoptive father. She connected with an aunt in Vancouver and started writing songs in earnest.
Today Russell, 30, fronts Po' Girl, a folk-rock quartet whose songs are defined by delicate guitar and Russell's intimate vocals. The band's 2010 album, Follow Your Bliss, includes "Pink Shoes," a poignant, French-horn-layered track that memorializes the childhood exuberance of a girl who lost her life at 14.
Po' Girl performs at the High Noon Saloon on March 16. Russell talked to me about songwriting, early musical inspirations and her newfound ties to Wisconsin.
Since Po' Girl was formed in 2003, how has your approach to songwriting changed, both personally and as a band?
As a band, we're a lot more relaxed about it. Some of our best songs come from ideas we throw around during sound checks. Our writing is a lot more collective now. In terms of personal approach to songwriting, I'm a lot more pragmatic about it. I'm more about exercising the muscle of writing now than waiting for a thunderbolt of inspiration to strike.
Were you musically inclined early in life?
I was always musical. My grandmother sang in her church choir. My mother played piano beautifully. I grew up in a troubled household, so some of my best memories are just sitting by my mother's feet and listening to her playing piano. My maternal aunt lived in Vancouver. She was a singer and a songwriter and introduced me to a lot of folk musicians. That's when I started to get really serious about writing songs.
What prompted you to recently move to Chicago?
I moved to Chicago about a year ago for love. I have Wisconsin ties now. My boyfriend has family in Milwaukee. We're playing this upcoming show with [Milwaukee-based] Peter Mulvey, who is a dear friend. I live so close now.