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Memories That Matter

Poe returns to the stage with a new perspective. Her latest album is an intensely personal effort.

November 29, 2001|STEVE BALTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If sudden fame were all it was cracked up to be, VH-1's "Behind the Music" series would have long ago been canceled.

Just ask Poe. The singer-songwriter's 1995 debut album was slowly developing a following when one of its songs caught on. Soon she was living on the road, courting film offers and hanging with millionaires and rock stars. While it sounds like a dream come true, Poe strikes a note of caution.

"Everyone may or may not find their moment in the light, but as quickly as that moment comes, it disappears," says the L.A.-based artist, who headlines the Roxy tonight.

That debut, "Hello," came out on the heels of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" phenomenon, and its payoff track was Poe's own angry-chick manifesto, "Angry Johnny." The song's refrain, "I wanna blow you away" made Poe a staple at modern-rock stations across the country and helped the album sell more than 600,000 copies.

Just as quickly as she surfaced, though, Poe, whose real name is Annie Danielewski, vanished from the pop landscape for more than three years. She spent most of that time working on her next album, "Haunted," which came out on Atlantic Records last November.

Because of the intensely personal nature of "Haunted," a concept album detailing the complexities of her relationship with her late father, Tad Z. Danielewski, a filmmaker who strove for perfection in himself and in his children, Poe found herself working almost obsessively on the album.

"During the whole time of making this album I didn't have a date," she recalls. "I didn't go out to dinner once with anyone. I just sat in the studio and had this dialogue with my dad and with myself really."

She is speaking literally when she says "dialogue." Poe incorporated samples of her father's voice from some tapes she discovered in the last few years. The process allowed her to achieve closure in "If You Were Here," a poignant ballad in which Poe says goodbye to her father, who died in 1993. The song features a sample of a young girl saying, "It's OK, you can go now."

It was an emotionally draining experience, but when she finally did lay the track to rest, she felt free. "It was really crazy because, he, this ghost of my father, was gone," she says. "Those issues had been sort of put to rest. And what was left was really a memory."

The album was a true family affair--Poe was inspired during its making by her brother Mark Z. Danielewski's acclaimed debut novel, "House of Leaves." Many reviewers called the album a sort of soundtrack for the book, but Poe disagrees, saying that the book and the record held a "similar sensibility based on a shared history, but they are independent works."

In spite of its serious subject matter, "Haunted" offers plenty of escapist moments, including the psychedelic rock-meets-techno hook of "Wild," the in-your-face aggression of "Control" and "Not a Virgin" and the mid-tempo beat of the title track.

But the long delay between albums, as well as the complexity of the current record, have contributed to its modest sales figure--about 250,000. Still, it came as a big surprise to many when Atlantic Records recently released her. Accordingly Poe, 33, has a new appreciation for being on the road, which almost didn't happen. "There was definitely a moment with this record when I didn't think I was going to be able to raise the money to go on tour," she says. "And those moments are frightening to me because the final step to me with this album was absolutely to see it come to life live. It feels so good to be back out. It's been so long. I'm really kind of enjoying every minute of being on the road."

Poe has also gained a new perspective on what she hopes to achieve with her career. "My agenda is not rock stardom--it's making great albums that for personal reasons I can look back at and be proud of what I've created.

"You can have a year or six months of extraordinary fame, but what does that give you? I can pick up 'Haunted' for the rest of my life and find pieces of myself there. That's priceless."

Poe, with Think of England, today at the Roxy, 9009 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 8 p.m. $12.50. (310) 278-9457.

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