As they assemble on the front porch of the Southgate House, the members of Poke do the Hokey Pokey, all putting their right feet in to show they have independently shown up for their Paul K. and the Weathermen opening slot wearing Chuck Taylors. It's this kind of spontaneous coincidence that made them title their debut CD Happy Accidents.
If you're unaware of Poke's long history, you might mistake the foursome — married couple Tom (guitar/vocals) and Julie (bass) Judge, plus guitarist Justin Lynch and drummer Aimee Huber — for a new band hawking their first recording. While they exhibit the spirited bravado of a freshly assembled group, Poke has actually been around in one form or another for more than a decade.
"We've been playing music for a really long time," says Julie. "We have a core group that loves us and I think if people came out to see us, they'd love us, too."
"We're not underground music," says Tom. "We're under the underground music."
The Poke saga actually begins in New York, where Julie moved with her then-boyfriend Paul Kopasz (the aforementioned Paul K.), broke up, met Tom and eventually married. They learned instruments, formed a theatrically-driven Punk band and played around New York until Julie needed to return to her native Bluegrass State.
The couple relocated to Covington and formed Judge and Jury, then the wild Rock combo Filthy McNasty.
Filthy played out consistently and recorded their debut CD (Steve Mast was the fourth member then; Lynch arrived just after the CD came out), but the band went on hiatus when the Judges took breaks for the births of their sons in 2000 and 2003. When they finally reconvened four years ago, it was clear that the quartet had changed enough for a new name. By then, the Judges had moved to a remote home in Verona on land where pokeweed flourished. The new name and new sound seemed inevitable.
"We changed our attitude," says Tom of Poke's downshift from Filthy's raucous abandon.
"I really don't think that we changed the music," concurs Julie. "I think we've mellowed. We're parents and Justin got married and Aimee's in a long-term relationship and we're a little more stable. It's not the music, it's the people ... we're getting old!"
Dialing back Filthy's Rock snarl in favor of a visceral Folk Rock jangle that swaggers and swerves like the Velvet Underground lovingly bathed in quarts of hillbilly moonshine and raised on a sonic diet of Tom Waits, The Cramps and Rolling Stones demos, Poke keeps their electric demons at bay on Happy Accidents but lets them run gloriously, drunkenly loose in the live arena. Each experience feeds off the energy of the other, creating the total Poke sound.
"I'm a beater not a drummer," Huber says. "I learned a lot about the craft with these guys. I'm not Neil Peart but I got a little Keith Moon in me from time to time, and in the breaks it's like Charlie Watts where he just plays the straight beat. The way they write, it can go all over the map and I can do a little of both, which I love."
"It was an absolute gift that we got to make this CD," Lynch says. "It was always in the back of our minds and hearts. I joined right after the first CD, but the next 10 years, the way the band evolved, it was like, 'Please, I would love to document this.' "
Happy Accidents is the sound of Poke reveling in their return. Completed in a two-day session at John Curley's Ultrasuede studio, the album is a testament to Poke's ability to weave their Punk/Rock foundation into their current front-porch frame of mind.
Given Poke's scheduling difficulties, the band fully understands their own sporadic nature and wants to take advantage of every possible opportunity to hit stages and attract a loyal audience.
"It's great to have the CD because we've been doing this for a long time and who knows how long we're going to be able to do this, so let's get in there and make a recording of this wonderful stuff," Tom says. "But at the same time, it rejuvenated us to want to do more."
And more seems to be in Poke's future. The Happy Accidents release party in August teed up the Paul K. opening gig, which segues into an early November benefit for cancer-stricken stonecutter Richard Young. It might not be the every-weekend pace of their youth, but Poke will make the most of every shot.
"We're like a Rock & Roll fungus," Tom says, laughing. "You never know when we're gonna crop back up again. We're just not gonna go away."
For more on POKE, go to myspace.com/thejudges or noisehead.com/mypage/poke.