Do you remember Poe? Chances are unless you are a music junkie, the answer is no. Poe’s disappearance from the music scene was so sudden, so total, and so surprising that it seemed like it could have made up the plotline for a musical murder mystery.
If you listened to any kind of popular music in the mid-nineties, she was impossible to miss. Poe was a twenty-eight year old sensation with short blonde hair and a style unlike anybody else. With her signature blend of genre-clashing folk fused with hip-hop atop lyrical rock, she first hit the charts in 1995 with “Trigger-Happy Jack.” She quickly followed up with a stream of hits including “Angry Johnny,” “Hello,” “Today,” and was proclaimed by the New York Times to be “articulate, sexually explicit, both lover and fighter…(women who) reject self pity and refuse to define themselves purely in terms of their connection to men.” Compared to Alanis Morissette, she soon set herself up as the undeniable voice of a generation.
Her first album, Hello, was released just as she began finding mainstream success in 1995. Packed with samples and pop-culture influences, the LP received widespread critical acclaim and firmly placed Poe as an up-and-coming artist with staying power. Singles “Control,” “Walk the Walk,” and “Hey Pretty” appeared in hot pursuit, heralding the release of her second album, Haunted, in 2000. She had radio singles, a Gold record, a legions of fans, and a seemingly insurmountable career ahead of her. By the turn of the Millenium, Poe looked unstoppable. But then, as suddenly as she’d arrived, she was gone. But what exactly happened to Poe after Haunted?
The exact ins and outs of why Poe vanished so totally from the music scene are not totally clear. There are a number of theories that abound about Poe’s disappearance. Certainly, it was kickstarted by a bum deal with Atlantic that left her scrambling for creative support.
Just two months after the release of the single “Hey Pretty,” Poe was riding high on a wave that everyone wanted to surf with her. In the end, she signed a three-album deal with Atlantic through one of their third-party labels, Modern Records. Within six weeks, Atlantic was gobbled up by AOL Time Warner, who were keen to see immediate financial results from their artist catalog. When it became clear that Modern Records was not proving as profitable as they had intended, it was scrapped from their roster—along with Poe’s three-album deal. Left afloat with no representation, she found her latest album without any kind of advertising support, and copies of her new single, “Wild” (which had been sent out to radios by this time), lost. Poe went from being one of the biggest acts in the world to finding herself without any kind of backing—but the worst was still to come.
Modern still held the rights for all of Poe’s past, present, and future music, but they had little interest in hanging on to the artist. After a payout from Atlantic, Modern prematurely ended the printing, distribution and promotion of Haunted, causing the album to disappear much like its namesake. But what to do with Poe’s contract? Modern sold it’s interest in Poe and her future recordings to a wealthy businessman, a longtime Poe fan who now owned the rights to his favorite singer’s musical future.
In 2001, only a year after the release of her second album, Poe found herself squaring up to fight a legal battle that would last a full decade. The oil executive who owned her music put a stop to Poe performing live or producing new music just as she was beginning to find her feet as a performer. Around 2008, she launched the website www.repoezessed.com and even sent the Poe Ball out on tour, promising big things were in the works. This turned out to be a lot of flash with no real substance. Eventually, and after much legal wrangling, the court ruled in favor of Poe, and she regained the rights to her own music once more. Miriam Katz later quoted Poe as saying ““My entire life was suddenly under the control of a very powerful man whom I didn’t know, and who didn’t [seem to] mean well. It was a horror story from which I am just beginning to recover.”
So, with three years free from the shackles that bound her, what has Poe been up to recently? During her decade away from the scene, she did collaborate on a few movie soundtracks (under the pseudonym Jane to avoid legal action from Atlantic), and contributed on two records by Conjure One. She’s spent much of her time pulling together new songs and composing, as well as taking part in a wide variety of charity work. However, fans were delighted when, in 2012, she released her first piece of new music under her own name in over a decade.
A short, one-minute piece entitled September 30th, 1955, was released in September of 2012 with little promotion. Featuring looped lyrics and a moody video, it marked a return to the game for a talented woman who had spent much of her musical career locked in painful legal proceedings.
Rumors will always surround Poe and her vanishing from the world of music she seemed so set to change—either way, the world of music is glad to have her back—whatever the cost.
Image Courtesy of Sheridan Square