- April 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH DARLINGSIDE
With four distinct voices clustered around a single microphone, Darlingside effortlessly draw audiences into their lush musical world. David Fricke of Rolling Stone describes them as “a quartet with a rich line in acoustic textures and chamber-rock dynamics.” The band’s sound, characterized by classical strings, tight vocal arrangements, bluegrass and rock instrumentation and smart lyricism, is the product of complete collaboration among the four close friends. The group has no frontman; instead, lead vocals are traded from moment to moment, and each song features a new combination of instruments and textures, pulling heavily from folk, retro-pop, barbershop, and chamber music.
Darlingside’s collaborative work with fellow Massachusetts-native Heather Maloney, which culminated in the 2014 Signature Sounds release “Woodstock,” garnered attention from both The New York Times and The Boston Globe.
We sat down with David and Don of Darlingside in the greenroom before their show at SPACE. We covered the difficulty of finding a rhythm on tour, the process of rewriting and the excitement of playing with friends Heather Maloney and Tall Heights.
The Show: Darlingside with Tall Heights and Heather Maloney // March 29, 2015 // Evanston SPACE
Drinks of Choice: Don Mitchell; guitar, vocals (Tequila/Mezcal cocktail ); David Senft; vocals, bass guitar, guitar (Manhattan)
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: What are your drinks of choice?
David Senft: Mine has been a Manhattan for a while, although Auyon (Auyon Mukharji; mandolin, violin, vocals) made up a mixed drink in my honor. It’s where you pour rye into the glass and then you get out the other ingredients ready to make the Manhattan, but instead of making it, you just drink the rye. Usually I just get excited about the rye whiskey by itself.
Don Mitchell: I’ve been in a rye whiskey zone, but that's a little boring compared to Dave's Manhattan thing. I'm gonna just note a trivia fact which is that whenever there is a Mezcal cocktail on the cocktail menu, that will be the first thing I will consider getting…
Kristen: When did that start?
Don: Probably three or four years ago. I do like tequila and…
David: I didn't know that…
Kristen: I wish I were a tequila person but I’m just not. I've tried many times.
David: Yeah, I'm not a tequila man. Started as a tequila with a band and it lasted one episode…
Kristen: One episode and I would be done.
David: Yeah and it was like a six-month hangover.
Kristen: Exactly! You guys are on the road right now. How long have you been on this leg of the tour?
Don: Well, We were in Philadelphia, then Pittsburgh, then Ohio, and now here. And that’s actually it.
David: I think this is day five. But we had one day off in there.
Don: Yeah, so this is our fifth day of a four-and-a-half week tour.
David: We're just starting to stabilize. The takeoff itself can be a little wobbly, until the plane really gets going and gets a little more turbulence.
Kristen: In what way has it been a little bit wobbly, would you say?
David: Just where everyone in your life is a little bit mad at you for leaving, and you're still really tired because you just finished recording the night before you left for the tour. And until you get the day off you don't really start to get into the right habit. Also when you happen to be on tour with a couple of your best friends, the guys from Tall Heights, you tend to stay up very late. Take too many Jacuzzis…Sorry, I’m talking very specifically to this tour…
Kristen: Too many Jacuzzis at the Super 8 Motels?
David: Yeah…and then you drink a little too much of your drink of choice, which does not help with the tour kicking off and…
Don: …Nor does it help with stabilization.
Kristen: So, generally, how long would you say it takes you to get your sea legs when you're on tour?
David: Typically we would respect ourselves enough to give ourselves a few days off before a tour starts so that we’ve had a couple good days of rest and we're ready to go. Like Don said, this time was sort of a rare exception where we had almost two months straight of being in the studio with very few days off. It was just a lot of very intense studio time working on this album, which we're super excited about. The final day of mixing was the day before we left for tour.
David: Yeah, this was a very unusual situation. So now we're all stabilizing. The day off that we had a couple of days ago really helped.
Kristen: It has been quite a bit of time since your last record — about three years or so. I bet you were excited to get back in the studio.
David: Yeah, we were. Our last record came out in 2012, and we recorded it the year before that, so it feels like a really long time for us. We've undergone a bit of a personnel shift and a format shift. It took some time, in a bigger sense over the last few years, getting our bearings and getting comfortable in our new skin as more of a folk band. Standing around one microphone is a new thing. We've only been doing that for the last year.
Kristen: I noticed that during the sound check.
David: Yeah, so shifting to that set up was an adjustment. We also had a drummer the first four years we were a band and now we don't. So, I've been picking up the kick drum ... Not physically picking it up…
Kristen: Just picking it up and carrying it around…
David: Well, between gigs I have to pick it up. But yeah, we’ve been getting comfortable in this new skin, which is why there was an unusually long time between albums. We're really excited to release it. We still have a couple days of mixing left in May, but basically the songs are done — tracked and everything. We can’t wait to finish it up.
Kristen: Have you guys been playing some of those tracks from the new album live on this tour?
David: Yeah, well we rerecorded some old ones, but a lot of new ones as well. Two of them we've only been playing for a couple shows and they're going over really well. We're really excited about that.
Kristen: In terms of that making of that album, were there any particularly surprising or challenging songs?
Don: Well, we always have the creative sprawl issue, which isn't necessarily an issue in the negative sense…
Kristen: In terms of so much content?
Don: Yeah, and so many ideas. Since we have four writers, there’s a lot of input and there are always different types of songs coming out. We've always had some genre definition issues. Because of our new format, this time around has been really interesting. It has been a little more limited in that we don't have drums. When you don’t have drums, a lot of sounds start to make less sense. In our live set up, that creates a limitation on how the arrangements go. Or when we start writing a song that would naturally have drums — or it would normally be a little more of a rock song — things really develop in unexpected ways.
David: I think it’s a really neat creative hurdle to get around. I wouldn't say that it was unexpected in this process, but it made the creative process as intense as it has ever been. Trying to figure out how to position our sound was challenging... In a recording, obviously, you can add things you wouldn't do live. So, we play a lot more harmonium on our record than we would live, and it fits in relatively seamlessly ... But when you've gone from having a drummer to not having a drummer…
Don: You find yourself asking what types of percussion you can get away with without feeling like you're just doing drum lite. So I think we've been messing around with a lot of different stomps and claps, different sizes of kick drums.
Kristen:Where did you guys record it at?
Don: We recorded at Dimension Sound which is in Jamaica Plain, just across the river from where we live in the Boston area.
Kristen: Did you guys grow up in Boston?
Don: No, we moved there. We all went to college in Western Massachusetts and migrated slowly across the state to Boston. There were jobs and things there. Between ourselves and significant others, we all ended up there pretty gradually. We're still getting used to it.
Kristen:Let's say I were to go visit: what would be your top recommendation of where to go or what to see—non-touristy?
Don: There's so many things I’d recommend, but most of them are places to eat or where to get drinks. As a band we've been going to Brooklyn Boulders a lot lately. They only have locations in Brooklyn, Chicago and Somerville, where we are. So we've been doing that a lot lately. It's like a big, expansive gym in an old industrial facility.
Kristen: I’m sure you guys get asked about your band name all the time.
Kristen:I did a little research on it, and it's based on the concept of murdering your darlings. In terms of writing, that refers to the concept of rewriting and editing. You touched on this a little bit with the removal of drums, but as a band, are there any ways you’ve edited or rewritten things so that a song completely changed?
David: We are sort of in a perpetual editing and rewriting process. It’s just something we're constantly getting better at. It's a really tough thing to write democratically. We've arrived at the best process after a lot of feeling out the right ways to go about it. When you have four writers, you can approach your writing process in a lot of different ways. You can have one person bring something that's almost fully-formed to the group and have the group give their thoughts. Then you can go back and do some rewrites yourself, or you can hand it off to somebody else and have him do some rewrites. You can also generate the original idea as a group and then have one person take it and run with it, then bring it back and have somebody else take it and totally change it. A lot of that is really hard to do. You have to hone your ability to let your darlings be killed by other people and to be okay with that. In our situation, it comes down to the trust that we have in each other. We know that if somebody else has an idea, it's probably a good one. Our goal is for all four of us to enjoy the song, and when we arrive at that kind of situation, that means other people will enjoy it,too.
Kristen: Are some songs more democratically decided on than others?
David: Every single song is totally different.
Kristen: It’s hard enough when you’ve got two people…It’s hard enough when you’re writing with yourself!
Don: You're a writer I assume…
Kristen: A fiction writer, yeah. Rewriting is tough, though. I can't imagine constantly being in the process of rewriting. I don't know how I'd ever get any new work done.
David: I would say things gradually set themselves aside. We are slow, but then when it comes down to it, like for this past album, it became crunch time. A lot of times we have these dangling song ideas and lyrics and it’s really hard to sit down and finalize them. But actually, it's a really nice thing to let them dangle out there and have these ideas or lyrics that are unattached to a song, or a melody that’s unattached to a lyric. When you have a lot of those dangling, there are more opportunities for them to bump into each other in ways that end up being really, really good. For this last record, we had a lot of time to generate ideas, and then in a rather quick time we assembled them into 12 new songs that we're really, really excited about. When you have a deadline, you get stuff done.
Kristen: Do you guys have a tentative drop date for that record?
Don: I think we're saying mid- to late-September.
Kristen: What else are you looking forward to?
Don: We're especially excited for tonight. This bill is a really special treat for us. On the way over, we were talking about it. For one, Chicago is Harris’ hometown. We've been here a number of times and stayed with his family, who are so hospitable and loving toward all of us. And on top of it, we’re able to come here with three artists who we're really close with — the guys of Tall Heights and Heather Maloney — who we spent the better part of five months on the road with about a year ago. We did a split EP with Heather since our last full-length album, and we toured a bunch out of the West Coast with her. It has been really special to reunite with her and Tall Heights, and to spend time on the road with all these Massachusetts musicians. And then to play this venue — SPACE — that we particularly like out of all the venues that we visit makes us even more excited. It’s a really special place to play.
David: Yeah, it's a lot of really good things coming together in one night.