I recently had my first chance to chat “professionally”/”critically” with Those Darlins, the Nashville outfit that I’ve regularly touted as “My favorite band of recent years.” The band’s self-titled debut LP dropped in 2009, which boasted, in my own words, “A crass and intentionally-in-bad-taste take on garage country.” The album rings of [what I still maintain is] a brilliantly satirical take on “low” folk art… Although they apparently aren’t any longer such fans of the release. (It’s been years since they’ve played any of its material live.)
However, the band has since released equally brilliant follow-ups; with 2011’s Screws Get Loose, a dark garage record as indebted to 1960s girl groups as it is psyche rock; and last year they released Blur The Line, which takes the band in a direction that may, possibly, be the most artistically and existentially profound take on 1970s Rock’N’Roll as has ever been recorded. Their latest single, “That Man,” which is probably the greatest song of the past two years, rings in equal parts of the greatest kind of folk, soul, and rock balladry.
Those Darlins have had a number of Philadelphia appearances in the past five years, including headlining dates at Kung Fu Necktie, Johnny Brenda’s, and Boot & Saddle, in addition to a support slot for Best Coast at Union Transfer. They will be back in-town next Tuesday, February 18th, for a double headlining show with Diarrhea Planet at Boot & Saddle. In my recent chat with founding member Nikki Kvarnes, I ask her how she characterizes the band’s live performances, explaining that I’ve often seen them as “A honky tonk, through the eyes of John Waters or Russ Meyer,” but she quickly clarifies that that may be more where Those Darlins have been and not who they currently are.
“[Laughs] I think that that is a very good description, but for four or five years ago. The energy’s still there, but the content has changed. We’re a lot more serious now. With the live performances, it’s like, ‘I’m gonna be straight with you and look you in your eyes and tell you exactly what I mean. It’s a lot more intense and it can be off-putting at times, but it feels a lot more honest and deep.”
Nikki explains to me that Those Darlins’ more recent sounds aren’t merely a product of the departure of founding member Kelley Anderson and the official addition of Linwood Regensburg and Adrian Barrera to the lineup of her and Jessi Zazu.
“Our musicianship has changed. We’ve gotten better and being out on the road is different. I mean, early on, we were like little kids just exploring the world. There are lots of reasons we don’t play songs from the first album. I, personally, feel like we’ve come a long way out of that. I mean, we’re a different band. We’re thinking about it a little bit more now and our musicianship is very improved. That first album gives the idea that we’re a country band, which is just not what we’re interested in. I mean, there are songs on that album that I never want to play again. But it’s also this idea that when we work on new songs, we get very excited about them and we want to play them. I guess it’s kind of about how you always have to keep yourselves fresh and try not to worry about whatever you’ve done in the past.”
I ask Nikki about what are currently Those Darlins’ biggest influences and she tells me that, while it can vary from member to member, she certainly longs to achieve the kind of artistry found in sonically, visually, and intellectually profound musicians of a former era.
“We’re all pretty individual and are influenced by pretty different things. I mean, Jessi and I also do visual art. But, musically Patti Smith is a big influence, not just as a fellow-musician, but also as a writer and artist. There was a time when Rock’N’Roll was involved with poetry and literature and art all at once and it’s just not like that anymore. The inspiration is different for our generation, with the internet and digital music. But I really appreciate artists with larger ideas and bigger plans that are multi-faceted. I really like the idea of trying to express yourself in as many ways as possible, through as many mediums as you can, but still have it support the music. We’re currently working on putting a live record out after tour. And after tour we’re gonna be home, working on the next record, which I’m really excited about, but we’re working on somehow blossoming into something that’s bigger than ‘a band.’”
I can’t help myself from asking Nikki about her fashion sense, which would have her resembling the lovechild of Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux and that aspect of her identity would seem to be just as potent as the music she’s currently making: “I like to go from one extreme to the other. I think androgyny is really fun to play with. Like I’ll put on a suit, but then I’m still this busty fuckin’ woman and I can’t hide that.”