Those Darlins' Nikki Kvarnes Tells Us Why A Sense of Humor Is Important In Life and In Music.
Those Darlins ain't no strangers to change.
The band's members met and formed at the first-ever Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 2006, and the original trio of Jessi, Nikki, and Kelley Darlin spent the next few years finding themselves, so to speak. After initially relying on clogging as the band's sole means of percussion, the band eventually relented in favor of hiring an actual drummer. Later, they added more and more amplified forms of instrumentation.
By the time the band released its 2009, self-titled debut Those Darlins had changed even more: Their sound had graduated from a classic country sound to a more rockcabilly-influenced one. And the move worked: The group's LP received nods from Pitchfork, the band scored an opening slot for some Black Keys tours and its first single, “Red Light Love,” was licensed for use in a national Kia Sorento TV spot.
And, still, the next couple of years saw even more changes. Longtime touring drummer Linwood Regensburg was formally adopted as an official member of the band, and the group's sophomore effort, 2011's Screws Get Loose, showcased a harder-edged garage rock sound.
More recently, the band has worked through the departure of founding bassist, Kelley Anderson, dropped its members' fake “Darlin” surnames and recorded its third album with new bassist Adrian Barrera — one that features heavy classic rock influences and fewer bits of country flavor than ever before.
On Friday night, Those Darlins will take the stage at Club Dada in support of that disc, last year's heavy Blur the Line. And, there, all these changes the band has endured will be put on display for all to see.
Here, and in advance of that show, we catch up with guitarist Nikki Kvarnes to discuss the band's evolution.
How were your holidays?
Do you like having that time of to chill with your family, or do you miss it when you're not on the road?
Both. But we had just been on the road for like three months straight, so we needed to take a little break. My mom says every time I come to visit her, “You're always sick when you come to visit me.” I'm like, “I haven't been sick all year!”
Tell me a little bit about your new record. How does Blur the Line show an evolution from where you were when you first started out?
It's just who we are now. All three records still represent who we are at [a specific] time in our lives. We spent more time on this record than we have [on] the past few. We had a lot of time to really work the kinks out and really think about the material. I think that helps a whole lot with the evolution of the sound and what the songs are about.
If the records represent who you are at the time, then how do you think you've changed since the last record?
We've grown a lot. We've had band transitions. We have a different member now. So that kind of gives us a different sound and vibe to what we're making. I just think that we're older and we've been touring for awhile and we just look at things differently. I feel like we, personally, have evolved. And therefore it comes out in the music.
That's kind of what you sing about in songs like “Oh God,” which kind of bemoan the tour lifestyle and how it can kind of wear on you after awhile. Do you guys feel like you party less on tour than you used to?
Definitely. It's way less of a party now. Jessi doesn't drink at all anymore.
Was there a breaking point when you guys just decided it was getting too crazy?
For me, I don't think it was ever like, “Oh, this is out of control.” It's just, there's no reason to go balls to the wall every night. You just wear yourself out and end up killing yourself. [Now] I just have fun when I want to have fun and indulge when I want to.
On stage, I'm assuming the show is still as balls-to-the-wall as ever — where, say, an arm might get broken or a tooth might get chipped on any given night, as you have in the past.
Yeah, I guess so. I am pretty clumsy. I mean I don't want to be; I don't want to hurt myself anymore! I don't want to break my arm again or chip my teeth anymore. I feel like you don't really know what's going to happen on stage, but it's not necessarily going to be violent or self-destructive.
So how exactly did you break your arm at a show?
Well, it didn't happen on stage. It happened afterwards. Just getting crazy, running around, I slipped and fell. It's actually a much more interesting story than that, but it's a bit graphic and I'd rather not share.
How would you describe the writing process this time around? To me, the songs on the new record seem maybe more personal or from a more introspective place than they have been in the past. Is that an accurate assessment?
Yes, although I don't feel as if the things I was writing before were not personal. With this record, the songwriting is different because Jessi and I stepped away from each other. I worked alone. She worked alone. We worked on ideas for songs and lyrical content completely on our own. If there was any collaboration, it happened afterwards. It would be at a practice and somebody would say, “We could change this lyric” or whatever, and we would work on the music as a group. But there was a lot of [solitariness] and introspection in the songwriting process.
How did that affect the studio experience this time? Your bass player was pretty new when you were recording the record, right?
He was very new. We went into the studio in March and April and [Adrian] had started playing with us in February.
So what's that like, making a record with someone that you were still getting to know, musically?
It was really interesting. It was fun. He had a lot of good, creative ideas. I had a great time in the studio with him for that being our first experience with him in the band. It was different, too, because this was the first time we had made a record in our hometown. I think that that relieved some stress. You do get kind of worn out living somewhere else while you're working on a project, like, “This is all I do.” You get totally immersed in it. We were here and we were able to come home to our homes and think about what we were working on. Or we were able to work on things more if we wanted to. It was really good for us. We didn't feel completely finished with the album by the time that we had agreed it would be done, so we were able to work through it more.
In what other ways did the dynamic of the band change when Kelley left the band?
We had a different bass player after Kelley and before Adrian, so it's been two years that Kelley's been gone. I can't really say exactly how it has changed, because the dynamic of the band had changed while she was still in the band. I don't think it can be completely attributed to her continuing to be in the band or not. I think that, in her leaving, it brought us closer together. We spent a good amount of time working on songs with just me, Jessi and Linwood trying to figure out how to work together. That was an interesting time period. I think that her leaving really helped us grow in that way.
You guys stopped switching instruments on stage in your shows when she left as well. Do you feel like your lineup is more solidified now in that way?
Absolutely. That was a big difference in working on this album, going into the studio and knowing I'm playing guitar, Jessi's playing guitar, Linwood's on drums, Adrian's playing bass and that's what everyone's doing on this record — instead of being like “Who wants to do this? Who wants to do that?” and it being a crazy shit-show like it has in the past. It was a free-for-all in studio and on stage. I think that, in setting roles for what instruments we're all going to play, we've all gotten a lot better and tighter.
You guys recorded a live album a couple weeks ago. How did that go? How was that show? What can people expect from that record?
It was great. It's really interesting in that it's really capturing a time right now in our career with our record being out for a little while now. Our set right now is, like, most of the new record, the stuff from Screws Get Loose and some other things that we've put out on the self-titled, plus some covers and stuff that we've never played before. So it's a collection of songs that you'll never get on a record or anything like that. It was really interesting, recording in front of all of your friends, and putting on a show but also being aware that you're recording.
When will that be released?
I think maybe the spring.
There's a lot of humor in your music — especially the early stuff. What role do you think humor plays in music?
I think that, in order to play true, honest music, you have to have a sense of humor. And you have to have a sense of humor, first of all, about playing music, and second of all, about making music your career. And, just in life, having a good sense of humor about your tragedies or the fantastic things in your life [is good]. Like, falling in love? That's hilarious! You just have to look at things through lighthearted eyes and be able to laugh at it and make fun of things. I feel like there is still humor in this record, but it's not as spelled out. Humor in music is a craft. It's an art. You have to work at it.
The new record is a bit more serious, though. And I've noticed you guys stopped using the fake Darlins surnames, too. Was that an intentional move or attempt at more seriousness?
It's not about being serious; it's about identity. Before, “Darlins” was me, Jessi and Kelley. Now that she's not here, it's not really like a gang anymore. We are individuals, and so are Linwood and Adrian. They're very strong characters. They're very involved in what we do. I just don't think it's fitting anymore. It's not really about being serious. It's just about saying, “This is who I am. I'll share.”
Those Darlins perform Friday, January 31, at Club Dada.