GETTING TO KNOW DARLINGSIDE
by Kathy Sands-Boehmer
Darlingside harken from the left side of Massachusetts but their name and their music is traveling east, north, south, and further west. For lovers of string instrumentation, this is your band. Not only do they play a variety of strings: violin, cello, mandolin, guitar… but all members sing and harmonize. The musical tapestry is indeed interesting. Darlingside has been chosen as Emerging Artists at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. And now it’s been announced that Darlingside will collaborate on a new EP with Heather Maloney (Noise, Sept. 2011), after the the two artists created a video performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that brought forth accolades in the pages of the New York Times. Meet Don, Auyon, Harris, and Dave: Darlingside!
Noise: If you had to describe Darlingside in one sentence, what would you say? What’s your elevator pitch?
Auyon: Strings, sings, and joyful-tuneful things! Yeah that’s a fragment not a sentence. You gotta start somewhere, right?
Noise: Where did the band name come from?
Don: We came across the phrase “Kill Your Darlings” in a songwriting class (long before that became the title of a Daniel Radcliffe movie). Our teacher preached the willingness to discard the things most precious to you since they’re often the most “clever” and can get in the way of forward movement within the piece. Darlingcide (like pesticide or homicide) is both confusing and morbid, so we decided to spell it Darlingside.
Noise: How did the band come together? Did you all know each other?
Don: We met at Williams College. We were in singing groups and cover bands together, and we’re thankful we didn’t need to resort to the Craigslist quagmire. Our friendships play an enormous role in how our music sounds, and they’re also what we lean on when the van breaks down, when we lose our voices, or when we advertise the wrong show time and no one is there to hear us (okay, the last thing never actually happens but it’s always a possibility I worry about).
Noise: The cello and violin with the guitar, bass, and drums give Darlingside an edge. Back in the day there was a band called the Electric Light Orchestra—ever hear of them?
Don: Oh, yes. I think that movie where Jim Carrey does a relatively good job serious (…Spotless Mind) re-introduced ELO to the youth a few years back with a choice “Mr. Blue Sky” soundtrack moment. Thanks for the comparison! We’ll take “edge” wherever we can get it. Some people think we’re too nice.
Noise: Are there any musicians/ bands that you have consciously or unconsciously tried to emulate to achieve a certain sound?
Auyon: We don’t typically set out to sound like someone else, but we’re certainly influenced by all the artists we listen to. That’s tricky though because we all write songs, and we all have our varying tastes in listening jams. A few that come to mind for me: Beirut, Punch Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes.
Noise: Auyon, can you tell us what you learned during your study of folk music in Ireland, Brazil, and Turkey? Are there any commonalities that you discovered about their music? And have you been able to bring any of what you learned during your fellowship to the band?
Auyon: The greatest lesson I learned over my year abroad was that music was a career path that I could confidently pursue. When I left for my fellowship, the prospect of becoming a musician was a distant fantasy, whereas upon my return, I was ready to plunge in wholeheartedly. My change of heart was not based in any affirmation of skill; on the contrary, I was consistently humbled by veteran musicians and challenging musical styles throughout the year. My confidence was instead rooted in the knowledge that creating music with friends was something I could do with great joy for the rest of my life. The opportunity to spend an entire year exploring new cultures and musical traditions was a massive gift that allowed me to realize it.
There were certainly some commonalities among the Irish, Brazilian, and Turkish styles of playing (mandolin, bandolim, and saz, respectively) but most of them revolved around dexterity and the physical handling of the instrument. In other words, I certainly improved as a mandolinist, but that improvement did not prevent me from getting utterly flummoxed as I moved from Ireland to Brazil, or Brazil to Turkey.
Since I didn’t play much mandolin before the year began, much of my playing and personal style was shaped by my experiences abroad. I am by no means an expert in Irish trad or Brazilian chorinho, but I do attribute many of my rhythmic and melodic tendencies to those two styles. I’m also occasionally allowed, by the band, to play a Brazilian tambourine called the pandeiro as a reward for behaving myself.
Noise: I have to say, your website is very entertaining. I loved the band member bios. A plus for creativity. Kudos to Dave for designing the site. Inquiring minds want to know if he still doodles and names trees.
Don: He certainly doodles, but he’s keeping the tree-naming closer to the vest (sometimes, the vest is literal) these days. Yeah, we’re pretty lucky to have such a design guru “on staff.”
Noise: Has your approach to your music changed at all since you got together? Have you experimented with various sounds so that your style doesn’t remain the same from project to project?
Don: Yep! When we first set out, we’d bring in complete songs from one person and then arrange them for the band. Things have transitioned more toward collaboration from square one, though usually there’s still one person on a given song bringing in the idea nugget and spearheading the operation. We don’t usually set out to write something explicitly distinct from the previous song because that’s just what happens naturally. If we start getting into a rut at some point, perhaps we’ll need to consciously shake it up (let us know, okay?).
Noise: Darlingside has real appeal, great music and presentation, and you’re a lot of fun. Let me ask some wacky questions and gave me some equally wacky answers. Are you good packers when you go on a band road trip? We all know there’s a science to packing instruments, equipment and luggage.
Dave: Sometimes we travel with a ton of sound equipment, and sometimes it’s just us and our instruments, and what’s amazing is that we’re actually way better at packing when we have way more stuff. Which is to say, we’re very good packers when we need to be, and when we don’t think we need to be, we really suck. But I’m willing to bet that if you gave us a tiny triangular van with diagonal poles running through it at irregular intervals, we would still find a way to fit all of our gear into it and have just enough room left to fit three out of four of our personal bags, and we’d be stuck taking the fourth one with us up front, and Auyon would probably end up using it as some kind of weird booster seat.
Noise: If you could collaborate with anyone on a recording, who would it be and why?
Dave: Personally, I would say Will Smith, or maybe Justin Timberlake. They’ve both been a huge part of my musical education, and they’ve consistently put out recordings that make me incredibly happy, but they don’t appear to take themselves so seriously that they would be difficult to collaborate with. The music they make is sufficiently different from ours that we’d have to go well out of our comfort zones, and I think the result would be pretty wacky, in a good way. And as a bonus, when we were done, they’d probably go off and make a blockbuster Hollywood movie about it.
Noise: Tell us about the Darlingside-mobile.
Harris: We travel in a big maroon 15-passenger van named Chauncey. Inside Chauncey, we have a coat rack for hanging clothes and a back bench with a down comforter for sleeping. The van has the worst sound system we’ve ever heard… if a song sounds half-way decent on the van radio, it must be a masterpiece on any other speakers.
Noise: Do you have any favorite kooky YouTube videos that crack you up? I’m a big fan of the Russian Trolololo man myself!
Harris: There is a video of Joe Cocker at Woodstock that serves as a reminder that diction is important.
Noise: Do you do any cover tunes? Have you ever considered doing a song so off your audience’s radar that it might actually be cool?
Don: We do play cover tunes (e.g. “1979″ by The Smashing Pumpkins, “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen). When it comes to “off-the-radar” ideas, we find that our audiences are unfortunately SO hip that basically no song exists outside their purview.
Noise: If Darlingside had a mascot, who/ what would it be?
Don: I suppose Chauncey, the aforementioned, lovable 15-passenger van, serves as our de facto mascot.
Noise: What do you guys do to goof off? Where would we find you on a day off?
Auyon: We tend to spend enough time on the road together that our days off are typically spend avoiding each other. If I had to come up with a perfect day off for the four of us, though, it would involve sipping coffee served by a misanthropic hipster in Cambridge, followed by a caffeinated jog through Watertown, where we rehearse. We would then take a group nap, ideally in a sunbeam. Don and I would share a blanket. We would end our day with a meal at Roksana, our favorite restaurant in Watertown, where we would each order a beef kebab marinated in pomegranate and walnuts and served in a wrap.
Noise: If each of you could be a super hero, who would you be?
Auyon: Harris would be Belle from Beauty and the Beast, based on his enviable tresses and affinity for speaking in song. Don would be Robin from Batman, since he is something of an amateur ornithologist and since he attended circus camp as a child. Dave would be the shark from Jaws because he loves eating things and because he likes acting coy. I would be Superman because I, too, am from Kansas, and I, too, sometimes enjoy wearing tight pants.