The constantly-evolving Nashville group takes inspiration from a certain femme-punk icon to craft their masterpiece.
BY STEVE WILSON
Blur the Line, the new album from Those Darlins, is an instant classic. Tough, fully realized songs; muscular, rocking playing; smart arrangements; convincing singing—the whole package, all caught with concise cohesion by producer Roger Moutenot, who in the past has helmed classics by the likes of Yo La Tengo and Sleater-Kinney.
Where their 2009 debut was cute-tough country-rock, and 2011’s Screws Get Loose a mostly delightful grab bag of pop-punk inspirations delivered with tomboy Southern twang, Blur the Line, issued on the band’s Oh Wow Dang imprint, sounds as potent and possessed as the music that inspired it.
It’s those inspirations that the Darlins’ Jessi Zazu discussed by phone as the band—which includes Nikki Kvarnes, Linwood Regensburg and Adrian Barrera—headed for Baltimore, their third stop on a long jag supporting Blur the Line.
As Zazu shared, “Nikki and I were listening to a lot of Patti Smith… we had read her book Just Kids and sort of went on a Patti kick.” There’s a circle of inspiration here, too, since producer Moutenot has worked with John Cale, who of course produced Smith’s Horses. Both Moutenot and the band are big Velvet Underground fans (“It was a connecting point,” she adds), and while VU may not be the first thing you hear when you listen to Blur the Line, Zazu and Kvarnes’ writing has an unflinching honesty that is very Lou Reed; and the band’s insistent drive is very Velvets.
Other inspirations for Blur included Neil Young (generally); Fleetwood Mac (Rumours and Tusk in particular); and, for Zazu, two classics—seminal influences from childhood—the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit package Chronicle. You can hear these simply in the inherited sense of pop brevity, getting to the point, and crafting catchy hooks.
Growing up in a supportive family, Zazu remembers, “My parents were artists. I was around creativity my whole life… I never considered many other options.” Oddly, the band’s country-music-mecca home, while offering a nice, supportive fan base, gives the band more opposition than parents or school ever did. In a town where, as Zazu notes, “everybody’s played a million shows, everybody has the best gear, everybody’s better than you are,” it’s sometimes a case of what can a poor girl do but to play for a rock and roll band. Just don’t expect the music store guitar hotshots to be impressed because you have more originality and character than chops.
But the Nashville-born Zazu and her partner Kvarnes do sound like daughters of the South. If you hear Patti Smith in their music, you also hear Lucinda Williams in their songs (“Oh God”) and Loretta Lynn in their voices (“Can’t Think”). But mostly what you hear in songs like “In the Wilderness” is the relentless sound of rock, part Patti’s “Summer Cannibals” and part Stevie Nicks fronting the Runaways.
It’s been seven years coming, and three albums down the pike. But in 2013, Those Darlins have turned into one of the best bands in America. For a full appreciation of Blur the Line go here: http://blurtonline.com/review/those-darlins-blur-the-line/ . And be sure to catch them on tour between now and the end of the year. It’s been seven years coming, and three albums down the pike, but in 2013 These Darlins have become one terrific band.
Jessi Zazu on…
…her childhood and path to music: “I was born in Nashville, and grew up in Kentucky and Indiana, pretty much been in the south and rural areas my whole life. There’s always been music I my life. I grew up in a family of musicians. I always knew that it would be a path I’d go down. I was encouraged in my home to be creative and do what I wanted to do. My grandfather taught me how to play guitar. I started taking lessons from him when I was nine.”
John Fogerty & Creedence: “I was a huge fan of John Fogerty when I was a little girl. I love his guitar playing. When I [first] heard Creedence on the radio I said, ‘Mom, who is this?’ I loved the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Creedence’s Chronicle. Those were the two first albums I got into. So much of that is still alive in my songwriting.”
…Neil Young: We listened to a lot of Neil Young. We read his book Waging Heavy Peace, and listened to Zuma—well, most of his albums actually!”
…musical influences in general: “We do have a lot of influences from the past, not a lot of current influences [but] part of what I wanted to accomplish was to take our influences and make something meant for now.”
…her philosophy of music-making: I want to be really honest in everything we’re doing, especially in the lyrics, because honesty is the only way to be original. [So] I have to check myself and I want to be as brutally honest as I can right now. Part of the goal with this album was to be about now, not the past, not the future. The inability to be ‘in the now’ is the cause of the modern identity crisis we all have. I get irritated when people say, ‘I wasn’t made for these times.’ You were made for these times because you were born in these times!”