Sharing made-up surnames and a rock ‘n’ roll wild side, Those Darlins defined themselves in their early days with a rollicking mix of garage, country and soul and a strict “no bullshit” demeanor. On their latest release, Blur the Line, the band has made a few significant changes. They’ve changed their line-up — guitarist Kelley Anderson left; Adrian Barrera (Barreracudas, Gentleman Jesse and His Men) stepped in on bass. And they changed their process, recording with a new producer (Roger Moutenout) and writing songs collaboratively, with a greater focus on their arrangements. The result is a fuller, more textured work than their debut’s rollercoaster rock ‘n’ roll.
Which is not to say they’ve forsaken their roots. They’ve still got punk attitude and country hearts, but the music on Blur the Line feels, on the whole, more thoughtful and controlled. The new confidence might explain why they’ve also decided to drop the shared “Darlin’” last name, embracing instead their real identities (Jessi Zazu, Nikki Kvarnes and Lynwood Regensburg) as opposed to the characters that had served as a sort of protection for so long.
While the Darlins were at a tour stop in Florida, Ashley Melzer spoke with founding guitarist Nikki Kvarnes about the Blur the Line and the band’s new attitude of self-acceptance.
How long after Screws Get Loose did you start thinking about the next album?
Immediately, I guess. We’re kind of always working on stuff. We set up a chunk of time over the winter where we were just focusing on that and we weren’t touring. But yeah, that’s something we’re always kind of working on.
Did you go in with certain ideas?
It kind of all just fell into place with what was going on in our lives collectively, me and Jessi especially.
Just time to reflect on the past couple of years. Like, actually spend some time with ourselves and dive deep into some stuff that’s really personal. This is the first time — well, not the first time, but it was a different kind of way of writing the album. Jessi would work on her songs and I would work on my songs, lyrically, and then we’d come together and go, “Well, what about changing this?” or, “What do you mean by this?” It was just a different approach than trying to write really personal songs with another songwriter.
There does seem to be a level of patience about this new record. Is this the first work you’ve done with Roger Moutenout?
He was suggested to us by our manager a while ago. We did a 7″ with him and we did a couple other recordings with him. He is just a joy to work with. He’s helped us grow a whole lot. We love the studio. We love working with him. So we were all about working on the album with him and trying something different, working with a different producer, ’cause we’re kind of a different band now too.
What has that transition been like?
It’s been really good. It’s been gradual. Adrian started playing with us right before we went into the studio for a couple months, just fleshing out the songs and trying to tighten things up, talk about all the parts that we’re doing. Also, this is a transition because [in the past] we’ve always switched instruments. It’s always kind of been up in the air who plays what role. This is the first record where Jessi and I are playing guitar, we sing our parts, Lynnwood plays drums and Adrian plays bass. It’s always been kind of a clusterfuck of “Well, what do you want to do?” and on the last album my arm was broken, so I wasn’t able to play on the album.
Is there a reason why you wanted to streamline that way?
Yeah, it’s made us a way more solid band. It’s more defined what everyone does. It gives time to focus on exactly what it is that you’re doing and giving yourself a specific sound.
In looking back at your press over the years, you’re constantly being pigeonholed as “wild women” or reckless. How do you feel about that?
I mean, I understand why, because when we first started out we were really wild and crazy. We were just so excited to be in a band, we were just going all the way, all the time. There was some focus on music, but I think the performance and engaging people was what we were concentrating on, whereas now it’s a little bit more introverted. We still really want to interact with audience members and we want it to be an experience. And, whatever, people can think whatever they want about us, but they’ll know in the future what this album is and what the band is, and that it’s not just, “Let’s get drunk and party. These are a bunch of fun, silly songs.” There’s some depth behind it and we’re exposing ourselves a little bit more instead of these characters we’ve built over the years.
Listening to the record, I almost felt a level of regret in regard to that. Do you think that’s a theme? Like the song “Optimist” seems to have that as a crux of it.
Jessi wrote that, but no, no, not regret. It’s less regret and maybe just more awareness of how people perceive you. It’s not a song about regret at all. It’s about being an optimist and you realize that maybe not everyone’s as optimistic about what you’re endeavors are or, I don’t know, getting a hard time because you’re doing what you want to be doing. This is really broad — I’m being vague about it because I don’t want to describe a song that she wrote, because I’m sure she has way more to say about it than I do.
Well, which of your songs on the album do you think captures that theme of identity most for you?
Each one of the songs are reflections of who we are and sides of ourselves. “In the Wilderness,” that’s this idea of people being wild, but it’s deeper than that. It’s more about struggling to want to be in a mysterious place, or the depths of your subconscious and how hard it is to grasp imagination for this generation. I want people to know there’s this other side of me that’s very in touch with, I don’t know, the animalistic nature of man and woman and the facades that everyone puts up. That’s kind of a representation of the album: the man and woman and the black and white and the opposites of everything, and creating a balance between the two.
Right, I think there’s a part of the album that’s a voice for the misfits, people on the fringe. Or maybe just people who are comfortable with sexuality and vulnerability.
Absolutely, because there has to be a balance. You can’t just be this overly confident person throwing all your ideas out there and being like, “This is the way things are.” You have to be humble and you have to be vulnerable in order to grow and to be optimistic and able to just expose yourself as a whole human being.
Were you worried about the way the cover of the album art would be received at all?
Oh, no. I mean, there’s a reason why we put it out there. We feel like that represents what this album is and who we are and to break down that whole like idea of people pigeonholing us, to just be like, “This is us. This is a part of us and this is us all together and this is what the band is now.”
What do you want a listener to take away, to hear in the difference from Screws Get Loose to Blur the Line?
Maybe just kind of identifying with themselves, being like, “Whoa, I feel that way about myself, and I didn’t even really know I felt that way about myself.” There’s a lot of self-realization in this album on both sides, me and Jessi. The songs we wrote are like, “This is OK. I’m going to show my beauty, all my ugliness and all my fears and all my strengths,” and maybe just for someone to realize that it’s okay to be fucked up, but also be really strong and intelligent, simultaneously. I guess, just self-acceptance.