ONE OF THE highlights of this year's Savannah Stopover came as Nashville indie band Those Darlins rocked the K of C hall on Liberty Street.
Their distinctly Southern take on garage rock, driven by Jessi Zazu's charismatic vocals and chunky guitar sound, had the crowd bouncing around even after the last note had faded away.
It wasn’t just a highlight for the audience. Ten Minute Interviews asked Jessi what was the best crowd the band had ever played for since their founding in 2006.
“We have played in front of so many awesome crowds that it would be an injustice to name one above the other. I will say that the crowd at Savannah Stopover would be included in my favorite audiences of all time list if I ever made one.”
The core members of Those Darlins are Jessi, Nikki Kvarnes on guitar/vocals, and Linwood Regensburg on bass. (The girls also have gone by the stage surname of Darlin.) These days the band tours with a rotating set of drummers. They have their own label, Oh Wow Dang Records, under which all three of their albums have been released.
They play the Dollhouse this Friday, with Brooklyn buzz duo She Keeps Bees and local faves Crazy Bag Lady opening. Brought to you by Music File Productions, this is an amazing bargain at only ten bucks.
We spoke to Jessi last week.
You told a recent interviewer that the crowd at Savannah Stopover may have been the best you ever played for. What was so special about that show to you?
Jessi Zazu: We like it when people are really attentive, but also relaxed. Not like, I can't tell if you like this or not. Sometimes you get a real stone-faced crowd, then at the end of the night they'll come up and say, 'oh that was great.' And you're like, really? Cause I couldn't tell if you liked it or not.
At Stopover people were having a good time, but not too obnoxiously crazy (laughs). It was just fun.
And it’s really nice to play places like Savannah that are trying to build a music scene for national and touring acts. I can tell people really appreciate bands coming there.
So many great indie bands coming out of Nashville these days. It’s not the hick town a lot of people still think. Do people still assume you’re a country act when they hear you’re a Nashville band?
Jessi Zazu: Nashville is different in that it does have that LA or New York side, but mostly it's that there are so many more musicians here. That's what this town is, that's the industry here.
A lot of times there’s this misconception that Nashville is all country music, but it’s also a real breeding ground for rock ‘n roll and a real indie music scene, and everything else you can think of here.
There are so many resources here for musicians. People to manage you, labels to be on. There’s even a record pressing plant. You can literally walk in and watch your record being pressed. Nashville’s got everything you need as a musician. It’s just a lot easier to get a start here .
That being said, the garage rock community we’re a part of is also a reflection of the pop-country that’s here. There are a lot of sons and daughters and nephews and nieces of people who write and play and do all that, and they’ve passed on tips and advice. Also there’s a rebellion against the pristine and sometimes overly fabricated sound of pop-country. That’s not all we are here, and there are real people here!
It’s an interesting dichotomy, because there’s still that reverence towards the early days of country music. Like the great ‘70s artists like Emmylou Harris and Kris Kristofferson. It’s all kind of meshed in together.
Another thing is, I don’t really know exactly how many people are really from here! A lot of people famous for being from Nashville actually grew up in the middle of nowhere and came here to get their start.
You guys just got back from Pickathon. Why was that so much fun for you?
Jessi Zazu: It's a great festival in Portland, Oregon, that's really well put together. It's different than any other festival we've been to in that it wasn't huge at all, only about 3500 people. There are a bunch of stages, all different. There's one stage in the woods that's so cool. It's basically an amphitheatre in the middle of the woods where the whole stage is made of like fallen logs and trees. It sounded really good too. There's a tree-line stage at the edge of the woods that's made completely out of pallets.
We played on a stage in the Galaxy Barn. The guy running sound brought out all this old equipment, great vintage gear that nobody uses anymore at live shows. It all sounded really cool in the barn.
Another great thing about Pickathon is that everyone plays like two times on two different days. A lot of times when you play festivals you can’t make it over to see bands you want to see ‘cause you’re playing at the same time they are.
It was really nice to stay put in one city for longer than one day! They treated the artists really well, and we saw some amazing shows. Jonathan Richman was incredible. Warpaint just blew our minds—I couldn’t even hardly believe it! They had literally just got off the plane from overseas and went straight onstage. They were like reeling, but they still killed it.
I have a theory that in the download era, when bands make more money touring than selling albums, young bands have by necessity become really good at playing live. So we have a real live music renaissance going on. Do you agree?
Jessi Zazu: I think there's definitely truth to that for us. When we make an album it's a project totally different from the live show. I think over time playing a lot on the road you learn—or hopefully you do anyway— how to gauge an audience and write a setlist. It's hard sometimes, because songs you want to write and put on an album don't necessarily translate to a live show.
We have to tour a lot, because there’s not really money in album sales. Actually there’s about as much money in T-shirt sales, and merchandise at the show.
It’s interesting but also kind of a weird, strange trap. We’re just touring all the time to try to make ends meet, and then we realize we haven’t actually written a new album in a long time.
You can’t be playing the same songs forever, and you can’t go back to the same city and play the same set. At some point you’ve got to figure out how to take a break.
Are you ready to take that break?
Jessi Zazu: We're coming up on our next break! This time we decided to take an earlier break. We wanted to put an album out sooner. We've put out three records, and there's always been like a two year gap because we've had to tour so long. We wanted to do a new album sooner.
It gets so old once you get to the end of the album cycle. Those old songs get refreshed as soon as you write a few new ones.
We’ve been working part of this week. It’s definitely strange. The next step is doing some recording at home. The difference between the last few records and this is we didn’t have a very good way to record demos. None of us has their own studio set up. We’re always making these crazy low-fi things. If you heard them you’d laugh. They were made on anything we could grab to record.
It’s easy to track the evolution of your sound as a band, from country-tinged to a more garage/punky sound. Do you have a clear idea of the direction your next record might take?
Jessi Zazu: We want to start with a very primitive sketch of music, then learn it as a band, then take it into the studio. That's really what we want to do this time, especially since we have more access to actual recording equipment now—and I know a lot more about recording myself.
This time what I want to do is get a little bit more on the front end as a band and have a little bit better idea. We want to grow it pre-studio a little bit more.
Part of that is us just wanting to have the band make more calls on how the music sounds, and have less producer input. I’m not saying anything bad about anyone— all our producers have been very mellow and hands-off.
But we’re at a point we know what we want more. There comes a time to wean yourself more and more into a self-sufficient entity. That’s what my hope is for this new record.