Slinky, sinewy, sexy and tough as nails. Hard, hard-rocking and hard to pin down. That's Those Darlins, the Nashville rock 'n' roll quartet that plays a Stopover show March 7, on its way to SXSW. Next stop: Next Big Thingsville.
Indie rock doesn’t have big bands so much as it has buzz bands. And the buzz around Those Darlins, whose noisy garage rock has a seductive snarl, is immense. The new Blur the Line album is a hooky amalgam of Bangle-esque jangle pop, moody Riot Grrrl attitude and undiluted Sonic Youth aggression.
There’s a bit of world-weary Lucinda Williams barroom poetry in there, too, echoes of the band’s earliest days as a gritty country/Americana trio call, simply, Darlins.
The band is fronted by two songwriting, guitar-slinging women, Jessi Zazu and Nikki Kvarnes; Linwood Regensberg is the drummer, and Adrian Barrera plays bass.
CS: People always seemed surprised to learn that Nashville has a pretty great rock 'n' roll scene, don't they? That's it not just the Taylor Swift/Brad Paisley overground.
Jessi Zazu: Yeah, over the last five years, especially, a lot of bands have sprung up. There's tons of bands. At least in terms of the underground rock circuits in America, and overseas too, it's more well known as a rock 'n' roll town now. But I'd say the average Joe still sees it as a country town. Hang on ... Nikki's laughing at me ...
CS: When you and Nikki started the Darlins band, it was an acoustic thing. Why?
Jessi Zazu: That's just what we liked at the time, when we met. Nikki and I both grew up in the country, and on rock 'n' roll. Our parents really liked rock 'n' roll. I mean, I definitely had country influences from an early age, because of my family, and my grandfather, who taught me how to play. But it kind of took a back burner to what I thought was cool. We liked rock 'n' roll and punk music in high school, but at a certain point we both started to get into more traditional Appalachian folk music and early Nashville country. That's what we bonded over when we met. We started the band because we had a combined mutual love for that type of music. Over time we started to go back to that more rock 'n' roll feeling and sound, because that's what we felt more natural doing.
CS: What kind of bands were you into?
Jessi Zazu: When I was kid in elementary school, I was into like CCR, the Beatles' Rubber Soul, Janis Joplin, early blues ... a mix of things. I listened to R.E.M. Automatic For the People and some other stuff. In middle school I started getting into the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but classic rock for me turned into a love of '70s punk and new wave-type stuff. I got into the Ramones, Television and Wire. Really just checking all kinds of different stuff out.
I didn’t know how to play rock ‘n’ roll, hardly. I’d been taking guitar lessons from my grandfather for years. And all the stuff I knew on the guitar was early country. And one day it just clicked for me. It was weird, I knew all this stuff, but I didn’t realize what I was learning. I liked playing it, because I liked playing guitar, but I started really getting into the Carter Family. I was so intrigued by them and the fact that they were two women. I read their biography, and I was just floored by their whole entire life as musicians. That really turned me on to the stuff I’d been learning and growing up with, but never really stopped to give it a chance.
CS: Certainly there are lots of women in road bands now, more than there used to be, but what's life on the road for you like? Do your bandmates and crew feel like they have to protect you?
Jessi Zazu: The few women, we usually become pretty close with. The rock 'n' roll girls out there that are far and few between. But you have to constantly remind yourself that this isn't a competition, and you should be encouraging.
I don’t ever really feel like I need to be protected. Just in general, all bands sort of protect each other, male or female. You run in a group, you’re a team, you know? You’re a gang and you’ve got each other’s backs. I don’t really think about being a woman and how different it is that much. The only time it really gets on my nerves is when people say stuff that’s just kinda stupid, like “I can’t believe you can play that guitar.” It’s like well, I can, so just deal with it.
The thing with guy bands is that most of them are just used to getting their asses kissed by girls. They’re used to playing in bands, and the only females they have interaction with are the ones that are in the audience. Who are just like “Oh my God, I will sleep with you, because you are amazing.” So when they meet girls who play in bands —all we’re surrounded by are dudes who play in bands. “There are thousands of you. Just because you play an instrument doesn’t make you special in our eyes in any way.” That magic isn’t there. They don’t have that special spell over us that makes us fawn over them. Because they can play guitar.
Sometimes that can be weird, because guys are expecting us to be like, “Oh my God, you are so hot because you play guitar.” Instead, we’re like “Yeah, whatever.” It’s not like you’re just another one of the dudes. Most guys, it’s not a big deal, but every once in a while you run into a guy who doesn’t really know how to interact with a girl in any other way than having them kneel down before them and offer their services. That gets annoying.