Darlingside is the type band that comes around very rarely. Unique, intelligent and completely original, these guys are the real deal. Their sound, which revolves around its four members singing together around a single microphone and playing instruments ranging from the typical to the most certainly not (think harmonium), is so different that it really defies a genre. Folk, indie, blue-grass, pop, none of the labels truly stick. But when you listen, genres don’t matter. The beauty of what you are listening to is what strikes you in a way that few bands do. Gorgeous harmony and haunting instrumentals produce extraordinary texture, a layering of sounds that is always beautiful, and often even breathtaking. The beauty of sound, coupled with intelligent, literary-minded lyrics make Darlingside a band that really need to be listened to in order to be understood.
The band, who met while attending Williams College together, has been through different incarnations over the years, but seemed to have settled into a place that works perfectly with their current lineup. Members include Don Mitchell (guitar, banjo, vocals), Auyon Mukharji ( mandolin, violin, vocals), Harris Paseltiner (guitar, cello, vocals) and David Senft (bass, kick drum, vocals) Their catalog of music continues to get lovelier, and their latest full length release, Birds Say, which was released in 2015, received much critical acclaim. 2016’s EP Whippoorwill proved that the band continues to meld together into something quite close to perfection.
Darlingside is a band that should not be missed by any real lover of music. I was able to interview vocalist and bass player David Senft recently.
J. I understand you all met at Williams College. This school isn’t exactly known as a music school , unless you count its love of a capella!
Please tell us how the band came to be?
D.S.- That’s very true that it’s not really a music school, though there are fantastic people in the music department there, and as you point out, a cappella was a huge part of the campus culture. The four of us all studied different things––I was a math major––but we were in the same a cappella group, and so a lot of our time and energy throughout college was put towards arranging and singing. But the unique thing about Williams is that it offers a contemporary songwriting course every January. In it, you have to write two original songs and then perform one of them publicly in front of about 300 fellow students. We each took that course and came out of it completely hooked on songwriting, and gradually we started to collaborate and perform on each other’s songs while still at Williams. The band then officially formed in 2009, when Harris graduated and we moved into a house together near Northampton, MA.
J. How has the band changed since your time at Williams?
D.S.- A lot has changed! Our songwriting process has evolved tremendously. It used to be that one of us would write the majority of a song and then bring it to the group for us to tweak and arrange together, whereas now every song is a four-way collaborative process from start to finish. We’ve learned so much about how to write together, how to give and receive critiques, how to let go of an idea, and how to make sure that we all feel connected to the final product. In the same vein, we also now write with four equally important singing voices in mind, so it’s never a question of “who’s going to sing lead on this one”, but more often something like “who’s going to take which of these four parts”. Part of that has been the way our format has shifted––we started out as more of a traditional rock band with a standard drum kit and all of us on separate vocal mics, and now the four of us stand and sing around one mic with only a kick drum for percussion, which makes it much easier for us to blend together and to have our voices feel unified.
J. Did you ever see yourself as a professional musician?
D.S. – Well, I was terrified of singing in front of people as a kid, and in fact I remember crying once because I didn’t want to grow up and go to college, because I thought that I would have to perform in a singing group too. And to be fair, I wasn’t that wrong. In high school I was very academics-oriented, but I was starting to realize that I was very passionate about music. I did end up joining a singing group in college, of course, and eventually realized that I wanted to make my own music, and that performing was gratifying despite still being pretty terrifying. Becoming comfortable as a performer has been an extremely long, gradual journey that I’m still honestly in the process of. So it was a lot of baby steps that got me here, and I didn’t really think I could be a professional musician/performer pretty much until it happened. In fact I still think about how strange it is all the time.
J. Touring can be hard on a band. What do you to unwind and reconnect when coming off of a tour?
D.S. – I’m married, so for me it’s all about spending time with my wife and my dog. The first day back usually involves treating ourselves to a nice dinner out. The other guys are all in similar boats––spending time with our partners and eating great food are big priorities for us. The funny thing is, we’re all such close friends, and we live so close to each other, that even when we get back from a long tour, we usually still end up hanging out together pretty soon after. There are a few specific activities we and our partners all especially enjoy, including but not limited to: playing Settlers of Catan, watching Game of Thrones, and attempting to make each other fancy cocktails.
J. Tell us about the Darlingside mobile. Is it still in use?
D.S.- Chauncey! Chauncey is tecchhhhhnically still in use but to be honest it’s not lookin’ good for him/her (Chauncey is gender-fluid). The gears grind every time we accelerate, the air conditioning is totaled, none of the power sockets or speakers work, one of the doors is permanently ajar… but Chauncey has been with us basically from the start and we aren’t quite ready to give up on such a loyal friend. Except that he/she probably won’t pass his/her next emissions test, so yeah, it’s bad.
J.Who were you biggest musical influences growing up?
D.S – I listened to a disproportionate amount of a cappella music and Beach Boys growing up because my parents were really into that, and then in high school I got really into Dispatch, Guster, and Moxy Früvous. Notably, those were all bands with multiple singers and songwriters who traded off lead vocals and used harmony everywhere. And I was a sucker for NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, and basically there were plenty of signs that I was destined to end up in a group of singing men.
J. What bands do you most like to listen to now?
D.S.- We’ve gotten to meet and share stages with some incredibly talented folks over the last few years, so honestly these days I mostly listen to the music that our musical friends are making. To name a few I’ve been listening to a lot lately (mostly because they have wonderful new albums): Mandolin Orange, Courtney Hartman, Frances Luke Accord, Jordie Lane, Tall Heights. And we make a point of never going too long without listening to some T-Swift.
J. Your writing is gorgeous. Where does the band come up with its ideas lyrically?
D.S.- Thank you! We actually don’t really have any set processes for lyrics––pretty much every song comes about in a different way. We do often play around with lyrical exercises and games just to generate ideas or words that we might not otherwise think of. Eventually every song gets to a point where we have a sense of what the song should be about and one person will spearhead a rough draft, but then it might go through five or six more complete re-writes, or it might just feel good and be basically done after the first try. Our only rule with lyrics is that we all have to like it. A side-effect of that is that we end up writing a lot of songs about childhood nostalgia and growing up because it’s something we all relate to and get excited about quickly. And birds. We all apparently really like birds.
J. What does the band have coming up in the future?
D.S.- We’re currently finishing up the second half of our big fall tour on the west coast and southwest, and then we finally switch back into writing mode this coming winter and spring, which we’re very excited about. We’ve been on the road basically all year since Birds Say came out last fall, and it’s going to feel really nice to hunker down and get back into writing mode, not to mention just have some time off over the holidays. And we do have a three week European tour in January, so that should be a good opportunity to road-test some of the new material we’ll have been working on.