I spoke with Harris Paseltiner of Massachusetts-based indie-folk band, Darlingside, and asked him a few questions before the band travels to Annapolis for their show this Wednesday. Darlingside will be playing with Tall Heights and the Rams Head On Stage venue will surely provide them the perfect environment to showcase their intimate brand of indie folk. Darlingside is coming off a landmark year, releasing their first full length album, Pilot Machines, and playing a number of summer festivals across the nation. Get your tickets here and check out what Harris had to say about the birth and early success of this young band, below.
ME: Darlingside is a very talented, multi-instrumental band and you can all sing – what drove you all to pursue music from a young age and then into college?
HP: We all came from different backgrounds. I came from a classical background, one guy was a street performer, just busking mostly, self taught, so that’s a pretty big range already. Another sung in a boys choir and learned choral arrangements. Another guy studied traditional folk music and classical styles and ended up living in Turkey, Ireland and Brazil. We became good friends at Williams College and all ended up in same singing group there and that started to sculpt how we sing together.
ME: How do you condense your different tastes into something that is decidedly “Darlingside?”
HP: Instrumentally we take all these different backgrounds and trainings to create the sound palette, and with the vocals we combine barbershop and folk, acapella, some of retro pop’s close harmonies, pulling from bands like the Beatles, Beach Boys and Zombies, you know, that chamber pop sort of thing going on. All four singer songwriters write from four directions which lends itself to the eclectic mix.
ME: I like your band’s method of free-form leadership – no lead singer and you all seem to share the responsibilities of the band’s management – but does that ever cause problems when it comes to writing songs, performing, etc.? Do egos ever get in the way? Do some people exert more influence over song writing and sound than others or is it a fairly comfortable collaborative process?
HP: We have a very democratic writing process. We take these feelings and song ideas and we grow them together as a group. It could be different for every song. It’s almost like a game of telephone. Whoever comes up with something passes it off to one person and the next, and then all four of us get together and the song ends up completely different from what we started with. Everyone gets a really strong influence on the song though. If you remove one member it’s like removing legs of the table. I just came up with that analogy right on the spot actually. I’ll probably never use it again.
ME: You guys met up at Williams College but what was the spark that led you to try and take the band to the next level?
HP: The current band didn’t play together at Williams actually. We were just four good friends. None of us were music majors either, we were just playing for fun and just starting to write and experiment with songwriting. There was a different iteration of the band in college with seven members, and a very different sound – we’d consider that a different band for the purposes of this interview. We got together right after school. I was the youngest so after I graduated we got together in Northampton, Massachusetts, where we moved in to a house together.
We got the idea of joining as a band and going for it and then one day we all got in the basement with our instruments and realized we didn’t know what type of music we wanted to play. And we just started to throw ideas around, like, “Why don’t we do a hard rock song and then a folk song? Maybe a prog rock song?” It was all over the place. But looking back, I think it was really great to start without a set plan or genre or type of niche we wanted to fill. It took a while to fumble around and figure out what we were playing, but then we found a place that felt like us.
ME: Can you run through a normal day in the life of the band?
HP: Each day is pretty different depending on the time of the year, with how much things can change month to month. We’ll be touring one month, then another month writing and rehearsing, then the next we might be focusing on creative projects or putting together video. We’ve been touring much more heavily this past year and now we’re preparing to go into season of writing and recording this winter. With touring, those are great days. You set off on the road all together, you do the sound check, setup, play shows…it’s a really nice “everyone in the same boat” kind of day. We all get to hang out and perform together, despite the different roles.
Dave takes care of graphic design and merchandise, artwork, and website design. Don takes care of web presence and promotions, like marketing, social media, web management. Auyon did all of booking, although that shifted recently, and I would do finances and sound engineering. I think that’s pretty normal for a band in the modern day. It’s sort of like a small start-up. You design your vision in-house and have everyone plugging away making it happen from scratch. It’s cool to have that happen especially with the internet. The music business playing field has shifted.
ME: How did it feel to get that debut album, Pilot Machines, wrapped up and how much fun has it been supporting it and sharing it with people around the country?
HP: In a way, it was sort of a relief, but more than that, I was really excited about what we had already come up with. It was almost like an arrow pointing forward: how will it continue to go and morph and change. We were finding some interesting spaces on that album, asking, is this pop, rock, folk, indie, prog? I was really excited to find those nebulous spaces there and keep exploring them. I was most excited about the core songwriting that was happening. These are all singable tunes with song structures that we can continue to work on and hone our craft.
Sound engineer and producer Nate Conklin came to our house in Massachusetts to set up a full studio playground in our house. Each room was setup differently and we had a rehearsal space in the basement. On different parts of the record you can even hear sound like a bird sitting on the window. It is a very personal space for us, and the album is kind of an expression of the feelings and thoughts we were wrestling with inside our own house. It really sculpted how we write and record, and we know we want to be in a comfortable space that feels like home.
Nate said something important to us while recording. He said, “Look if you guys get in a room together – this democracy, this band – and you unanimously agree on something and play it as yourselves it doesn’t matter about instrumentation or whatever. It’s going to sound like you guys.” And I think that was really important for us to hear. We now have a rehearsal/recording warehouse in Massachusetts, and we’re going to record some in a barn house, some in the studio. We like to get in natural spaces where we can get cool sounds, reverb, experimentation, and ask ourselves things like, what will it sound like to play in a steam room? What does it sound if we record here versus here? We like to have the songs that have a core skeleton and then we also like to experiment with sounds, overdubs, etc. We try out new things and explore sounds that can starkly contrast but also weirdly fit together.
ME: You guys played in a number of big folk festivals this summer – how was that experience and was it your first time on the summer festival scene? Do you plan on returning to the festival lineups next year?
HP: This summer was really, really exciting. As a folk quartet it was our first time playing these big festivals and there was just a really welcoming community at each of these places. We were so energized by process and meeting other fantastic artists that we love and respect. The folk community is so warm and inviting. There’s so much love in the process of playing these fests, which is nice because music can sometimes feel like it’s band vs. band and band vs. audience, but in the folk community that all melts away. It’s a real communal vibe and we were really honored to be there.
We got to team up with a bunch of artists at Sisters Festival in Oregon (Anais Mitchell, Phil Madeira, Steve Poltz, Devon Sproule, etc.), and we had the pleasure of touring with Heather Maloney for the past year. I think there’s been a lot of symbiosis between us and her. When I think about playing with all these artists we love and respect, it becomes clear that everyone plays themselves, and represents themselves as themselves. They’re presenting exactly who they are on stage. They’re not saying let’s put on this mask or act like this. It’s a very honest, straightforward, meaningful presentation of the music, and we’re really enjoying that directness in sound and writing. Now, we’re writing and trying to see exactly how we can continue to be ourselves and not worry so much about what genre this is on this song or how we’re dressing up this song. It’s more about, “What do we want to say?”
ME: When I spoke to Tall Heights they also mentioned Heather Maloney, who you’ve collaborated with a few times, and I believe she’ll be joining you at some point during this tour – correct? What does she bring to the table that has influenced how you guys play and are you going to collaborate with her on any new recordings?
HP: I don’t know if anything is on the books for live performances actually. She’s headed in to record a new record. The next time we meet up we might try to sing some harmony on her new songs.
As for our new recording session, it’s still such a blank slate. We’re down for anything and we’d love to have friends drop in. It’s been great touring with Heather. It was fun coming together for our Joni Mitchell cover and the Woodstock EP. We also covered a Journey song and backed each other up on tour. The project sounded a little different from us and from her.
ME: I really like the artwork on your 7” vinyl releases and you have a bunch of music videos that look very professional – what connections do you guys have that allow you to produce such high-quality visual accompaniments to your music?
HP: A lot of the stuff is designed by us, especially the art design, but some is done in conjunction with artists we like – Bruce Licher, for instance, who’s a letter press artist in California. [Licher] and Dave were doing a lot of design together. The whole band was coming up with the conceptual design and everyone was very involved. For videos we brought together films we shot or from Keith Boynton and Mike Lavoie of Crazy Lake Pictures, two directors that we’re buddies with and they put together animated films, and we teamed up with an offshoot of Pixar for another one of our animated pieces. Basically we came up with the ideas with friends and crafted it within the band and then people helped us out with those ideas and produced them with their own cool vision.
If you’ve got the time, check out the 30-minute video of Darlingside playing Audiotree Live. If you just want a taste of what the band has to offer, watch the hauntingly beautiful live rendition of “Sweet and Low,” here.
– Matt Ellis