“A goal of mine for Blur The Line was to bridge the gap between the first and second album, and bring some of what I thought were the best parts of each album and put them together musically.”
Since 2009, Those Darlins has released three records, merging the varied musical tastes of its creators into a focused exploration of punk, country and rock. Lyrically introspective and musically bruising, Those Darlins, Screws Get Loose and Blur The Line have each captured a different sound and aesthetic that capitalizes on the unwavering energies of each band member. Currently comprised of Jessi Zazu, Nikki Kvarnes and Linwood Regensburg, the group has continually balanced a thoughtful, storytelling air with a ragged charm that betrays the raucous atmosphere of their live performances. Speaking to Pancakes and Whiskey in late April, singer/guitarist Zazu spoke about her earliest influences and songwriting before fondly retracing the band’s very first live show.
Growing up in rural Tennessee, Zazu’s Grandfather taught her how to play guitar when she was nine. And while he introduced her to gospel, bluegrass and what she describes as early, “traditional country,” the music she was learning to play was not the first music she fell in love with. Instead, Zazu was struck by the rock and roll she discovered while sifting through her parents’ music library.
“I just remember being like nine or ten and going through their CD collection and listening to CCR and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Janis Joplin and the Beatles, Rubber Soul…I remember listening to that album a thousand times or a million times, probably more than that (laughs). So they were kind of the ones. And I think a lot of those might have been my Dad’s CDs, I don’t know, my Mom listened to more contemporary. She liked Alanis Morrisette and Jewel. And I remember thinking like, ‘Whoa this is cool, girls can be rock and roll and all that, too.’ Referring to Rubber Soul as a “hybrid,” of the Beatles’ multiple styles and influences, Zazu reflected on the record’s appeal and how it has become an eternal source of inspiration, stating, “It has early blues, early country influence and it was like a mix of everything that I love, you know? I think that record I can definitely give credit to giving me my love for a good two, three-minute pop song with some great hooks and a really catchy guitar solo.” And though she acknowledges that country music didn’t initially hold much appeal, it would eventually become something that she would return to.
“I didn’t really listen to country music when I was young that much, my Grandpa listened to it. And I learned all these songs, but honestly half the songs I had never heard the songs, I just learned them (laughs). So I knew all these country songs and I liked playing them, but it was really the rock and roll stuff that my parents listened to that really got me going then.” Discussing some of her favorite vocalists, Zazu explained how two singers were particularly influential, stating, “I really loved Etta James. I loved her voice and I loved her scream. Her and John Fogerty were the two people. I wanted to sing like both of them, just get that like scream going on, you know?”
“As I got a little bit older, I started paying more attention to early country music. When I started to get into the Carter Family that was like my first window into country music in a way I’d never looked at it before. I read their biography, it’s called Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? about the Carter Family, and it was just incredible. I was kind of blown away that I’d never known that Mother Maybelle sort of invented country music guitar playing, like the foundation of country guitar playing. And I was just blown away…I did not have any clue. And I connected so much with the sound.”
“I lived out in the country and I was in maybe eighth or ninth grade, something like that, and I just remember feeling lonely out in the middle of nowhere and nobody I knew liked music and if they did it was screamo and hardcore and they were all boys. And I just remember feeling really disconnected, and kind of like, ‘There’s nobody else like me out there.’ And I remember listening to their music and it was like this lonesome…I don’t know, something about it in the way they harmonized and everything. And the fact that it was two women who were the foundation of the band, and the man in the band just chimed in every once in a while on a harmony, that was like all he did (laughs). I thought that was so crazy because I had never really heard of a musical act from that time period that was like that.” Introduced to punk music around the same time by future band mate Linwood Regensburg, Zazu was immediately taken with the similarities and differences between the two styles.
“I think what I was really drawn to in punk music too, was kind of the same in a way with the country. I like simplicity. I like pop. And country to me is pop, too. It’s like catchy hooks, repetitive and the messages…I mean, some punk music is a little bit more heady, but I really just like the Ramones. To me, it’s like ‘Just say it in a way that everyone can understand it’ (laughs). That’s what I like. And just the rebellion. I don’t know, I think I was feeling that a lot, too at that age. I connected with that anger and whatever it is, just that raw energy that punk music has.” Channeling that spirit onstage, Those Darlins have consistently won raves for their performances and were even named by Paste Magazine as one of the best live acts of 2014. Reflecting on the group’s performing style, the musician spoke about how much of their approach was formed on the night of their very first show.
Describing how the then new band initially declined an invitation to play a friend’s birthday party, the group ultimately experienced a last minute change of heart. Surprising partygoers on Halloween night, Zazu explained how that first performance was indicative of the band’s developing stage presence, describing how, “From that very first show, it was interactive and there was just something about it…there was an energy there. We also ended up going to another party and when we got there we told them we just played a show and they were like ‘Do you want to play here, too?’ So we just played two shows randomly without announcing it” (laughs).
In addition to winning over audiences with their energetic live sets, the band’s records have endeared them to an audience taken with Zazu’s deeply personal lyrics. And while she mostly writes about her own life, some compositions are bound to incorporate exterior influences.
“I have a hard time writing about things that I don’t know. There’s been a few songs that I’ve written or been a part of writing about other circumstances outside of me. For instance, the song “Summer’s Dead,” it was a single that we put out, it’s about this murder. But the reason we wrote the song is because we played at this hotel where this guy murdered this other guy. We went in the room and we heard the whole story and we were there, and then we wrote a song about it. So it is partly about an experience we had, but we were more writing it about the story of what happened and the guy that did it.” Although the songwriter is quick to acknowledge how reflecting on her previous work can sometimes offer a different perspective than the one she had while composing.
“I have different insights on past songs. Because I think, ‘Ok, yeah I sort of have a meaning here,’ or you know, I always feel like I have some sort of meaning, but sometimes that meaning grows and becomes bigger. I look back and I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s actually so much more descriptive of where I was at than I could’ve even realized at the time.’ Speaking specifically about the band’s latest album, 2013’s Blur The Line, Zazu spoke about how a particularly stressful period of her life inspired much of the record.
“It was really difficult, especially for me. I was going through a lot of stuff during that time and it was really intense. And it was really intense because I was not only going through a really painful, growing period of my life, but I was also putting it all out there in my songs. It was hard. It was just hard to put it out there. Luckily, I have enough trust in my band and my band members to be able to come to them and be like, ‘This is what I got,’ and get that they’ll be supportive and stuff. I didn’t even realize at the time how hard it was until now that it’s not as hard, and I’m looking back going ‘Ohmy God, how did I do that?’ (laughs).” During recording, the musician expressed a desire to combine the best elements of the band’s first two albums, leading her to revisit older tracks by listening to the records. And while Zazu doesn’t typically listen to her own music, she explained how hearing the albums for the first time all the way through had brought back fond memories from the group’s younger days.
“So I said, ‘Ok I’m going to listen to these albums and just do it,’ and I sat there and I remember listening to the first album and I literally laughed and cried the entire way through it (laughs). I just had tears streaming down my face and laughing at the same time because it was like a little window…I think I was eighteen or nineteen. And it was like eighteen-year-old me who’s just like gung ho about the world and so pumped that I was in a band and making an album, like I didn’t give a shit what was on the album, I was just ready to go because it was my dream in life and it felt like I was doing what I had always dreamed of. I feel like it was just pure happiness. Just hearing that, it instantly and immediately brought me back. I can’t even explain how weird it was.”
Don’t Miss Those Darlins at Rough Trade on 5/7
Article: Caitlin Phillips
Cover Photo: Todd Cooper