By: Brennan Lagasse
You'd think a fresh young band that's received critical acclaim across the globe for their second studio effort would take the money and run, right? Not so with Darker My Love's (DML) third studio album, Alive As You Are (released August 17 on Dangerbird). The band that created their name based on reverb-laden, distorted, hugely psychedelic grooves has taken a step back with their latest effort to create a more melodic, flowing collection that's intricate and focused on songwriting as opposed to taking the listener on a non-stop ride through an aural kaleidoscope.
|Darker My Love|
Listeners with an appetite for psychedelic indie rock knows DML delivers the goods, so those folks may be slightly thrown off by their first taste of Alive As You Are. It's more of an Americana thing, but it's still DML. Their trademark sound is there but it feels lighter, freer, perhaps liberated from the expectations that come when a band makes its name playing a certain style of music. But what's most important is it's good. Real good. Songs like "18th Street Shuffle," "Rain Party," "June Bloom" and "Dear Author" may stand out, but after you get past your first spin, the album becomes one of those rare modern pieces where you just want to listen to the whole album straight through each time.
With a growing fan base, a tour supporting Band of Horses, and new material coming out left and right, DML is rapidly evolving and picking up new listeners all the time. The psychedelic tones are still there and very much a part of the band's identity, but their new album clearly shows how diverse this collective of five bright musicians really is. With Alive As You Are you have the band altering its trajectory much like American Beauty did for the Grateful Dead. The Dead were in a much different place in 1970 than say 1968's Anthem of the Sun, and DML is equally comfortable playing tunes with the deep tones of American Beauty on Alive As You Are as they are playing the droned out mind-melters from their first two albums.
JamBase had the chance to catch DML's recent show at the Greek Theatre in Berkley, and singer-songwriter-bassist Rob Barbato was gracious enough to sit down in the Greek's hallowed halls to answer some questions before their set.
JamBase: You have a pretty unique sound. What bands have influenced you?
Rob Barbato: I think with the new record John Phillips from The Mamas and The Papas was a pretty big influence, and obviously the Grateful Dead, CCR (Credence Clearwater Revival) and stuff like that. But also bands like Big Star were a pretty big influence for us. Who else would you say Will?
Will Canzoneri [organ/clavinet]: R.E.M.
Rob: Yeah, R.E.M. as a modern sound.
JamBase: Well that's pretty cool since there's an R.E.M. poster in your dressing room backstage.
Rob: Totally. So, anything from classic rock into modern independent stuff all influences us. And our friends and family, too. J.J. Cale's a big influence.
Would you say your fan base is centered more on the West Coast or elsewhere?
I think we have fans all over the place that pop up. We have fans in England and here and there, but I would say being a West Coast band makes it more a West Coast thing [laughs]. But we have diverse listeners, especially with the new record. We have fans that are psychedelic fans, fans that are more countryish or Americana listeners, and people more into jam band type stuff. Our fans are diverse, and even age-wise we have people who are 50-years-old down to like 13 or 12 year olds, so it's not a particular person or fan. In any city or town in the world it can be any type of person, which is a pretty cool thing because it means we speak to a bunch of different people.
Do you think the energy at your shows stays at a consistent high each night or it changes with who shows up, a unique jam, or maybe the venue?
A huge factor has to do with the audience because it goes back and forth with the audience. You can be playing to ten people but if the crowd is way into it you're gonna be way into it. And if you're playing to 8,000 people and they're not into it, it's tough for you to get into it. Sometimes it depends on how you feel, but you always try and give it 100-percent.
How does improvisation play into your music?
We jam out, but in shows like this support set we can't spread it out as much because there really isn't time to if you only have like 45 minutes. So, it's really hard for you to be able to stretch songs out, but when we headline shows we often jam out songs. We have a lot of live recordings, especially from earlier shows where we have 10-minute versions of much shorter songs. We like to jam but it's a tough thing to go out on a limb like that. I respect every band that jams like that because it's not easy to just let go. Sometimes it's easier to play tighter, but all our solos are always improvised and not really played like the records, even though when they were played on the record they were improvised, too.
Tell me about playing with The Fall. They have a huge fan base in England and are hugely improvisational.
Yeah, that was a lot of fun. Tim [Presely (guitar/vox)] and I did that from 2006-2007. Basically, their band left them in Phoenix and we put a band together to play on the West Coast. We thought we were just going to do it for the U.S. tour, but then Mark E. Smith asked us to come play the 30th anniversary of The Fall in Manchester, so we flew over there and did that. And then we recorded a record and then we flew back over to do some more festivals. We kept playing and we did a live album/DVD of the last show at the Hammersmith Palais, which is a pretty famous venue where Bob Marley, The Clash and Bill Haley & His Comets played. That venue is important because it's where American artists came over to play rock and roll and introduced the sound. It was also big during the punk years, and a lot sick reggae shows went down there, too. So, that was amazing and Tim and I learned so much. We're still friends with Mark and the rest of the band, and every time we go over to England we see them. But it was a situation like, "I'm in The Fall?" because to British people The Fall is quintessentially British and it's almost like the Grateful Dead in a way. There's a heavy online community, people follow the band on tour, tape shows every night, and are stoked to see what songs they played. When The Fall play older songs, rarities or covers people will be like, "They haven't played that since 1984." It's kind of like that so it's amazing, but it's also a completely different thing because it's this weird post-punk type music and it's a lot darker than something like the Grateful Dead.
Do you predict future collaborations with them?
I don't know. Mark is always like sooner or later we'll get back together and do some more stuff, but you never know. Kind of the reason we stopped playing with them is it's just really expensive to fly all of us over to England all the time to work on things. But you never know. Hopefully something will happen.
You're a tough band to slap one category on. Do you find your identity through one particular categorization or do you feel you breach multiple genres and don't like having to conform to the idea of a band that plays one type of music?
We're really just into rock and roll. The first two albums were more psychedelic/acid rock type albums, but for the new record we just tried to make the best record we could. And really that's all we're ever trying to do. It may hurt us, but we're not really into or part of one particular scene or anything like that. It's hard to categorize us, but it's like pop music, and when I say pop music [I mean] it's like The Beatles. But The Beatles were rock and roll through pop music, and it was also psychedelic and trippy, too. But our new record has a country twinge, too, so yeah, hard to categorize but we just play what we want to play.
What's inspired your songwriting and music compositions beyond musical influences?
Friends and family are huge inspirations, and also other friend's music. And people who have passion in their life are a huge influence. That's always something that gets me really excited to create.
|Darker My Love|
Has it changed the band's sound or your relationship together overall to bring in a new drummer?
Yeah, Dan [Allaire] has totally changed the band. He's an amazing drummer. Andy [Ganelli] was an amazing drummer, but Dan does stuff differently. Dan was a big part of the songwriting on the new album and our [fresh] direction because he can do the stuff we were going for. It's a big deal and he's an amazing dude and an awesome drummer, so it's really great to have him in the band.
Your new album seems more intricate and song focused than your first two. How does that speak to where DML is at right now?
I think it's just another piece of the band as an evolution. Some fans want more psychedelic stuff and some fans see [Alive As You Are] as another branch of what we're doing. Regardless, it's the same band more or less. We just decided to strip away a lot of the reverb and distortion this time in favor of more acoustic, organic sounds.
How did bringing in a close friend to the band for production shape the new album?
A: Well, Nick Hunington was great. The [previous] record we worked with a huge producer that kind of got a little out of control for us, where we didn't have a say in stuff. With Nick it was more of collaboration in the production area, and he's an amazing musician, songwriter and producer, so we were really lucky. He also has a different temperament then the rest of the guys in the band, which is a very calming thing, so that also helped when we were tracking and doing stuff like that. I would love to work with him again whether with DML or otherwise. I had worked with Nick in the pas,t too. I played drums for him with the band Canyon Country, which he put out on his record label Attack 9.
Did you guys concentrate on anything specific with the new album?
Lyrics and songwriting. We focused on a really organic production and really trying to nail the songs live-in-the-studio so that we got it down and done, so it wasn't something that we were trying to fix later in the mix. With songwriting we just tried to focus on being as honest as possible. Tim had gone through a lot. His dad had passed away, so his songs have a lot of gravity to them. It definitely put the record in the sort of space where everyone could concentrate. I don't even want to call it a new direction because we're just doing what we do, but that's what happened with a different sort of focus.
|Darker My Love|
The record was recorded in San Francisco at a studio where many other famous tracks have been recorded. What made you choose that site?
Hyde Street was where CCR had the Cosmo's Factory where they recorded their first two or three records before they moved to Fantasy in Berkeley. We'd actually recorded there before and we just always loved the vibe. It's in the Tenderloin District, so it's really kind of gritty, and it's reasonably priced to record there. All of Herbie Hancock's funk records were done there, and Workingman's Dead and American Beauty were done there. [It's an] awesome place to record, and that's what we were going for. And all of those mics are still there, so we used all the same pieces of equipment. Studios in L.A. are pricier, and I don't want to say stale. We recorded our album 2 at Sunset Sound where The Rolling Stones recorded and The Doors did all their stuff, but we wanted to get away from L.A. It's good to get away from everyday distractions. When you go home you can get the mail and your cell phone bill is there [laughs], so when you're in San Francisco and you're going back to this place where you are just renting, you can go home have a drink, go to bed, and be ready to record more in the morning and not think about that other stuff and totally think about the record.
There's amazing interplay between you and your bandmates. Do you think that comes more from the time you've put in practicing, recording or touring?
It's mainly from touring. We don't really practice much anymore. When we get together we write songs but we don't rehearse that much. That also adds to the live feel because you can make a mistake. Playing on tour you get more comfortable when you're playing together every night. We're also all good friends, so that helps the chemistry for sure.
You and Tim wrote the songs for this new album. Is that the way it normally goes or do you bring in the other bandmates to write as well?
Sometimes Tim will write a song, sometimes I'll write a song, and then we'll bring it to the band and it will get completely figured out. But then sometimes we'll all work together on a song. But we always bring songs to the whole band to play and work through collaboratively, and that's when ideas get thrown around - editing, rearranging, and things like that happen. Then again, sometimes we all put something together that comes from a jam in practice or something like that.
You're building a bigger fan base right now. This is your third album. You're about to play the Greek Theatre in Berkley with Band of Horses, and start another headlining tour in November. What do you see in the future for DML?
Make another record, write cool songs, that's it. And have fun playing shows. To take it too seriously at times will drive you crazy. So as long as you just realize you're doing it to write songs and have fun then it's all gravy because that can be attained. But, if you start shooting for financial stability or stuff like that, that is what drives you crazy in the music industry.
Darker My Love just wrapped up a West Coast tour in support of Band of Horses. They hit the road again in November with Delta Spirit and The Fling. The tour starts in the Midwest and makes it way out to the East Coast and Southeast before coming back to California in December.
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