Jessi Zazu, Those Darlins
Finding a signature sound can be tricky, especially with so many creative minds in on the songwriting process.
“We brought up the demos we were working on, and someone told us that we sounded like two different bands,” Jessi Zazu of the Nashville-based band Those Darlins told Nightlife. “We needed to find a way to blend the two styles and be a lot more focused.”
Those Darlins rock out with a show as part of a whirlwind tour to promote the group’s latest offering, Blur the Line. The band’s origins date back to 2006, when Zazu met fellow founding members Nikki Kvarnes and Kelley Anderson at the Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The ladies started out covering songs by the Carter Family, blending traditional southern instruments like washboards and clogs with the much less-traditional baritone ukulele. The first single, “Wild One,” dropped in 2008 and started to pick up buzz from Pitchfork and other media. This led to the Black Keys offering Those Darlins an opening spot on a U.S. tour.
For the self-titled debut album, Those Darlins worked in the studio with Jeff Curtin of Small Black. Curtin previously had worked on Vampire Weekend’s self-titled album and he helped Those Darlins mix Appalachian and alt-country sounds with more with rock ‘n’ roll. The resulting album spawned the single “Red Light Love,” which was later used in a commercial for the Kia Sorento.
The girls asked their longtime touring drummer Linwood Regensburg to join as a permanent member and songwriting partner. The 2011 followup release again featured Curtin producing. Screws Get Loose voiced a more aggressive garage-band feel than its predecessor. Anderson, however, left the band in 2012 to pursue other projects, leaving Those Darlins to pick up Adrian Barrera, who they met while on tour with Gentlemen Jesse and his Men, on bass.
Blur the Line, which was released in October, features a more defined sound than the previous two albums. Zazu explained that preparing the new material took almost a year to write, but the album itself was finished in less than a week. The long sessions went eight or ten hours per day, but proximity was on the band’s side given the project was recorded in their hometown.
“It was extensive, but in some ways it was easier than our first [album],” Zazu said. “We could just go back to the house. It wasn’t that stressful at all.”
Zazu credited the band’s ability to streamline the new material to each member’s focus. “I think a lot of that came from us knowing our role and trying to fulfill that as best as we could,” Zazu said.
Promotion for the new record was not without controversy. Before the release date was announced, a banner of the cover art was hung in front of a Nashville record store. The cover features the nude legs and torsos of each of the four members of the band, nestled in next to each other. A local Fox News affiliate ran a story claiming the cover art was offensive and questioned the placement of the “indecent” image on a “well-trafficked street.”
Those Darlins bandmates often talk about an “ability to balance and love both the masculine and feminine powers (as all great rock does) that gives [the band] potency.”
So since rock ‘n’ roll should know no gender lines, the band still does not see what the fuss was all about, Zazu said.“We laughed about it,” Zazu said. “We really didn’t see what the big deal was.”
Zazu said she believes in inspiring others, especially women and young girls, with the power of positive thinking. Writing has been a therapeutic experience ever since she was nine years old, she says, and through that avenue she has been able to gain the confidence to help others going through their own ordeals.
“Women can be powerful,” Zazu said. “I hope that people can find something to connect to in our music. If I was having trouble in my life and I write this song, by doing this I am maybe helping someone else going through something of their own.... With our [new single], ‘Oh God,’ we get a lot of people telling us how much the song meant to them, and it’s inspiring.
It’s like we [collectively] don’t feel bad about this crap anymore.... I am just a female thinking what I’ve learned is the best way to intervene is to be the change yourself... Zazu added. “What I think we all need to do is to consider what we do with our lives. It all really matters.”