It wasn’t long ago that Dark Dark Dark visited Portland in support of their previous album, Bright Bright Bright, back in March. They’re back already with a new album – Wild Go – and a show tonight at SPACE Gallery. Brooklyn’s Milagres (who have played a HillyTown show before and will be on the FREE Brooklyn vs. Portland CMJ Day Party this Friday at The Rock Shop!) and local Meghan Yates open.
Interview by Robert Ker
The members of chamber-folk sextet Dark Dark Dark often refer to themselves as a nomadic band. Musically, they can be all over the map: their latest album, Wild Go, is their typical blend of classic pop, indie rock, New Orleans dirges, lounge singing, chamber folk, and whatever else they can pull together from their eclectic instrumentation and exploratory songwriting. Their road atlas is no doubt well-worn as well. The band is based in Minneapolis but boasts players from throughout the country. They write on the road and tour constantly â€” after performing in Maine just seven months ago, they return for a show at Space Gallery at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12. Tickets are $7.
I spoke with co-singer (along with Nona Marie) and multi-instrumentalist Marshall LaCount by telephone in advance of this gig.
You use instruments that are traditionally used in jazz and bluegrass. Did you come from extensive backgrounds in these genres?
Only one of us really comes from a jazz background and is a currently gigging jazz musician. Nona and I and Jonathan, we all have played piano in the past and came to these instruments I think just by attraction. The banjo, the accordion, and the cello â€” we just happened upon them. Jonathan had a classical background on the cello, and Nona is self-taught and Iâ€™m primarily self-taught and weâ€™ve kind of made a lot of stuff up, actually. I think Nona has really great pop sensibility and my sensibilities are really not formalized and Iâ€™m really self-taught as well.
When you picked up these instruments did you steep yourselves in their histories or did you just apply what you knew on the piano and figured it out?
Itâ€™s really a combination. Personally, and I can speak for Nona as well, I didnâ€™t want to play the accordion or the banjo traditionally, so to speak, so we really tried to invent our styles on those instruments, but thatâ€™s not to say that we didnâ€™t learn any of the history. As far as the cello, or as far as Walterâ€™s accordion playing or Nonaâ€™s piano playing, that stuff is really more informed by tradition. It kind of depends. Especially with the banjo. The banjo is the most obvious in that sense because we didnâ€™t want it to sound like a bluegrass instrument and we didnâ€™t want the band to sound like a bluegrass band.
Did you ever have much inclination to form a rock band in the electric guitar-bass-drums tradition?
The addition of a drummer is new and we love it. My banjo is now electrified. In the past we had a guitar and we actually gave it away and said weâ€™d never have a guitar in our band as one of the primary instruments. We have guitar on one song on our new record. We made an exception for one song, and itâ€™s not even a lead instrument. I think rock bands are fun, and definitely if itâ€™s a loud venue with a rowdy crowd, we joke about wishing we were in a rock band.
Having the drummer must change the dynamic and allow you to thrive in those environments more.
A lot of the songs are still restrained and quieter, and our drummer is really sensitive and can be very dynamic. Itâ€™s probably less than 50% of the songs that really are rockers by any means, but the drums definitely help us with louder venues or louder atmospheres. We still do what the song demands more than speeding up everything and making everything louder. In most cases weâ€™ll do what we need to do to honor the song rather than compete with the audience or something. Weâ€™re really sticking to our guns and playing quieter music, but carefully arranged and well written, rather than playing more rock and roll songs. Not that those canâ€™t be well written or carefully arranged. But itâ€™s not what weâ€™re working on.
Can you discuss for a bit how you recorded Wild Go to get such a rich sound?
Aside from the engineer being great to work with and really understanding his analogue gear and all of his equipment and how to mix everything so it stays warm and sounding good, we do our writing and arranging beforehand and we perform the songs live â€“ the six-piece core performs everything live, including vocals, so that we feel as we do when we rehearse and when we perform. The performances that we capture on the tape really represent how we work together as six musicians. And I think that thatâ€™s where some of the warmth comes from.
Whatâ€™s the most head-scratching comparison youâ€™ve ever seen between your band and another in a review?
There have been some really funny ones. Once, I think because of my voice, someone said Violent Femmes. Because of the accordion, and it does confuse me a bit, people say Arcade Fire. Just because we have strings and Arcade Fire used to have an accordion. Of course they say Beirut because thereâ€™s an accordion and horns. They say Regina Spektor all the time, which Iâ€™ve never really listened to. I canâ€™t really remember the most baffling ones.
I wouldnâ€™t use it in a review but Nonaâ€™s singing kind of reminds me of Fiona Apple.
Oh, yeah, Iâ€™ve heard that one, too. That oneâ€™s weird.
Youâ€™ve referred to yourselves as travelers â€” you record in these different places and tour a lot. How do you keep travel fatigue from setting in?
Weâ€™re either non-drinkers or very moderate drinkers. We eat health food. And we have a lot of friends around the country that we meet with. And we just try to be really spiritually and physically healthy. We go swimming a lot. Most of the time, we take a half-hour off and go swimming, even if some people donâ€™t feel like it. Weâ€™re really insistent on trying to feel good.
Do you swim in pools, lakes, the ocean, or rivers? What your preferred venue?
Oh, we know spots all over the country where we stop repeatedly, so itâ€™s pretty cool. We know a lot of beautiful mountain streams in California, if not the East Coast, and we love the ocean. Itâ€™s kind of the reason that water made it on to the cover of our newest record. Itâ€™s actually become almost a joke.
Youâ€™ve played in March and youâ€™re playing in October. You should come play in Maine sometime when you can actually swim here.
I probably still jumped in the ocean in March. Nona and I will jump in any water for one second, just for the shock therapy.