Rollo & Grady Interview with Jessi Darlin of Those Darlins

Rollo & Grady Interview with Jessi Darlin of Those Darlins
Jessi Darlin @ Tap Room – SXSW 2009 (Photo – Rollo & Grady)

Murfreesboro, Tennessee trio Those Darlins are taking the US by storm. They have garnered significant praise from the New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today for their high-energy shows and no nonsense approach to rock n’ roll. They have also caught the attention of Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, Black Lips, The Avett Brothers, King Khan & The Shrines and Deer Tick, to name a few. The band is currently touring the Southeast, including a slot at Bonnaroo before their Nashville vinyl relase party with the Black Lips on June 27th.

I recently spoke with Jessi Darlin about the music business, national attention and who’s the wildest Darlin.

Rollo & Grady Interview with Jessi Darlin of Those Darlins

This has been a hectic year for you guys. Can you tell me a little bit about the highs and lows of your cross country tour?

Jessi: That’s a hard question. It’s been really fun for all of us, just because we’ve been seeing so many places for the first time. It’s frustrating to go somewhere you’ve never been and always wanted to see, but you don’t actually get to see anything that you want to. You have to go to the venue, stay there and maybe walk down the block to eat. We saw the cities from a skewed perspective, at a glance, but we had a lot of fun just getting to hang out with the people that lived in them. Definitely, I think we adapt well to our surroundings. The places we don’t, we get out of there as quickly as we can. I think the actual trips themselves are the high point: seeing everything, meeting people and playing shows for people. There are always the standard low points of touring; being in a van with the same people for hours and hours and hours, being exhausted and, especially, being sick and trying to entertain people and pretend that you’re not sick or not in a bad mood. Not really pretend, because every time we play shows, we feel the adrenaline and have fun while we do it, but sometimes people don’t see the hard part, the turmoil you’ve gone through just to get there. They don’t think about how you’ve been in a different place every single day across the entire country, in every climate. They just see you as this one thing while you play. It messes with your head, especially if you’re not on tour for very long, because you don’t get a chance to get used to it. By the time you get home, you feel like you just went through a whirlwind of craziness.

R&G: You guys recently opened up for The Avett Brothers. They are one of the best live acts out today. Did you learn anything for them?

Jessi: First of all, they were all so super-nice. It was really cool to meet them. They packed the place with 900 people and were still down to earth and cool. They had super-fans. We don’t see that a lot. Even with Dan Auerbach, there are a lot of people that really like him, but The Avett Brothers had the fan club sitting in the front with the Team Avett t-shirts on and stuff. That was kind of weird. It was cool: after the show, they got on their tour bus and this group of 30 fans stood outside their bus for almost an hour until they came back out. Then they stood there and talked to every single one of them and not just like, ‘Hey. I’ll sign your thing.’ They actually had conversations with them and took the time to talk to them. I thought that was really cool, because they could have gotten on the bus and left. No matter how tired, or sick, or unhappy you are when someone says, “Good show,” you still have to talk to them and say, ‘Thanks, man.’ You have to appreciate it. That’s the people that are making it happen for you.

R&G: The band has generated a ton of positive press. Did you expect this type of attention so fast?

Jessi: I never expected anything. I can’t say I was surprised, but at the same time I am surprised. It’s kind of the feeling of, ‘Of course we’re going to get press because we’re playing good shows, we’ve got a great publicist, our manager’s doing great work and we’re all working hard to make this happen.’ It just makes sense that it’s happening, but at the same time when you look at it from behind the scenes, knowing how much work we’re doing, it’s not that surprising. When I look at a year-and-a-half ago, if you said we’d get all the press we’re having now, I would have fallen over on the floor and thought, ‘No way, yeah right.’ We never planned anything. We just played. It was never like, ‘Let’s make this into some type of empire.’ We were just playing shows, and that’s how we still are. We have to get our album out and then we’re going to play some more. Then we’re going to record another album. I try not to think too far in advance or too far back in the past because it’s hard to get perspective on what you’re doing.

R&G: When we first met at SXSW we discussed the do-it-yourself approach to the music business. You had no interest in 360 deals and sharing merch, record and touring sales. Can you talk a little bit about that again, about your philosophy of doing this all on your own and how you think that’s the best direction for the band?

Jessi: Well, ever since the beginning of the band we’ve always taken all the money that we made at shows – which, at the beginning, was hardly anything – and put it back into the band fund. We’ve never paid ourselves. We’ve always been ‘all for one’ and taken everything that we could make and invested with what we had. I think when we got to the point where we were going to record a record – this is before we met our manager JT [John Turner] – we decided we were going to pay for it ourselves and then figure out how to put it out ourselves. Of course, we didn’t know what we were going to do. We just knew that we wanted to do it ourselves. We saved up the money and chipped away and started recording. Then, JT came in. We met him and he had the experience to oversee this type of thing. The four of us – the band and JT – formed a partnership and started our own label to release our EP. We don’t have a strong idea of how long we’ll have this setup or if we’re always going to do it this way. It depends. We really feel like it’s important – especially with our first album – to keep all the profits between the four of us. We feel like it doesn’t make sense to do the standard record label deal. They give you so much money up front, but it’s in exchange for owning all of your masters. We have a really good booking agent, a great publicist and a great manager. We now have a college radio company helping us out. At this point, the only thing that a record label could offer us that we don’t already have is money. If that’s the only thing they can give us, and we still have to give up our masters, we just figure, ‘Well, why don’t we just figure out somewhere else to get the money and keep all the masters.’

R&G: When ranking the ‘wild ones’ of the band, my perception is Kelley’s number one, Nikki’s a close second, and you’re a distant third. Is that close?

Jessi: That’s funny. No, I couldn’t say, but I definitely would say people are constantly treating us that way. They always want to pick the one that’s the ‘wild one’, and usually what we get is that Nikki’s the wild one, Kelley’s the nice, outgoing one and the leader of the band and I’m the cute, shy one. Or… the opposite. Sometimes they think that Kelley’s the shy one, and I’m the outgoing one. Either way, I’m the little, cute one, Kelley’s the business one, and Nikki’s the wild card. It’s kind of funny. It’s true that I am little and Nikki is wild and Kelley is nice, but I think we all in our own way have our own roughness. Being wild comes from being self-confident. I think we’ve all been in our share of trouble – I don’t get in many fights, but that’s because I know I’ll get my ass kicked.

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