Those Darlins | That Feeling of Excitement and Love

Everyone was beaming and smiling, and it was contagious, and it was just a completely unique experience.

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Last month’s announcement that Those Darlins were going on “indefinite hiatus” broke the hearts of many fans of their rebellious and raucous brand of Nashville rock. It was especially hard given the stellar trajectory of their short, but intense catalog, from the chipper harmonies masking drunken mischief in their 2009 self-titled debut, to the brazenly defiant Screws Get Loose in 2011, to 2013’s thoughtful and sure-footed masterpiece, Blur the Line. Anticipating news of the next step in their evolution, we instead received notice that the band was calling it quits. But according to Jessi Zazu, the band’s carefully selected current status is meant to leave the door open for future possibilities. And those possibilities include reunions, new records, visual arts, and a spectacular all-girl girl-group tribute show. I was fortunate to grab a minute of the gracious guitarist’s time before the final tour began.

So where do we go from here? Where will we find more Those Darlins’ sound?

I’m working with Linwood [Regensburg; drummer] in new project, an album. It’s almost finished. The meat of the work is there, but the details haven’t quite been hashed out.

I am working in February on this show that I did last year, that Nikki [Kvarnes; guitarist and singer] was a part of last year. It’s called She’s a Rebel, and it’s a girl-group tribute show. It’s like an all-woman band. It’s five women in the core backing band playing on all the songs. My friend Tiffany and I are organizing the event. There’ll be strings, horns, backup singers, and then we’ll have just a bunch of different vocalists from Nashville come and learn a song or two, different performers from different genres and types of projects. So it’s kind of a Who’s-Who of Nashville. It’s a tribute to the women who paved the way for us today, so it’s kind of a pet project.

I have an art show in June, at the Gordon Jewish Community Center near Nashville, with my dad. And then in November I have an eight-week show starting in Huntsville, Alabama, another art show, at the Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment.

Nikki has an art show here in Nashville on February 6 at the Julia Munn Gallery. She is also planning to make some new music, but I don’t know anything about definite plans.

When you say art show, this is outside of the realm of music then?

Yeah.

I didn’t know there was that other aspect for both of you. That’s awesome.

Yeah. We’ve both always been doing the visual side of it as well. Nikki and I, both of our moms are artists, and my dad is an artist, as well. So that’s sort of the other half of our creative endeavors we’ve pursued over the years.

Your girl-group tribute—can you tell me at all about the songs or the artists that will be covered?

We try to cover a mix of different girl groups. We’ll have Ronettes, Crystals, The Ikettes, Chiffons, The Shangri-Las, The Shirelles, The Orlans, and more. And then every year—I don’t want to give it away before the show, because that’s kind of part of the surprise—but every year, we‘re doing a different set than last year. The complicated part is getting all the people to commit and then pick the songs, so the last month has been a barrage of “So-and-so said yes!” and “So-and-so said no.” We’re literally down to the last person we’re waiting on to pick their songs today, and then it will be solidified.

I can’t help but notice that every time you come through St. Louis you play Off Broadway (which is awesome; it’s a great venue). But is that just coincidence? Is that convenience? Preference? Do you all have a relationship with the folks there?

It’s preference, and it also it has to do with the size of the place and all that. We have a booking agent who books our tours, so sometimes it has to do with their relationship with the venue and the promoters. But also it has been a place that we always just wanted to go back to, because they were really cool to us from the beginning, and we built a relationship with the people who work there. So it’s sort of like that place works: It’s got the right size for the crowd we draw, and the people there treat us like we’re part of the family. It’s familiar, and it’s somewhere where you feel like you have a history.

Looking back—I know this is “hiatus,” so this is just a timeout, not necessarily the end—but do you have any favorite shows that you’ve played over the years? Most memorable shows?

Any show, or in St. Louis specifically?

Oh! How about both?

Well, the first show I’ll always think of is when we got to play in Beijing, because that was the craziest trip ever. We got to go out there for one show and then fly back. That was definitely the wildest experience, as far as being somewhere that was totally so far out of the realm of what I know. That was a really memorable one. But you know, there’s so many shows that were awesome, and I could probably sit here and name a million, but my first thought is that one.

As far as St. Louis, the first one that comes to mind is when we were on tour with The King Khan & BBQ Show, and they got arrested on the way there and never showed up. So we were stuck. We didn’t know they weren’t gonna show up! So we were just waiting for them, and they kept saying, “Keep playing!” So we just kept playing. And it was sold out. It was really weird, but it was really fun, and people liked it, but it was also kind of sad because at the end we had to say, “Oh, we just found out that they are not coming to the show tonight.” Some people were disappointed. But some people were like, “Well, you guys did a really good job just filling in.” So that was kind of just a crazy, weird moment.

Some of my other favorite shows there were when we were on tour with Heavy Cream. They were on tour for us, and we did a song together onstage. That was our last show of the tour, and it was their last tour ever. So we were all dancing and getting into each other’s sets, and we did a song or two onstage together, and it was just really sweet. Then when we played with Diarrhea Planet, we were on tour with them, and that our final show of the tour for both bands. So that was pretty cool, too. I don’t know which one was my favorite, but those are the ones in my memory.

I also remember one night—I don’t know who we were playing with—but I remember we were headlining, and at the end of our show just formed a band with some people in the audience, and then just kept playing random cover songs for like an hour or something. It was just a free for all. That was kind of funny.

You guys tend to work a lot of good cover songs into your sets, don’t you?

Yeah, we like to play covers and mix it up a little bit.

I got to see you play at The Black Cat when I was living in D.C. for a little while.

Oh, cool; that’s awesome! I love that place.

It was a great show. And I think you did “Fortunate Son,” which was a perfect choice for D.C.

I remember that. So well.

And that was kind of a weird crowd that night, I thought. But anyway…

Yeah, it was. My friend was there, and I remember thinking it was sort of like an inside joke between us. I really, specifically remember that exact performance of it.

It was a perfect choice. You also played an Alex Chilton song. Is that something that comes up very often?

We did that song for a while; I don’t think we’ve ever done any other Alex Chilton or Big Star. But I am personally—it’s not just me—but I will speak for myself and say that I’m a big fan of Big Star, and I really like Alex Chilton. I’m a fan of their style; we’re all Big Star fans. And that’s one of the bands that I go to when I’m really far away from home, because it reminds me of home, because to me they sound like Tennessee…although they’re from Memphis, so it’s not exactly Nashville. But there’s this feeling that describes to me this region, and it always makes me feel less homesick when I listen to them when I’m far away.

Can I ask you about a particular song from your last album? I really enjoy “That Man,” and I’ve listened to the song over and over. Maybe it’s just me having a hard time following a story, but can you tell me what is going on in that song?

[Laughs] Well, that’s because it’s not a linear story. That’s probably why it’s hard to follow. It’s more of an abstraction of an experience, of coming to a realization about myself and relationships with men, and my relationship with the world as a woman, questioning or coming to awareness that sometimes when I think I’m in control, I’m not really in control. Sometimes I’m trying with this person and I don’t even really want this person: two sides of one phenomenon. It was during a time in my life that was confusing, a time in a relationship in my life that was blurry, about paranoia and obsession, trying to break out of it all that final time, freedom and realizing that I wasn’t as free as I really thought, seeing these invisible chains I wanted to break free from, I wanted to push out from, but having unsure footing.

I have a lot of transitions going on, not just with the band, but I just moved. I mean, I just put my stuff in storage, and I just have to get through this time without too much emotion. It’s been more overwhelming than I thought it would be. We thought we would do this [hiatus] for a while, but it’s been a process, and I went through a lot of the emotions months ago and then felt really good. But now that I’m having to talk about it…

Can you tell me more about the artists who will be performing in your tribute show?

I’m not really sure who you would recognize, but we have Olivia Scibelli—she was in Heavy Cream and is now in Idle Bloom. They’ll be opening for us on the final tour. Jasmin Kaset from Bird Cloud, Amy Smith from The Protomen, Beth Cameron from Forget Cassettes, Alanna Royale, Chaley Rose from the TV show Nashville, Lauren Gilbert—she’s in the band Thelma & The Sleaze. And then we have some solo artists like Larissa Maestro: She plays cello, she’s in a band called Poly, and she’s also in a ’90s tribute band called My So-Called Band. Madeline Besson, she just moved here from Paris; Emoni Wilkins, who I love. I haven’t met her yet, but I’m super excited about her. She can really sing.

It’s going to be pretty awesome! Last year was one of the funnest shows I’ve ever done. It ended up being 40 women involved in the bands, plus 17 singers. That’s a lot of women! Even the DJs, the stage managers, recording, filming… We didn’t realize until the dress rehearsal the day before the show. We had 27 songs and all the strings and horns learned the songs separately, and they didn’t play together until the first dress rehearsal the day before the show. Then the singers all came together, and some knew each other, but suddenly everyone realized—we have never been in a space before with that many women! There have been so many times where everyone in every band, it was all dudes. So there was a lot of excitement and it really sparked something infectious, this feeling of excitement and love, and everyone was beaming and smiling, and it was contagious—the crowd could feel it—and it was just a completely unique experience. | Courtney Dowdall


Your last chance to bask in the sparkly and sweaty glory of Those Darlins in St. Louis is Thursday, January 28, at Off Broadway. You can also catch She’s a Rebel at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday, February 26.

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