Darlingside is coming to Waterfront Wednesday on Wednesday, Aug. 30. Members Don Mitchell (vocal, guitar, banjo), Auyon Mukharji (vocal, violin, mandolin), Harris Paseltiner (vocal, guitar, cello), David Senft (vocal, bass, guitar) got their start as a five-piece outfit in 2009. Some of the members met while in college. LEO Caught up with Harris Paseltiner who shared his thoughts on how they make music, why they share one mic, and whether or not they are really taking Darling’s side.
Who were your inspirations as a band? I certainly hear the obvious, Simon and Garfunkel, but who else?
Because we have four songwriters, there are many influences on our sound, given that the four of us grew up listening to different music and are often exploring different things in any given season. As a group, we’ve often been drawn to vocal harmony-heavy groups like the Byrds, The Zombies, or Beach Boys when arranging. I’ve recently been listening to a lot of British and Irish folk music: Nick Drake, John Martyn, and Lankum.
Explain Baroque-Folk to me. Your sound has been described this way.
My guess is that the word baroque is referring to our use of bowed strings like violin and cello, which we sometimes arrange in the style of classical music rather than folk. It also might be in reference to our frequent use of vocal harmony. I usually describe the band as just folk, but I’ve enjoyed seeing the different modifiers that have popped up over the years.
When creating, what is your central focus: Harmony or Melody and why?
When writing we tend to begin with a melody—maybe something simple at its core like a tune hummed over a guitar. Often the harmonies come afterward, once the melody has solidified. With a group of voices, there are many options on how to build a vocal stack on top of the melody, so we’ll throw a bunch of ideas at the wall and see what sticks. I like to think of the melody as the skeleton of the song and then the harmonies as the body and clothing and stuff that fill in around it to complete the picture.
I’ve seen it noted that you play in a bluegrass formation while not being bluegrass. Why did you choose to sing and perform this way?
We’re a fiercely democratic group—there’s no traditional lead singer, frontman, or soloist, so we’re all singing together most of the time, whether in unison or in harmony. For many years, we felt that it would be easier to combine our voices in the room before they hit a single microphone capsule. In this way, we could create a “group voice”. For our new record, however, we’ve chosen to trade off lead vocalists for each song after years of clumping together. For me, it’s both a refreshing change and slightly terrifying since I’ve been able to hide my voice in the group sound for so long.
I read that you took a class where your professor encouraged you to “kill your darlings” and that’s where you got your name. Do you kill the darlings or does “Darlingside” indicate that you take the corner of that darling? Whose side are you on?
Ooh I like that idea, that we’re on the side of the darling! The name actually began with a letter C, like “Darlingcide”—so as pesticide is to kill pests, darlingcide is to kill darlings. But the name was too morbid and was difficult to pronounce, so we opted for the S instead. Working as a group of co-writers, we’ve all had to learn to let go of darlings. If I have an initial conception of how a song “has to be”, it invariably will change as it bounces through the brains of three other people. The song comes back sounding like the group rather than like an individual. When we first started writing together, I had a tough time letting go of how I wanted the song to sound. Now, I usually enjoy watching the idea contort and become something new.
Tell me about Everything is Alive? It’s a really positive outlook on a world where we all look at what’s wrong so often.
At times over the past years, and especially through the pandemic, I’ve had the tendency to get stuck in a rut—like you say, to look at what’s wrong around me. Much of my songwriting has reflected an ongoing battle between this feeling of hopelessness and a gut feeling that there is inherent good in the world around me if I look closely. The title “Everything Is Alive” is taken from the chorus of our song “Sea Dogs”. This song reckons with the sometimes-paralyzing fact that every living thing will die one day. But in the chorus of this song, the opposite comes true—the clouds change and come to life as sea dogs, monsters, a blowing kite, bouncing basketballs. So while all living things will certainly die, all things, even dead things, are alive, dynamic, and shifting and changing if we look closely (or differently) enough.
How does your music reflect values that you hold close?
When our band gets together to write, we often begin the day with free-writes. Maybe something like half an hour of stream-of-consciousness words dumped on a page. These free-writes contain everything from boring day-to-day descriptions, memories, big questions, pure nonsense, and so on. Typically, out of a full page of writing, a few sentences or words will leap out because they illuminate some deeper feeling or value that we want to explore. For instance, it might be a specific memory that relates to how I’m feeling today. From this we’ll build the lyrics of a song. I’m often personally drawn to transcendental images—the idea that some sort of meaning, truth, light (whichever name you might want to call it) arises out of the ordinary world around us.
Have you played Louisville before? Anything you’re looking forward to coming to town?
Yes, we were in Louisville a few years back to play Waterfront Wednesday and I’m really looking forward to getting back. I loved exploring and walking along the river. Last time, we were encouraged to order an incredible dish—the hot brown “sandwich”, which I’ve been thinking about ever since. One of my big goals for this tour is to eat another one.