If there were a guide book for creating a successful indie rock band, the first rule of thumb likely would read as such: “Whatever you do, do not attempt to cover the iconic bands of yesteryear, especially those which hold deeply nostalgic places in the hearts of music lovers around the world.” If this were the case, it would appear Canadian rock outfit The Darcy’s一whose recently released sophomore album is a track-for-track cover of Steely Dan’s AJA一 have no intentions of sticking to the rules. The bright and brassy sounds of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s original album are barely recognizable beneath the eerily hushed vocals of lead singer Jason Couse and the bands full and deeply harmonic instrumentals.
The group has come a long way from playing in the college bars of Eastern Canada, where the four members; Couse, Wes Marskell, Dave Hurlow and Michael le Riche met while studying at the University of King’s College. With two albums under their belt in the span of less than 6 months, one more on the way and a gig opening for Bombay Bicycle Club at sold out shows around North America, the Darcy’s appear to be furiously accelerating into the indie fast lane. It doesn’t hurt that they’re signed to the incredibly packed roster of Arts & Crafts who are responsible for bringing us the likes of Feist, Phoenix and Broken Social Scene. Needless to say, The Darcy’s are in good company and appear to be living up to the hype. The Toronto-based band are playing their first round of shows in New York tonight at the Music Hall of Williamsburg and Monday at the Bowery Ballroom.
I caught up with Jason on a break from riding in the back of an old Chevy on the West Coast leg of their tour.
Amy: From what I remember, The Darcy’s got off to a bit of a rough start before releasing your self-titled. Can you give us a little history of the group?
Jason: We started playing together when we were all students at King’s College in Halifax. It wasn’t an entirely focused project at that point, I think we were just playing to play and kind of figuring out what we were all about. It took us a couple years to start writing a bit more seriously and then we ended up in the studio with Murray Lightburn from The Dears, recording in Montreal. Following those recording sessions, we had a falling out with one of our band members, so he left the band when we had already done a lot of work on the album which kind of put us at a bit of a stand-still.
But then about three hours later, we just made the decision that we were gonna keep on truckin’ and that I would to step up on the lead vocal. We only had three or four days to get it together for a big Canadian Music Week showcase in Toronto. It was like a call to arms and we really ended up rallying together. In a way it was the best thing that ever happened to us, in that we became much more focused and it kind of distilled us down to the most dedicated members.
Once we got back into the studio it took almost three years to get that album finished. I think there was this cathartic moment when the album came out on Arts & Crafts in October of last year. It was kind of sweet because it was finally done to our satisfaction, and out, and we were still alive. We finally had some sort of tangible direction.
Where does the name come from?
Jason: I don’t know how to make this sound…not embarrassing. During the early genesis of the group, a number of us were in an English survey class, and we were reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. We had sort of this continuum of jokes about Mr. Darcy being Victorian lit’s most eligible bachelor. You know, Victorian chick lit. He’s very dark and mysterious and well-kept and he’s got a lot of secrets but he’s also a very focussed individual. Anyway, that was something we had sort of talked about when we were sitting around trying to come up with names for the band, before it really even existed. And then one day we were walking down the street and we saw a poster for a show that was coming up and it said that The Darcy’s were playing. We all sort of looked at each other and thought, “Oh, well I guess that name’s already taken.” Then we saw that it was our friend organizing that show and that he had in fact, both named us and booked us a gig without letting us know. So, we had a week to figure out a set and we played, and that was our first show.
Amy: You’ve been labelled as a lot of different genres, prog-rock, art-rock, indie…How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t listened to the album yet?
Jason: Oh boy. I always find it difficult to describe this because I find myself so close to the project in many ways that I find I don’t really know how it relates to other things. I understand the art rock, because we don’t necessarily adhere to conventional song structure or format. We’re not writing songs with massive hooks and choruses. Prog has a bad rep, and I don’t really ever listen to it. But the concept that a song begins in one place and fully develops, and builds tension towards some sort of release or some sort of catharsis, is something that we definitely think about. And again, that’s finding gratification in a song or in a sound that’s not necessarily derived from repeating a big banger of a chorus. I think people often just see that as alternative. But you know…there’s no glockenspiel.
Amy: Where do you think that puts the Darcy’s in the realm of the recording industry as a whole. Do you identify yourself with any other acts out there? You’re on a label with a roster of incredible artists.
Jason: That’s one thing that is really awesome about A&C, is that they have many different kinds of artists. It’s not a genre specific label which I think is really cool. But I think there is something similar about the artists on there. You know, they don’t necessarily sit in the category that they’re given. People are always able to try and grow within their own genre, discover and refine their aesthetic and always evolve. That’s something that we want to do.
On our first album, we made the kinds of sounds and songs that we thought we wanted to represent ourselves, but also was the kind of music that we wanted to listen to and couldn’t find anywhere to put into our headphones. But I think as time goes on and you learn about the recording process, and you learn more about yourself, and the kind of things that you like, that really develops. So I think we want to just explore the studio space a little bit more and explore what we can do with the equipment and the skills at hand and take that as far as possible. That sounds very lofty, I know…
No, no, it doesn’t at all! I know that you were all fans of Steely Dan, but what compelled you to go into the studio and record a track-for-track cover of AJA?
Jason: It was kind of a result of desperate times for us. In that whole process of losing a band member, where we ended up going back in the studio and re-mixing the self-titled album a couple times, it was just really long and drawn out. During the process we didn’t have an album to shop to labels and we couldn’t really play shows so we were just kind of stuck. It was just a crazy idea that popped up. But then we tried a song and then we tried another one. It was just kind of working. And then we had three down, and we thought… well, we’re three songs in out of seven…I guess we can’t back out now. We thought it would be done in four months and then it became eight. In that time we all kind of lost our sanity, and it became an extreme passion project, but in the end one of the most rewarding things we’ve done. It was such a far out idea that we really had to push ourselves in terms of coming up with new concepts and learning how to solve problems. We recorded at home and we never really thought it would get the kind of release that it did. But the label was really behind it and then we became really proud of it because it was our blood, sweat and tears for so long.
Is it true that AJA is intended to be the second album in a trilogy? Where do you go from Steely Dan and when can fans expect a release?
Jason: Falling on the heels of AJA, we realized it had been a chance to see where we were as the four of us, and how the production side of things was going to work. And so recording all of that, we learned about our abilities in the studio. We just never stopped working. One day we weren’t working on AJA anymore and it was us working on new tunes. So we’ve been producing to the fullest extent, at least in our home studio, and working on a new album. We probably have about two dozen songs right now. We’re just going to kind of keep producing as much as we can until we find our selves in the studio, and then sort of distill it down to what we think is the best representation of where we are now. Which is really cool because you know, we’re the same people in a way but we’ve also grown so much in these past months and I’m really excited to hear how this will turn out.
You’ve come a long way in the past year since I last saw you guys play at the Steamwhistle Brewery in Toronto. What can we expect to see from your live performance?
Jason: The more we play, and the more we play to, you know…bigger crowds, things become a little bit more streamlined in the sense that we’re becoming more comfortable with the songs. We have more freedom to explore the performance aspect of it. I think what’s been really great for us on this tour is that we’re having a lot more fun on stage and we’re moving around more. We’re playing the AJA tunes which is really cool because they’re new for us. So since it’s fresh material for us, it seems to be a little bit more emotional than the set usually is. We’re just having a really great time right now.
Favorite show so far?
Jason: LA was really special. But I think it probably had to be Seattle. I mean, there’s so much history in that city, and that venue that we ended up playing at was one of the centers of the punk-grunge movement in that city when it really solidified itself. And it was just a really great crowd and the kind of commentary was really in tune with the kind of things that we think about when we finish a set. People seem to be understanding things the way we want them to be understood which is really rewarding.
This will be the bands first time playing in New York? What does that mean to you guys?
Jason: It’s something we’ve all wanted to do for years. Years ago when I decided I wanted to be in a band, you know, I never thought I’d be playing the Bowery. We’re not headlining but it’s still super exciting. We’re all really, really, really looking forward to it.
Someone the other day was asking if it’s nerve-racking playing for bigger crowds all the time. But my response to that was that it’s much harder to play to a small intimate group of people who are being extremely critical of you, where as these shows the rooms are big and full and everyone seems to be very encouraging. If you’re standing in front of a thousand people who really want you to do well and want to hear what you have to share with them, it brings a lot out of you. For that to be a reality in NYC potentially…that feels really good.
Is there anything fun you’ve been doing to kill time on tour? Any good books you’ve been reading?
Jason: Wes and I have been reading through a bunch of Cormac McCarthy’s work. It’s very essential and it’s great escapism from our life and situation. You know, the last thing I would want to do would be to read a book about a band on tour right now. So to read something about someone who’s looking for lost horses in the deserts of Mexico is a nice break. We also play road hockey. We travel with sticks and construct some make-shift nets. it’s a great way to sort of off-set any frustrations or energy that can be dispersed within the confines of our daily schedules.
Top 5 most played songs on your iPod?
1) How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep: Bombay Bicycle Club which is a sweet tune and awesome that we get to hear it every night.
2) Lovely Blood Flow by Baths (that’s a sweet jam.)
3) Small Time Shot Away by Massive Attack feat. 2D from Gorrilaz
4) Pretty Pink Plastic Bags by Gorrilaz
5) Babylon Sisters by Steely Dan because it’s got great lyrics about driving down Sunset towards the sea. When we were in LA the other day and we were crossing sunset blvd, I just ripped a quick right turn so we could drive west, just for a minute. I made someone put it on immediately.
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