Too often a group of girls will form a band and they're immediately labeled due to their gender instead of by what talent may or may not exist. You may find yourself doing that at first listen to Those Darlins, but there's a guy playing drums, so maybe that will help to limit any gender labels.
It may be better to compare them to The Ramones instead of making gender comparisons -- none of the girls is really named Darlin, they're not related and the group has a "no-bullshit" attitude when it comes to music and performing.
When they rolled up at Bonnaroo last year, the three looked like they were ready to take names and kick ass. Then again, your first listen to Those Darlins' debut album may make you think they're more Carter Family than anything close to The Ramones, but it's all attitude when they hit the stage.
The group played nearly 150 shows last year, including opening for The Avett Brothers and The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.
When I spoke with Jessi Darlin, she was at her parents' house for the holidays and recuperating from a long year of performing. "It took me about three days of sleeping to get back to normal," she says. "I'm definitely happy to have time off. I'm already thinking, 'I wish this could last forever,' but if it did last forever, I'd be annoyed."
Those Darlins have been getting more and more attention thanks to festivals like Bonnaroo and SXSW and their lyrical humor that comes through on songs like "The Whole Damn Thing," about getting drunk and eating, you guessed it, an entire chicken.
"It's not a conscious decision," Jessi says of the band's humor. "It's reflective of our personalities. We're not like, 'Let's be so funny!' We're just goofy."
Jessi, along with Kelley and Nikki, formed the group in 2006 after meeting at the Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp, which was founded by Kelley, in Tennessee. The trio still goes back to teach at the camp, something that Jessi says is still important to all of the girls.
"I think it's more inspiring because you see the girls up on stage -- it's inspiring to know that it's growing and they may keep doing this and they'll teach someone else," she says. "You also think that it might be the one thing they needed to believe in themselves and have confidence to do whatever they want to in life. We can show them that you can do it. It doesn't have to do with the band; it's just that us as individuals love going back to teach the girls."
The band's self-titled debut has plenty of country influence, but their shows have gone more of the rock route after performing for so long. The group also added a drummer to thicken up the stew.
"Our sound has definitely changed," Jessi says when comparing the live show to the studio effort. "It's louder. It's definitely more rock 'n' roll. I think it's mostly a natural progression, but we weren't afraid to make them different. We look at an album as a different medium and way to create. It's just that playing live louder is definitely a lot funner."
Half of the songs on the album were written since the band formed in 2006, though some were written when the recording sessions started in the spring of 2008. While Jessi admits that "it feels like we've been playing the same songs forever," she notes that the band has added in a few new ones and is getting ready to get back in the studio this year.
In the meantime, some of the songs from the album have gone through a natural progression and evolution through live performance. Other songs were changed simply because of instrumentation.
"We added some parts in the studio -- like the saxophone player -- that we knew we'd never be able to pull off live," Jessi says. "It was fun deciding which parts to pull off the album to play live and the songs went through some changes at that time. As we play the songs over and over, they get tighter and better and continue to go through changes."
The girls change up instruments while performing, too, sometimes depending on who is singing. While Jessi handles a good bit of the guitar work and vocals, there are plenty of harmonies, too. Kelley also has moments where she sings lead -- in which case, she doesn't want to play bass at the same time. So, Jessi will take over the bass and Kelley will pick up the guitar. Meanwhile, Nikki is usually seen playing a baritone ukulele, not the most common instrument to hit the stage these days.
"I never started to play the bass until I started playing with the band," Jessi says. "I really like bass a lot and some days I like it better. Some days I like guitar better. I don't know what influences the days. I just think I play better on some days. Sometimes I just like to play bass loud -- it's like the drums -- it's more aggressive and funner."
As for the next album, Jessi hopes that the band's more natural sound will take hold. "I think the new energy will carry back into the studio, but it's not going to be a live recording," she says.
Those Darlins will perform at The Evening Muse at 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 8. Raised By Wolves opens. Tickets are $8.