Honky Tonk Women 

Those Darlins take a chunk out of male-dominated country rock

After two solid years spent conquering any honky tonk and rock club that would book them, Those Darlins hit their first big snag this summer. Just days before the Murfreesboro, Tennessee quartet was set to take off on a high-profile Australian tour, ukulele player Nikki Darlin took a tumble at a music festival down in Nelsonville, breaking her arm. The tour was suddenly off, and the much-hyped country-rockers were now looking straight ahead at a summer of uncertainty.

"It was kind of scary at first," admits guitarist Jessi Darlin. "It was a bit like the world was coming to an end. But I think we all handled it pretty much the best that we possibly could. Nikki especially has had a really great attitude about it. She doesn't really get to play very much on the new album that we're finishing up, but she's still there and still a vital part of everything. We just keep going forward."

While Nikki won't be able to wield the uke for another few months, she and the rest of Those Darlins haven't really missed a beat. The band recruited Shane Spresser of the Velcro Stars to lend a hand instrumentally onstage, while Nikki, Jessi, and bassist Kelley Darlin (incidentally, not their real last names) all share vocal duties. (Male drummer Linwood Regensburg rounds out the lineup.) Those Darlins demand attention in the way they effortlessly reanimate Nashville's sassier past with a nod to punk's more visceral delivery. Imagine the Carter Family kidnapped by the Runaways.

"With the first album [2009's self-titled effort], a lot of people seemed to want to group us into alt-country or Americana music," says Jessi. "I just never really saw that comparison much. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we're from the South, and no matter what we sing, it's going to sound southern. The other day a friend of mine in Atlanta told me he couldn't understand the Americana thing either, because he always saw us more as a rock & roll band. And I was just like, Thank you!"

In line with their new single "Nightjogger," Jessi says Those Darlins' second album will veer considerably more into rock territory and away from some of the country roots found on their debut. To Jessi, the divide between country and punk was always more of a sliver anyway.

"In both cases, it's pretty much your basic three-chord songs," she says. "And you've got your repetitive, catchy hooks. But even more so, it's all the workingman's music. It's about lifestyle and rebellion. In country, you've got your whiskey-drinking, honky-tonkin' kind of guy, like Johnny Cash or Hank Williams. In punk, it's all about rebellion and being an individual too."

Of course, when it comes to rebellion, it's the Darlins' sex that pits them against convention more than anything else. While many garage-rock bands have embraced country elements (and vice versa), eyebrows are still raised whenever a group of women with guitars tries to enter the boys club. Even among Those Darlins' fans, some are more interested in the gender twist and sex appeal than the actual music.

"It's definitely something we get sick of," Jessi says with a sigh. "I mean, yeah, we are girls, but what does that have to do with our music? Just because we're girls, it doesn't mean that we're going to play a certain style or sing a certain way. Those assumptions or generalizations can get a bit annoying."

Naturally, Those Darlins would rather be called a great band than a girl band, but they're more than aware of the effect they can have on other women with rock & roll aspirations. "In theory, the only way people will stop pointing out the fact that we're a girl band is if there were a lot more girls playing music," says Jessi. "So I'm definitely glad to help inspire other women to play music."

No matter where the gender gap goes in the coming years, Jessi doesn't see a day when Those Darlins will fit snugly in with Nashville's reigning establishment. "I don't think we'll ever be slick," she says. "I'm just a lover of raw, dirty music. So I don't think I'd ever be at the point that I'd want something smoother. If anything, we might get rougher."

Send feedback to music@clevescene.com.

More by Andrew Clayman


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