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INTERVIEW: Darlin Darlin/Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals

How did the two bands first meet?

SK: Brett and I have known each other for years through the contemporary classical music world and specifically through our projects Redhooker​ and 350​.In 2015, we found ourselves playing in a live realization of composer Steve Reich’s tape and guitar masterpiece, ElectricCounterpoint. As we talked about other projects we were both involved in, we hit upon the fact that in addition to all the things we were doing in “classical” music, we each had these country/Americana bands that we were passionate about. So we thought it would be fun to start working together.

What do you want fans to take from your music?

SK: Hopefully emotional honesty, good stories, and relatable ideas that are easy to connect to, but avoid cliche.

DD: I think the magic of music is its ability to communicate that which you cannot put into words. Lyrics are sometimes the most challenging part for me. If listeners can be both moved by the music and relate to the stories I’m telling I would be pleased because that’s what music does for me. I hear a song and when I sing along the artist kind of fades into the background and I become the one telling the story. The words become my own and I feel all those things the singer is singing about. I hope to have that effect on our listeners.

Ultimately, to make them feel the way a good song makes me feel.

Have you toured together? If not, do you plan to behind this release?

SK: We have! Joanie put together a tour of the southeast for our bands in the fall of 2017. It was my first time in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. The trip was incredible – audiences were warm, receptive, and enthusiastic and we got to spend a magical evening in Raphine, VA recording a couple tracks in the country home-studio of Brendan Reed, a childhood friend of Joanie’s, who was a founding member of Arcade Fire.

How’s the country scene in Brooklyn right now? Are you swimming upstream? Or is there a scene beginning to build there?

SK: I’d say that the art community in Brooklyn has been strong for a while and remains strong. And in that sense, there are always allies to be found for whatever creative work one might be doing. That said, I’m not sure there is a specifically strong “country” scene. But there are so many great musicians in Brooklyn and I’ve found great musicians love playing good music in all forms. The cumulative discography of all the musicians who play on this record would probably cover every genre you can imagine from esoteric contemporary classical to jazz and funk to indie and math rock to country and folk.

DD: I wish there was a stronger community. For Brett & I who are both Southerners, there is a kind of Country music scene that I think we both are missing in NYC where the audience is not made up of a bunch of other musicians or aficionados. One of the great things about our tour was playing for audiences that were regular folks in these small towns where people go see music for recreation and not necessarily to support a specific band. I would love to build a community in NY where country music is less of a happening and more of an ordinary thing.

We hear a lot of Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton in “Easy.” Would you call them influences?

DD: I get that a lot from people who hear our music. My dad is a huge fan of female country singers. I grew up listening to all the greats, Emmylou, Loretta Lynn, The Judds and of course, Dolly Parton was his absolute favorite. I just adore her as a vocalist, musician, and storyteller and that laugh, oh, man. I get chills every damn time. I’m still listening to their music 20 years later and it still has the same effect on me as it did when I was a kid. My brother used to cover his ears on long road trips. I would sing those songs at the top of my lungs with complete and utter abandon! I certainly strive to follow in their footsteps and keep to the tradition of simple, storytelling, that is 100% sincere. I have a deep appreciation for a melody driven tune with an emotional vocal delivery. There are other things in there too. A dash of 90’s R&B, a little indie, a bit Folk…

What (if any) current bands on the country music circuit are you fans of?

SK: Some recent discoveries for me have been the Cactus Blossoms and Dead Man Winter. I’m also a big fan of Lydia Loveless.

DD: We are huge fans of Ocean Carolina, Sturgill Simpson, Lera Lynn, Kacey Musgraves, Daniel Wayne. Most recently Hurray for the Riff Raff. We’re always a little behind because we kind of get stuck on an album or two at a time.

Does Cyndi Lauper know about “Cyndi”? One would think she’d be flattered by it.

SK: I’m not sure whether or not she does, although I am hopeful that when the track drops, it might find its way to her! The song tells a true story down to the fact that I think “She’s So Unusual” is one of the greatest albums of all time and loved it when I was younger every bit as much as much as I do now.

Stephen, you’ve spent time in a number of known indie-rock bands. How did you go from there to fronting your own country band?

SK: I came to NYC to get a masters degree in classical guitar performance. After I finished that program I was clueless. Part of me felt that I had to put my training to good use and do “serious” music, but another part of me recognized how challenging that realm of music is in terms of making a living. Also, classical guitar isn’t why I fell in love with music. So I started playing with whomever asked, especially when I really admired the music. That led me to play guitar in Slow Six, bass in Asobi Seksu, guitar with Antony and the Johnsons, and several other projects. Still, I wanted to be a part of the writing process and each of these projects already had its own driving creative force. So I started an instrumental band called Redhooker. I’ve always been really proud of that project, but it was missing something for me in that I like to hear and tell stories. So later, I started writing songs and produced a four song EP that was more electric guitar and synth driven. But ultimately, I wanted to do songs that I could play with an acoustic guitar and nothing more. So I started writing and playing open mics and the sound just evolved into what you hear on our split single.

What’s next for Darlin Darlin? What’s next for Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals?

SK: More writing and recording! We have at least seven more songs that haven’t been recorded and I want to get those tracked. But my favorite part about all of this is playing live with the band. So I’d like to get the next tour booked, because as much as I love playing at home in NYC, seeing the country and connecting with new people through our music has been the most rewarding part of this experience!

DD: We are shooting a video for “Easy” which will be released this Fall, finishing an EP, and hopefully hitting the road again. We would love to continue the collaboration with SK. Stephen had this great idea to curate a regular night of music in central Brooklyn where SK & DD could host a sampling of bands, keeping the sets down to 2-3 songs. The idea being that we might bring a bunch of strangers together and cultivate this community we are longing for here.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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