Photo courtesy of Maya Fuhr
A lot has changed since we last heard from Toronto art-rock band the Darcys. Three years ago, they released their third album, Warring, to high acclaim, earning all sorts of radio play, a Juno nomination for Alternative Album of the Year and a spot on the Polaris Music Prize’s longlist. A year later they followed the album up with a coda called “Hymn for a Missing Girl,” a 22-minute-long instrumental that, at the time, seemed like a cool way to close the book on Warring. But the track proved to be so much more than that—it ended up closing the book on the version of the Darcys fans had known since 2007. In an article drummer, Wes Marskell wrote for the Huffington Post titled “What Our Band Must Sacrifice To Survive,” he revealed that members Mike le Riche and Dave Hurlow had quit the band, leaving Marskell and Jason Couse as a duo. Along with the downsizing, the band would also reinvent their sound as a way to try and achieve the commercial success that had eluded them for seven years. Marskell referenced Tegan & Sara’s 2013 album Heartthrob as inspiration for their plot to break out of the indie world and find a place in the mainstream.
“Miracle” is Darcys’ comeback single, and as they promised, it’s a complete 180. Gone is the epic, guitar-led rock, and in its place, some slick studio pop that is primed for mass consumption. Says Marskell, “We knew we wanted the record to sound modern, pop-minded and sun-bleached, and once we managed to assemble our production team I was confident we were going to have one of the best sounding records coming out of Toronto. Noisey asked Marskell about why they abandoned art-rock for pop, how they achieved it, as well as the premiere for new single “Miracle.”
Your last album, Warring, was well-received, played all over modern rock radio, made the Polaris longest and earned a Juno nom. That seems like a winning formula that a lot of young bands would kill for. Why change it?
Wes Marskell: We just didn't want to make another art-rock record. Everything had been so serious for so long, we felt like lightening up. Beyond that, we wanted to grow as artists and performers. It's hard to universalize your sound, your lyrics and your aesthetic. It took work. In the end, “Miracle” feels miles ahead of anything off of Warring and that was the goal. We wanted to get better. The plan was to make a big and glossy party record that you could sing along to with the windows down. I wanted the tracks to feel at home on a boat, you know, in a neo-yacht-rock sort of way. In the end, it was simple: we want to reach more people and play bigger shows. Change feels good.
The band sounds and looks pretty, pretty different. Can you detail how you came to establish this new version of Darcys?
From the very beginning, we knew we wanted to make a late night driving record. When writing songs for this album themes of escapism and longing kept coming up and seemed to intertwine so perfectly with images of palm trees, neon signs, and tinted windows. So we went to Los Angeles and spent our nights driving the streets, highways and through the desert playing records and singing melodies. We got our hands on an old blue El Camino and listened to a ton of Prince while trying to reinvent Jason's vocal delivery. It was really important for us to create a fresh vocal presence for him in our new songs. Out in that desert the characters that were going to live this new aesthetic were born. The black and white was swapped for blown-out pinks. Guitar drones for dance moves.
Photo via Facebook
At the end of 2014, Wes penned that piece for the Huffington Post about the band moving forward as a duo because of its lack of commercial success. A lot of artists wouldn't be so frank about sacrificing their sound for mainstream success. What kind of feedback did you get from people after that was published?
There was never an agenda to sacrifice anything. Was the implication really that we were going to make a shitty record? We have two studio records, an interpretation of Steely Dan's AJA and “Hymn for a Missing Girl,” a 20-minute, southern gothic-themed instrumental track. We’re not really working with a formula and there was never an obvious next record for us. If anything, a pop record seems as logical as anything else. We wanted to make something that is as fun as it is savvy. Let's be honest, I know how the internet works and that post was partly intended as a bunch of hyperbole to get people stirred up about the record to come. We were shown a lot of love for the post, but something about it didn't sit well with certain people. Maybe it was too brash, who knows. I still don't see what's wrong with calling your shot.
If Warring had sold, say, 100,000 copies would this change still have taken place?
This record was always going to get made. I think Warring's performance was a catalyst and a platform for a more drastic change but we were never of the mind to make Warring 2.0. Beyond that, Jason and I really felt like “Hymn” was a perfect way to put our art-rock aesthetic to rest. It was time to flex as a duo. Plus, two look good in a photo. Ironically, this album feels more genuine than any of our previous releases. It's us at our most extroverted and egomaniacal. The whole record has an energy that begs to be played live. It took us two years, a trip to New Zealand and a few parties in LA to fully know that all we ever cared about was a grimy-ass bass line and a slick groove.
Photo via Facebook
What do you say to your long-time fans that don't get the new Darcys or might be crying "sell out"?
I think we made a record that is catchy and accessible without compromising our artistic lean. People are going to talk shit, I mean, they always do. That said, I have a feeling our long-time fans are going stay with us because they have already come so far. They're not the kind to turn on a dime. We've thrown a lot of curves at them and they're still here. That said, I know what you're getting at and sure, there will probably be less beard at our shows.
"Miracle" definitely sounds like you'll have a lot more fun performing. Tell me a little about the song. The lyrics kind of sound prophetic, based on everything you've been going through.
I was wondering if people would pick up on that. ‘Miracle’ was one of the first songs we wrote and, in moments, it seemed like we were writing it for and about ourselves. It felt like we needed a miracle and that's a feeling I think a lot of people can relate to. It's about escape and that tired cliché of driving to LA. We really wanted the song to feel like summer nights. The whole thing started as a bass loop and a simple groove. We workshopped the melody for days in New Zealand, trying to create something simultaneously contemporary yet classic and recorded upwards of ten different bass lines.
Is "Miracle" a good indication of what's to follow? What can you tell me about the album?
“Miracle” is the first taste, but it's just the tip of iceberg. The knock on our band was always been that we take ourselves far too seriously. Having fun really isn't a problem for us anymore.
Cam Lindsay is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.