Jessi Zazu of Those Darlins: “We just kept getting deeper and deeper within ourselves”

Don’t let the name fool you: Those Darlins are about as sweet as Sour Patch Kids. Four years ago, the Nashville quartet released a self-titled debut of mostly raunchy punk-country jams with more attitude than ambition. There’s plenty of punch on the band’s latest offering, Blur the Line, but there’s also a sly undertone of aggression that blooms with sizzling guitar work and lead singer Jessi Zazu’s treacherous vocals.

Blur the Line comes after a particularly rough patch for the Darlins. Earlier this year, it was announced that bassist and founding member Kelley Anderson was leaving the band. The remaining three members struggled with the transition until they elected Adrian Barrera to take her spot. A lot of self-reflection and dark uncertainty can be heard on Blur the Line, and particularly on the scorching single “Oh God.”

Ahead of the band’s show this Thursday at RecordBar, we chatted with Zazu from the road about the new album, the changeover and, obviously, Robin Thicke.

The Pitch: This album feels really different to me – a little more spacious, a little more grown-up.

Zazu: It is more grown-up because we’re more grown-up. All the records that we’ve done reflect the state that we were in when we wrote them, so in a way, that’s a good observation. I think, also, another reason that it’s a little more mature is because we had a lot more patience in the process of making this album and put a lot more time into it. We worked it until we couldn’t work it anymore and were really satisfied with all the songs and with the recordings.

I have to ask – did you know about Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” when you were titling your album?

[Laughs.] No. We had no idea. It was literally right after we announced the album and title that his video became known to us. I’m not sure if it had just come out, or if we just hadn’t heard of it, but it was just a minute too late to even change the title of ours. We were just like, “Uh… . That’s a weird coincidence.”

That’s crazy. Would you have changed it if you had known ahead of time?

Well, we were considering some other names anyway. I mean, that was definitely the strongest choice in terms of summing up the theme of the entire album, we felt, so it was definitely the best choice, but I would have for sure tried to consider some other options. When you have someone that huge with something so similar, it’s gonna eat up a lot of the… You know, if people type it into Google, they won’t see us. So we probably would have considered changing it a little bit more. We’re not really too stressed about it, though. Everything happens for a reason. I can’t really figure that one out. [Laughs.]

Do you like the album? I mean, not Robin Thicke’s but yours, 
Blur the Line. Are you happy with it?

[Laughs,] Oh yeah, completely satisfied. I’m more proud of it than any other body of work that I’ve ever done in my life.

How is the band working out without Kelley [Anderson]? You replaced her with Adrian [Barrera] fairly recently. How’s everything going?

It’s been really good. As always, it’s a challenge to change personal dynamics, and we had someone else who was filling in for about a year or two in between, so we’ve been in transition for a while. We’ve only been with Adrian since February. It’s been good. It has had its challenges, but I would say that it felt easier with him than I can imagine it would be with a lot of people. His personality was a fit with ours pretty naturally, so that’s been good. And I always thought that would be the case, but you never know until you get onstage with someone or get in the studio.

I’m curious about the song “Oh God.” When I first heard it, just in passing, I didn’t really recognize it as a Those Darlins song – it’s not like anything I’ve heard on your previous records. Where did that come from?

You know, a lot of the songs on the new album are different in the way that we kept a little bit of variety or dramatic, slower, dark vibes on these songs. I think it’s not alone or totally different from our previous stuff, not entirely, I guess. It just really comes out of the place that we were at when we were writing these songs. It was not really the most upbeat time in Party Town or whatever – it was really just a time of self-reflection.

We’d been touring for six years straight, and we lost a band member, and we’re now a three-piece, and we don’t really know who’s gonna be in our band, and we don’t even know if we want to make another record, and it’s kind of a time of soul searching. We were really just trying to find that new record, you know?

We knew that we loved playing music together, and we didn’t necessarily want to stop doing that, but it felt like the odds were against us in a lot of ways, and we really had to regroup. We sort of went on this journey and we just kept getting deeper and deeper within ourselves, and it ended up being more like therapy than it was anything else. I guess that’s not really anything really different from other works of art throughout history, but I just mean that this one, as opposed to some of our previous work, where we were writing songs and we were just having fun, this one is definitely an approach that went way more… . Just like, what is there inside of me that I need to find?

With “Oh God,” and some of these songs, there was just sort of like the realization that I’d been carrying around this weight from certain experiences that I had in my life. That was just one that was really on my mind, and I didn’t even realize how much I thought about it until I was sitting alone for hours, for weeks, writing, writing, writing and analyzing myself and going, “Wow, I’ve got this memory all the time. I thought I was over this thing and I’m not.” That really was just a stream-of-consciousness flow on that subject. That’s just what came out. The lyrics just came out in a poetic way, and I just put it to some music. The band really felt the vibe of the song immediately, and it just kind of came together like that.

You got really naked for the album poster and cover. What was it like being that close to all your bandmates?

I mean, well, with me, Nikki [Kvarnes, guitar] and Lin [Regensburg, drums], we’ve been so close for so long – we’ve lived in a band together… We haven’t been completely naked next to each other – well, maybe we have, I don’t know. [Laughs.] But we’ve seen each other in way more vulnerable states than that on tour. It wasn’t really that hard for us. We were just kind of like, “Oh, yeah, whatever.” It was fun.

I would just say that the weirdest part was having Adrian there because I think he was kind of nervous. It was one of the very first things the four of us had ever done – I don’t think we’d even played any shows with him – so it was a pretty big leap of faith on his part.

I think it was a little bit of a challenge for him to just get comfortable with people that he wasn’t necessarily comfortable with in that way. But we did find out that’s a really good way of initiating someone into a band. [Laughs.] It was just like, “All right, we’ve done it, we’re a band now.” So we recommend it highly to other bands.

Those Darlins are at RecordBar on Thursday, November 21. Details here

Categories: Music