In a 2008 interview with Denver's alt weekly paper Westword, Darker My Love bassist/vocalist Rob Barbato adamantly refuted the notion that his band was immersed in any sense of nostalgia.
“No, we’re not trying to do any kind of a throwback,” Barbato said. “You’re influenced by what you’re influenced by. We just make the music we make together, the five of us. We’re not trying to jump on any scene or anything, you know? If we were trying to do that, we’re like a decade late.”
That interview was conducted around the time that 2, Darker My Love's sophomore full-length album, was released. Like its predecessor, the band’s 2006 self-titled debut, the album was filled with sizzling, teetering guitar atmospherics, clouding the vocals in their wake. The sounds garnered comparisons to a procession of Psychedelic and Shoegaze titans associated with decades past, including Pink Floyd, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain as well as The Rolling Stones’ trippy 1967 Their Satanic Majesties Request. There's validity to the “retro” depiction: 2 is rich and beautiful but not groundbreaking enough to completely forgo a debt to its ancestors.
This summer’s Alive As You Are doesn't sound any more contemporary. If anything, the third album sends their aesthetic another decade back, evoking Psych-shaded 1960s and ’70s Folk. It's not like there weren't warnings — 2’s closing track, “Immediate Undertaking,” significantly reins in the band's pace — but championing this new vision is a striking move. It's indicative of Darker's unwillingness to be affected by claims that they pander to nostalgia; if anything, this move will only exacerbate the issue.
Then again, Darker My Love's foundation is one built on forceful stylistic shifts. Both guitarist/vocalist Tim Presley and former drummer Andy Granelli spent time in The Nerve Agents, a confrontational Hardcore Punk outfit whose sonic angle was worlds removed from Darker’s.
Barbato has an idea of why the band's focus moved from lofty, delay-pedal-fed electric guitars to genial acoustics and slower rhythms. After spending a year and a half on the road in support of 2, Darker My Love ended their touring cycle by trekking to Europe with A Place to Bury Strangers (APTBS). APTBS are mighty Shoegaze artisans renowned for their chest-rattling volume, and absorbing that nightly affected Darker's own musical ambitions. (Barbato doesn't specify whether they responded intentionally or subconsciously.)
Granelli soon exited the group, too, eventually being replaced by Brian Jonestown Massacre drummer and Cincinnati native Dan Allaire. Another altering moment came when Presley's father died around the same time, further impacting the guitarist's perspective. The sum of these circumstances heralded a feeling of change. Alive first arose as Presley wrote “June Bloom,” a track that sets the tone for a far less intense record.
Once the band finished constructing Alive as You Are in summer of last year, they spent a couple of weeks recording it at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco. Not only was the studio a place once used by the likes of The Grateful Dead, The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but it also kept Darker away from the hustle of L.A.’s recording spots.
“First off, they have amazing microphones that the studio has owned since the ’60s,” Barbato says. “On top of that, there’s no one at that studio except for a few tweaker dudes. It's in a really crummy neighborhood — the Tenderloin — so there's crack deals going on outside. You don't want to go outside too much, but the studio itself has an amazing vibe.”
The resulting record is far from entirely successful, but it contains a handful of well-executed songs (“Split Minute,” “Dear Author,” “18th Street Shuffle” and “A Lovely Game”) and several fascinating pieces (like the ominous background chants in “New America” and the languid guitar trailing through “June Bloom”). There's a ponderous Country twang to “Maple Day Getaway” and “Cry on Me Woman,” but the aforementioned names that recorded at Hyde Street are crucial reference points here (as well as Bob Dylan and The Beatles). As Presley has noted before, it's a record dictated by songwriting more than jamming.
“It's not really any sort of effects-driven stuff,” Barbato says. “It really is just us playing as a band. We're going for the clear thing. The vocals are a lot more upfront than they were on 2 so you can hear what we're saying.”
Two years after that Westword interview, Barbato still doesn't see a strong sense of music history seeping into his band.
“I'm a sucker for nostalgia, man, to tell you that truth,” he says. “I love that shit, but personal nostalgia in my life. I try to relive moments that have already happened, like pretending I'm going to college or something like that. I don't think our band's really based on that.”
If not a nostalgic band then, does he think of Darker My Love as particularly modern? The bassist chuckles at the question.
“We're a modern band because we exist in the modern age, but I think we just write music we like,” Barbato says. “I'm not so hung up on the throwback thing anymore. We're just trying to be as honest as we can.”
DARKER MY LOVE plays The Mad Hatter Dec. 1 with Delta Spirit. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.