INTERVIEW: Darcys Talk Toronto, Kevin Bacon, and Making a Pop Record
    • THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

    • Posted by: Kirsten Spruch

    Toronto-based group The Darcys are a fun band to watch, especially now that they are undergoing a massive change both sonically and visually. In the past, the band has put out two art rock records, 2011's self-titled LP and 2013's Warring, a full reimagining of Steely Dans AJA, and a 20-minute Southern Gothic-themed instrumental track. Interesting, right? Well, it was! But now that they've conquered the alternative world, they're ready for a new challenge. Their forthcoming album Centerfold, out November 4 via Arts & Crafts Records, marks their official rebirth as a pop duo. "We made a lot of records in a short period of time and I felt like we closed the door on the whole art rock thing... It took us like, a hundred years to figure out how to write a chorus and make it fun again," drummer/lyricist Wes Marskell explained. We had the opportunity to talk to Marskell, AKA one half of the group, about going out of his comfort zone and writing a euphoric 80s-inspired record slathered in neon lights, Californian palm trees, and infectious hooks.

    KIRSTEN SPRUCH: How are you?

    WES MARSKELL: Hot, it's very hot right now.

    KS: Are you in Toronto right now?

    WM: Yeah, I just got back to Toronto. I was in Calgary last week and it was like eight degrees, I could see my breath before I went on stage. So I'm actually happy that it's hot right now.

    KS: What's the music scene like there?

    WM: It's interesting because Toronto was big with Broken Social Scene like 10 years ago, and then we sort of had a lower point and we weren't on the map as a music city. Then obviously, there's some rapper from here doing well... So after Drake blew up the entire world, all eyes were on Toronto as a music city so I think everything is elevated and excited. It's great because now you're in a city where you don't feel like you have to leave to make it or get noticed. It's really an interesting time to be a rock band, or a pop duo if you will, because I think that the focus is shifting away from that kind of stuff even on alternative radio. It's an interesting time for a band like us, so we're having fun with it and allowing ourselves to enjoy the excitement and the rebranding and the fun.

    KS: I think it's funny that although you're from Toronto, the music you've been releasing and this upcoming album has a very California vibe.

    WM: *Laughs* I don't want to write a record about Toronto. It's my city, I love it, I live here, I'm going to die here, but to me it doesn't have that mystique or aura. They make more movies about fucking Cleveland than they make about Toronto. It's one of the biggest cities population-wise in North America, but it just doesn't cultivate that sort of emotion that driving in the desert or being in California does. I think that a major theme of this record was escapism - being in Toronto in the winter and it's snowing and negative forty... So you're just working in the studio, dreaming about where you want to be and where you want to go and that's what's fun about the record. I think it's also fun that releasing it in November, which will be winter in Toronto, plays on that escapism instead of putting it out in the summer and being like 'this is our cool summer record.' It allows the record to work that way.

    KS: So The Darcys have a new album coming out called Centerfold and it's much more 'pop' whereas your last records have been more alternative. Why did you decide to change that?

    WM: We made a lot of records in a short period of time and I felt like we closed the door on the whole art rock thing. I was over that and I thought that making this pop record that's designed, choreographed, and performed has challenged my creative ability more than anything. It took us like, a hundred years to figure out how to write a chorus and make it fun again.

    KS: Do you think it's risky to switch up your sound after getting so much praise for your other releases?

    WM: Maybe, but I don't really care. It doesn't matter to me if people are like "fuck you, you used to be this and now youre not." And conversely it's blown everything we've done out of the water.

    KS: So you're in it more for the creative process instead of trying to please everyone else.

    WM: The perspective change on the band and how people view it has adapted so quickly so I enjoy what people are applying to you know, the look of the band, the imagery of the branding, the songs, who they think we are... Because a lot of people didn't know us. So I enjoy seeing how people react to it but I also enjoy learning how to write pop songs. It's definitely something I've found more engaging than doing the same thing over again.

    KS: And you're a lyricist and a drummer, right?

    WM: *Laughs* Yeah.

    KS: That's a combo I dont see often. Do you think there's an advantage to doing both of those things?

    WM: When you're writing for other people it encourages you to write faster because you're not hypercritical and you're not like "oh I have to live with this every time I play on stage for the next two years." So I think there is a little bit of distance for me because I'm not the one up there singing, you know, I can get away with having a little more fun with it. And I can be like "No man, it's a cool line, sing it! I wouldn't do it... but you can!"

    KS: If you think of a line that's stupid, do you ever say "Oh, well at least I won't be the one embarrassing myself"?

    WM: I don't know if there are many lines that are stupid *laughs* but I'm able to be free with phrases and ideas. For me, it's not worrying about how I can sing it or how I can phrase it because we work on melody as a secondary being. So it's fun to play with the idea at first. And it's not like Jason isn't around when I'm doing it, it's just when I'm messing around on the airplane or whatever. But you know, whatever I think are the dumbest lines are the ones that we always need to do. I noticed that lyrics are the part that people love the most and I don't know why.

    KS: Probably because people can relate to them?

    WM: I think so. I think that those throwaway elements, or what you feel are throwaway elements, might actually be the most real and true representation of a feeling or emotion. It just happens to come out where it's embarrassing, but that's probably because it is sort of the closest to how you actually feel, instead of trying to doctor it or change it or work it into a way that sounds really cool. That's the most genuine, and that's what's scary about performing it.

    KS: So because you're making a much more pop-ish kind of sound, have you used this as an opportunity to experiment with more fun lyrics?

    WM: Yeah, I think that we just went in and wrote so many songs, just trying to hammer out ideas and not look back and really create an atmosphere and a sound and an idea for the record. Once we figured that out, we always had a guide and something to write towards. So that breezy, neon, summer night vibe that we went after, it was really easy to write in that world. Pop songs are way more vocal forward, and Jason's really loud in the mix, so you can understand the lyrics a lot better than anything we've done before. It was both liberating and challenging, because you're aware that everyone's gonna hear every line. I always think about all those websites for lyrics - with the new songs, everyone just nails them and all the lyrics are written down. With the old songs, it's just like, what are these people talking about, it's nothing like the lyrics. Because it's lower in the mix, and more obscure, and people can't connect to them.

    KS: You worked with a lot of amazing producers for this record. What's the process like when you're assembling your team of producers?

    WM: So we wanted to work with Shawn [Everett], because Shawn is the fucking best. We pushed for Shawn because we knew he'd make us feel uncomfortable and stressed out about what we were doing and push us far beyond. Jason and I are guys who know how to do this, and we could very well have recorded this record on our own and it would sound like a world class record. We needed someone to say 'this isn't good enough' or 'this needs to change' or 'do it like this.' A long time ago, I emailed Shawn about doing the record and he wrote me back within five minutes being like, 'it is so weird that you just emailed me, I'm listening to your cover of Steely Dan in the studio with Alabama Shakes right now.' And I'd never met him before. It was just this weird moment. Then we got on an airplane and flew to New Zealand and made a few songs to work with for the record. And then lived at his studio in LA for a month to finish it off.

    KS: It's good to work with someone who you feel comfortable with, especially on your own music.

    WM: Both of us sort of resigned to that ahead of time, we said we were just going to do this thing and we're going to let it happen. We've micromanaged producers before and you end up like 'why isn't this way better than the demo?' And you haven't let the person do what they do. And with Shawn - I don't know if you know what Shawn looks like?

    KS: I do not.

    WM: He sort of looks like a wizard, he'll wear jeggings or tights with eyeballs on them or like, mesh everything. He has high-top Doc Marten sandals.

    KS: He sounds like a modern gothic hippie - that's what I'm picturing.

    WM: He has this white leather motorcycle jacket, from working on a Julian Casablancas record, and he wore that every day and he stuck a backstage pass on it and left this giant stain on the front of the coat. So he has this permanent backstage Strokes pass stuck to his coat, because if he takes it off theres like goop all over this thing. And that's just Shawn, he's just the most insane human being. When you talk to him, you never know what's going on. And then you're in the studio, and he's just a mathematician, everything's perfect and he can do everything amazingly. You look over, and you're like 'is this guy really doing this?'

    KS: So you've mentioned that when you were making the music you were going after this neon vibe. A lot of the visuals you've been releasing along with the songs have been very neon and eighties-inspired. Do you think of the visuals while you're writing the songs?

    WM: Well we were watching a lot of film while we were recording. We would run a ton of movies on silent, usually on big screens where they project the ProTools rig in recording studios. So we'd run these super vibrant movies on silent to kind of create this atmosphere, like Blade Runner or Inherent Vice. The look really permeated what we were doing. We wanted to create like, a driving record or a sort of late-night LA look and sound. And the films really helped to unify the lyrical content, the branding we eventually went with, and the sound of the record.

    KS: I saw that your video for "Miracle" is a rework of Kevin Bacon's dance scene from Footloose. What inspired that?

    WM: We just wanted to do something fun. An interesting thing about the band is weve never really been in a press photo that's hyper clear, we've never really been in a music video, and we wanted to do all this stuff at once. So we wanted to create this simple idea - this idea of some band just having some emotion and just dancing it out, and the eighties branding kept coming up and we decided to go with that. And then Kevin Bacon approved the video online, which I thought was pretty funny. And I felt like we'd done a service to Footloose.
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