Those Darlins have pissed off Nashville, y'all. Well, maybe just a handful of touchy residents and Fox News. A few days before Style Weekly spoke with guitarist, singer and Rappahannock native Nikki Darling (real last name Kvarnes), about playing Richmond's Sound City Bands & Brews festival, a so-called risqué banner was hung high atop Grimey's record store in Nashville. It caused quite a ruckus.
"We didn't think it would be offensive," Kvarnes says. "It was more about fun and mystery before release of the album." The image in question comes from the cover of the band's third album, "Blur the Line," and features a little side-butt action from band members. Ultimately, the banner was taken down after the fuss. "We're cool with Grimey's and they're cool with us," Kvarnes adds.
Formed in Murfreesboro, Tenn., at the Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp, Those Darlins bonded over a love of the Carter family and eventually became a booze-swilling, cow-punk outfit with a hat tip here and there to classic country. Their 2009 self-titled debut was a spitfire affair celebrating all things trailer-trashtastic with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about things as varied as drunken-driving charges and greasy skillets. The follow-up, "Screws Get Loose," drove folks wild with tracks that slightly strayed from twang and showed off more bristling riffs.
Just last year, longtime bassist and guitarist Kelley Anderson departed and was replaced by Adrian Barrera (Barreracudas, Gentlemen Jesse and His Men), making the presumed girl band a 50-50 lineup (drummer and former Richmonder Linwood Regensburg has been with the band since 2008). Kvarnes explains that their evolution continues and the coming October release on Oh Wow Dang Records shows off the band in its truest form yet.
"It's definitely the most rock 'n' roll record we've made," she says. "It sounds like nothing we've done and is the best representation of us." While Kvarnes seems to already be tired of discussing the notorious butt banner, she returns to the topic providing context as it relates to this collection of songs. "Us being nude on the cover goes along with the album exposing a whole new side of us — who we really are," Kvarnes says. "The lineup of two men and two women also suggests the duality that's in everything and stripping down things to what they really are. It's really about looking deeper into things, past facades."
You can expect the lyrical fare to be a little more mature on the record as well, inspired by visual art and poetry rather than all-nighters and binge drinking. "Lots of collaboration and growing," she says. "It's like a rebirth."
While the band certainly is still hell-bent on having a good time, it's become serious about turning out solid recordings and live shows. No drinks or substances of any kind entered the studio this go-round, something that might come as a surprise to folks. "We've calmed down a bit," she says. "None of us have been real party animals lately. Jessi hasn't been drinking. I'll still indulge, but it hasn't been a focus of the music. There's a clarity that comes with it."
Reflecting on their wilder days, Kvarnes has no regrets. "You look back on things you've done and admit you wouldn't have done certain things musically if you hadn't been partying all the time, but it's just part of your younger years as a band," she says. "We were babies, not that I'm saying we're all grown up now because we still have tons of growing to do." S
Those Darlins play Sound City Bands & Brews on Sunday, Aug. 11. Other acts include the Breeders and El Vez on Saturday and Deerhunter on Sunday. Single day tickets and festival passes range from $30-$120. soundcityrva.com.