A Chat With: The Darcys
Jason Couse and Wes Marskell also known as The Darcys, caught up with me before their M Pour Montreal show this fall. The boys spoke to me about the transition from being serious to being more comfortable with themselves, their collaboration with Ralph, their Arizona Highway journey and much more!
When you did guys realize that you wanted to start making music, and then started making it?
Jason: Oh man, we met when we were just kids around 9 or 10 and somewhere around that time Wes got a drum kit for Christmas. I was playing a little bit here and there and I had gotten this metal fleck pink bright bass. We were really young, like grade 7 and we just jammed and did that on and off for a long time. It was years before we took it seriously but it was fun.
Was there any artists that you listened to where you thought ‘I wanna do that’
Wes: Yeah, definitely Radiohead
J: Some Beck suff early on
W: I listened to a lot of Rage Against the Machine as a kid, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
J: Interpol…it was a different musical landscape back then but they were always interesting, really dark things like the beginnings of indie rock were happening back then. We were young in Toronto but there was this bubble of Toronto music happening so we caught that. It was hard not to be aware of it. You know a band where its this picture of all these friends hanging out, jamming, it seemed cool so we did that. We did some recordings but we kind of started a cover band in University playing for beer and stuff for fun, it wasn’t really until after that that we started writing ourselves.
In another interview you said that you didn’t think people had actual writing processes, do you guys have a way of doing things or its different every time?
W: It used to be more focused and similar but sometimes I have something, sometimes Jason has something or sometimes we both have something and we work on it together. It's so different every time. At the end of the day if you feel its a good song, and I think that more and more our process is doing it faster and knowing immediately this is good or not and not wasting a bunch of time polishing something that’s probably not great. I think you know early on if its special and its about trusting ourselves.
J: Yeah, that can slow you down. I think having a very specific process can be helpful for some people but it can also be stifling because if something comes out of order you can be like ‘oh no we’re not ready for that yet!’ but I think when you’re creating things you have to be willing to go with any-you know those magical ideas that pop out of nowhere, those mistakes that happen or maybe you go out for coffee and see something on a billboard that will change the direction of a song which isn’t a bad thing.
Before you’re aesthetic was darker and now its more colourful and out there, how was the transition?
W: It was exactly how it feels like if you felt like that person and then you feel like this new person. It was a bit of a tougher and darker time in our lives and I mean we shed those memories and the aesthetic and touring and interviews just became more fun. We get to be closer to who we are than back then when we were trying to stay into this whole dark thing, it wasn’t as genuine.
J: Its one of those things where you’re like driving past the car dealership and you see those floaty dancing guys and you’re like ‘that is fun, that makes me happy!’ but the way our whole band was, that couldn’t be reconciled with our aesthetic and music. Overtime we just became more into ourselves, more comfortable doing things that are ridiculous and also super enjoyable.
W: And having a sky guy or air dancer or whatever its called, every night it comes on and people are happier, they enjoy the show even more and participate
You have one on stage?
J: We got one yeah! We talked about it forever and then we were like ‘screw it how much could it really cost?’ The first time we got it, the crowd went wild and it was like this is a thing! It creates joy!
How was the reaction from the fans when you create this new music? W: I think they got what they wanted from those records. Some have gone home and some came through on this new phase and a lot of the fans are new fans. We just see it in the demographic, it was a lot of dudes with beards and arms crossed and now its a lot of different things. Its better. Its more engaging and interesting and we’re connecting to a whole new world of people.
L: And having a different crowd begs a different performance from us, like younger people who actually want to dance and party, it changes the way we put together the show. When we start playing the new, more up tempo songs, its like a DJ, we’re aware that we can’t drop a slow jam because its gonna mess up the vibe so we have to keep it going. It also means we have to control how it feels and encourage everyone to have a nice time and party with you.
What’s a lyric you’re most proud of?
W: That’s a great question, um… I worked in the word Super Bowl into one of our songs and I’m super proud that it managed to make sense in context. Thats the hardest thing; when you feel something and it's a bit out there, some lyrics might look wild on a page if you just read them but in context of the melody and music and the vocal it welds, then I think you’ve managed to write a good song.
J: That song actually has a couple funny ones like ‘honour roll’ which could also be ‘on a roll’ or ‘if i get up’ but we try to perform it as ‘fuck it up’ but it wouldn’t be a dirty version because you can just say that’s not the lyric. Its fun to play with words and the pronunciation and see if you can walk the line between it being two different things. Its always fun when people differently interpret lyrics, the whole idea is that its gonna mean something different to every single person listening to it, it doesn’t need to have one meaning.
On the album, Black Diamond is one of the more underrated songs, tell me a bit about that one
W: It's definitely my favourite song and it was always my favourite song. I wanted it to be a single but it just doesn’t hit enough boxes to be a single. It was one of those ones where we kept pushing it, trying to create that vibe, that atmosphere, integrating a feeling into a song is one of the hardest things to do.
J: You can have all the catchy parts but without the feeling, the atmosphere, it misses something.
W: It also has this carefree sort of vibe, almost a BeeGee’s vibe, that whole disco era stuff. It was a track that came later when creating the record and I enjoyed the process writing something that spoke to us. It is by far the most fun song in the live show too.
J: It's definitely one of those moments in the studio where we were trying to create something fun but working and recording is serious and you try to get a lot done, and I remember that day the producer we were working with, he plugged my guitar into this weird old toy that processes sounds and he made this auto filter sound on it and we were laughing, we were like ‘this is so ridiculous but so perfect for this track’. We were jumping around dancing, having a good time which is why that translates onto the record. We were truly happy and appreciating that moment when we were working on it.
W: I think more and more people are coming up to us saying it's their jam, its nice to know people are getting past the singles.
Talking about singles, why did you guys write a song about Arizona Highway?
W: I think it was more about creating that idea and feeling and that song; sonically and lyrically, you kind of feel like you’re in that place. Ironically we did it afterwards. For the music video we went and drove around the desert and created that experience for ourselves. But it was also one of those romantic ideals. We created space for a hope, a dream, something you want to get to, you know what I mean? I think that’s where that one came from.
About the music video, what was one of the coolest things you did/saw while shooting it?
W: That whole video was awesome!
J: Yeah, we had such an amazing time on set. I think the second location we went to was this place in Yucca Valley called Pioneer Town. You drive off the highway and up the roads and you look like you’re on the surface of Mars! You’re so out there, and there’s this pioneer village but then we drove past it and there’s this huge valley and you can see all the way down Yucca to Joshua Tree. It was the first moment I remember just taking a breath and taking it all in and it was so gorgeous. There’s actually a couple shots of us just walking off into nowhere and its that location. I remember being so excited that we were there, like you can see the Joshua trees and you can breathe that desert air, you’re totally immersed in that. We created a song about places we wanted to go and things we wanted to do and then we got to do it.
Yeah, in the video there’s so many candid shots of you guys just having fun, it's so nice to see!
W: Yeah, Emma the director-like she had the film rolling before and after, I don’t think any of the main shots made the video.
J: Cause when she would be like ‘okay rolling’ you put on your cool guy thing,
W: Can you describe your pose right now
J: My hand over my mouth with a smokey gaze, crossing my legs, real cool ahaha. But you know, we’re not actors and we’re out there having a great time and the whole crew is amazing, like someone burps and you crack up laughing, she was intuitive and freed that from us very quickly like to keep rolling and used all that b-roll to make the whole video. Our change from being a serious band to a fun band; I don’t think we fully knew how to present that in that way.
I want to talk about Screenplay with Ralph, how did that collaboration come about?
W: We first talked about doing some shows together and I think Ralph was trying to get out and do some stuff before she really goes out on her own and we’re there to help and support. They brought the song to us wanting a different perspective so we started playing similar melodies and adding a male vocal presence that sort of speaks to the other side instead of it being cheesy and it being only from her same angle. I think more or less it was a pretty fluid process.
J: Yeah, we’ve written with her before and we have a good relationship in the studio so it was cool to get something out together because we worked on a whole bunch of stuff.
What’s a standout moment from your year?
W: You know what, one of my favourite moments was when we were here for Montreal Jazz Fest where we played in this parking lot in this massive space-5 minutes before we go on stage I was standing in the middle of the stage and there was zero people in front of the stage. I was like ‘oh my god this is gonna be horrible’ and I went backstage and we got ready, probably drank more drinks than I usually do, then we got on stage and I looked up and it was packed! There was thousands of people, it was amazing, its one of my favourite shows we’ve played. That was maybe a year ago, last summer.
And for you?
J: Well, funny enough, at that same show I had been taking a french class, brushing up on my bilingualism, you know my duty as a Canadian and I thought it was a good opportunity to greet the crowd in french and say a few things I had been practising. The whole set everyone is super responsive, singing along, clapping and partying, it was so great so then I thought ‘okay everyone is warmed up this is my moment’ and I greet them in french and it was dead silent.
W: They were like ‘why the fuck did he just say that’
J: All of a sudden I had ruined all of the love we had just built. I am never doing that again, I learned my lesson.
You have a song coming out but what are some other plans for the new year?
W: We’ve been doing a lot of producing and co-writing with Ralph and a bunch of other people so I think those songs are going to come out in the next year. We have a few songs of our own that we’ve been working on but we’re kind of just focused and excited about the track coming out (Another Log On The Fire). We’re doing a holiday song, but like a sexy holiday song and it was one of the more enjoyable experiences, it came really quickly and turns out Jason loves Christmas songs!
J: Its true, I’ve been waiting. I was the human jukebox every family Christmas my entire life. They’d sit me in front of the piano and bring me hot chocolate, later on the beer and just be like ‘keep playing!’ So, I learned all the Christmas songs, I still have to do that. When it came time for us to write our own it was ready to come out.