It’s funny: Sometimes you don’t know you’re missing something until you have it, and then you can’t imagine how you ever lived without it. For instance, I had no idea I wanted—needed, in fact—to hear a song that details how someone got really drunk, sat on a kitchen floor, and devoured an entire rotisserie chicken. But upon hearing Those Darlins’ “Whole Damn Thing,” it was quite apparent that this subject matter resonated deeply with me. It’s not because I’m a lush or a rotisserie junkie or so very lowbrow that late-night tales of floor-gorging are what I look for in a pop or country song. It’s just that Those Darlins—three young ladies from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who are happy to play the part of retro pin-up dolls and fancy themselves connoisseurs of fine, cheap whiskey mixed with a roadside truck-stop form of girl power—make this notion ever so catchy.
The three Darlins met at camp—the Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp, to be exact—where they were instructors. Nikki Darlin plays the baritone ukulele, Jessi Darlin plays the guitar, and Kelley Darlin plays the bass, though they pull onstage switcheroos from time to time. They’re not related by blood; instead, their relationship developed over a love of Carter Family harmonizing, shooting things with BB guns, and cavorting with booze instead of boys when the goings got tough. This was back in 2006, when Nikki worried that they were somewhat of a one-trick pony. “We were playing traditional country music, but we wanted to make it more interesting,” she says. “We weren’t even really that good at doing the traditional music. It ended up being really sloppy and rough around the edges—more of a rock ‘n’ roll persona.”
In recording their namesake debut, the Darlins headed to New York after teaming up with Vampire Weekend engineer Jeff Curtin. For nearly a year, they’d spend a week per month hammering out tracks at 222 10th Street in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn (home to Pitchfork TV’s “Juan’s Basement” series) and at Curtin’s Treefort Studio in DUMBO. On their first night in town, they housed a bottle of Bookers, whereupon Nikki slit open her finger while using a butcher knife to open a beer bottle and Jessi threw up all over the floor of their home away from home. “The recordings calmed down a bit after that,” Nikki recalls.
Yet all of this celebratory debauchery is done with a rather coy wink: Those Darlins flaunts a subtle yet sophisticated blend of country, rockabilly, and ’60s girl-group pop with the livelihood of a garage band hung up on the Sex Pistols. The album’s high point is probably the swinging, saxophone-lined “Snaggletooth Mama,” wherein they confess to getting their clothes from the local dump. “It’s much better than American Apparel,” Jessi assures me. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be amazed that you ever lived without it.
Those Darlins play Mercury Lounge on July 9 and Southpaw on July 10