Spotlight: Darker My Love
Though it’s not immediately apparent from their trademark psych-punk freakouts, the members of Los Angeles’ Darker My Love are old souls at heart. So it makes sense that after many years on the indie rock circuit, the quintet eventually pulled off a Workingman’s Dead, toning down its effects and settling on the rootsy sounds heard on the new album Alive As You Are.
“It really happened naturally,” says a slightly groggy Tim Presley, the band’s 30-year-old guitarist, singer and visual director, from his home in Los Angeles. “It just fit best sonically for these songs.”
Darker My Love’s primary songwriters had drastically different, yet equally quintessential coming of age experiences on opposite sides of the country. Though Workingman’s Dead was his first favorite album, the San Francisco-bred Presley latched onto the punk scene as a teenager and made his name as a member of the L.A. hardcore band The Nerve Agents.
Meanwhile, bassist Rob Barbato grew up in Massachusetts at the height of the modern jamband movement where he soaked up bands like Phish, Percy Hill, moe. and Medeski Martin & Wood. “I was in awe of all this musicianship, so I studied and played a lot of music but thought I wasn’t ready to be in a band,” Presley reasons. “Whereas Tim came from the punk scene where it’s the less you know the more you can do and was already putting out records.”
Barbato studied at the Berklee College of Music and gradually expanded his palate to include everything from traditional jazz to the avant-garde and the Grateful Dead. In 2004, he moved to L.A. with guitarist Jared Everett and ended up jamming with Presley. Despite the musicians’ different backgrounds, they clicked immediately.
“I always felt the mixture of Tim’s punk background and my more jammy background created something special,” Barbato boasts. “It is almost as if we have two different methods and ideas of how to do everything. There’s not much of a difference between a crusty punk on Haight Street and a tour wookie.”
Along with Nerve Agents drummer Andy Granelli, the musicians formed Darker My Love and honed in on a dark, modern take on psych rock. Though their zip code aligned them more with the cool L.A. indie underground, the heavy, experimental psych jams heard of the band’s self-titled 2006 Dangerbird debut were cut from the same cloth of San Francisco’s rapidly expanding modern psychedelic movement.
But sometime following the release of its second album, 2, which also featured new member Will Canzoneri on organ and clavinet, the members of Darker My Love started altering their image. After losing his father in August of 2008, Presley poured his emotions into a new batch of songs. “All these lyrics were coming out and all of a sudden they meant something, too,” he confides. “I was done messing around and was serious about writing songs with a no bullshit policy.”
When the time came to record Alive As You Are, the band stripped away the effects and reverb to reveal a set of roots-oriented, classic rock sounding personal reflections with dry vocals and an honest message. Darker My Love set up camp in San Francisco’s legendary Hyde Street Studios—a recording space made famous by the likes of Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Grateful Dead—and enlisted the help of Peter Rowan/Buddy Miller steel guitarist Joe Goldmark and new drummer Dan Allaire. The result, Alive As You Are, consciously owes more to American Beauty than Live/Dead.
“I wanted the album to be raw and naked and real, because that’s how I felt,” Presley says. “‘June Bloom’ was the first song I really wrote after this shift and, after that, all these songs had a similar vibe that was less about music and more about songs.”
Presley believes that, in certain ways, Alive As You Are marks his transition from a musician to a songwriter. “Maybe I’m getting older,” he admits. “But at this point, I’d rather keep writing songs than touring around.”
The album’s strongest numbers, “Dear Arthur” and “In a Time of Her Own” should turn Beatles and Band enthusiasts onto the onetime psych cult favorites. And, if any of his fans complain about Darker My Love’s new sound, Presley has practiced his defense. “There is Moby Grape and the Grateful Dead and all these crazy ‘60s psych records, but really they are different braches of the same genre,” he says confidently. “And our audience is part of that same genre, too.”
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