Band to Watch: Southern Fried Sister Act Those Darlins

On second album 'Screws Get Loose,' the band moves beyond their country roots

May 10, 2011 4:41 PM ET
Band to Watch: Southern Fried Sister Act Those Darlins
Photograph by Veta&Theo

WHO: Three rip-roaring gals and a guy, all of whom met a half-decade ago at the Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. On their cowpunkish 2009 debut, youngest member Jessi Darlin, now 21, played guitar, Kelley Darlin played bass, and Nikki Darlin was on baritone ukulele; sole male Linwood Regensburg (who served as a counselor at the Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp) added drums on just three cuts. On this year's faster-selling but significantly less rural follow-up Screws Get Loose, instrument assignments are more fluid, and the uke's disappeared – and the sound's become more garage rock than hillbilly.

BACKWATER BEGINNINGS: While all four Darlins are Southerners, Jessi says, "me and Nikki really grew up in the country" – sometimes lacking electricity or plumbing. Jessi spent her most formative years in Ono, Kentucky, a snip of a town which she says comprised five houses and a church; Nikki’s childhood home was on a mountaintop in Rappahannock County, Virginia. So the Carter Family and other old-timey country covers Those Darlins played when they started as a trio in 2006 came naturally, as did originals they eventually wrote and drawled about being shoeless snaggle-toothed mamas living in tin-roofed shacks out in the boondocks.

THE BIG RISK: Though an early unreleased demo was, Jessi says, “pretty much straight-up country,” Those Darlins have slowly been moving away from that sound since. “With the kind of country music we like,” she says, “there’s not that much direction to go.” So when tougher, louder songs began materializing for Screws Get Loose, the band was worried their new sound would alienate fans who loved the older, twangier tunes. But the opposite has happened, and Jessi has a theory about why: "If you're a rock & roll fan, you might not like country. But if you're a country fan, you're gonna like rock & roll."

CITY TO CITY: Much of Screws Get Loose was inspired by relationships born on the road – Kelley's "Boy," for instance, catalogs fawning male fans at different tour stops, and Jessi says her own "Be Your Bro" was inspired by "tours with dude bands who are married" but got presumptuous about Those Darlins' girly attitudes. "Screws Get Loose" itself, Jessi says, was penned after a rare and frazzled two-week break which she decided to spend on her own, in New York City, where she wiled away days wandering avenues alone – liberating, since she wasn't part of a group for a change. "Such a relief to be able to walk down the street and say, 'I'm gonna make a left here'," she says.

FOOD AND DRINK: Both Those Darlins' albums include food songs – "The Whole Damn Thing," about devouring an entire chicken, and "Fatty Needs A Fix," about "starving for something and it ain't your touch." A coincidence, Jessi says, though "we like to eat."  They also like to drink, sometimes a lot and all at the same time, maybe before a gig "in the middle of nowhere," Jessi says – but it doesn't happen as often as their marinated rep might suggest. "A lot of shows, I'll play completely sober," she says. And as they've become a professional band, with radio and in-store obligations the next day, that's increasingly a necessity. "People would be surprised how many shows we play before 5 p.m."

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