Drenched in a dreamy, harmonic and verging on ethereal collective of voices from the group that is Darlingside, the crowd at the recent Cambridge Folk Festival was bathed in the powerful yet unforced and natural set of their songs in a gorgeous, idyllic summery setting. They offered that they were, ‘underslept but happy’ to be back at the festival following their 2016 performance which garnered a hearty cheer. Indeed, many there had seen them perform on their previous visit to the historical festival and had made sure to be there for the return this year.
The band’s performance was one of the true highlights of the festival this year and on the lips of many not to miss, and for good reason. Every song is so well-crafted and luminous, with sprinkles of magic dusted across every one. Their music feels deeply intricate and clever without being cloying and its clear their trajectory is going to be far. Their set included much from the new album, and, my personal favourite, ‘White Horses’ which is wholly sway-worthy.
They took time to answer a few questions after their set about their progression to the incarnation they currently inhabit, their process of creating new music and what it is to be a folk musician.
Thank you all for taking the time to chat with us, very much appreciated!
Of course! Our pleasure.
How did you arrive and settle into the genre of indie folk? Were there other previous incarnations?
Certainly nothing we planned or even thought about much really. There’d been a couple previous incarnations in college, but I wasn’t in those so let’s skip right ahead to 2013 when our five-member line-up included me and a drummer who one day found himself unable to tour much anymore (quite a reasonable position actually). We started performing a few shows as an acoustic quartet when he couldn’t make it, and we thought the easiest way to do that was to throw up one microphone in front of our faces and just sing exactly like we did in the living room for rehearsals, no monitors or anything. In some ways, it feels like we lucked our way into this amazing folk community through sheer circumstance!
I read that you all collaborate on every track/song, is there ever a time where one of you takes the lead, and, is it a democratic process?
It is generally a very democratic process and we certainly do all contribute to each song, but there are certainly times when one person is spearheading the process. That person takes the lead for a while and then maybe passes it off to someone else to shepherd the song to its final draft. Other times we hash it all out with the four of us in the room. We’ve never settled on one process for how songwriting should work, and that’s part of what keeps it exciting for us I think.
And, how do you come about developing new music, does it happen through forced, sit-down writing sessions or do you all work on things then bring them to the table?
Both ways definitely happen! Over nearly a decade of working together, we’ve developed a ton of ideas and basically nothing ever gets thrown out. So we have an extensive shelf of ideas awaiting rehabilitation or recombination with newer tune fragments. Most of our songs are written with chords/melodies first and then the lyrics follow. So the sit-down sessions are usually more focused on lyrics and eventually arrangements rather than generating tunes. We’re constantly taking voice memos of new tune ideas so that part of the process never really stops.
Would you like to see your brand of music more main stream or do you find that the space that it occupies and inhabits is where it should be?
I don’t personally think much about our music in the greater context of popular music. I’d like to reach more people with our songs, sure, but I don’t think any of us have much idea of ourselves as torchbearers for a folk movement. We just try to write songs that are true to where we’re at as people and if we speculate too much ahead of time about where they’re going to land or what brand they fit into, that feels to me like it’d only get in the way.
What is it about folk that seems to be all that more a genuine and authentic genre of music?
Folk songs are often presented in a stripped-down format, so that helps put the emphasis on the song itself. And beyond that, I think folk songwriters are typically focused on channelling their authentic selves into those songs.
If you had to deviate into other types of music, could you do it, or would it just mean leaving music altogether?
I don’t think any of us would ever rule out some healthy deviation! We’ve already been evolving a bit on this latest album, which in some ways was tracked more true to our live setup (four of us singing at once, keeping lots of “mistakes” in the final cut) but also we started using some more overt electronic noises (the Septavox arepeggiators on “Eschaton” and “Extralife”) which can be challenging for the traditionalists out there. We never plan much in advance, so we’ll see what happens next time around! We just keep writing and see what comes out, feeling very fortunate to get to be music-makers in the world.
You are playing the historic Cambridge Folk Festival, that must mean a great deal…
The first time we played Cambridge Folk in 2016, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. This time, we knew what a big deal it was and it certainly didn’t disappoint. That main stage tent can get quieter than almost any festival set we’ve been a part of, and then on a dime it can explode with energy. That’s a huge testament to the history and the atmosphere of CFF, and we’re so honoured to be part of the ongoing story.
How is the rest of your summer looking-more touring? Any more writing scheduled later in the year?
With our album still relatively fresh, we’re touring hard through the summer and into September. Then we’re hoping to get some serious writing done in October before we return to the UK for few shows in Edinburgh, Manchester, and London (30 Oct – 1 Nov) and continue onward with our first proper tour of Germany!
–Don Mitchell of Darlingside
Words by: Dana Miller
Photos by ©PremiumPhotographic