It takes chutzpah for an indie band just starting out to get rid of the acoustic guitar. But that's how it went for Minneapolis/New Orleans/Chicago's Dark Dark Dark. Choosing instead to write their earliest songs for an accordion and a banjo (insert my inevitable fandom here), founding members Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount build their eclectic, eery, inviting music from the consistently unexpected. Dark Dark Dark is the musical equivalent of the dialogue Noah Baumbach writes: You're never sure what will happen next, which is how dialogue in real life feels—but paying that extra attention, and allowing yourself to be surprised, will reward you with piercing, comforting insight.
I've read descriptions of Dark Dark Dark that categorize their sound as "Americana," "New Orleans jazz," "Eastern European," "folk pop," "pop," and "chamber folk." First of all, WELL DONE to a band that can manage to inspire all of those words and not sound like douchebags. (For the record, they actually sound like INCREDIBLY COOL PEOPLE.) Second of all, I would posit an additional musical category, which I am calling "funeral folk." I mean it as a compliment. Bear with me. Though the instrumental lineup and lyrical themes of each of the band's three albums (including Who Needs Who, released TODAY) change remarkably, each one leaves an overall impression of really catchy dirges. Invie's accessible, direct vocals are the almost-too-honest eulogy, her accordion is the creepy-awesome, carnivalesque Dia de los Muertos altar, and the rotating diorama of folksy instruments and harmonies behind her are a mournful/joyful second line dancing from the church to the graveyard.
I recently asked the band about their thoughts on "funeral folk," queerness, and whether or not anyone ever ACTUALLY threw away an acoustic guitar in their history. The answers I got back are just as lucid, detailed, and thoughtful as I would expect, after hearing their complex but approachable musical storytelling.
I read a 2010 interview that says that you literally gave away your acoustic guitar, to write for other instruments instead. True?
True. We decided we were sick of hearing it, specifically the acoustic guitar. Sick of hearing the solutions it provided to problems, and of it being the default instrument for writing. We would never touch one again. Now, of course, we are back to feeling that it's a beautiful instrument. Marshall smashed one against a wall once. We carried it around because we thought we were supposed to. At the time, the accordion and the banjo were what made sense to us. Now, that makes us cringe, too, and the piano is our lead instrument.
What is your process in approaching work for a new album? Where and how was this new album written?
I am trying to learn to be open to new ideas, words and forms. To not discard lyrics or melodies if they persist, meaning sometimes, that simplicity is okay, or that I must work through doubt. I have been trying to be more intentional about knowing myself in this moment. How I actually feel about my experiences and what it is I want to convey. The writing is a problem-solving that lasts a few seasons. It starts a melody on a bike ride, or a riff at the piano. Who Needs Who was written over the last two years, while touring and while living in minneapolis. I try to work on new songs whenever I have the chance. Writing melodies in my head and coming up with words that, hopefully, I still remember when I get back to my piano. I usually send out demos to the rest of the band and we work out arrangements when we get together.
If I describe your music as "funeral folk," among other things, will you take that as a compliment? Because I mean it as one.
um. sure. i mean, is that an arty way of saying we're super goth? Because I'm into that. Well, funeral folk comes with some connotations that I might not necessarily love. Certainly in the past we would've been flattered. Back when we used more metaphors for ghosts and death, in contrast to all the personal and living change that's happening in the new release. We are in to being Adult Contemporary Goth, but any genre name will be alienating to someone who could otherwise use, or actually NEEDS our music. This is why we are using Chamber Folk, or Avant Pop, or any combination therein.
Where is home base for Dark Dark Dark?
We're spread out all over the place. Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, New Orleans. Our van is our homebase.
You've been famously linked with Brooklyn and NO sounds, which are recognizable to most indie music fans. Can you characterize the Minneapolis sound?
I'd love it if Minneapolis' sound was nationally known for what it is. It is a hugely diverse music community, with a lot of experimentation and support, and truly one of the most interesting scenes around. New Orleans is technically and historically amazing. For us, it was Minneapolis that first got bored with Indie and pop punk, and started using all their classical instruments to make metal, folk, or rock, or whatever combination.
How does queerness factor into your band?
We are part of a broad queer-and-allies artist community. I've grown as a performer playing in queer spaces. We try to make sure we create safe space wherever we go for people with queer identifiers. Some of us identify as queer, as gay, as straight. We are trans and gender-queer allies.
What are you reading/watching/listening to lately?
I just read an amazing book called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It paints such an epic portrait of loneliness and solitude. But not in any sort of negative light. It's beautiful. And I've been listening to a lot of older soul music lately. Ruby Johnson, Curtis Mayfield, Wendy Rene, Clarence Carter. It really scratches the end of summer nostalgic itch. We also seem to listen to a lot more talk radio and podcasts, lately. There have been several "no music" requests in the van, lately. Meredith Monk, Philip Glass, and more "instrumental" music comes up a lot lately, as well.
Bitch is a "feminist response to pop culture." What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism means fighting to be who I really am in the world, without fear of (or actual) oppression or harassment. It means supporting and empowering the people around us to engage with that freedom, and constantly working to create a world where we aren't fucked with because of our perceived genders, sexualities, races, or any minority identities.
Dark Dark Dark are on tour right this second in support of Who Needs Who. Visit their Facebook page for dates! While you're waiting for them to roll to your city, check out this video of the band playing with the Modern Times Spychestra (YEP. A REAL THING.) in Minneapolis last year.