• By: Keith Whittier

The Darcys Embrace Self-Awareness

Ottawa Life’s Festival City Series is back! We'll provide a unique look at some of your favourite events.
We’ll go beyond the music with artist interviews, volunteer profiles, concert reviews and spotlights on
the tastes, sights and sounds of the festival season. 

Your city! Your festivals and events!
Like a good sunscreen, Ottawa Life has you covered.

Photo by Norman Wong

Few bands go through as many drastic changes at once as Toronto's The Darcys. Losing the rest of their band, members Jason Couse and Wes Marskell locked in and tried to rejuvenate their band from the ground up, and the first update was the sound. Taking a pop feel reminiscent of 70's synth pop they took one of the hardest lefts one can imagine for a guitar rock band, especially five albums into their discography, but it clearly paid off. We caught up with Wes from The Darcys in the lead up to their Dragonboat Festival show on Saturday, June 24 to talk about changing sounds, embracing cheese and the difference between evolving and selling out.

Ottawa Life: Considering the sonic changes you've made for this latest album is it a way to make things fresh every time or is it just another way of surviving?

Wes Marskell (The Darcys):  I think it's all of the above. The band's a lot like being in a relationship and things got a little stale with Jason and I. Both of us felt like we needed something drastic to be more engaging as writers and performers. We pursued a ton of different options and opportunities, wrote with people and did all this stuff to make something different. And if you get a song played on the radio like "Miracle" and other stuff did then, it's a lot more financially feasible to be in a rock band. One hand fed into the other. But the whole shift was to have more fun up there on stage and write these songs that captured the aesthetic and feel.

Was there something about the sound that drew you towards it when you switched things up? You've cited Tegan and Sara's switch up as part of what convinced you as well.

I definitely appreciate their shift and  what they did to make a drastic distance between their early stuff and what they're doing now. It just gave me a little bit of hope that artists can do that, and that people can be supportive of people making records like that. For us, we wrote a lot of songs first but they didn't necessarily have the stylistic elements, they were just songs. Once we started narrowing it down, the ones that started to feel good together, we flew down to New Zealand to work with sean everett. When we were there, we had this crazy house that was all white and we found more of the aesthetic there. When we finished the few songs there, we looked at everything and it came together. We weren't like "Man Miami Vice is my favourite TV show, we're going to make a record that sounds and looks like that," it happened over time pretty organically.

Was there something in particular that kept you and Jason from just calling the whole project off when you'd been shrunk to two people?

I wasn't sure the band was done. Jason and I have always been the force behind every record. Much like this record, there just happened to be more people in the room when we were working on it. Looking back I always wondered   if we should have changed the name or done something. But I have such good faith in the industry and we had all these fans that turned out to be supportive that it made sense to keep going. We always felt that if this record was ok it would open up the opportunity for something new. It was just one of those things too where when you're shifting you just keep working and we just kept writing songs. We weren't sure how it was going to come out until we took a step back and said "Wow, we have some great songs here." Obviously how different it was, was exciting for us because we didn't know if people were going to love it or hate it or scream blasphemy at us. That was the most fun out of any project I've worked on in this band, putting out "Miracle" online and looking at the reactions.

Was there a big change in dynamics you found when you went to write and record as a duo?

Not really. We'd always wrote the songs and brought them to the other guys. This isn't to downplay them, they're great, but Jason and I were always the kernel of every song. I think when you're in a band you have to try and get your point across. This way was easier because we didn't really have to deal with people saying "I don't want to play this," or "I don't really like that," and you just go full-tilt after the project.

Considering you've done 20 minute songs and a Steely Dan Cover album, is your new album the sound you're sticking with for now or is it bound to change again soon?

Like maybe we'll make a reggae infused rap record? No. I think that we will pursue this avenue for a while longer. The shows have been so fun and the aesthetic is so great. We just bought some crazy inflatable thing for the stage, a giant LED palm tree. It's hard to deny how much fun the audience is having and how much fun we're having on stage and how fun the entire process is. I don't think it doesn't mean we'll change again but I think the next project will be a cipher of this idea we've been creating, and not so much another 20 minute instrumental. To the people that said we sold out, it doesn't really work that way.

Has the rotation of fans felt calming or like even more pressure to give new fans a great first impression?

I know what you're saying. There's a moment where when you play a festival people know your band but they don't KNOW your band, and your thinking you have to convert these people and make them love the band. But as our fanbase shifted, this group is a little younger and more engaged, they come wearing Hawaiian shirts or bring inflatable things to the show. It's a lot easier because you already know you have a great supportive audience. I just want to give the best show every time we go on stage. 

With your cheeky artwork and self-aware sound, how do you find balancing intentional cheese with making genuine music?

I think that was the hard part for us. The whole thing is very self-aware. With our cover art you can see it and think these guys get it, they're in on the joke and having fun, OR you can think these guys are total a**holes. It's easy to make that conclusion without listening to it but there's a different strength to the record with that. The more you play and you're out on the road, you come closer to the genuine look of the project. For example when we started selling merch on this tour we had a bunch of colourful shirts and black shirts with white script on it. The black shirts sold like crazy off the top and suddenly they weren't selling so well and we thought okay we'll bring out the colourful stuff. For the second half of this tour it's been only the fun stuff. As everyone gets more into the aesthetic and having fun with it, they want to get more involved on that level. It's transcending the artwork.

Does it ever feel weird diving back into old songs live or is it something you find just as natural?

We've been doing a few hour-long sets on this tour playing some older songs, giving them their own space on the set. We changed them up a bit so they're a little closer to the Centerfold -era of Darcy's. It's funny though, some people will come to the merch table after and ask what cover we played in the middle of the set because they had no connection to the older material. It's difficult sometimes because people are there with their glow-sticks and they here a song like "The River" and it's kind of a downer.

What's coming up for you guys?

We have a few festival shows coming up over the next couple months. We've just been writing like crazy. We're also doing some production work for a few bands  and some writing work for a few artists so it's a really busy behind-the-scenes couple months for us. And I'll totally succumb to the aesthetic and just wear a half-open Hawaiian t-shirt and white pants all the time.