Dark Dark Dark has an accordion. Let’s just get it out there. Considerably eclectic in taste, practice, and performance, this humble quintet culls sounds from ‘round the world and up from history to form a perplexingly contemporary sound. But yes, that piano begs the evocation of a “loungey” feel, those strong and soulful vocals conjure a “folk” feeling, and the quaint whir and chirp of that confounding accordion often stirs that whole cobblestone-set-busker-hinting adjective of “old world.”
DDD’s varied sensibilities (with influences ranging from New Orleans jazz to Middle Eastern Sufi) originate from multi-instrumentalists Nona Marie Invie, Marshall LaCount, Jonathan Kaiser, Walter McClements, Todd Chandler, Brett Bullion, and Mark Trecka. They’ve become known for the staggering, stately beauty of their chamber-pop flavored compositions; the blend of a daydream-y sway, a haunting, storybook-ish woodland wandering and a charming dizzy of romantic, waltzing whimsy. As they loaded up for the next show to promote their new LP, Wild Go, Marshall LaCount talked about the band’s evading of a shark attack, playing through the night on a boat floating down the Grand Canal in Venice, and of how people have perceptive difficulties with the accordion.
How’s your autumn?
Autumn’s going really well. We’ve been really busy this year. We’ve toured quite a lot because we put out an EP (Bright Bright Bright) in March and we’re working on this movie project (Flood Tide) and that has taken some time in California. And now we’re out on this Wild Go tour so we’ve been pretty much back-to-back since early spring.
How is Flood Tide coming along. I understand the band acts in it and soundtracks it. What was it like working on it, in that capacity, and how did it compare to your usual songwriting?
Yeah, we’ve been able to start performing our remix version of our soundtrack, live. We’re going to put it away until probably next spring. That stuff is instrumental, which is pretty fun. We sit around and watch the footage and brainstorm from the material that we maybe already have or ideas we already had; it’s a little more collaborative in that it’s not Nona (Marie Invie) and me writing everything, which generally happens [on] the Dark Dark Dark lyrical records.
How does songwriting usually flow between you two (and then, onto the band and onto the record)? You switch off lead vocals, does that indicate any one song’s prime writer?
Well, the song “Wild Go” I wrote but Nona sings, so that’s not always the best rule of thumb. Generally, I wanted Nona to have a lot of the spotlight on this record for coherence and just because she would bring so many great songs in anyway.
“We’re most likely, actually, just bumbling through this life, traveling a lot and being directly influenced by that and by the way that our lives as people and our interactions as people fit into the rest of what people and nature are doing.”
Can you talk about the early days of Dark Dark Dark, how you two met and what the collaboration was like then?
We were both at a place where we had nothing else to do. We were friends from Minneapolis and we started playing music together every day and we decided to go to New Orleans. And we decided to try to make gas money along the way by playing music. We weren’t going to be a band for much longer than that trip. But, it just started going too well and it was well-received and we felt good about it. So we kept doing it.
What was your instrumental set-up? Was it just the two of you?
We still had other friends playing with us, but it was accordion and banjo at its core.
Accordion and banjo. Indeed. Dark Dark Dark have been oft-noted for their distinctive sound. No dominant guitar and reliance upon orchestral instruments. The words “old world” get thrown around, like it’s some post-Victorian-era trip. Can you talk about your thoughts on sounding like “old world”?
Yeah. Heh. At this point I think it’s pretty amusing. In the past it’s been more accurate; our first year it was really more accurate. But now, the place where our music is, I don’t feel that it’s really that accurate anymore. But, people have trouble talking about the accordion in any other way. I think our songs are very contemporary.
What’s the instrumental set-up for this tour?
Right now we have [drums], a piano and an accordion, a trumpet and a clarinet, a bass and banjo. And there are five of us. Nona switches between accordion and piano, I switch between three and Walter (McClements) switches between piano, trumpet, and accordion, also.
Considering these orchestral instruments, the more fragile instruments, you give yourselves a difficult touring schedule. How do you manage care of the instruments or your own physical health?
We’re healthy people. We eat well. I dunno… we don’t party that hard. I mean, ever — we don’t ever party.
So, how about Wild Go , can you talk about what these songs mean to you or maybe how they fit with your other recordings thus far?
Bright Bright Bright, the EP, and this Wild Go LP were both made in the winter, not back to back. We took a break in between. But the EP was meant to precede the LP and sort of bridge the gap from the first record (The Snow Magic) to this material. I’m really happy with the two as a package. I’m just happy overall with playing the songs. It’s all pretty fresh still. Working on them, they’re our most mature recordings, and all of the decisions that went into them feel really good, still, from the live recording set-up and the live analog recording and the way that we were mixing – everything was more natural, a way to facilitate better performances from all of us.
“I’ll be listening to this Middle Eastern music and Jonathan will be listening to old soul music and Nona will be listening to top-40 radio. It’s a real psychedelic mix.”
With these songs, and going back to the EP, there’s a lot of natural imagery. We’ve already hit that “old world” sound, but can you talk about the songwriting? Bees, the sun, the woods, streams, rivers, and songs about being on a path. I’m finding this Whitman-esque singing-of-nature blended into a pondering of destinations.
Yeah. I should read more Whitman. I think someone’s reading Whitman in the van right now. I guess, maybe it’s obvious but I’m not that conscious of it and we don’t sit around and decide what we’re going to write about so we’re most likely, actually, just bumbling through this life and traveling a lot and being directly influenced by that and by the way that our lives as people and our interactions as people fit into the rest of what people and nature are doing.
I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten good at articulating this…
Well, to hear a song like “Right Path” it makes me wonder if the touring, itself, has any influence upon the writing.
Sure, but there’s at least a small spiritual twist to everything. And I’m not saying “religious,” I’m saying “spiritual.” And that just has to do with nature and interpersonal stuff as well. I like that open-endedness to all of it. The multiple meanings of it. It might be as literal as being on the road all the time, but there’s also room for interpretation.
Moving on from your instruments, can you talk about your influences?
Jonathan (Kaiser) and I, and Nona, probably unconsciously reach back to classical artists. Both Jonathan and I listen to contemporary classical or minimal composition and Nona listens to a lot of pop — a bit of a pop encyclopedia. And, other than that I think we all listen to so many different things. I’ll be listening to Sufi, the instruments are called tembur or saz music, I’ll be listening to this Middle Eastern music, and Jonathan will be listening to old soul music and Nona will be listening to top-40 radio. It’s a real psychedelic mix.
And we wind up with a sound like Wild Go…
That’s what it ends up, or where it ends up. I think that’s why our sound is so hard to talk about.
I know this is cliché, but, given your rigorous, pond-hopping tour schedule, I have to pick your brain on your favorite experiences out there on the road.
We have this habit of not talking about the shows, but of talking about adventures we’ve been on between shows. The other day we encountered a shark while we were swimming in Charleston, South Carolina.
Considering your use of cello on this album, I’m hearing the Jaws soundtrack in my head. How far away was the shark?
Oh, like 10 yards away from us. But we were oblivious to it until someone ran to the water: “I don’t know how much you care but…” And we realized we were the only ones in the water, everyone else had evacuated.
And, aquatic predators aside, how about performances?
We tour a lot and it’s hard, but a lot of the shows go so well; we have such a big community that we’re grateful for. We played on these boats once that us and our friends made and we floated down the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, on them, playing music in the middle of the night. I think at that point, aside from tearing up a little bit, we were really feeling that: no one else gets to do this. And, this is a really important time in our lives.
[Photo: Cameron Wittig]