Earlier this year I had cause to speak to Kelley Darlin, one-third of Tennessee country punk trio, Those Darlins. At the time they were preparing for their first tour of Australia, having had an initial taste of Australian culture via the inimitable Henry Wagons. “We hung out with Henry recently when he was over here,” Kelley grins. “We all squeezed into this vintage Chevy and drove around. He’s super hilarious – we’re so looking forward to seeing him again and playing with him when we’re out in Australia. We’ve heard all about the Australian beaches – and we’re looking forward to meeting cute Australian boys.”
But on the eve of Those Darlins’ 18 hour flight to Australia – and the band’s first ever international tour – things went pear shaped. Kellie’s band mate Nicki fell and broke her arm one night, causing Those Darlins’ Australian sojourn to be cancelled. “Yeah, that was my fault,” Nicki explains, when I speak to her about six months after my conversation with Kelley. “We were in Winnipeg, and it was the middle of the night. I was running up this hill and I fell on my arm and broke it. It was pretty bad, and I had to get a bunch of pins put in it. It was pretty narly!” Nicki laughs. Was it, I ask with trepidation, what nursing staff in an Australian hospital might annotate as a PFO (Pissed, Fell Over)? “Yeah, I think it probably was,” Nicki admits.
The genesis of Those Darlins lies with Kelley’s involvement in a rock ’n’ roll camp for girls. Jess Darlin moved down from Kentucky to attend the camp, and gradually forged a friendship with Kelley. Nicki was sharing a house with Jess; it didn’t take long for Those Darlins to take shape. “I’d been in punk rock bands before then,” Kelley says. “But they were a bit contrived. This band grew organically.”
Those Darlins took as their initial point of entry the band members’ historical interest and empathy with punk rock, infused with the country aesthetic with which Tennessee is regularly associated. Early on Those Darlins realised the importance of looking after their own affairs. “Doing our own thing has been the core of being creative,” Kellie explains. “I think if everything is handed to you then there’s no impetus to try hard.”
Being in a female-dominated band (the exception being Those Darlins’ male drummer) generates its own peculiar reactions, ranging from critics’ commentary (epitomised by an especially sickening article by Bernard Zuel in the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of years ago) to the response of road crews and venue owners. “Gender is always a factor in your life,” Kellie says. “It’s a personal experience, depending on the situation.
“One time when we were on tour we had a write-up in a local paper that said ‘For the first time an all-girl band is playing tonight’, but the piece said nothing at all about the band. They’d never say that about an African-American band – it’d be so offensive. But when we’re playing we’re get treated very well by sound engineers, ‘cause we know what we’re doing. I see a lot of positive change coming, with lots more women in senior roles in the music industry,” Kellie says.
With Nicki’s arm having healed sufficiently to return to the stage and studio, Those Darlins are preparing to release their second album (the cover for the first single off the record features an x-ray of Nicki’s broken arm). “I think we’re moving in a different direction from the first record,” Nicki figures. “Previously we were influenced a lot by country music, but with this record we’re influenced more by punk and rock’n’roll.”
Like Kelley, Nicki is also looking forward to the local beaches (“I’ve also heard about all the dangerous creatures you’ve got there,” she says), in addition to a surprising familial connection. “I have a sister in Australia, and I’m going to meet her and her family,” Nicki says. “But I’m really not looking forward to the long flight over there – I’ll be really happy to get off the plane,” she laughs.
THOSE DARLINS play The Espy this Friday December 17 with Jeff The Brotherhood and The Tote this Sunday December 19 with Even. You can buy their new 7” single (from their forthcoming new album) from thosedarlins.com.