Moving Right Along
by Stephen Slaybaugh

Editor’s note: For the month of January, our features will be focusing on up-and-coming artists, what we are calling “rated rookies.” These musicians are making what we feel is the cream of a new crop, and we think you will (sooner or later) agree. Enjoy!

In a city like New York, where there’s eight million stories and almost as many bands, it can be hard to be heard. Still, it was probably only a matter of time before the Darlings’ rambunctious pop came bursting to the surface. Their debut full-length, Yeah I Know, ties puckish loose ends of feedback and noise to choice melodies placed front and center, capping the potent combination off with touches of adolescent vitriol and a slight amount of Strokes-like cool.

The band formed in 2007 while all four members of the band—singer, guitarist and songwriter Peter Rynsky, drummer Matt Solomon, bassist Joe Tirabassi, and keyboardist and singer Maura Lynch—were still in school at New York University and playing house parties. They’ve since graduated to gigs at both DIY spaces and proper clubs throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, but the youthful vigor remains intact, gaining the band recognition in the local press (if you call the New York Times local). Songs like “Eviction Party” and “People Say” are the stuff careers are made of, though, and it’s probably only a matter of time before the band’s name is known west of the Hudson.

I sat down with Peter, Matt and Maura (Joe had to work) on a cold winter night to discuss the band’s beginning and bright future.

How did Darlings get started?

Peter Rynsky: We all went to school together at NYU. Matt and Joe lived in an apartment on Bleeker Street that was really big and we had a bunch of music equipment set up there, including a drumset, which is rare. So we were able to hang out at their place and play. We messed around for awhile and then decided we should start a band.

Matt Solomon: Pete and I would fuck around playing songs, and then I got a four-track and we started recording . We got Joe to lay down some stuff, then we got Maura to play because we thought it would be cool to have a girl in the band. Once we had a few songs, our first show was at a house party at that apartment.

Maura Lynch: It was the last Bleeker Street party.

PR: Yeah, we had a lot of parties there, and we knew the last one would have a lot of people so we decided to play our first show.

MS: That was June of 2007. We’d only been messing around for a few months before that.

PR: We started as Titty Titty Panda—that was our first name. We were just messing around and recording rough demos, then finals came around and we stopped for awhile. Then college was about to end, and we started again and changed our name.

ML: Yeah, I didn’t start playing until May, in the second incarnation.

Did you have any specific ideas in mind as far as the music?

PR: I did. I love the idea of pop and noise combined, the perfect balance of being really pop with weird sounds and feedback.

MS: I think we were all on the same page. We all grew up listening to the same sort of music. We came of age in the early ’90s with Nirvana and Weezer. We had the same idea, but I think the sound is mostly dictated by the early songs that Peter had already written. They were barebone rock songs, a little surfy, really melodic but also distorted. It evolved from there—but not too much.

PR: We’re working on that still!

Had any of you played music in a formal way before?

PR: I think we all did. Matt, Joe and I all had bands in high school.

MS: I’ve been playing in bands since I was 12.

ML: I always played, but by myself. I’d record myself.

MS: It was a long road getting Maura on stage. The first several shows she played with her back to the audience.

ML: I don’t know if that’s true.

When you started, did you have the idea that you wanted to play out and do this as a serious endeavor? Were you intimidated starting a band in New York?

PR: We went into it with full confidence because we just wanted to make fun songs. I didn’t even think about people’s expectations and whether or not they’d be into it. We just wanted to make what we thought sounded awesome.

MS: It’s hard to be intimidated by something if you don’t have any real expectations. Obviously, New York is a huge place with a thousand bands, but at the beginning we didn’t even think of it.

PR: I wasn’t even aware of a lot of the music scene going on in New York. Now there’s a million bands in Brooklyn, but it might have been less two years ago.

ML: We weren’t living in Brooklyn at the time, so I wasn’t aware of the music scene as I am now.

MS: The idea at the beginning was just to play at parties for our friends. We didn’t think about playing bigger shows or getting signed or going on tour.

PR: But I definitely wanted to be in a band—I knew that for sure. College was ending and I wasn’t going to have to worry about schoolwork anymore. So it was the time to start writing music and playing and see if we can do anything with this.

How long was it before you started working on the album?

MS: Half the songs on the album date back to when we played our first show. For instance, “Teenage Girl” is a song Peter wrote with his old band.

PR: I wrote it at NYU, but when I went home to California, I showed that to them and we wrote some of it together.

MS: So half of the songs predate us playing together.

PR: But we were pretty on the ball about recording. As soon as we had nine songs, we recorded them. So we had these demos and thought that was going to be the album. But Matt went away for awhile, and when he got back, those recordings were a year-old, and listening to them, they didn’t sound like how we wanted to sound. So we decided to do it again, and it ended up taking a long time to put these songs together as an album.

That’s when you worked with Nick Smeraski? He works at Headgear, right?

ML: He works at Headgear, but we recorded at Seaside Lounge in Park Slope for three days and then did a bunch of stuff at Nick’s house.

MS: We were booked to record at Headgear, but the week we were supposed to record, somebody poured concrete next door and the wall caved in. So it was deemed unfit by the city, and just those two days that we were supposed to record, Headgear was closed. Our main thing was working with Nick, who we knew from school. We’re actually going into Headgear in about a month to track some new songs.

ML: Assuming it doesn’t blow up or something!

Was it important to have him involved? Did he bring a lot to it?

PR: We just got along really well. I think it’s important to be able to communicate and to be comfortable with that person. The fact that we knew him for a long time and he happens to be really good at what he does was perfect.

Funny, though, we actually originally recorded the vocals at James Iha’s studio. A friend of a friend hooked us up with it for a good price. I happened to be sick that day and you could tell my nose was stuffed up. So we re-recorded them in Nick’s apartment.

It sounds like you were already working on the album when you hooked up with Famous Class.

ML: Yeah, but they made us excited about recording an album.

MS: We knew Cyrus (Lubin), because he lived for a summer at the apartment on Bleeker. When we recorded that first demo, I gave it to him just because I thought he’d like to hear it. He got back to me and he had made copies of it for everyone involved with the label. They were all stoked on it.

PR: It was so flattering that they were into it and wanted to work with us. I was a huge fan of Boogie Boarder, years before Darlings.

MS: So Cyrus expressed interest in putting out our record, and at the time, the record he wanted to put out was those original demos. After talking about it for a couple of months, he ended up giving us money to re-record some of the old songs and do some new songs.

I’ve only seen you play live once, but I was struck by the difference between the live show and the record. You were talking about contrasting pop and noise—I think the poppiness comes through more on the record.

PR: Yeah, definitely. I’ve kind of regretted that in a way. I wish there was more of a balance. The record is fine, but I think when we do this next recording, we’ll see it through more like we originally envisioned it. I want to put my foot down a little more.

Another striking thing about the album is the packaging. Where did those photos come from?

PR: Those are all old photos from our families. We had a homework assingment when we went home for the holidays: everyone had to come back with a batch of photos from their parents’ old photo albums. We all brought a bunch back, and we filtered out the best ones and narrowed it down to 10, one to represent each song.

MS: Most of them came from Peter’s stepdad. Peter was born in Russia, and his stepdad was in a rock band in the ’70s. The cover photo is that band.

PR: Yeah, my stepdad is in that photo. He was 15 in Moscow in the ’70s. It’s funny because some blogs thought it was us. First of all, there’s a girl in our band, and it’s a really old photo.

Did you make a direct correlation between each photograph and song?

ML: We tried not to be too literal. We wanted a youthful collection of images so we took the photos of our parents when they were younger. But like for “If This Is Love,” we didn’t want to have a picture of people in love. We didn’t want it that literal.

MS: All the Famous Class releases have those dimensions, like little zines. Most of them will be comics and drawings, but we didn’t want to go that route. I like that aesthetic, but we didn’t really identify with it.

PR: We’re not as zany!

You were talking about the youthful ideas. I think that’s a theme that runs through the songs. Do you think that’s something unique to the band?

PR: There’s a lot of bands going for that youthful garage sound. That sound is always going to be associated with teenagers and having fun.

MS: And that youthfulness is also a product of not taking ourselves too seriously. We didn’t think too hard about it, and that comes off as youthful and reckless.

You’ve gotten a fair amount of attention. L Magazine named you one of “8 NYC Bands You Need to Hear.” Were you surprised by the reaction?

MS: I was definitely surprised. I thought we had a good batch of songs and put out a good record, but didn’t have any expectations of anyone hearing it.

ML: But that was before the album came out. The album came out in August, and the L Magazine was in April. We were really confused.

MS: I didn’t know how they had heard us. We’ve gotten other press, but it stems from that. People wrote about that list and checked us out because of that list. But the biggest thing for me was we got a good review in the New York Times. My parents don’t give a shit about L Magazine, but when I was able to tell my dad to check out Sunday’s New York Times—that was something he could relate to.

Besides the musical talents that each member brings to the band, are there other things that you think each person brings?

PR: Well, Maura brings the feminine side. And Matt’s the rambunctious one.

ML: We all have our own things. For example, Joe is very organized and does so much as far as email.

PR: He’s taken on the role of manager. Maura’s the band treasurer. We trust her with the money because the other three of us would spend it on food or drugs.

MS: I think my role is to force Peter to write pop songs, and then once I get a couple melodies out of him, to focus it into a good two-minute song.

PR: Yeah, I’ll have ideas, but it won’t be in any particular order. Matt’s really good at arrangements.

Have you played much outside of New York?

ML: We went on a 10-day tour in 2008 down the east coast to North Carolina. It was one of the best weeks of my life.

PR: We’re in the position now where we need to go on tour as we have a record out. I wish we could all quit our jobs, but the best we can do is to take a week off or do a long weekend.

ML: That’s what different about being a band in New York. It’s really expensive to live here so we all have to work a lot just to live here. We’re all aching to go on tour, but we have to figure out how to do it.

You mentioned you were going to record. What other plans or goals do you have?

MS: We’re all very excited about the next batch of songs. We want to also put out a single. Famous Class is repressing Yeah I Know on vinyl, and they just got a distribution deal. I’m feeling pretty good about 2010, even though we don’t have any step-by-step plans in place.

PR: But that’s the thing about being in a band—you can’t plan it out. You try to write good songs and hope that people like them. Whatever happens happens, and you hope that it’s good.