Back in November, the explosive quartet The Darts from Phoenix – Arizona, were on tour in Europe to promote their newest album I Like You But Not Like That. Of course, they could not leave without playing in London, and the amazing promoters Some Weird Sin brought them to The Empire Bar in Hackney, with rock’n’roll girl duo Das Clamps as support, for an amazing night. There, we had the opportunity to meet the band and have a chat about life on the road, Peaky Blinders and managing an all-girl band in the rock’n’roll scene…
The Darts (website here) are one of the leading bands in the garage punk scene, and all four members have been in the business for long enough now. Let us meet Nicole – singer and pianist, Christina – bassist and the most recent additions to the line-up : Yannel – drummer, and Dusty – subbing guitarist.
Their latest album I Like You But Not Like That was released in May 2019 on Alternative Tentacles (Jello Biafra’s label) – listen here. And it is obvious that the band had reached a turning point then. The Darts are known for their sultry, groovy numbers but this record is a lot more aggressive and angry with songs like Break Up Make Up or Don’t Hold My Hand. Nicole comments and laughs “nobody has ever mentioned that before but it is true.
We had a tough year and there was a lot of turmoils, we’re not that good with boys”. And Christina adds “not just with boys, but in general… There was a lot of tension that we got out in the songs…”. And of course, there is no better person to help recording angry songs than Jello Biafra.
“He tried to make it sound prettier though…” says Christina “we wanted to sound dirty, screamy and distorded but Jello, of all people, insisted on making the vocals cleaner. It was going to be a little crazier than it is now, but overall, we are really happy with the sound of the record”. But as every album recording goes, it was not exactly easy and Nicole recalls “Jello would call us for hours. I remember he called me on Christmas eve to talk about my vocals for nearly two hours!”. Christina adds “he would spend days talking to our producer Bob – who really knows what he wants – on the phone about what sound they wanted”. Both admit that this was a scary experience, but hard work paid off – as the album has been extremely well received by the public worldwide.
How is it being an all-female punk band in the scene, and in the industry? Nicole says “I think there’s power in numbers – there are a lot of us, and Christina looks terrifying on stage, in a good way and it’s fantastic”. Christina laughs and replies “of course, there is always the average weirdo, but we are good at ignoring them…” – “which is what the song I Like U But Not Like That is all about” says Nicole, smiling.
And how do The Darts manage to write and record together by themselves? Nicole‘s answer leaves no room for doubt : “it’s the best thing in the world!”. Christina explains : “when we are ready to record a new album, we usually record demo tracks ourselves – just me and Nicole in a room together”. Nicole says “I do the demos at home. Our previous drummer was in LA and I would email her the tracks so she could record on top of them, and then we send the tracks to our producer Bob! Then we would go to Bob’s studio, record the bass tracks in a day, do the keyboard in a minute and it was done!”.
The next step, says Christina was “to do the mixing with our producer and get all the sounds we want. I don’t know if this has anything to do with us being girls, but this band is fantastic because we have a lot of control to do what we want, writing songs we want to write, without anyone telling us this is not cool enough…” she continues, saying “we used to be in bands with men, and everything had to be so specific and it just wouldn’t work for this genre… This band is cool, we are having fun, not pigeon-holing ourselves in a specific style”. “We started this band to see the world, play music with people we respect, and it has been an amazing party the whole time – and the music just happens to be great because we’re having fun!” says Nicole.
Over time, The Darts have become leading examples as an all-female team. Christina says “Our rule number one is we don’t deal with negative people. And I think it has made us very independent. We feel empowered to write songs, play them all over the world how we want, and to hire the people we want. We take care of our own business and it’s amazing and empowering”. As the saying goes, empowered women empower women, and Nicole develops “that’s exactly what motivates us. I remember playing in a record store in Seattle and they opened their garage doors to the street, so all those little girls walking past with their moms, and all those families could see someone wailing at the drums and killing on the bass – and they want to do it too! It’s the best feeling in the world!”.
The girls agree as Nicole says “our band is about respect and fun. We are comfortable sharing our ideas and trying them out. It’s a completely different experience, and maybe it is because we’re all girls but we make this work perfectly.”
The band’s success skyrocketed last spring, as their new single Love U 2 Death was featured in the last series of Peaky Blinders (S5 E2 to be precise). Their thoughts? Nicole‘s enthusiasm is obvious “please let’s talk about Peaky Blinders, being featured in Season 5 was the best thing in the world! I had not seen the show before, but I watched every episode and made myself wait until season 5…”. And Christina says “the soundtrack of this show is absolutely amazing, and to be included on that is fantastic. We’re here, between bands like Nick Cave and PJ Harvey! Our UK licensing manager has done amazing work for us, and we are so excited to see our songs go so far.”.
However, after the album release and before taking off on a world tour, The Darts had to deal with important line-up changes, first losing their drummer, then having to find a dep guitarist as she couldn’t join them on that tour. Coping with it hasn’t been easy, as Christina says “it was a really tough time, we had a tour booked and a festival in Mexico, and we had to make the decision to keep going but we found our drummer Yannel through Nicole‘s friend and she has been amazing and really nailed those drums!”.
Yannel joined the band 6 weeks before the tour started, and guitarist Dusty, who normally plays in Shovel, joined last minute. “I didn’t know if I could learn all their songs as such short notice, but they have been so rewarding and supportive and I realised how talented their song-writing was, from a guitarist aspect. I assumed it was garage rock but I was so wrong, there are so many different styles and it made me a better player. This tour has been so much fun! They made me feel like I belong in the band, even though I’m only subbing. They are like that with their fans and that is what I like the most about them”.
The thing that made The Darts who they are and forged their attitude is the integrity in Phoenix’s music scene, as Nicole says : “It’s a very weird scene, but we always want to support the bands in our area, and to show them we are proud of them because that’s how we keep our scene going.”. Dusty says “The Darts are really good at branching out and now stay in their clique. Nicole has helped many of my friends with questions about licensing and touring. That’s what is so special about those girls.”.
To end this fantastic interview, we asked The Darts to recommend us their favourite girl bands, so hop up on Bandcamp and Spotify, and listen to Das Clamps, The Coat Hangers, The Trashwomen, The Tsunamis, The 5, 6, 7, 8’s, The Mellvins (with 2 L’s, from Japan), Acorn Bcorn and Shovel! This should keep you going until the gigs start again, and we’re sure The Darts will come visit soon.
Interview & Photography by Pauline Di with The Darts before the lockdown.