Darlingside: Harmonies and a unicorn of friendship

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by Claire Meyer

photo by Cameron Gee

Drive due northwest in the great state of Massachusetts, to the point where New York and Vermont meet, and you’ll find the ever-quaint Williamstown. Its namesake institution, Williams College, bequeathed unto the music world a group known as Darlingside, a delightful, folksy group of guys who have breathed new life into the power of a good harmony. This isn’t your typical rock group, however: they’re particularly kind, and you can hear it in their music.

Darlingside members Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, David Senft, and Harris Paseltiner sure can sing, but it’s not as boiled down as slapping a 60s folk group name over the lid of their style. “I think a lot of those comparisons are generously made when guys are singing harmony together,” Auyon said. “We feel extremely honored to be compared to the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, or Simon and Garfunkel. None of us grew up listening to a whole lot of [them], and I don’t think any of us list them as our primary influences. All four of us write songs, so it’s a democratic process and it’s very slow-moving.”

Utilizing the likes of writing exercises, books and movies, the group does their best to let each voice be heard. “It’s a very playful experience for us. It’s a vulnerable thing to write with… three other people who are very opinionated when you yourself are very opinionated. But I feel like we’ve been working on this process for several years and we’ll continue working on it for several more.”

Originally a quintet, the band’s four members began their touring days as members of one of Williams College’s many a cappella groups. “We were a social club that sang. There were a whole bunch of us, maybe about 12-15 in the group which is a lot of people singing together. As is the case with liberal arts colleges, there were far too many a cappella groups on campus, and we were one of those far too many.”

Fortunately, out of the many voices emerged these harmonies that just kind of make you want to weep: they are so spot on and melodious. If the sound of four guys singing in complete, splendid unison doesn’t give you goosebumps, check that pulse because whoa. There are ballads of swooning guitar and trumpets, flute and mandolin. The four gather around one microphone to perform, conjuring a perhaps more dignified image of the Soggy Bottom Boys “singing into a can” in the film O Brother Where Art Thou?

“When we rehearse and practice we do it without microphone; just us singing in a living room. To be able to now do that onstage is really gratifying and we feel more connected to the audience. It feels like a much more open, living room-y vibe.”

If the Wild Buffalo can be thought of as one big living room, then look no further to catch the band here on July 12 (which just so happens to be this writer’s birthday, but that’s neither here nor there.) Darlingside kick off their West Coast tour this summer back where they started earlier in the year. “We were going to open up a show for Brandi Carlile in Vancouver and then in Bellingham. Just as we were getting on the road up north, we found out that Brandi had been trapped by a snow storm happening there.”

Bellingham enchanted the band to stay and enjoy its offerings. “We ended up having a wonderful day off in Bellingham. We just roamed around got some great food… At one of the coffee spots there was a gourmet cake-maker who was just really generous with her stuff. We had a great time in Bellingham and are stoked to be back.”

Both the Vancouver Folk Festival and Vancouver Island Folk Festival have welcomed the band to showcase their new album, Extralife, released earlier this year. Touring is a selective process for the group these days as time with family and partners is at the forefront, yet these darlings only continue to evolve.

Keeping in the theme that growth is rarely possible without some degree of discomfort, the band’s name originates from a quote attributed to several renown authors such as William Faulkner and Stephen King: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Essentially, according to Auyon, Darlingside’s creative process would not be complete unless you are “willing to get rid of the things you like most for the sake of the whole piece. Something like murdering your favorite tree for the forest is the idea.”

The unicorn of friendship – the band’s long-running mascot – will soon make its appearance on a Bellingham wall or bathroom stall when Darlingside comes to town. True to their signature kindness, …“this was something that encapsulates our personality and is a non-vulgar representation that we felt we could add to [the walls of music venues]. He started out in that vein, and slowly became ‘our guy.’”

See Darlingside at The Wild Buffalo on July 12. To see what the guys and their mascot are up to, follow them on social media or visit www.darlingside.com.