Marshall LaCount of Dark Dark Dark on its aesthetic and the symbolism of water
Although it's often referred to as a "chamber folk" band, Dark Dark Dark (due tonight at The Walnut Room and tomorrow, April 16, at Odd Fellows Hall in Boulder as part of Communikey) from Minneapolis is a horse of a different color. Yes, its seven members all play acoustic instruments, but this act creates a deeply layered sound between complementary melodies and rhythms, without adhering to any particular folk or pop song structure. Rather, Dark Dark Dark borrows freely from various styles of music and assimilates those ideas into an overall sound that is spare, yet emotionally rich and thought-provoking.
Photo by Tod Seelie Dark Dark Dark is wet wet wet
The group has been involved in providing music for installation art internationally, and its music recently reached unexpectedly wider audiences through its songs appearing on prominent television programs like Grey's Anatomy, Degrassi: The Next Generation and (of all things) American Idol. High-profile exposure of the band's music aside, its songwriting has a delicate, intimate quality best heard on 2010's Wild Go. Or, better yet, at one of Dark Dark Dark's live shows. We caught up with Marshall LaCount and spoke with him about the band's aesthetic and the symbolic importance of water.
Westword: How did you get involved in "Swimming Cities of the Switchback Sea," and what is it about installation art that you find compelling enough to be as involved as you have been?
Marshall LaCount: Todd Chandler was one of the original founders of that project, and that's how we met. Everyone else became involved in that project right away in 2007, and it's such a good community -- a close community of friends -- that are doing such amazing things, and we stayed involved. I think that installation art and the opportunity to have music, theater and sculpture and multi-media and complicated projects interests all of us. Because it becomes so accessible to an audience, and it's so elaborate and fantastical. It makes challenging art more accessible than, sometimes, what a painting in a museum might. I definitely felt like we were out there in the world and in the community, and people were experiencing something they never would have otherwise.
Did you have any specific aims when you were forming this band in terms of what kind of music you were interested in making and what ideas you wanted to bring together for this band?
Sure. We really pushed subtlety and quiet, patient music, and we've really had to stand by working in textures and layers in sound as opposed to making rock and roll and party music. I think we have that tendency to make the kind of music we're making, and it was pretty challenging touring with it at first. We had to prove ourselves over a long time, and it's a flow. It takes a while for people to understand or enjoy it, because we can't just go into a loud bar and rock out and have a dance party. We've had to stick to our guns, especially in the touring circuit -- particularly in the DIY or indie scenes where we don't necessarily want to fit, because we want to play this sort of beautifully layered and sometimes intellectual and sometimes emotional and sometimes rock music.
Why do you make that kind of music instead of something like rock and roll or dance music?
I think that is what makes us cry when we're listening to it. Because it's a full range of emotions and a full range of experience, and it's what makes me love life and love music. Which is interesting, because I think all of us have become way more open to pop and dance music lately -- and are feeling the same thing from dance music and some pop music -- so it's pretty interesting to learn that what we want at the present might be a sort of opposite kind of music.
What minimalist artists had the greatest impact on what you've tried to do?
Philip Glass doesn't like being called minimalist, he likes being called "music with repetitive structure." Someone just published that again in an interview. Philip Glass, Antony and the Johnsons and maybe Steve Reich. Maybe Laurie Anderson, who is not minimal at all, but she is the same age as those people. Terry Reilly, Arvo Pärt. Just tones and textures, obviously not in constant, repetitive arpeggios. A lot of our tone and texture and contrast, I think, is informed by that kind of music.
"Heavy Heart" is one of the most interesting songs on Wild Go because of all the interesting layers of sound and the subtle but powerful dynamics. What kinds of things did you try to convey with that song?
That's a tough question. Lyrically, it's about two phrases long. Two positive, simple poems. I kept thinking of "I read the news today oh, boy. Lucky man who made the grade." But musically, it's bonkers, and not Beatles-influenced or anything. Who knows if it even fits in the overall album? I guess it fits because we said it did at the time, because we wanted to break up the record with something upbeat and something different.