Alumni band breaks onto music scene

Today Pittsfield, tomorrow … stadiums and Japan. These dreams are what the rock string quintet band Darlingside, comprising of College alums Don Mitchell ’06, Auyon Mukharji ’07, David Senft ’07, Sam Kapala ’09 and Harris Paseltiner ’09, lists as its future goals. Pretty lofty goals for a band that just played at the smallest venue I have ever seen. But while I might have taken them less seriously before listening to their show, I can say now that their passion and musical talent could really get them there – even if they did make the comment in semi-jest.

When I first got to Rebel Sounds Records, I was overwhelmed by the number of instruments at the front of the small room where the band was about to play. During their show, the band’s multitalented members played the guitar, violin, mandolin, bass, drums, cello and saz (a Middle Eastern banjo-like instrument), trading instruments as they went. The unique combinations of instruments were mesmerizing. Every song was unexpected.

Darlingside had an energy that was exciting to watch. Many famous bands sound great on CD but terrible live, which is quite the disappointment. This is completely untrue of Darlingside – they were fantastic live, and as soon as the six-song show was over everyone wanted more. The crowd called out for an encore, but the band grinned and called out, “Those are all the songs we have!”

All the songs flowed together well, but they each had their own distinctive sound. At first, I tried to think of a specific band that Darlingside reminded me of, but I could not think of one that stuck consistently through every song. At some points, the band’s music had an overwhelming clash of instruments similar to the styling of Coldplay, while other moments had gentler sounds closer to those Kings of Leon produces. The music was often hectic and overwhelming, but in a good way; it would soon slow to a very calming pace. Overall, the sound was complex and intruding and, frankly, fantastic.

After the concert, I stood outside with the band to interview its members, shivering from the cold, but laughing at almost every one of their answers. After listening to them, it’s hard not to be in awe of their normalcy. Their music was so powerful and beautiful that I expected them to have very scripted answers and speak in low, introspective voices, like the famous bands you see interviewed on TV. But as soon as I began asking questions, I was immediately reminded that they were Williams students; intelligent and quirky, they had a tendency to talk over each other in their excitement to get their point across. The band had many anecdotes about their time at the College, several of which involved the Octet. Their familiarity with each other made it clear that they were all very close.

The ensemble has changed a lot since it was first formed at the College. They have reassembled with new members twice. The CD from the original Darlingside is floating around campus and can be bought on iTunes, but it sounds completely different from the band that I heard on Friday. Their new sound is bigger and bolder. They employ more instrumental sounds now; the singer is less emphasized. As a result, their new music is more charged and more exciting. The band told me that they often struggle when choosing between defining themselves as a singer/songwriter group or one with more of a big band sound, but I think that their walk of that fine line is what makes them so interesting and distinctive.

When asked about their musical influences, the group spewed out names including Coldplay, Radiohead, Nickel Creek, Phoenix, Beethoven, Kings of Leon and Bernice Lewis (the wife of Williams Outing Club Director Scott Lewis).

The band also explained their musical process to me: the members often start with lyrics and a vague idea of how it will sound in their heads, and once they add the instruments and start playing around with the sound, it often changes completely. Very recently they’ve been starting with the instruments and working backwards.

Darlingside’s plans for the next two years (besides stadiums and Japan) are to make a strong push with the band, continue to tour and try to hit it big. Their aim is to keep developing their style and figuring out what they want their signature sound to be. With their talent, brains and determination, I can see them going far.

To hear Darlingside’s music, or find out more about the band and its upcoming shows, visit www.darlingside.com.

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