The synth-pop rockers do whatever they want on their new album 'Centerfold,' a massive record following a lineup shift--leaving them feeling far more liberated than they have ever been.
The funky click-clack of "Studio City" vibrates in the bones and signals a new beginning. The disco-fueled opener of The Darcys new album, Centerfold (released late last year), sets the tone for a project both audacious and electrifying. The duo--now comprised of Wes Marskell and Jason Couse--cut the shackles of the band's former manifestation after two members flew the coop. It wasn't a shake-up that devastated them, by any means, but as Marskell puts it, "it seemed much more of an event to the outside world than internally," he shares exclusively with Popdust over a recent phone call. "Jason and I have always been the principal songwriters. We were there before those guys and now here after."
Marskell first addressed the revamp in a post published on Huffington Post in late 2014, with a piece called "Post-Warring: What Our Band Must Sacrifice to Survive." In the heartfelt note, he was frank about what had happened and what that meant for the band's future.
He continues, "For us, it was like 'OK, this is happening, we're just going to keep writing and working and moving.' We used the desire to push forward as a way to get past any sort of emotional or structural issues. It was more of a reason to put your head down and work better and do more. That was one of the best things that ever happened. Also, it definitely wasn't democratic before they left. Now, I don't think we could have made this record with those guys. It allowed us to push way further. It was really liberating."
Centerfold is mostly shiny with mainstream polish driving the music-makers to brighten up their sound, which saw the two turn to the catalog of such touchstones as Prince, Earth Wind & Fire and Beck to guide them forward. "We're always sort of shifting. This album shifted the brand. It's a lot stronger. The biggest shift is in the tone of the record. The party element has been turned up a little bit," explains Marskell. "But the songs still have a much closer relationship to the old records than people give credit for. With the rebranding with all the hot pink photos and the style of the bass line, it has people going 'wow, it's so different.' And it is. Jason and I had been writing these songs forever. It still has a through line there, but with the power of suggestion, people are so eager to jump on that story. At the same time, you really couldn't put on any of our old records before you went out for the night or something like that--unless you wanted to have a really bad night," he chuckles.
Despite the album being released in Nov. 2016, the singer and songwriter is feeling a reenergized aura following them around in the new year. "It is interesting. It came out in November, and then, December is not that lively of a month. Everyone winds down. No one is doing much of anything. I almost feel like we have another wave. [The new year] breathes new life into the record."
And that new life will be present in the duo's forthcoming visual for standout cut "Arizona Highway." Marskell teases the concept, "It's not hyper conceptualized. Jason and I flew into Palm Springs and drove from here. We had this old El Camino and spent a few days in the desert driving around and filming. Pretty charming little video. No special effects or anything like that."
On his trek back home from getting a much-needed caffeine fix, Marskell brims with passion when discussing the album's lyrical depth, his frustration with dump pop music, finding a balance aimed at a larger arena and how Prince molded their sound. Dig into our exclusive Q&A session below:
While Centerfold does have a fun side, it still has a remarkable weight to it.
Lyrically (and even sonically, at times), there's a weight to it in sardonic humor. That kind of thing is woven into it. It's not as clear cut as a pop record. There's a difficulty with pop records that I always find--which is that the genius of them is that they are dumbed down so far that it's so digestible. I feel like our record isn't dumb enough to be successful on a greater pop stage. To get to that kind of dumb of a record, you have to be a genius and be able to write amazing music that speaks on a level so universal and so simple. It's really confusing how people get to that level. We just didn't give in to that...to dumb-y down all the way.
There is that widely-held approach that uptempo songs can not have any lyrical depth.
Having that depth is about how you present it. I'm obsessed with [Bruno Mars'] "24 Karat Magic." Obviously, there's not much lyric to that song. And it's great. But you can also write a song with a lot of depth and work it into an uptempo or major chords.
You previously spoke about how much Prince influenced this record. What did you learn when you revisited his catalog?
That he's one sexy performer. I didn't know "Little Red Corvette" was my favorite song ever. One of the things we took from that the most--other than realizing the depth of his catalog was that all of his albums were so much better than I remembered. That's how the influence came about. Obviously, a lot of his music was before my time, and I had to get in it through my parents, originally. What I love the most was the vocal delivery and the power and the quirkiness of it all. He stretched syllables and rhymes and made it really unique. Also, all the grooves are amazing. I remember reading this article a long time ago about the drummer [John Blackwell Jr] who played live for Prince. He is one of the greatest drummers of all time. He was talking about how Prince would come in and lay down the beats and write the drum parts and perfect it all before having him come and perform it live. The depth of his artistry is mind-boggling--and the fact he could create these unified pieces, too. That's something we wanted to create here. That's the irony of his project. We wanted to write a pop record that had singles but also would work as an entire piece.
You have also mentioned Earth Wind & Fire and their influence on you. Did you have any others who had such a big impact on the music?
Well, we were just going through that funk/disco era. It was all about motion and creating an atmosphere and feeling. All of those records were important because they allowed us to break into this new world as writers. It doesn't necessarily mean throwaway or fluffy; it just needed to feel good even if you are talking about something more important. After getting into all that, one record that really stayed with me through the process was 'Midnite Vultures' by Beck. He managed to fuse this '70s soul into his greater catalog and make it sound authentic and not a joke. It felt real to me. I held that record in high esteem. Before this record, I never really played a lot of other records during the process of writing and recording. It was really an insular thing. This time, there was reference after reference after reference and playing song after song after song. It really changed the writing process, for sure.
For your song "San Diego, 1988," you've talked about how it is this fantasy and about escapism. How does that play out through the rest of the record?
The whole thing comes from that same idea. "Miracle" was like the second track we wrote in 100. "San Diego, 1988" was toward the end. When you live in Toronto and you're going through a hard winter or you've ended a relationship with someone you've been with for a long time or whatever it may be, you start to cultivate or have these feelings of wanting to get away and separate yourself. It's not always something you can work through by being present. What we try to do is go after these common, antique themes of escapism and going to California and driving through the desert. The one thing that is frustrating for me is so often the records that come out of Canada sound very Canadian. We don't have the same reference points like Los Angeles/Hollywood or New York City. We just went after things that were more universal to make the record not feel like another Canadian record with Canadian reference points and ideas. I didn't want to hear us as a band tap into that.
Was the journey into your new aesthetic an easy one?
I've written a few songs since this record, but at the time, I hadn't really written with a lot of other people. I didn't know people had writing processes and how it worked for them. The aesthetic wasn't there for a long time. The songs were there and endured. We wrote so many songs, and we didn't know if they were good enough. They didn't have this sort of sonic imprint we needed to make sense of the collection. We ended up going to New Zealand to work on a few tracks. The jet lag took forever to get over. But we ended up cultivating this sound that became the basis of the album. It happened rather quickly. We had always had this idea of creating this glamorous, California-fused record. Then, we went to LA for two weeks and drove that El Camino. We recorded during the day to solidify the whole thing. We tried to immerse ourselves in these landmark ideas we were going for and apply all the aesthetic key points to the songs.
How long did you work on this album?
Some of the songs had been around forever. July two years ago we started really focusing on the record. But we really didn't know if we were going to make another record. We were just plugging away. We got really inspired and had enough odds and ends and had something to really push forward. The next May is when "Miracle" came out. It felt like forever. Because it's us, we'd finished the record and it was ready to go to master...and then we pulled two songs off it. We re-recorded one of the songs and changed the chorus on another. Then, we wrote a new song. It was me standing in the label going "which song is better?" and trying make the call at the last minute. We wanted to keep it fresh. Like for "Arizona Highway," we were mixing it and it was finished. Jason and I then talked about a melody change and ended up changing the entire melody of the chorus and adding synth to it. It became a much better song. It's one of my favorite ones.
With a slew of dates and festival appearances set for the coming months--"I'm hoping to play between beginning of March through November and somehow find time to get a bunch of new songs out," Marskell teases. "Why not?"--the duo have already made a tiny dent into a new project. "We are two songs into this new project we're working on. No rest. There's no bad time for a good song, right? DJs and rappers don't put out records as much as they put out songs," he says. "I don't know why we always have to participate in the standard cycle. Most of our record contract is pretty [flexible]. Arts & Crafts is a pretty generous label and they let us do whatever we want."
"We're trying to figure out what's the most interesting to people. I don't think people really care. But maybe a deluxe edition [of the album] next or an EP--there are so many different ways to brand it. At the end of the day, if the songs are really good, it doesn't matter."
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