Interview: Dave Harrington talks Darkside

Darkside's Nicholas Jaar (left) and Dave Harrington (right). Photo courtesy of Matador Records.

If music were edible, Darkside – the brainchild of Nicholas Jaar and Dave Harrington –would be an exquisite dish. You would savor the haunting notes of detached, eerie vocals drizzled over disco-era guitar riffs that rest artfully on a bed of rich, hypnotic electronic bass lines and crisp programmed drums.

Alas, you’ll probably never taste Darkside, but you can hear and feel them live this Thursday night at Union Transfer. We had a chance to speak with guitarist and producer Dave Harrington about the Darkside tour, their critically acclaimed LP Psychic, and his late-night journey to Philadelphia to see avant-garde musician John Zorn.

You’re just a few days into a pretty extensive world tour. How is it going so far?

It’s been awesome. It’s been really exciting. Nothing better than playing gigs as far as I’m concerned. We have our fourth gig tonight. You do a couple in a row and start feeling better. You start getting in the groove of things. I’m having a good time.

What is it like to actually see people responding to your work?

It’s humbling. It’s thrilling. What we do is about communicating. It’s about sharing our ideas and sharing our feelings with people and trying to be open and honest. If people are listening, then what more can you ask for?

How did you and Nicholas prepare for this tour? Did you have to rethink some of your tracks for the live show?

One-hundred percent. We basically rip up the album into a quadrillion pieces and try to put it back together on stage differently every night. For us what’s exciting about playing shows is that it’s live. We improvise. It’s different every night and that leaves the possibility of something magical to happen or for everything to go wrong. There are some bands and you go see them and it sounds like the record. It is the record and that’s totally awesome. That’s its own thing. That’s not what we do.  

It will be interesting to see how the songs change as you make your way towards China.

It’s a funny thing where in some ways it’s different every night, and then in some ways it accumulates. The songs morph gradually where they do turn into something else. It’s not like an anything goes free improvisation way of playing, but the songs accumulate into new parts and new sounds as the songs travel.

Psychic has received heaps of critical praise. In what ways has feedback on the album exceeded your expectations?

You have no idea what to expect when making an album. For me, working on music is a thing right in front of your face and it can only be that. Everything else is a distraction. You can’t anticipate what people are going to say or think, and you can’t tell people how to feel. You can tell them how you feel and see if they agree or disagree.

Throughout Psychic you’ve created a dreamy and psychedelic landscape that appeals to a wide variety of listeners. Is that something you had in mind when working on the album? 

We made sounds that we liked. We said things that we wanted to say. It’s the genuine product of me and Nico in a room. If it’s eclectic or deep, it’s because were kind of eclectic in our own separate ways so if its appealing to a wide variety of people, what can I say. That’s also very humbling.

There’s very little calculation that goes on in the darkside world. What’s the idea? There is it. Let’s do it!

What can your Darkside fans in Philadelphia expect to see during your live show?

It’s going to be unique in the literal sense of the word in that it will be singular. Unique as in, it will be the show in that room that night. It won’t be the record. In a way the live show and playing these gigs is the other half of what we do. It’s not so much that we make the record and then we go play the record. We made the record, and the record then becomes raw material to then turn into something else. It will be the record obliterated and then reassembled. 

Are there any special visual elements of the show?

We worked with these guys from Amsterdam called Children of Light who helped us design this giant rotating mirror that I personally love and find very psychedelic and I am so happy to stand on stage with every night.

We have a great crew. We’re still trying to figure out what was good tonight? What did we like tonight? What do we want to see more of? It’s all very dynamic. One of our crew guys loves to say ‘smoke in mirrors’ because that is what we do. It’s fun because we are all improvising. Our sound guy and our lighting technician are a part of the band.

Have you been to Philadelphia before?

The last time I was in Philly was a while ago. I want to say 2008 or 2009. I was living in Providence and I drove to Philly overnight with two of my friends to see John Zorn play. John Zorn did a marathon day where he had 4 different bands of his play all of his music. It was like five hours of John Zorn’s music in a concert hall in Philly! We drove overnight, which is not the best plan when you’re leaving Providence at two in the morning. We got there at nine and had some time to kill so we went to a children’s science museum [Academy of Natural Sciences], and then went to see John Zorn play for 5 hours.


Darkside plays Union Transfer Feb 6th with High Water. Tickets $20-$22.