Earlier this year, Melbourne-via-Bendigo fivesome Darts released their debut record through Rice is Nice Records. An acidic, vitriolic commandment of biting rock, Darts threw down the gauntlet, swaying vocally between angelic, and grinding fury. It was a headbanger, through and through.
When they were in Sydney, Darts’ co-vocalists Angus Ayres and Ally Campbell-Smith had a chit-chat about their album, turning a lack of confidence into a thrashing source of therapy, and the trials of growing up in Bendigo:
R: This isn’t the first Darts record, you’ve had other stuff. But you got rid of it, there’s nothing on the Internet about it.
Angus: The old stuff, we’d been around for a while, so it was a really more of a compilation of songs that were from different eras of the band. Whereas this record, we see it as more cohesive, and representative of how we want to sound.
R: What makes this more particularly definitive?
Ally: This is a bit more of a basis. The last EP, like Angus said, it was a lot of different periods, so this is a bit more concrete.
R: Do you think it was weird that it took so long, from 2009-2014, to develop that basis?
Angus: We hadn’t really thought about it too much. In 2009, we got “unearthed”, and we didn’t really consider trying to push ourselves. Someone telling us that we were alright, that pushed us to have a crack at recording some decent songs. I guess that period has meant we’ve had a slow build to where we are now.
Ally: It was a long process, we recorded the album three separate times.
R: What wasn’t right about the first two times?
Angus: They sounded good, but the environment we were in was very comfortable. We were in this guy’s bedroom in the outer suburbs so we had all the time in the world.
We thought once you put something out there, it’s out there forever. We wanted to put something out we were 100% proud of.
R: After recording so much – where there any points you thought you wanted to give up?
Angus: You get really tired, and you have no money, but collectively, there was never a question of not finishing this record. We spent so much time on it, we were all very driven to complete it.
R: You said before that someone ‘told you’ that you were good, which I guess led to some high profile slots like Groovin’ the Moo and supporting Wavves. How do you reckon that affected you?
Angus: I’d say we’re a pretty low confidence band. Even if we’re playing a small room, and someone comes up to us and says they thought we were good, we’re blown away. We’re dumbfounded by it.
R: Do you think that non-confidence feeds itself into the aesthetic of the band?
Angus: All those feelings of being overwhelmed, it can lead to feeling hopeless, and that bottoming out sadness. And then when you feel that exhausted, it can turn into aggression, and that comes out through the record.
R: You guys are originally from Bendigo, and I find that a lot of great bands in Oz come from regional areas, like The Ocean Party and High-tails. Why do you think bands from isolated areas develop into something more unique and special?
Angus: I think in regional areas particularly, sport and football is a big thing for kids at that age. When I was 16, the first song that really connected with me was Bob Dylan’s “Lovesick”, and that feeling of a big famous person going through what you’re feeling at the time…that’s amazing. People from those regional areas, when they have to move to a city, it’s a different kind of isolation. You don’t know anyone, and it makes for interesting songwriting.
R: Do you think it’s because there’s extra steps to actually play music?
Angus: [In Bendigo] there were maybe three or four “alternative rock” bands. Every week, it’d be the same bands, at the same venue, in front of the same three people. And I remember when one band went to play in Melbourne, we all thought, “Oh they’re going places!”. It was a cool thing for us to think about.
R: Looking back, how are you viewing, ‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’, this baby of yours?
Angus: It’s interesting, we were very proud of it, but outside of that, anything is a bonus. It’s really amazing that it’s had a [good] response. There were moments in the studio, where we had ideas and thought, ‘Is that a bit too crazy?’ But we did it anyway, and now we have confidence going forward, and we’ll trust our instincts a bit more.
R: What would an example of that be?
Ally: There’s a lot of dueling parts in the songs, like “Below Empty”, where there’s just one guitar, and then whistling. Like, who whistles on a track?
Angus: And there would be three minute tracks turning into five minute tracks. Those were moments where it’s like, is that too much, is that too long?
Ally: Anything over three minutes feels long to us!
‘Below Empty & Westward Bound’ is out now through Rice is Nice Records – grab it here.