Dark Dark Dark are a band that I have been interested in for a long time now. They’ve a unique sound that skirts so many genres (country, punk, gypsy, folk, jazz, and minimalism), yet they have always managed to sound like nothing but Dark Dark Dark. This tour journal by one of the band’s founding members, Marshal La Count, tracks their recent tour down to Austin, TX for SXSW, to the east coast (where I had the chance to catch a fantastic show), and back to Minnesota, all in support of their new EP Bright Bright Bright.
-Dustin Luke Nelson
We leave Minneapolis as a trio, Nona, Jonathan, and Marshall, with a long trip to Austin to meet up with two more bandmates. We jump on a couple of shows with a band of friends called Spirits of the Red City. The shows aren’t great, but they get us to Austin, and remind us where we’re from. We got to meet Jared again, in Ames, and his housemate Chris. We can’t figure out whether or not they are partners, but enjoy imagining they are. Nona and Marshall spend the morning on opposite sides of a small neighborhood park, playing trumpet and banjo. We go to Lincoln, and have extra time, so Jonathan and Nona begin shooting footage for a video for our next LP. A drab enormous building with HVAC parts sticking out of it every which way, and two blocks of white vans parked in a gravel lot. No one is at the show, but in the morning the restaurant we’re at is very excited to have a table of 13. “Are you in a band or something?” In Norman, OK we meet some bands on the way to SXSW that seem like they are thinking about “making it.” The “promoters” and photographers in this town seem like they get a lot of pre-SXSW traffic, and are very enthusiastic, offering one-stop recording and marketing and booking services and talking about the bands coming back. We don’t necessarily agree to come back, and use our first hotel, where Jonathan, 6’4”, sleeps in a windowsill.
We have 4 shows at SXSW. We’re meeting Walter, who is coming from New Orleans, and picking up Mark from the airport, who has just had one day in Chicago after a 6 week tour in Europe with his own band, Pillars and Tongues. He’s been listening to the songs, but we’ve never played with him. We’re worried about a place to stay.
By the end of our first day, we remember that the festival isn’t as much of a pain as we were thinking. The real tour is starting, and Austin is really nice in March. Our hosts are incredibly sweet, and take us to breakfast, to a cold spring about an hour out of town, make sushi with us, and make us feel welcome. We spend a fair amount of downtime at Bouldin Creek Café, and call it ‘home.’ We call our fun rate for shows “2 for 4.” Our label, Supply and Demand, organized a great day party at Dominican Joe, whose owner, Marcus, is very nice (he traditionally gives us bananas after we play, and gushes over us, which doesn’t hurt). A lot of people show up to the Dark Dark Dark set-in-the-sun. Dosh and Mike Lewis close that showcase. The only downside is that we only make it for one Peter Wolf Crier song. It is the only day we commit to being in one place for several hours. Our last day we play one showcase out in the boonies, but it happens that some Australians are there, considering bringing us to Australia. We go for pizza and to see Wye Oak, who Nona and I have been listening to since their great Daytrotter session last year, and see booty rapper Dominique Young Unique also. It can be hard to see all the bands you want to, and make it to your own shows, but this one worked out really well. Our final show is at the Annie St. Arts Collective backyard. All of the bands have heard of each other on the road, and it’s an incredibly supportive environment. We have to leave a little early and drive to Houston, so we can have Walter in New Orleans by six the next day for a jazz gig.
We show up at a friend’s house, amazing Texas guitarist and singer Robert Ellis, in the middle of the night. I wake up early to get an oil change, and happen upon some guys washing cars. It turns out to be a fundraiser for Houston’s gay AA club, and their “Miss Conception” drag ball, and the carwash comes with pancakes!
Walter is from New Orleans, and Nona and I have spent a few months there, so it is another home. Walter makes his Panorama Jazz Band gig at the Spotted Cat, and we see a Loose Marbles show at Le Maison. It’s our final show with the Spirits, and the All Ways Lounge is packed with a very warm welcome. Aubrey (from Walter’s other band, Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?) joins us to play bass, so we’re six deep. The manager, Dennis, is a sweetie, we’ve been here before, and love a lot of people here. Marshall and Nona skip the dance party at St. Roch, afterward, but everyone else goes.
We picnic the next day in the far corner of Audubon Park, in uptown, near the giraffes at the zoo, and the Tree of Life. We also do a quick radio interview with a DJ who has been awake for 23 hours, for WTUL’s funds drive.
Our next house show in Pensacola is a brief stop, as we decide to drive to our friend Charlie’s in Tallahassee to sleep that night, due to a residue of dog pee in Pensacola. Charlie’s is another home away from home, and they’ve organized a really great show for us in their magical mansion. We also shoot more footage for the “Daydreaming” video, this time with Marshall giving Jonathan a haircut outside a gas station. Nona is the cinematographer.
In Atlanta, we stop at a great studio for an interview and internet video shoot, and then we go to a friend’s new restaurant, called Sauced. I thought it meant ‘drunk,’ but it could be a double meaning, since Ria let us sample all the appetizers with about seven different and delicious sauces. She also tells us that Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are doing an in-store down the street. We go there and it turns out you have to have pre-ordered the record to get in, so we leave, but Ria has pull in this neighborhood, and gets us in with her a little later. There are four of us, and the door guy says “yes, she definitely has a plus one.” It applies to all of us.
The show that night goes well. We haven’t quite found our preferred venue in this town. We play with a band that hands out percussion and drum sticks, and everyone is hitting everything. It’s the best this whole handing-out-percussion-and-audience-participation trick has ever worked. In the morning we go to Ria’s other restaurant, The Bluebird, for breakfast.
Asheville is a town we have a good time in, also. We run off to a little mountain stream and jump in, instantly numb because its all snow melt from the tops of the mountains. We play at a drag bar called LaRue’s Back Door. Which is in the same building as a leather bar (chain-link fences for walls!) and another gay bar called O’Henry’s. Asheville is also the home of one of our favorite food co-ops, so we make about four trips there.
Charleston, Richmond, and Roanoke are all new towns for us, and they go really well. The most picturesque part is the home of our hosts in Richmond, and their hospitality. If you try to bus your own dishes, you will get scolded, if you try to fold your own blankets, scolded. Jonathan and Antonia have the perfect little cabin in the woods outside town. It seems like Virginia has a lot of bands and people organizing to get more touring through their state, and more touring out of their state.
In Baltimore we play in a church that has been given to a local bookstore. Jana Hunter is one of our heroes, and also our server for dinner! Beach House definitely has everyone’s attention, because at the end of all of our sets, the sound person puts them on. They play this venue in two weeks, and we’re feeling their omnipresence.
After the show we drive all the way to New York, and it’s the beginning of a 3-day downpour (the one that makes Rhode Island a national emergency). Its very difficult to see, and reminds me why we don’t drive in the night, and why touring is often dangerous and stressful. We’re constantly driving through all kinds of terrain and conditions. Our shows are about to get amazing, but the drives and the leaking top seal on the windshield keep us in our place in the world.
Monday we play at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York, with our friends Callers. At doors I’m convinced that no one is coming on a rainy Monday, but by the time we play there are better than 200 people in the room. The sound and the staff at this place are amazing, and it’s a real pleasure to be here and do well.
Any time we play in New York, it means we unload and reload the entire van into a loft in Bushwick, at night and in the morning, so we don’t take any chances with getting robbed. Vinnie and Julia and our gang help us no matter what time it is. They are super sweet. In the morning, we load in and start to Portland, Maine, in the rain. This morning the cup holders are full of water from that leak, and it doesn’t let up the entire drive. Our friend Cyril meets us; he is the guy from What A Mess! Records that put out our Love You, Bye EP originally, and brought us on tour in France. We’ve hung out with him in several countries and states now. We stop by a radio station in Portland for a couple songs, and the studio smells like the previous band. Our show at SPACE is really well attended, and we meet a bunch of great people, many friends of friends that we’ve heard about for years.
Back down to Providence, yet another home away from home, and AS220 is packed. We see how high the river is after flooding. It’s our first of two shows with the legendary Dan Beckman, of Uke of Spaces Corners. We actually drive back to PVD to stay the night after our Boston show, also.
On Friday we play at Union Pool, in Brooklyn, and sell it out. The audience is silent, and it is strange, since the patio and the other barroom is a raging party scene. It feels great and we really appreciate that people love listening. It has been a challenge in the past to play quiet and dynamic music, but everyone is incredibly attentive tonight, and waiting to see us. At times like this I remember that we never intended to be a band for long, and somehow some Minnesota kids learned their way around New York, which, when I was young in Minnesota, seemed like a daunting and impossible dream.
Right now we’re in the home stretch, we’ve played Pittsburgh, and it’s the same story. We’re excited to see our friends, and have been here several times. We’re supposed to play a special breakfast set after our night show, but something gives and we don’t do it.
It feels amazing to know and care about so many people around the country, and be able to say “hi” to them regularly, on tour. We’re grateful for all of these people in our lives.
We have a few shows left, including Chicago and Minneapolis. Our homecoming will have the full band and choir from the Bright Bright Bright EP. It’s the first time we’ve had our own bill at the Cedar, so it’s exciting. We have one more radio visit, at The Current. We don’t always take the radio visits very seriously, but this one is our local station, and it’s an NPR station, so we want to do well. Honestly, since we’ve done this all our own way, we don’t always feel like we know what we’re doing. Some of the fun in things working out is that we feel like we’ve made it up for ourselves. It is true that thousands of bands are doing this at any given moment, and sometimes that feels discouraging, but we are making the music that we want to hear, and are hooked on the feeling of performing it for others.
We should thank Tom Inhaler at Supply and Demand, our label, for all of his support and the freedom he gives us to create what we want. Now we can go back and mix the LP we’re working on.