Songs of protest have long been crucial in igniting change or, at the very least, making the public hyper-aware of social and political issues. From Bob Dylan (“Masters of War,” “The Times They Are A-Changin'”) and Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Fortunate Son”) to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (“Ohio”), music has played an increasingly key role in sticking it to the man. In 2017, we are amidst a new kind of uprising ⎯⎯ with Trump, neo-Nazis and police brutality inciting much of the mayhem. “I can see the tears in your eyes, but please, don’t turn away,” Norwegian folk outfit Darling West press on their single “After My Time,” a hearty-stock mid-tempo “written to channel some of those feelings” currently clouding the late-night news. “Most of our music is written during periods we spend in the mountains, to get away from the city and the noise. But [this song] came about in our apartment in Oslo,” the band ⎯⎯ containing lead singer Mari Sandvær Kreken, Tor Egil Kreken and Kjetil Steensnæs ⎯⎯ tell B-Sides & Badlands over email. “There is so much going in in the world right now, and it’s presented to us in a very explicit way. Sometimes, you just want to shut it out, as the stories told by people just like us are almost too much to fathom. At some point, they were living their lives just like we are, and then, it’s all taken away.”
“When we wrote it, it felt somewhat like a protest song inspired by folk singers of the past. Then, in the studio we added drums and bass and tried to make it a bit bigger,” they continue. “We also had a friend play some mellotron, as we thought that would add a nice vibe to the song.”
The bedeviling, shimmering melody is deceiving, juxtaposed against some heartbreaking lyrics. On the first verse, adorned with their tightly-cut harmonies, they send up a chilling plea: “When I am gone, bury my bones deep in the ground where I will find some peace of mind after my time / You ask who I am, I was just like you / Living day by day, that used to be true / Now, it is time to go / And I ain’t coming back / I can see despair in your eyes but please don’t turn away.”
On another new cut, titled “While I Was Asleep,” they swerve, stylistically and thematically. “You came along and swept me away like a hurricane in the month of May / Tender words and a touch so light, gentle as the rain on a summer night,” they brood, a galloping intensity driving behind the melody, bluegrass-style picking and the sterling harmony work. “We experiment and try a lot of different variations on the harmony parts just sitting around with acoustic guitars, to try to make sure the blend between our voices sounds just right. When we feel we have the right feeling and the right notes, we just keep singing the songs over and over until it feels natural and relaxed,” they reflect on taking things to the next level, vocally. “Nailing those harmonies is one of our favorite things to work on. Gillian and Dave are probably our biggest inspirations for that, along with Ralph Stanley. ‘Clinch Mountain Gospel’ with Keith Whitley is just insane”
The trio are set to play Americana Fest next month (Sept. 12-17) along with Caitlyn Smith, Mark O’Connor and many others. Coming off a Norwegian Grammy Win (called a Spellemannprisen), they eye a U.S. breakthrough, bolstered by the expected release of a new LP.
Below, the band discuss their forthcoming new album, the follow-up to 2016’s Vinyl & a Heartache, lessons learned and their live shows. Dig into our exclusive Q&A session.
Coming off 2016’s Vinyl and a Heartache, what do you aim to do with your next album?
Improving as songwriters is always a goal, both musically and lyrically. We’ve added a drummer to our line-up for the festival season, and he is probably going to be on most of the songs on the album. We’re also working in a different studio with a different engineer this time, playing live as a band and then adding whatever overdubs we feel the songs need. We want to achieve a bigger sound with a bit more edge.
Is the follow-up finished or are you still creating it?
The songs are all finished, but we still have most of the recording left. We’re going into the studio again very soon, and the album should be finshed by the end of September.
What’s the process been like so far?
It’s been great! We feel like the two singles we’ve released this summer is some of our best work, and we got a kick out of the process in the studio playing live with a drummer in a big room. We’re very excited about the songs and are eager to head back into the studio to see how they turn out. It’s such a fascinating process. The thing to remember for us is to try to enjoy it as much as possible. Once you’re recording, you get so into it and things get serious, you sometimes forget to have fun along the way. We’re going to try to savour the moment more than we’ve been able to before.
What things have you learned about yourself, each other and the process through this album?
That we still have songs left to write. Once you finish an album and you see how it comes to life, including winning a Norwegian Grammy for our previous album, you start worrying that you might not be able to write anything good again. Luckily, we feel we’re still evolving as songwriters, and that we are going to be able show another side of us with this next album. We’re also producing it ourselves. For now, that feels like the right thing to do, but we definitely want to work with a producer again in the future. We just need to find the right person for the job. We were very happy with the Even Ormestad, who produced our two first albums, but it feels healthy to change things up every now and then.
Are there common themes holding the album together?
Not really. At least not on a conscious level. It feels like all the songs are their own little universe. At the same time, love lost and found seems to be a common thread in our songwriting.
What has been your favorite career moment so far?
Winning a Norwegian Grammy for ‘Vinyl and a Heartache’ was definitely a highlight. We also just played the main stage at Øyafestivalen in Oslo. That was a blast. And of course, being invited to play AmericanaFest is a great honor.
How are you preparing for AmericanaFest? And have you been before?
We don’t really know how to prepare for it, specifically, but we’re playing a lot of shows this summer, and we have a gig in Oslo the day before we leave for Nashville. So hopefully we’ll be well prepared. We have not been to Americana Fest before. We spent a week in Nashville in March, so we know the city a little bit. Can’t wait to go back! It’s such a great place. And so many of our favorite artists and bands are playing there, as well. It is going to be amazing.
How much of your live shows informs your album making?
We try to play all the songs live at least a few times before we record them. So much happens when you play a new song in front of an audience with the whole band. It makes you come up with new ideas and get a feel for what works and not. It’s also the other way around, though. The middle section of “While I Was Asleep” has turned into a very cool jam section at our live shows. It’s fascinating how a song evolves. You make small adjustments along the way. Even after it’s been released, you’ll keep changing the live version. It’s important to let the songs live, breathe and evolve.
That’s also a thing we love about the Americana genre. All the bands play live, and you can take the song wherever it wants to go. At the festivals we’ve been playing this summer, a lot of bands use tracks, and, with a few exceptions, most of the time it ends up taking away something from the music. It becomes rigid and lifeless. We prefer to be blown away by Aaron Lee Tasjan’s roaring playing or moved to tears by Gillian and Dave. The music has to move you in some way.
Take a listen to “After My Time” below: