Tennessee Band Those Darlins Have a Few Loose Screws 

The family that isn't a family

Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, Marky, Richie and the rest of the Ramones were not born with the same surname. But when they took the name "Ramone" as their own, they became more than just a rock band. They became a family.

Taking a cue from the Ramones, Kelley Anderson, Nikki Kvarnes and Jessi Wariner adopted the last name "Darlin"giving the 5-year-old Tennessee-based band Those Darlins an air of authenticity--drummer Linwood Regensburg, who joined the group after it had formed, does not (maybe yet, maybe ever) carry the Darlin name.

The whiskey-swilling, down-and-dirty, ass-kicking, guitar-heavy countrified retro garage-rock of Those Darlins' acclaimed sophomore album, 2011's Screws Get Loose (Oh Wow Dang Records), leaves little room for questions of legitimacy.

Those Darlins must feel like they are never going to get off the road. They toured in the spring, opening for Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears--they played Neurolux in April, which is where they return to on Friday, Aug. 5--before touring the United States in support of Screws Get Loose.

The attention that the album and the band have received has meant that what was already an intense schedule has been extended through the fall. By the time they're done, Those Darlins will have seen thousands of miles in their rearview mirror. Calling from the road outside of Phoenix, 20-something Kelley Darlin sounded a little weary but was still enthusiastic about the shows left on the tour. Those Darlins are playing a number of the same cities they played in the spring, and this time around, people are coming out specifically to see them.

"When you open, depending on the city, most of the time [the audience] is there to see the headliner," Kelley said in a low, husky drawl. "Even if they like what you're doing, they're not familiar with the songs, they don't know the words, they don't sing along ... It was cool to break in the songs to new audiences ... They saw it fresh."

The songs felt fresh, not only because they were new, but because the whole album feels new. Paste Magazine said Screws shows Those Darlins have "made enormous strides as both players and songwriters since their 2009 self-titled debut." Music blog The Dumbing of America suggested that Those Darlins are "considered to be the next big thing associated to Nashville's rock scene," and highroadtouring.com lauds Screws, saying "clever lyrics, high energy and insistence on having fun at all costs keep this disc a winner." After the release of Screws, Rolling Stone named Those Darlins a "Band to Watch."

Even though Those Darlins do have one man in the band, the term "girl group" often comes up when the subject of Those Darlins does. Girl groups are still something of a novelty and usually, one female member stands out more than the others--quick, name a GoGo besides Belinda Carlisle or a Supreme besides Diana Ross. Those Darlins share singing, guitar/bass and songwriting duties, and even Regensburg takes a turn at the mic in "Let U Down." There is definitely a sense of sisterhood/brotherhood and a lack of individual egotism that comes through the music.

"Decision-wise, it has been really important since the beginning of the band to keep it as egalitarian and democratic as possible," Kelley said. "So we all have input, and it's better that way."

Everyone must be on the same page, because Those Darlins' debut was one big ol' pot of down-home humor and country twang. It was full of songs like "Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy"--which is literally about just that--and the Loretta Lynn-intoned glutton-fest "Whole Damn Thing": "I got drunk and I ate chicken ... / not just the leg and not just the wing / I'd like to let you know I ate the whole damn thing."

With Screws, Those Darlins left some of the hillbilly behind and embraced more of a rock sound with reverb-drenched guitar and '60s surf-pop riffs. "Mystic Mind" is like the angrier, more echo-y daughter of Norman Greenbaum's anthemic 1969 single "Spirit in the Sky." Then there are songs like "$" in which vocal harmonies are skewered by atonal guitar chords and feedback-filled background screeches. Or "Hives," which sounds like an homage to The Damned's "Jet Boy, Jet Girl," which is not surprising since Those Darlins have been described more than once as possessing a punk sensibility. Kelley said that's true and the punk ethos extends to all facets of the band.

"We all played in other rock 'n' roll and punk bands and listen to a lot of different types of music," she said. "The punk-rock feel resonates with us in the decision-making process, as well as aesthetically in [our] music."

That punk aesthetic has flipped the homey "Keep My Skillet" sound into the lyrical equivalent of a middle finger with a song like "Be Your Bro." Jessi takes lead vocals in this one and gives voice to something many adolescent girls have probably thought but couldn't say: "I just wanna be your brother / You just say be my boyfriend / I just wanna run and play in the dirt with you / You just wanna stick it in ... I may have girly parts / but I have a boy's heart." Ironically the video accents the girly parts, with the Darlins and Regensburg in various states of undress. Black-and-white Betty Page-esque shots of the women--especially Jessi in a black bra, cheeky frilly boy shorts and fishnet stockings barely covered by a white fur coat--may not be a good argument for convincing a boy it's better to just be friends.

Sometimes a family begets a band: The Jackson 5 or The Bee Gees, for example. But sometimes a band births a family, and though calling Those Darlins a sister act would be incorrect in the biological sense, it isn't wrong. And Kelley doesn't seem to mind.

"People still come up when they ask for autographs and say, 'Will you hand this to your sister when you're done?' I just say, 'Sure,'" Kelley said with a laugh.

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