Darlingside a surprising package of friends, genres


NORTH ADAMS -- For now, Darlingside has cornered the market on string rock. So until another band comes along with its mix of folk, pop and European classical sensibilities, in a rock-wrapped package that might even inspire you to dance, they have the field somewhat to themselves.

The five members of this Pioneer Valley-based band met at Williams College, where each graduated between the years of 2006 and 2009. The hodgepodge of styles came about by chance, cellist Harris Paseltiner explains.

"It's exactly that residential experience at college where you run into someone on the lawn and you're playing guitar, and you get together and you realize this guy plays jazz drums and I play from a classical base and you sort of try to figure out a way to make those things intersect and all of a sudden you're making new sounds," Paseltiner says on the phone from a recording space in Portland, Maine. "We smash things together and come up with something brand new, a different element that wasn't there before."

Darlingside plays Mass MoCA's Club B-10 on Saturday.

Paseltiner played nothing but classical until he got to college, he says, working over the cello repertory and finding some success in the world of chamber music. Auyon Mukharji, who plays violin and mandolin, took advantage of a post-college fellowship to travel and study the traditional music of Brazil, Turkey and Ireland. Guitarist Don Mitchell received childhood choral training as a boy alto. Guitarist and Bassist Dave Senft also logged hours developing his vocal chops, as musical director of a college a cappella group, before spending his first two post-college years busking in Boston. Drummer Sam Kapala has been at it since age 7, picking up some Celtic and jazz moves along the way. They all share vocal duties, and a couple instruments may get passed around over the course of a show.

Tired of playing the great works of other composers, Paseltiner taught himself guitar when he got to Williams and started songwriting. But he found he could apply his strongest skills to a fresher context.

"The first time I plugged a cello into an amplifier, there was this meeting and mixing of different worlds, my whole classical base colliding with this new creative side I was discovering with these guys. I ended up realizing that it's maybe even more fun to plug a cello into an amplifier than to plug a guitar into an amplifier," Paseltiner says.

After releasing an EP, the group put out its first full-length effort, "Pilot Machines," last year. Many of the songs bear a distinctly poppy sensibility, with wafts of indie rock passing amidst the string parts and careful harmonies. It does not, though, bear the overwrought orchestrations or gloomy aesthetic of some post-rock ensembles, or of others who've mixed violin or cello into their rock.

The band's self-effacing sense of humor is amply displayed on its website, and in stories from the riverside house in Hadley where the five musicians spent two years living together and honing their musical approach. Paseltiner likens it to an "artists' retreat," though it also sounds like a mix of dorm room, Big Pink and the house where the Beatles all live together in the film "Help!" in unequal measures.

"You'd be trying to go to sleep at night and there'd be a drum kit playing five feet from your head, and another guy sleeping in a loft bed over a bunch of musical equipment. And our practice space was guitars mixed with bowls of cereal. It was kind of crazy, but it was awesome," he recalls.

He says "Pilot Machines" marked a big step in the early growth of the band, as its members figured out just what it is they're trying to do together with music.

"We realize we must have a much more to say. We stated to solidify what is our sound, which is characterized by a whole lot of vocal harmonies, a whole lot of classical and folk string parts, and dynamic songwriting with a lot of ebb and flow," he says. "We kind of locked into that sound and now we have tons of ideas about new directions to take it through 2013 and 2014."

Darlingside has taken to recording tracks on the fly with its mobile recording equipment, catching new songs and working out arrangements as they happen.

Though it brings a rock band energy to the stage, the band is always mindful of its careful blend of elements.

"You come from five disparate places and try to find a common thread. Whenever we hit it we say, yeah that is us. It is the combination of our five voices," he says. "That's what's so fun, playing rock and modern music and progressive arrangements but at the same time having the more traditional approach where it's listening and tuning and having everything very exact and dialed in and practiced."

In concert ...

Who: Darlingside

What: String rock quintet

When: Saturday 8 p.m.

Where: Mass MoCA, Club B-10, 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams

Tickets: $12 advance; $16 day of; $10 students

How: (413) 662-2111; massmoca.org; at the box office


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