Indie rockers the Darcys change face, record Mariah Carey Christmas cover
The Darcys (Twitter/Darcys)
David Friend, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, December 5, 2016 11:27AM EST
TORONTO -- Recording a cover of Mariah Carey's holiday staple "All I Want for Christmas is You" would've been sacrilege for art-rock band the Darcys a few years ago.
Once considered part of Toronto's elite indie movement, it was unthinkable that music by America's sultry pop diva would sneak into their repertoire -- but that was before an audacious makeover turned the Darcys on their heads.
Now, having lead singer Jason Couse take on Mariah doesn't seem so crazy.
"Old us could never do a Christmas tune," Couse says with a smirk.
Not so long ago, the Darcys was a quartet enjoying critical praise for "Warring," a Juno-nominated album inspired by American gothic novelist Cormac McCarthy. It was a thoughtful and sombre project that rewarded listeners who rode its ambient hurdles to the finish line.
Praise was plentiful but the album wasn't exactly breaking sales records or setting radio station request lines ablaze.
Drummer Wes Marskell was growing frustrated with the band's prospects. After forming the Darcys with Couse nearly a decade ago, he was starting to feel their ambitious ideas were falling short.
"To me, it was about how to reach people on a basic level," he says.
His fears only worsened after reading an article comparing Canadian musicians to alcoholic drinks. The Darcys were likened to a dark and hoppy beer -- a bitter flavour best consumed in small doses.
"I'm more like a vodka-soda kinda guy," he thought.
Marskell wanted a "new beginning" with an electro-pop sound. When he pitched it to his bandmates not everyone was on board. Two members split, leaving Marskell and Couse on their own.
Free to refashion themselves as the hitmakers they wanted to be, the duo started to devise new personas that captured the spirit of 1980s Los Angeles.
Couse is playing a heartthrob role of sorts with the blonde locks of a California surfer, while Marskell channels a seedy film director of the era with his lush moustache.
Plaid buttons-ups were traded for jean jackets. Ambient sounds were tossed for keyboards and infectious drum machine beats.
Getting used to their refreshed identities took some time, but a visit to L.A. helped tie up a few loose threads.
Old friend George Stroumboulopoulos had invited the pair to stay at his home while recording part of the recently released "Centerfold," a breezy synth-pop album that navigates their whole new identity and sound.
Their final piece of inspiration sat waiting in his driveway.
"He had an old '79 El Camino, it was blue metallic, and we drove it around for three weeks," says Couse.
"All the sudden we were the guys."
The Darcy's album cover for "Centerfold" shows just how different they are now. Gone are the brooding black and white images of the past, replaced with the musicians posing against a vibrant pink backdrop.
High-octane opener "Studio City" pulls listeners into the Darcy's newfound pop flair, while the distorted hooks of "Coming Up For Air" offer subtle hints of the band's past life.
They're also experimenting with showier concerts that accentuate their new look. Small palm trees cover the stage while their namesake is alight in a bright-pink neon sign.
"We realized we felt better," says Couse of the changes.
"We used to wonder why the crowd seemed down. Why everyone had this introspective haze around them."
Feedback has been mostly positive, they say, but it hasn't come without some criticism. Some longtime fans have accused the band of throwing away exactly what made them unique.
Singing a peppy Christmas song probably won't win over those people either.
The duo's rendition of Carey's 1994 hit, set to be released late next week, is a dash of holiday spice with heavy bass galore and a choir of funky layered harmonies.
It could expose the Darcys to a whole new audience. Marskell insists he's happy to challenge his fans.
"If you do things that anger people then you're probably doing something that's at least interesting," says Marskell.
"I'd rather be a band that's interesting than one that's boring but well liked."