Wes Marskell seems like the kind of guy that would be good at parties, for no other reason than he’s able to pick up and run with whatever topic pops up in the course of a conversation.
When the drummer-songwriter for experimental pop quartet the Darcys is reached via cellphone in a tour van in Northern Ontario, he easily flits from living with a scratched cornea (blame a childhood accident) to the psychological traumas of worrying about hitting moose on rural highways to modern giants of American literature. On the latter front, Cormac McCarthy and his epic work Blood Meridian had a huge influence on the band’s third and latest record, Warring.
Blood Meridian, of course, spins a bloodsoaked tale of violence and insanity in the Old West, leading one to expect songs that, given their inspiration, might fall under the umbrella of unvarnished cowpunk. Instead, the dark-dream pop songs on Warring are marked by pneumatic drums, shimmering organs, and heavily treated guitars.
“There were early moments where we put some twang into things, but that seemed too simple or literal,” Marskell says. “A lot of what makes McCarthy so wonderful for me is the internal workings of the individual characters and the depth of those characters. So we’re trying to create internal spaces and monologues musically, instead of some soundtrack for riding a dusty trail in El Paso.”
Still, sit down with the Warring lyric sheet, and you can see the influence of McCarthy’s rich and often challenging writing. Consider the bleakly poetic “I followed you down/And you dried me out/But still our bodies/They stink like summer” from “Itchy Blood”. Sonically, though, the Darcys take a modern path, channelling the spirit of famously forward-thinking artists. Marskell mentions such releases as Massive Attack’s 100th Window and Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief as important influences, partly because of their emphasis on sonic texturing. It’s the little touches that often stand out on Warring, then, whether it’s the distortion-frazzled bass line snaking through the sweet synth-pop of “Horses Fell” or the ornate strings that drift in at the end of the driving postpunk rocker “Pretty Girls”.
The drummer cites the “The River” as one of the numbers he’s happiest with, the track working a foggy trip-hop vibe that’s straight from the streets of Bristol. “When we were writing ‘The River’, my big thing was to try and create this motion, almost to where you could play the song and have this feeling of following someone without a camera as they are walking along, knowing that something bad or dark is about to happen,” he says.
As accomplished as Warring is, things haven’t always gone smoothly for the Darcys, who released their first record in 2007 (Endless Water). The group didn’t really find its stride until losing its old singer and hooking up with a new vocalist, Jason Couse, who also plays guitar and keyboards. (Guitarist-keyboardist Michael le Riche and bassist Dave Hurlow round out the band.)
Warring is the final album of a trilogy released on Toronto’s influential Arts & Crafts label. While the new record is receiving gushing praise, Marskell suggests the last word has yet to be written, as the Darcys are currently working on a musical epilogue to the album, with big dreams for the track.
“Because we’re idiots,” the drummer says with a laugh, “we’ve crafted this 20-minute instrumental soundtrack to 60 pages of Cities of the Plain, which is the third novel in Cormac McCarthy’s Border trilogy,” he says. “I’m hoping we can get him to listen to the project, because he’s been so very important to us.”
Should a connection be made, expect the drummer to have no shortage of things to talk about.