By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
A few days after Christmas, in a drafty house in Northwest Dallas, Amber Farris and David Ponder smile, even as they shiver.
"Maybe I should turn up the heat," Ponder suggest to Farris, who quickly nods her approval.
As the room temperature approaches a more comfortable level, Farris and Ponder's already friendly demeanors somehow manage to warm further as well. Hell, if these two weren't so sincere, you might think they were trying to sell a used car or gain investors for a pyramid scheme.
Alas, they're musicians instead.
Originally, they were members of Raleigh, a local, indie pop act that has since relocated to Austin. But, late in 2007, Farris and Ponder decided to take their music in a decidedly different direction. They formed the local alt-country combo Somebody's Darling, and thrust Farris into the frontwoman role that suits her so well today. Indeed, with her resonant and bluesy vocals receiving much critical kudos from various area rags (including this one), Farris has deservedly become the focal point of Somebody's Darling as the band has continued to establish itself within the often quite crowded alt-country scene. She admits, though, that some of the attention is a little distracting.
"I never want it to be Amber Farris and Somebody's Darling," she says. "I always want it to be a band, with myself as part of a band. We all write together and basically live together.
"We're really happy to be where we are," Farris says through yet another smile. "I mean, it's just great to be in a band with all guys where I get to boss everybody around."
As the two continue to discuss their band, they sip their Tecates and act like giddy school kids who just got free tickets to Six Flags.
And why shouldn't they be happy? Somebody's Darling has been together for only a little over a year, and yet, in that time, the quartet has built up a sizeable fan base, released a well-received EP and won a contest (Shiner Records' Rising Star Competition) that sent the band to Nashville to record its full-length debut.
"We didn't feel like we were country enough to win the contest," Farris admits. "We didn't feel like we fit in."
Yet fit in they did, impressing the judges with a vigorous blend of classic rock and alt-country. With a sound that features Ponder's catchy riffs, Farris' belting vocals and a top-notch rhythm section of drummer Nate Wedan and bassist Mike Talley, the band came out on top of the Shiner contest.
Of course, whatever enthusiasm came from coming in first had to be tempered by the reality that the band was now given a short window of time to complete a record.
"Once we won the contest in October, I was like, 'Oh shit, now we have to write a mother fucking album,'" says Ponder. In a little over a month—sometimes working around the clock—Ponder and Farris completed a half dozen cuts that will join a few numbers reprised from the EP on their full-length.
"I was pretty terrified about recording an album so quickly," Ponder says. "Mostly because I am kind of a perfectionist."
It all turned out quite well, though Farris' flair and emotive power help turn songs like "Heart's Too Young," "Chug Chuggin" and the soaring ballad "Easy" into an interesting amalgam of classic rock influences—like if Janis Joplin hopped on the microphone during an Old 97's and Slobberbone show. Meanwhile, new cuts like "Wind Gone Dry," "Horses" and "Put Out Your Fire" continue this quality merging of influences.
It's a natural progression for the Americana genre, Ponder says.
"I feel like the Americana label is changing," the guitarist says. "A year ago, people would think you must have an upright bass or a banjo in the band. But now, it's OK to include R&B- and country-based rock into the equation."
Produced by Dan Baird (of Georgia Satellites fame), the album should see the light of day in early spring. In the meantime, Somebody's Darling prepares for West Coast tour opening for Stoney LaRue that will culminate in an appearance at the Shiner/Palo Duro Records Showcase at South by Southwest in March.
"We need to be on the road," says Farris, "because that's where we shine."
Along with helping to broaden the definition of Americana, both Ponder and Farris openly admit that they hope the upcoming release of the debut full-length, tentatively titled Another Two Step, will mean an end to having to work day jobs and trying to find ways to work in time for the band.
"We've been teetering on when we're going to go full time with the band," says Farris, who works at a wrought iron trading company as well as being a substitute teacher at her alma mater, W.T. White High School.
Ponder, who is a clerk at a law firm, claims his employer is understanding of his musical ambition, allowing him vacation days for short tours.
"My job is not going to keep me from doing anything, music-wise," says Ponder. "They're happy that I am pursuing my dreams."