By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Jessi Darlin's phone cuts in and out. She's riding in a van that's driving through the Southern states with her band Those Darlins, in the middle of a tour opening for Dallas favorites the Old 97's.
It's not too much of a stretch to imagine Rhett Miller and company hanging out with some of the most notoriously raunchy girls in the industry. And, according to Darlin, everyone seems to be getting along swimmingly.
"They can hang in there," says Jessi, who along with her bandmates Nikki and Kelley, has taken on the Darlin surname. "I don't know. We really get along pretty well. We all just hang out like we've known each other forever."
That too seems to be the vibe that the band members give off to crowds at their wild, liquor-fueled live performances. They make no effort to hide it: These girls look forward to throwing a party at each and every show they play. And judging by their rigorous tour schedule, they've got a pretty hefty hangover to look forward to.
Not anytime soon, though: They just released their sophomore album, Screws Get Loose, and plan to tour around the world to promote it.
So maybe it's fitting then that the live performances from previous tours are what fueled the band's new direction on Screws Get Loose.
"This record is more rock 'n' roll-influenced," Jessi says. "More punk-influenced and less country. So it's pretty much a straight-up rock 'n' roll album."
Indeed: The band has traded in their debut's country numbers, songs such as "Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy," for more hipster-savvy tracks like the lead-off single from Screws, "Be Your Bro."
The new record still has all of the same expected raunchiness, though. There are just fewer of those back-porch pickin' songs that most people have come to expect from the band.
And yet, interestingly enough, as Those Darlins move away from their country roots, they're moving closer to the world's country music mecca. All of the band's members now live in Nashville, Tennessee, regularly walking the same streets as Vince Gill, Miley Cyrus and boot-cut jeans-wearing major label employees who are hanging onto their jobs by a thread.
But Jessi says the girls don't have to deal with that side of the industry very much. When they're not on tour, they generally keep to the underbelly of the country music machine, she says.
Turns out the underbelly is rather large.
"There's always been two sides to Nashville in terms of music," Jessi says. "There's always been the country music machine that hovers over Nashville, and there's a whole other side—an independent, underground music scene."
That's the side of Nashville the Darlins prefer—the one that isn't all studded jeans and highlighted sideburns. And they have some successful contemporaries in that scene, too—bands such as the alt-rocking Jeff The Brotherhood and the new-to-Nashville Black Keys. The two scenes, Jessi says, go hand in hand—in order for an underground scene to exist, there has to be a mainstream side, too. And the people cranking out the country hits, for the most part, are still the ones running Nashville.
No bother, though, for Darlin.
"There's people like that everywhere in Nashville," Jessi says. "But I don't really have to deal with them. I just hang out with my friends."