What a mess

Nothing much has changed for Steven Visneau and Christy Darlington since they began playing together four years ago--first as Mess, then as Darlington, and now, perhaps finally, as The Darlingtons. Well, that's not exactly correct, it just seems that nothing has changed. Actually, everything has changed, so much so that the band keeps ending up back at the beginning, retracing its steps as if it lost something along the way.

Even after a year that saw Visneau leave to play drums for The Queers, singer-guitarist Christy briefly relocate to New York, and a couple of bass players come and go, the band is right where it was 12 months ago. It has a new name, a new bass player (Angelique Congleton, who also plays in the Meat Helmets), and a new record, Mess You Up, just released on New York-based indie Melted Records. Oh, yeah--and the band is still looking for another guitar player.

Filling the second guitar slot in the band has almost become a running joke for Christy and Visneau, to the point where The Darlingtons' latest press kit even includes a classified ad they placed in the Dallas Observer earlier this year: "Tattoos and black attire a must." The Calways' Todd Deatherage--who played with Visneau in Big Desoto, as well as in an early lineup of The Calways--is sitting in with The Darlingtons for a few shows, but the search for a long-term replacement continues, as it has since Dylan Silvers left the group more than a year ago. Silvers, now in Post From Vermont, quit to play his own songs in The Fitz, around the same time bassist Ron "The Ripper" Malippa (who reappears, sort of, on Mess You Up) parted ways with the group. Since then, the band has switched names twice and changed members a handful of times, which, given the band's tumultuous history, is not too surprising. It's just hard to keep track of, even for Visneau and Christy.

"Let's make a count," Visneau says, sitting around a table at Cafe Brazil on Elm Street with Christy and Congleton. As they tick off the roster of musicians who have done time in various incarnations of the band, Visneau and Christy both look as though they're forgetting a member or two, and you can hardly blame them. It's a long list, one that includes Spyche (who played on Darlington's 1998 album Girltroversy), Tripping Daisy's Phil Karnats, and Slowride's Rob Marchant, among several others. As more than 10 members--many of them bassists--have drifted in and out of the band since its first show, opening for Funland at the Galaxy Club, you can't help but wonder how long Congleton's stint with the band will last.

"Everyone keeps asking me that," Congleton says, laughing. Congleton, who has also been in Wayward Girl and The Sillies, hasn't even played her first show with The Darlingtons; she'll make her official debut with the band on May 15 at the Galaxy Club. She's the band's fourth bass player in the last year, and, Visneau claims, the last one. "Angelique's going to stay with us forever," he insists. Or, he adds, at least until she sees "just how glorious it is to be in this band."

"It could be a while, because we're not touring until September," Christy says.

Visneau and Christy know from recent experience that piling in a van together is the real test. Spyche left the band last May, two days after the band returned from a disastrous East Coast trek that took much longer than anyone could have expected. The band's van broke down on the way back to Dallas, leaving the trio stranded in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between North Carolina and hell. Without enough money to have the van repaired, the band ended up stuck there until Last Beat Records--which released Girltroversy, the record the group was on the road supporting at the time--arranged for alternate transportation home. They ended up staying in North Carolina for a week, after which everyone knew it was over.

"You can say that it was like falling down the face of the Grand Canyon the last two weeks of the tour," Christy says. "Rolling, suffering multiple contusions. After being stranded for a week in North Carolina in the boondocks in one cat-piss smelling motel room with us two, you could see that coming."

"It was the drive home that really killed it," Visneau recalls. "We were in a little box U-Haul, the size of a Toyota pickup truck in the front, with a little box on the back, and the three of us. The air-conditioning didn't work, and it was in the middle of summer. We also didn't figure out that if you put on overdrive while you were on the highway, you got about 300 more miles to the gallon. So we were getting about 75 miles to the tank, because we had our overdrive off when we were hauling all this shit. And we were going, 'Dude, why is this thing going through so much gas? Jesus Christ!' It was just miserable."

Spyche quit the band the night before it was scheduled to perform at The Adventure Club's five-year anniversary concert. Visneau and Christy quickly regrouped, hiring Pen 15 and Cletus bassist Omar to temporarily fill in at the show. Omar ended up staying with the band for almost six months, replaced from time to time by Malippa. Christy had asked Congleton to join the band as soon as Spyche left, but she didn't feel the time was right until recently. "I've been playing in the Meat Helmets for a while, but I haven't really played in a punk band for a while," Congleton says. "And I felt they needed some help," she adds, laughing.

Of course, back then there wasn't much of a band to join. Visneau had been asked to join The Queers, a band both he and Christy had always admired. He accepted, and The Darlingtons went on hiatus, playing shows when Visneau wasn't on the road or in the studio with The Queers, which wasn't all that often. Christy used the time to relocate to New York, a move that seemed permanent at the time. At the end of last year, the band played a few farewell shows, even recruiting Malippa and Silvers to rejoin the band for a few of them. The band was leaving Dallas and not looking back--for a couple of months, at least.

Visneau appeared on The Queers' last album, 1998's Punk Rock Confidential, and went on several tours with the band, but he had never gotten along with frontman Joe Queer. Even though he was enjoying the most success he had ever encountered since he joined his first band--playing in front of 1,500 people a night, making good money, sleeping in hotels instead of five-deep on some kid's floor--he knew he couldn't stay in the band much longer.

"We're not the same kind of people," he says, referring to The Queers' middle-aged, recovering alcoholic leader. "[Joe]'s the epitome of a punk-rock star to me. He claims that he's not a rock star or anything like that, but the guy is the most pampered guy I know. Yeah, he goes out and works and everything like that when he's not on tour. He does do that. But insofar as being in a band...I don't know. Duplicity is in his vocabulary to the degree where you can't ever, ever, ever count on what he says, because he will contradict himself in the next sentence. I just couldn't rely on that, and I just couldn't get along with that. But it was a blast while I did it."

He and Christy agreed to move back to Dallas and start getting serious about their own band again. While in New York, Christy had worked out a deal with Melted Records to license some of the group's older recordings from Last Beat and reissue them. The result is Mess You Up, a collection of rougher versions of the punky, poppy songs from the band's two previous albums (1996's Pretty Ugly, released under the Mess moniker, and last year's Girltroversy), as well as a few unreleased songs and a couple of others from some of the group's early, out-of-print singles. It also includes "Time Warp," which the band had recorded last year for inclusion on a Rocky Horror Picture Show compilation; it's the closest thing to a new song on the album.

"Yeah, it's technically not new, but some of it's new to some people, since most of it's out of print," Christy says. "Pretty Ugly is out of print, although Last Beat does have a few copies left. But they're not going to re-press it since Melted's doing this. And some of the tracks are just neat things for people that already have all the old stuff. We didn't want them to just keep buying the same stuff. We wanted to give them something else."

Visneau interjects, "[Make them] buy the old stuff in a new package, is what we say. That's what I say, anyway." He laughs. "It has different pictures, and we used a different color scheme on this album. Instead of pink we used blue, so you'll like it more."

Mess You Up comes on the heels of the band's last "new" release, Bowling Betty, an EP recently released by Mutant Pop Records. The three songs on the EP were culled from a digital audiotape the band had sent the label in 1995. The DAT had been sitting underneath a desk at Mutant Pop since then, only discovered late last year when employees at the label realized that the name on the tape (Mess) used to be the name of the band (Darlington) whose album they were constantly playing in the office. It was the kind of happy accident Visneau and Christy have become accustomed to after swapping names every year or so. And they know their latest name change is only going to confuse people even more.

"A lot of people thought we broke up when the name was changed from Mess to Darlington, or that it was a different band or whatever," Christy says. "But we had to change the name, because we were about to be sued by another band that had the name The Mess. So, we changed it to Darlington. And over the course of time with that name, every time we turned up for a show in any town, saw the name in the paper, we were always referred to as The Darlingtons. In their mind, multiple band members equals plural. We decided to give up and say, 'OK, we give up. Everyone wins. We're The Darlingtons.'"

"And now, everyone wants to call us Darlington," Visneau says, laughing.
But the name on the band's new record, due later this year or early next year on Last Beat, will indeed be The Darlingtons. In the meantime, the band is busy working on a handful of split singles for various labels and a split album with three other bands. It may even release a show recorded at the Orbit Room a few years ago, a drunken mistake Christy claims is "painful to listen to." But that's the end of the vault-clearing for the band. Visneau and Christy are happy with the new lineup and the new songs, excited to be a band just for the sake of being one.

"We're not making money, but we're having fun," Christy says. "We get to do things our way. We don't have to kiss anyone's ass. That may result in us not being able to go on large tours or this and that, but we do things our way, and we don't have to apologize to anyone or make excuses for anything. We just do what we do, and we're gonna keep making music regardless of whether people like us or not, or regardless of whether we have a record deal or not, or any of those variables. We're gonna keep doing it until we die, or we end up shooting ourselves or each other or something crazy like that."

The Darlingtons perform an early all-ages show on May 15 at the Galaxy Club. Ashtray Babyhead and Ultimate Fakebook open.

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