Roots Music in the Music Room returns this spring to continue infusing the historic Rosen House with the sights and sounds of a uniquely American tradition.
Darlingside (Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and David Senft) are a Massachusetts-based ensemble whose sound is an eclectic blend of 60s folk, clever wry wit, classical arrangements, soaring harmonies, and a modern indie-rock sensibility. The four vocalists and multi-instrumentalists construct every piece collaboratively, pooling ideas so that each song bears the imprint of four different writing voices. Playful vocal permutations swing from four-part unison to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-inspired group harmonies, underpinned by rich, carefully crafted soundscapes.
The band’s penchant for merging electronic sounds with traditional acoustic textures–often bowed or plucked strings on a bed of ambient guitar swells and self-oscillating delays–shines on stage. Their music threads the collective memory of the four songwriters, nodding to the folk influences of their parents’ generation while establishing a sound that is all their own.
Lula Wiles opens for Darlingside, returning to Caramoor after capturing hearts at the 2016 American Roots Music Festival. This Boston by way of Maine band features closely woven harmonies, the chemistry of good friends, and musical prowess. All proficient multi-instrumentalists, the three women of Lula Wiles are each uniquely powerful in their own right, but combined, they are a force on the rise in the Roots Music scene.
After the Show
Join us after the performance for an All-Audience Afterglow in the Summer Dining Room.
“Pesticide is used to kill pests. Fratricide is when you kill your brother,” explains Darlingside’s Dave Senft. “A former teacher of ours used to say ‘kill your darlings,’ which is to say, if you fall in love with something you’ve written you should cross it out. We like that idea and we thought a good name for it might be ‘darlingcide’, but we changed the ‘c’ to an ‘s’ because we’re not super into death.” The naming of the band reflects the arch humor, cryptic wordplay, and playful banter that the four close friends share on and off stage—but the music Darlingside plays is serious, cinematic, and deeply moving.
On Birds Say, the Massachusetts-based quartet’s wide-open arrangements are marked by the skillful vocal interplay of the four singers. When bassist Dave Senft, guitarist and banjo player Don Mitchell, classical violinist and folk mandolinist Auyon Mukharji, and cellist and guitar picker Harris Paseltiner gather around a single microphone and let their richly-textured voices loose, they splash their melodies with a sunny melancholy that brings their lyrics to vibrant life. Subtle musical shadings take cues from 60s folk, chamber pop, bluegrass, classical music, and modern indie rock, while aching harmonies are complemented by tones from the harmonium, frailing banjo, 12-string electric guitar, Wurlitzer, auto-chord organ, and grand piano. The result is a collection of quietly passionate songs that defy easy categorization.
Live and on record, they present a unified voice by clustering around a single condenser microphone and blending their voices in the room before they hit the mic.
“Each song and set of lyrics are created by all of us together, a sort of ‘group stream-of-consciousness,’” Harris says. “So we moved away from a single lead vocalist and started gravitating towards singing in unison, passing the melody around, or harmonizing in four parts through an entire song.” Live and on record, they present a unified voice by clustering around a single condenser microphone and blending their voices in the room before they hit the mic.
Darlingside assembled the songs that make up Birds Say over the past three years in their kitchens and living rooms, on cabin retreats, and while visiting each other’s childhood homes. They recorded at Dimension Sound Studios in Boston with engineer and co-producer Dan Cardinal during the city’s snowiest month in history, the streets empty due to travel bans.
Sparse notes from banjo, acoustic guitar, violin and grand piano punctuate the solemn “White Horses,” in keeping with the song’s themes of haunting nostalgia and bleak winter inertia. “Looking for a trace of our orchard underground / Growing in the basements beneath a brand new town,” Harris sings delicately while the others support him with high, mournful harmonies. Auyon, Dave, and Harris sing in unison to begin “The God of Loss,” a song that laments the inevitable clash of the narrator’s familial, cultural, and romantic loyalties. Auyon’s somber fiddle and the unadorned arrangement recall the isolated wail of an old Appalachian folk song, transplanted into a bed of churning guitars. “Harrison Ford” rides lightheartedly on an echoing hand percussion loop, goosed along by Don’s chattering banjo as he sings a lyric full of complex internal rhymes in a style that’s part vocalese, part sideshow spiel. The ensemble supplies bursts of fractured harmonies that mirror the action of the swordfight the speaker is having with a man who may, or may not, be Harrison Ford.
The title track “Birds Say” is a vocal tour de force, with layered nylon-string guitars, violin, and cello underpinning 12 multi-tracked voices that fill the sonic space with rich overtones and intertwining harmonies as they muse on the mysteries of communication and interconnection. Brittle synthesizer-like sounds from Auyon’s mandolin seamlessly mesh with acoustic and 12- string Danelectro guitars for the folk rock groove of “Go Back.” The arresting a cappella intro features all four voices lifted in harmonies that recall CSNY (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). The propulsive music shifts under the vocalists, fervent as they attempt to untie the knots that connect past and future.
“We wrote this record thinking about our childhoods, our transition into adulthood together, and the complexities of life that we all have to grapple with now,” Don says. Lyrically and musically, the band will follow a song wherever it takes them. “We don’t really think about genre,” Auyon observes. “We don’t see any limits except ‘no jazz,’ because none of us know how to play it.” And yet the band’s close harmonies and carefully crafted arrangements do occasionally spill into loose free-form outros, surreal dream spaces, and textural experimentation. “We started dipping into some psychedelic sounds with Dan,” says Harris, “re-amping our group vocals through a rotating organ speaker to give them a melting, wavering Doppler effect, or pushing an instrument through an Echoplex tape delay, which can make an acoustic guitar sound like a spaceship taking off.” Amid unexpected soundscapes, the songs remain familiar, looking backward and forward at the same time.
The members of Darlingside met at Williams College in western Massachusetts. “Auyon and I were paired as freshman year roommates,” Dave recalls. “We fought often, but we spent so much time together that we very quickly became like brothers.” They joined a singing group with Don, and Harris joined the same group two years later. From there, the four bonded over a shared interest in songwriting, despite a diversity of musical backgrounds and performance styles including chamber music, choral singing, Celtic session playing, and street busking. As soon as Harris, the youngest, graduated, the friends moved into a house on the Connecticut River in Hadley, MA. “We had ‘family dinners’ almost every night,” says Dave, “rotating cooking for one another, and we spent a lot of our free time out on a dilapidated houseboat that we called the ‘Shack Raft.’”
The band now performs the songs the same way they practice and write them—seeing them live is like sitting in their living room.
Darlingside first toured as a five-piece indie rock band with drums, but finding the right delicate balance of voices and instruments was a challenge early on. Then, in 2013, the band parted ways with their long-time friend and drummer. “In our first few shows without Sam, we felt naked,” says Auyon. Listening to the current quartet, you can hear fingers on strings, breathing in the singing, squeaks and pumps from a harmonium. The band now performs the songs the same way they practice and write them—seeing them live is like sitting in their living room. There are still vestiges of the rock format: electric guitar fuzz and ambient feedback creep into otherwise acoustic arrangements. But in the new format, voices and melody have shifted to the forefront—a shift that has become important to the band. Harris explains, “we try to write songs that exist out of the context we set them into, songs that can just be sung.”
After six years of playing together and a decade-plus of knowing each other, the band’s collaborative process has evolved side by side with their friendships. “We’ve become intimate with each other’s childhoods, families, fears, goals, insecurities and body odors,” Auyon notes. “That kind of closeness is typically limited to romantic relationships. It’s gotten to the point where we often mistake each other’s stories and memories for our own.” Birds Say is a patchwork of the artistic and personal visions of four equal songwriters—a mashup of their individual and collective experiences and dreams. “The process is so entangled,” Don says, “I sometimes can’t remember what I wrote, or what anyone else wrote. We don’t consider a song finished until we’re all satisfied with it. It may not be the fastest process, but we know that when we all agree on something, it’ll sound like us.”
A Lula Wiles show resonates like a whiskey-slap to the heart. Gathered around one microphone, Isa Burke, Ellie Buckland, and Mali Obomsawin pass around instruments and frontwoman duties with style and ease. Their effervescent vocal harmonies, deep musical chemistry, and fresh arrangements create a dynamic and spirited live show. Lula Wiles are equally at home in a rowdy bar of two-steppers, a sweltering midsummer festival stage, or a quiet candlelit club. They bring diverse influences to original songs that combine tradition with a distinctly modern sensibility. Their repertoire spans from centuries-old Appalachian ballads to classic country to contemporary Americana songwriting. All the members of Lula Wiles grew up in Maine in musical families, and they began playing music together as kids at Maine Fiddle Camp. One by one, they each found their way to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music. Isa and Ellie (both on vocals, fiddle, and guitar) began performing as a duo in April 2013, and Lula Wiles was born when Mali (bass, vocals) joined the band a year later. Now based in Boston’s thriving and close-knit roots music community, Lula Wiles have performed at premier festivals and clubs throughout the Northeast, including Club Passim, One Longfellow Square, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, Ossipee Valley Music Festival, Fresh Grass Festival, and Tweed River Music Festival. Above all else, they value the community spirit of roots music and and they seek to create music that will allow them to connect with their audiences. As songwriters, these young women navigate hope and heartbreak with clever lyrics and fearless honesty. All proficient multi-instrumentalists, the three women of Lula Wiles are each uniquely powerful in their own right, but combined, they are a force to be reckoned with. Their debut album was released in May 2016.