TIM DARCY IN NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 2017. PHOTOS: ANNIE POWERS. STYLING: MAC HUELSTER/HOME AGENCY. GROOMING: NATE ROSENKRANZ FOR HONEY ARTISTS.
Tim Darcy’s debut solo album Saturday Night (Jagjaguwar) is a “dead split,” he says, between the old and the new. Out now, it consists of recent songs, as well as tracks Darcy wrote before his involvement with Ought, the Montreal-based four-piece he formed in 2011 while studying at McGill University. When Darcy was given the opportunity to record his old solo work in 2015 (while still making music with Ought, which he does to this day), he rediscovered a former self—the boy in New Hampshire who recited original poems at open mic nights during middle school before performing in local cafes—and music arrived in a flood.
Darcy past meets Darcy present, and together they form a loose portrait of the now 26-year-old over the years. Upbeat songs that rattle and shake (“Tall Glass of Water”) lead into more contemplative numbers (“What’d You Release?”) where Darcy finds his bearings. Interview recently spoke to the musician by phone, shortly before he set out on a tour that will make its way across the U.S. through the end of the month. Darcy will join Angel Olsen‘s tour in Europe come May.
HALEY WEISS: I read that you almost decided not to do this album when you first started, but you were convinced to keep going. Can you tell me a little bit about why you decided to pursue making a solo record?
TIM DARCY: Well, the desire was there, it was quite strong. Doing Ought non-stop for two and a half years, I had really put aside this other world of songwriting. This album is about half songs that predate Ought and the other half are some newer things that I had been working on. So it had been percolating very organically for a while, not necessarily to make a whole record, but when the opportunity came up—my friends Amy [Fort] and Ross [Gillard], who live in Toronto, they were like, “Standing offer: If you ever wanted to cut a track with us, we have access to the studio on evenings and weekends for free, so let us know.” I immediately jumped on it because it seemed like really great opportunity to record even just two of my old solo songs, and plant that seed a little bit, and revisit that part of myself. Part of the trepidation came because I was really knee-deep in working on Sun Coming Down  with Ought, so the initial trip to Toronto was pretty jarring, because it’s such a mindset switch: new city, different style of singing and songwriting, and also, I hadn’t touched some of those songs in a long time. Luckily, thankfully, I had a really amazing crew of people that I was working with; [the producers] Amy and Ross are so fabulous to work with, and then my buddy Charlotte [Cornfield], who drums on the record—everyone was just down to hang out in the studio and see what happened. Obviously, once we started rolling, everything sounded so good and it felt so good, so we just kept going.
WEISS: The songs that predate Ought, why were they never made into songs for the band?
DARCY: I’ve never brought a song to the band—no one has. Everything that Ought has done we’ve written collaboratively, and even guitar riffs I’ve brought into the band, it just hasn’t worked—I don’t know exactly why. We always have all four hands on the wheel when writing, which is good in a lot of respects, because it makes it more clear-cut. If I’m alone writing, I can know that it’s a me song—not that I had a ton of time to do that in the really jam-packed, back-to-back, More Than Any Other Day , Sun Coming Down, those two years.
WEISS: When you looked back at your older songs and went to record them, was there anything about your writing that surprised you? Had your perspective changed significantly since you wrote them?
DARCY: Yeah, the context is always changing, but part of the project was to update some of these songs that I hadn’t been able to let go of. I’ve written a lot of songs over the years, since I got my first guitar, and these were just some of the ones that felt like they had the potential to be recorded properly and have a more timeless presence.
WEISS: I read that you started going to poetry open mic nights when you were young. How did you get into writing poetry?
DARCY: I can trace it pretty concretely. I was in the third grade, and we did a day where you had to write a poem, and I just got super stoked on it. [laughs] From that point on, it was a major part of what I did. I wrote a lot and I started going to poetry slams and stuff like that, and was really into that community.
WEISS: Poetry slams are more fast-paced and it’s a competition of sorts, right?
DARCY: Totally. These were more like a hybrid; there would be people who really did slam poetry, which is a whole different form almost, and then there were people who would do readings of their stuff. Sometimes it would be more of a competition or whatever, but what’s cool is that there was a very performative aspect to it.
WEISS: Have you kept any of your poems from when you were younger?
DARCY: Well, my mom still has one of the first poems I wrote up on the fridge. I’ve seen that thing, like, 1,000 times.
WEISS: What’s it about?
DARCY: I think it’s sort of an environmentalism poem, so that was a first step. It’s not bad, it’s not bad. [laughs] The bad ones are just buried. They’re buried in the basement.
WEISS: In your approach to songwriting, do you treat it like you’re writing a poem? When does melody come into the process versus writing lyrics?
DARCY: It depends. For the most part, I’m messing around on guitar, and then the melody and the words will start to flow. Usually while I’m playing around, a line will surface, and then that becomes the spearhead and I’ll write around that. Sometimes it’ll all come out at once, which is the best-case scenario of what happens when I’m writing a poem as well. It does occasionally happen that I’ve written something without music and I can transfer it over; “Saint Germain” on the record is an example of that, where it was a poem and I reworked it into a song.
WEISS: I want to talk about the order of the album and making the final selection, because it did surprise me when I got to “Found My Limit.” From then onward, tonally, it feels like it shifts and settles into itself in an interesting way. How did you conceive of the order?
DARCY: Part of what was really satisfying about sequencing is that once we got this order, it immediately clicked and felt like the way it needed to be. The only tinkering happened with the first three songs, what the order should be there, and everything else was… It felt like it could only go one way. And I think I wanted there to be a movement toward stillness. I was talking to Amy and Ross about wanting this feeling of expanse, and one of them even suggested bringing in field sounds and stuff like that. It gets into this sort of stillness by the end of the record. The sequence, I’m really grateful that it clicked, because there were definitely moments in the 10th hour where I was like, “Are these songs too different? Are they not going to feel cohesive?” And finding the sequence that we did made it feel like, “Okay, this is an album.”
WEISS: When you approached your older songs, in what ways did you have to update them to feel like they were in line with what you were making a few years later?
DARCY: I had four-track recordings of them that I was fairly happy with as far as some of the sounds. But part of the shift was just the way my voice has changed in the intervening years, and also wanting to do justice to the song. I really like to think about what tones and mood will suit the meaning of the song, but will also make an album feel cohesive, as cohesive as it could without giving up some of that creativity of being able to move between different textures and different sonic palettes.
WEISS: You moved around a lot when you were younger; you went from Arizona to Colorado to New Hampshire. What was that process like for you, to move from state to state at a young age?
DARCY: I think it’s [affected me] more macrocosmically. My mom has moved so much—I spent most of my childhood in New Hampshire, so I wasn’t an army kid or anything like that—but she traveled so much, so I think that there’s definitely an ability to roam in the blood. I think part of why it’s even worth mentioning that I was born in the Southwest is because of a lot of that imagery and the aura of that part of the country, both from still having some family out there and going to visit, but also just the shit in our house. [laughs] Even in New Hampshire, it has a kind of Southwest vibe, because my mom lived out there a long time before we moved east. I feel it in that way, even though it’s a little bit second hand, it’s woven into my identity.
WEISS: And your mom played folk guitar, or still plays?
DARCY: Yeah, still does.
WEISS: I read an interview where you talked about how for her that was a solitary process. How early did you become aware that it was something important to her?
DARCY: I think it took me a while to recognize that—pretty much until I had a deep connection with my own artistry and the itch to write, that it really clicked what that practice has meant for her. It’s sort of a lifetime passion. I can maybe think of one time in my whole life where I’ve seen her play a show, and it was half friends and family, so that’s not really why she does it, but she still writes a lot. And there’s something about that need to create for whatever reason that is a really powerful testament to the cathartic power of art and the therapeutic power of being creative.
SATURDAY NIGHT (JAGJAGUWAR) IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON TIM DARCY AND HIS UPCOMING TOUR DATES, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.