INTERVIEW WITH THE DARTS' FRONT WOMAN NICOLE LAURENNE
IMPORTANT ANECDOTES FROM OUR FAVORITE GARAGE ROCKERS
by Corey Fedor
If Elvira and Wednesday Adams consumed the flesh of man, drank shots of snake venom, started a garage rock band, and played the bride of Frankensteinâ€™s bachelorette party, it would probably sound exactly like THE DARTS. We sat down with front woman Nicole Laurenne to get the scoop on THE DARTS new album I Like You But Not Like That, and to get a little glimpse into the life of one of our favorite rock n' rollers.
Corey: The Darts are a relatively new project for you. What did you do before you met the gang?
Nicole: Sulked a lot. Actually, I was busy with The Love Me Nots, Zero Zero, and Motobunny, touring a lot and writing and recording a lot and handling logistics a lot and generally being pretty stressed out a lot.
Corey: How did you meet the girls?
Nicole: Christina ("Madcap" Nunez) was The Love Me Nots' original bass player. I met her when our guitarist said, essentially, "we need that girl on bass who plays around town on that flatbed truck with Thee Madcaps." I somehow found her phone number and asked her to come by and see if she was interested. She did and the rest is a long epic history between the two of us. I met Rikki when she was playing drums with various LA bands that performed with The Love Me Nots over the years. Our paths kept crossing, her drumming kept getting better and insanely better, and when I finally saw her play with The Dollyrots, I knew I wanted her in my band somehow. I think I even mentioned that to her that very night. I've known Meliza around Phoenix for years; she used to come by to have The Love Me Nots' guitarist set up her guitars and amps and was my Zero Zero drummer's roommate also. When we needed a guitarist who could learn the set fast and be ready for a US tour with The Damned last Fall, bringing her on board was a no-brainer.
Corey: Howâ€™ve the fans been treating you? Any surprising encounters?
Nicole: Darts fans are as crazy as we are, thankfully. We've had some incredible surprises in our audiences, including some legends like Fred Armisen (SNL, Portlandia), Deb O'Nair (Fuzztones), Jello Biafra of course, Blag Dahlia (Dwarves), not to mention old friends and family who travel for hours and show up unexpectedly in the crowd all over the place, even in Europe! It's the best feeling ever to know that everyone is going nuts and having a great time at the shows.
Corey: What was the energy like in the studio this time around?
Nicole: This is the first time we ever recorded in the same room together! Our first three records were all done long-distance by mailing tracks back and forth between LA and Phoenix. This time Rikki still did the drum tracks in LA, but Bob Hoag finally convinced us to set aside a weekend and get our butts in the same studio for once. I think we were a little nervous to have Bob in the room with us as we put down our tracks, which we had always done alone before, but by the middle of the first take everyone was settled in and getting wrapped up in it. Tracking always goes very quickly in this band - I never like to overthink it - and that left us time to mess with Bob's amazing treasure trove of weird guitars and pedals on the record. Meliza even played a bass VI on a track. I love recording with these people, it is a sheer joy. I look forward to it more than anything else we do I think.
Corey: Did you write any material for the upcoming album?
Nicole: I wrote most of it.
Corey: Recording the new record I Like You But Not Like That, has been the first time youâ€™ve had guitarist Meliza Jackson join you in the studio. How has her sound helped shape the band on this record?
Nicole: Meliza's style and tone are huge but well-controlled, which leaves a lot of room for the rest of the instrumentation to speak on this record. You can really hear the vocal nuances, the theremin-like organ parts in the highest register, and lots of things that sometimes got swallowed up a little on our last recordings. Meliza brings a polished, solid kind of grit to the band, not to mention a super chilled-out demeanor, all of which gives the rest of us a new feeling of confidence both on and off stage. I think you can hear that strength and clarity coming out in this record also.
Corey: From a character standpoint, what roles do you find yourself playing most often within the band?
Nicole: I'm not sure there is a role that any of us DON'T play in the band, honestly. Half the time one of us is running around trying to arrange everything while the others are losing our minds with all the fun we're having, and the other half of the time everyone switches roles and does the same things. We all write songs and sing, and drive the van and take care of whoever is sick and cry with each other and have each other's backs when things go off the rails. This band is more like a family than any other I've ever been in. Everyone is totally dependable and hard-working, and everyone is equally ready to go bananas at the drop of a hat.
"I had a vision of what I wanted the band to look and sound like, what I wanted the whole experience to feel like, and everyone in this band always has an incredibly supportive attitude about it. I've never been in a band where I can say "let's do this weird show and then shoot a video in my backyard afterwards with a mermaid tail" and everyone is like "sounds cool to me.""
Corey: When a good idea for a song comes to you, where does it usually start and where does it go from there?
Nicole: It's usually a lyric or part of a riff. I sing it into my voice memos on my phone right away before I forget it. I have one million voice memos that sound totally insane. But they usually turn into something later. Then I get on GarageBand and start with a drumbeat for it. Once that's in place, the rest of the instrumentation comes to me pretty fast. I'm usually writing the lyrics while I'm recording the demo. Not much editing happens in this band between demo and finished product really.
Corey: Youâ€™ve pretty much spearheaded this band since the beginning, and in a very short amount of time Iâ€™d say youâ€™ve made some pretty big strides. How difficult was it getting The Darts off the ground and where you are today?
Nicole: Easiest thing I've ever done. I had a vision of what I wanted the band to look and sound like, what I wanted the whole experience to feel like, and everyone in this band always has an incredibly supportive attitude about it. I've never been in a band where I can say "let's do this weird show and then shoot a video in my backyard afterwards with a mermaid tail" and everyone is like "sounds cool to me." That attitude is the driving force of the whole project. I think if you are making music you love to listen to yourself, and you're truly having fun with the people around you, the rest comes pretty easily. As for the band's odd trajectory up to this point, I can't really explain that. Other than the fact that we all have a zillion contacts and experiences that make all the steps a little clearer for us than they were when we were all first starting out.
Corey: After you got involved with Dirty Water Records, what inspired you to open the US branch?
Nicole: They inspired me to do it. Dirty Water was ready to try something over here, so that their customers could save on some shipping costs, and I was in a position at the time where I could try it. It's really satisfying to help other bands release great music; the karma factor can't be overstated.
Corey: How did your relationship with Jello and Alternative Tentacles happen?
Nicole: I met Jello for the first time at a Love Me Nots show maybe six years ago, where he was DJing between sets. He actually came up on stage and sang our last song with me! He signed my leather jacket and we ended up talking about the band and Arizona and politics and all kinds of Jello things after the show. We kind of stayed in touch over the years. Then The Darts played in San Francisco about a year or so ago, and the promoter, David Greenfield, invited Jello and some of the AT guys. They are such sweethearts; really good, solid, funny, kind people. We're so honored to become part of their label family
Corey: If youâ€™re allowed to disclose it, what is one of your favorite inside or long running jokes in the band?
Nicole: We're all fans of this band from Oakland, Spray Tan. We've spent hours in the van singing along to their records. One of the songs is called "Morning Sex," and starts with the singer suggestively saying "Good Morning." Now we say that to each other in the morning all the time. Even when one of them says "good morning," just in a text, the rest of us end up giggling.
"Our families keep us centered, our jobs keep gas in the tour van, and we never take those things for granted. I think if you asked almost anyone, you would find that we are all multi-faceted, whole people with lots of different skills and interests."
Corey: This year has thankfully brought a spotlight down on the lack of equality, and the treatment of women in our country. Would you please educate us as to what it's like being a woman in an overwhelmingly male driven music industry?
Nicole: To be honest, I can't complain. I was raised by a mom who broke all kinds of glass ceilings as an immigrant and physicist back in the 60s, so I feel like any struggles I've had in this area really don't measure up to what she dealt with. In the punk rock world, I actually think a talented, respectful woman is quite appreciated and well-cared-for by both genders, as are the talented, respectful men in this scene. Despite all of its on-stage chaos and bravado, punk rockers are some of the sweetest and most genuine people I've met. Knock on wood, I hope the trend continues.
Corey: You are one of the most unique individuals I know in the music scene as you are a mother of two, as well as a judge. How in the literal fuck do you balance all of those responsibilities with touring and recording?
Nicole: It's all about calendaring and planning. I make sure I have back-up at work when I'm gone, I make sure my kids can always reach me no matter where I am, I line up my cat-sitter, and - most importantly - as a band we plan things months and months in advance. My bandmates face a lot of the same issues as I do. It's very validating and supportive to be in a band where no one accuses anyone of not being serious enough or available enough for the band, where we all know the band is one of many priorities we are all juggling - and intend to keep juggling. Our families keep us centered, our jobs keep gas in the tour van, and we never take those things for granted. I think if you asked almost anyone, you would find that we are all multi-faceted, whole people with lots of different skills and interests. I love being surrounded by people who aren't afraid to explore all of them. I think it makes us all better at everything we do.
"Getting on an airplane with a Farfisa, guitars, cymbals....and going anywhere."
Corey: What do your daughters think about your dueling identities and your pursuits in rock n roll?
Nicole: One of my daughters is an excellent rock vocalist - in fact our producer Bob (Hoag) is her drummer - and actually released a pretty highly-acclaimed LP a few years ago when she was still in high school. She has always been interested in selling my merch at shows and singing backup for me and being involved however she could. My other daughter is a very talented singer and bassist who just charms everyone who hears her perform. She plays at farmer's markets and busks on the street for now, and makes a surprising amount of spending money doing it, actually. They are also both college students who study very hard and have pretty intense career ambitions for themselves. They don't really know any other life, I guess - I have being doing this dual-identity thing for as long as they have been alive. I'm glad it seems normal to them.
Corey: Withholding commentary on whether either of us think you have or not, what are some moments where you stepped back and went, â€œWhoa, have we finally arrived?â€
Nicole: Opening for The Damned at Irving Plaza in New York City. Getting ready to perform in Belgium for thousands of people at festivals and seeing a whole line of photographers waiting for us with their elbows on the front of the stage. Having an incredible dinner with Blag Dahlia in San Francisco and then watching a bunch of high school kids crowd-surf to one of our songs over Jello's head at the show that night. Getting on an airplane with a farfisa, guitars, cymbals....and going anywhere.
Corey: How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city you are currently living in and how important is it in terms of what you're actually producing?
Nicole: Phoenix is growing into a really great music town. I think it had a heyday in the 90s but then it tanked for a long time. Now a few people in town have taken it upon themselves to build great venues of all sizes, many within walking distance of each other, and booking artists that people are dying to see from everywhere in the world. There is also a new, bustling college crowd downtown thanks to several universities expanding into the area. So there's just a lot of life and opportunity for music here right now. But the biggest asset we have here is Bob Hoag, who will literally work all day and night until your record sounds right. That work ethic, especially in someone who is also a creative genius, is hard to find anywhere in the world. And we have him right here.
Corey: What are some items you always take on tour with you that are absolute necessities?
Nicole: Vegan protein powder (my one nutritious meal of the day, no matter what else happens). A cool hat, sunglasses and a (faux) leather jacket (these three things will effectively hide almost any bodily damage done the night before). Pajamas and my own pillow (I take my sleeping hours seriously, and these little cozy things make all the difference in weird places sometimes). Hand mirror (we are always ending up doing makeup in some basement with bad lighting and no mirrors, two minutes before our set starts). Extra Square card readers (these always always get lost at the merch booth, and being able to take credit cards is an absolute necessity if you're trying to break even on a tour). Farfisa and an extra cord.
Corey: Would you share an insane or unbelievable tour story?
Nicole: We arrived in Bordeaux, France, only knowing that we were to play a festival outside somewhere. We got to the stage and it was literally built onto the side of a huge freaking cathedral - like taller than you could believe - in the middle of the town square. We were all blown away by how amazing this show was going to be. Then as we started unloading the van, a giant rainstorm moved in, with winds that started knocking everything over, and the whole festival got cancelled for weather. So we sat in a nearby bar on the square and ate tapas and drank local wines and ... didn't feel sorry for ourselves at all. In fact, a couple of fans ended up joining us. You can't make that kind of stuff up.
Corey: When you're in a pickle and you ask yourself, â€œWhat would ______ do?â€ Whose name usually fills the blank?
Nicole: Christina ("Madcap" Nunez bassist for THE DARTS). I'm sure she doesn't know this about me. But I value her instincts about almost everything, more than she surely knows. We compliment each other in so many ways, it's hard to even explain it.
Corey: If you could collaborate with any other living musician right now who would it be and why?
Nicole: I would absolutely love to have Ty Segall produce our next record. And sing on it with me. And take us on tour with him. The sounds he makes on his records are, to me, sonic perfection, and the songs themselves are masterfully written. When people chide me about being in too many bands and putting out too many records blah blah blah, I just think of his ability to put out mountains and mountains of great music and I am instantly re-dedicated. I am also a huge fan of L.A. Witch; their records are the background soundtrack to a lot of moments in my life. I would love to tour and record and collaborate with them someday. Their whole vibe is brilliantly understated and delicious. I am a huge fan of Night Beats; we are getting ready to open for them in Phoenix in a couple of months and I can't wait. I deeply wish we could set up a tour with them, if only so I could listen to them everywhere every night. And then there is Death Valley Girls, one of my longtime loves, who we finally performed with in England last year. I love that they don't write themselves into a single niche - their ideas are a little bit all over the place, and they attack everything they do with massive, unapologetic intensity. Watching them play is nothing less than thrilling for me. I also think King Khan and I could do an awesome duet someday. Like, awesome.
Corey: What is your absolute fucking jam that you're listening to right now?
Nicole: Thee Tsunamis. A three-piece from the midwest. I don't know if they are still together, but these girls were my initial source of inspiration for The Darts. Raw and unflinching, unpolished and perfectly snotty and messy. I also love Mellvins, an all-girl Japanese band that I am hoping will put out a split 45 with The Darts this year, and Shovel, a Phoenix duo that I almost always put on when I go running.
Corey: If we listened to your Recently Played list right now what would we learn about you?
Nicole: I like garage rock. I like distorted vocals. I like dark, self-deprecating, pathetic lyrics that don't try too hard. I like simple riffs and song arrangements that are played stupidly fiercely, like they are the hardest things in the world to play. I like artists who don't take themselves too seriously.
Corey: What did you grow up listening to? What was the exposure from your family like?
Nicole: I grew up studying classical piano, so I spent hours listening to things like Mozart and Beethoven. I remember the first pop song I ever loved was "Rich Girl" by Hall & Oates, when I was really tiny. My parents don't listen to music really. My brother was always about classic rock. We got MTV when it first started, and that opened a lot of creative pathways for my brain. I remember sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to watch a live broadcast of a Journey concert once. I was mesmerized.
Corey: Who inspires you musically?
Nicole: Ty Segall. L.A. Witch. The Amazing Snakeheads. Thee Tsunamis. The Trashwomen. Miles Davis. Chet Baker. Night Beats. The Gories. My bandmates.
Corey: Fuck, Marry, Kill: Ty Segall, Kurt Cobain, Lou Reed
Nicole: I don't know what this means but, given my sordid track record of relationships, none of these guys would be safe from any of those three fates. Be warned. I'm not very good at this love stuff.
Corey: What do you want us to know about the new record, I Like You But Not Like That?
Nicole: The title track is hilarious. It comes from a conversation we had on tour in France about some weird guy on Facebook who was sending creepy messages to us. I think we wrote most of it literally in the van that night as we drove back to our hotel with a bunch of snacks from the green room.
Corey: What's something you wish your fans knew about you?
Nicole: That making them happy makes me happier than almost anything else in my life. And.. I really love vegan breakfast burritos, wandering around old cities, fireplaces, and talking with little kids at our all-ages shows. Wow that sounded like a bad Tinder sentence.
I Like You But Not Like That comes out Friday, May 24, 2019 on Alternative Tentacles Records, and is available for pre-order here! There are also limited edition pre-order bundles available while supplies last!
The main featured photo by Matthew Kadi. See more photos from this set HERE.