The Darts: The Cat’s Meow

Just under two years ago Phoenix musicians Nicole Laurenne (the Love Me Nots, Motobunny, Zero Zero) and Michelle Balderrama (Brainspoon) started jamming together with Laurenne on vocals and organ, and Balderrama on guitar. The duo quickly realized they had something electric going on, so they called up old friends and Los Angeles-based musicians Rikki Styxx (the Two Tens, the Dollyrots, Thee Outta Sites) to play drums and Christina Nunez (the Love Me Nots, Casual Encounters, the Madcaps) on bass to flesh out the songs.

“I knew it was special before it was even beginning,” Nicole Laurenne said of her band. “These three women are musicians I have performed with for years and years, watching them and wanting to do this kind of project with them. When Michelle and I finally talked about writing some songs together for real in 2015, it was almost like a fully-formed idea in my head. And it has been so easy to make it all come to fruition, like nothing I’ve ever done before. Even just getting in a van with these people is special. They’re just fun, supportive, hilarious, goofy, and no one takes themselves too seriously, which is a pretty hard quality to find in good musicians, if you ask me.”

The quartet became the Darts and self-released a pair of 10-inch vinyl EPs. One of the singles, “Take What I Need” was selected by Sirius/XM’s Underground Garage as “The Coolest Song in the World 2016.” With hard work and an intense social media campaign, the Darts caught the attention of the London-based label Dirty Water Records, who signed the quartet of rock & roll goddesses.

In turn, the Darts packed up the van and toured the States throughout 2016. With momentum, and their newly acquired label, the Darts headed overseas for their July 2017 summer tour, which was a road test for the band’s new songs.

“Well, when half the band lives six hours away from the other half, touring actually means “rehearsing.” Just playing together night after night and being in each other’s faces day after day was the best possible warm up for a new recording,” Laurenne said “We were all warmed up musically and were more in love with each other personally than ever before. That makes you more honest with each other in the studio, but more tolerant of each other’s different opinions at the same time, and there are about a million more inside jokes that keep everyone giggling stupidly throughout the recording process. Not to mention that we all learn a lot musically on tour about where we rush and slow down, where we need to listen to each other more, and how our respective parts should fit together better into a cohesive whole sound for an audience.”

The Darts debut full length – ‘Me.Ow.’ is an assemblage of a dozen songs which blend the band love of ’60s garage rock and ’70s punk fans heard on their debut EPs, and incorporates psychedelia, surf and gothic sounds with distorted vocals and reverbed instrumentation.

“We were going for this sound on the EPs, but we’re starting to dial it in better the more we hear it in our heads. Or actually, Bob Hoag is dialing it in the more he gets into our heads. We love that empty hall thing and we really love distorted sounds.”

Hoag, along with the tour tightened up the Darts sound and brought the women closer together as band mates. They wanted to express that and the overall feeling of ‘Me.Ow.’ with its unique stylization.

“Well obviously there’s a kind of a retro-sex-kitten vibe to a lot of the songs, and we wanted an album title that prepared the listener for that. But, truth be told, we’re not all bravado and come-hither-ness all the time. In fact, when the four of us are together, we spend a great deal of time doubting ourselves and crying, falling down, building each other up and making each other laugh while we’re simultaneously cursing the world. So the “ow” that goes along with the “me” is part of the truth there. ‘Me.Ow.’ kind of ends up saying it all.”

At times Laurenne’s lyrics can show a vulnerability for love on tracks like “Don’t Freak Me Out” and “I Made a Wish” then she has the muscle to deliver tracks “The Generator” and “Caught in The Devil’s Game.” The talented singer/songwriter also flaunts and flirts her feminist charms on “Gonna Make You Love” and “Get Messy.”

“I don’t think the sexiness of our music has anything to do with our being an all-girl band — I find rock music sexy in general, and music played live really well and really passionately is especially captivating to me as a listener. I know everyone in the Darts feels the same way, a hundred percent. The music they create takes over their entire bodies and minds while they’re playing it. We also are all very in touch with and confident about the fact that we are women musicians, and we’re not afraid to be shamelessly female when we want to be.

“Lyrically, what I wrote on this record came right from me, almost always written spontaneously while I was feeling something strong, and with very few edits later. Michelle’s lyrics are written pretty much the same way. One of the goals of this band has always been to put our true selves out there, fearlessly, without a lot of second-guessing and editing after the fact. It’s a good goal for life in this highly-edited modern world, I think.”

That’s not to say the Darts are all serious on ‘Me.Ow.’ The final track on the new album, “Batteries” was recorded on a whim during a tour stop at Jack White’s Third Man Records shop in Nashville during the band’s 2017 tour. The song is a rough lo-fi track with all the girls singing about not needing boys, they just need batteries.

“Batteries” is one of our favorite cover songs, written by The Trashwomen. When we saw them perform it live at Burger Boogaloo last summer, we knew it was perfect for this project. For most of the Darts, long-term relationships haven’t really been our forte. So a song that sort of forgives us for that, and simultaneously kind of rewards us for it, has been a good for us for sure. So… if you’re going to send toys or batteries, please address them to the Trashwomen, to whom we owe a big debt of gratitude.”