When the guy handing me my coffee on Friday morning asked if the band had broken up, I was taken aback. "How do you know that?" I asked, defensively, while inadvertently giving away part of the answer. "A friend's friend," he said, had told him that Mike and Dave had left the band and that Jason and I had decided to end the project.
In retrospect, considering he was wearing one of our snapback hats, it was dismissive for me to turn to Jason, who was standing beside me, and say: "well, it sounds like we have a lot more free time to watch The West Wing." This was a fan, a genuine supporter with a giant "Darcys" banner on his forehead and I should have been honest with him about the situation.
The truth is, Mike and Dave have left the band. Something compelled me to duck the question. I felt embarrassed. I felt like I had broken up with the girlfriend that everyone liked better then me and I didn't know how to frame the conversation in my favour. I should have told him the truth. Instead, I gave him some awkward insight into my Netflix habits.
When Warring came out, I thought it was going to be the record for us. How naïve I was. Warring doesn't have a conventional single: the songs are too complex, the choruses aren't big enough or well enough defined and the lyrics are too abstract for commercial rock radio. I even remember having that clichéd conversation where someone said "I don't hear a single."
This isn't to say that I'm not endlessly proud of Warring. Unlike so many other bands, our label has afforded us the freedom to create music with integrity and soul on our own terms. Though we were told Warring wasn't radio-friendly, no one ever told us we had to go and write an album that was. But, when you reach the end of a record cycle -- when the project you have poured so much of yourself into fades from immediacy and relevance without seeing the success you expected for it -- you have to either commit to sink with your ship or re-evaluate your course.
The Darcys do not have a massive built-in audience and we do not enjoy guaranteed widespread radio play. Jason and I will live and die by our next record. Our writing process, in turn, has shifted some of its focus to take a look at each song and its potential for sales. This is the harsh reality to being a musician in 2014. It can be very difficult to convince a label, an agent or a manager to stick with you as you release another "art-rock" record that might garner a Juno or a Polaris Prize nomination, but will yield mediocre sales at best. And sadly, record sales seem to dictate a record's worth and, in turn, a band's career. People want to make money off of you and you need to make money to survive. We are proud of the critical reception Warring has received, but the fact that it didn't sell 10,000 copies in Canada strongly questions its worth.
I recently read an interview with Sara Quin (from Tegan and Sara) from around the time Heartthrob came out. After nearly a decade of making music professionally, the duo had evaluated their project and decided that they didn't want to take a small next step; they wanted to take a giant leap in a new direction. They set goals for the number of records they wanted to sell and the size of rooms they wanted to play. They decided they would need to adapt. In the wake of Mike's and Dave's departure, Jason and I have been grappling with what's next. Where do we want this project to go and what kind of music do we want to create?
Musicians need to acclimate to the circumstances and realities of the genre they work in and the results they hope to achieve. If you want to make pop songs, for example, there is a format for success in that genre. David Byrne talks about this same subject in a recent interview with Salon. Essentially, If you want to sell out Madison Square Garden or have your opera performed at the Four Seasons Centre, there's a prescribed set of standards you're going to have to meet in order to get there.
Yes, there are always outliers, but Heartthrob didn't sell 165,000 copies in the United States simply because Tegan and Sara wanted it to. They made changes, and though they may have explored the boundaries of the genre and bridged the gap between their old and new sound, they still created a very recognizable product.
In recent months, Jason and I have been similarly testing the boundaries of what a Darcys song is and what it can be. Considering our last release was Hymn For a Missing Girl, a 20-minute instrumental piece, it's fair to say that we have identified a lot of elasticity in what we do. For the first time in our career we have played unfinished songs for people and the reactions have been reassuringly positive. That said, we know as we challenge these boundaries, and absorb new ideas, we are also challenging our fans and those in our inner circle.
As we enter this next chapter in our history, I sincerely hope Dave and Mike see success in their own creative endeavours. I know Dave is continuing his pursuit as a published author and Mike is working on a new musical project. Their contributions to The Darcys have been invaluable and we never would have gotten as far as we have without their friendship and input. Though we will miss them in the studio and in the van, I welcome the new challenges 2015 will bring. Acknowledging the economy of music doesn't mean we will stop making music with integrity. Rather, it provides us with the opportunity to further define our creative voices.
One of the many goals we had for Warring was to release a video for each of the ten songs. It was an ambitious idea for a band our size, and though we came painfully close, we are going to fall two videos short. That said, this last video, for "Close to Me," seems to be the ironic conclusion to this chapter of The Darcys narrative and the last breath of The Darcys Trilogy. The clip sees a man slowly going insane as he tries to create the perception of beauty in the bleakness he sees around him. The hard truth is it is often impossible to reconcile the things you see inside your head -- the things that you believe to have value -- with the reality that the world may never see them in quite the same terms. And yet, we keep trying.
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