DARKSIDE, the collaborative project of musicians Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington, has recently released its second studio album Spiral following eight years of silence. It is a beautiful, hypnotizing record with secrets to unravel (or to remain buried, depending on the way you see it).
After listening to the record with admiration, we contacted Jaar and Harrington and engaged in a sincere conversation. Hope you enjoy reading it!
8 years and now we have a new DARKSIDE album. Long breaks usually carry the risk of not regaining your strength right away. What was it like for you, returning to this project after all these years? In what ways did you find it easy or difficult?
Nicolas Jaar: I found it easy because I missed it -I missed playing music with Dave and hanging out with him. The album is what happened during these days when we reconvened together for the first time. It was a burst of activity after years of nothing.
Dave Harrington: I agree. It’s always been easy making music together, it’s a very open flexible process, exploratory and inspiring.
Prior to your new album’s release, I was addicted to The Limit and the lyric “Current with no direction” has stuck to my head ever since. There are mysterious lyrics throughout the record that almost feel like mantras. How was your songwriting process in that lyrical aspect? Did you have specific influences?
NJ: The songwriting process was different in a fundamental way than with our last record. For this one we sat outside in the sun and improvised just with a guitar and voice. I think “Current with no direction” is what my life has felt like for many years now, I’ve been learning or trying to learn how to live without having an obvious direction. The lyrics are always ultimately very personal things, feelings that come from the gut.
Needless to say, the instrumentation and sound design you incorporate into the record complements this mystification. My question is: What instrument do you feel is the most mystical human creation?
NJ: I don’t really know what “mystical” means… I think it’s one of those words that has a different definition for everyone, maybe that is what is mystical ultimately, the changing nature of things. I think all objects have multiple sides to them and never exist in one dimension only. Music works this way as well, and surely instruments also. I’m not sure anything could be more mystical than anything else! 🙂
Spiral also feels meditative in the sense that most songs unravel slowly in a way that reaches gradually to your soul. Your recording process also sounds meditative as you did it all in a relatively isolated environment. To what degree do you approach music-making as an act of meditation?
NJ: It’s a good question. Although I do meditate every day, I don’t consider myself a professional or particularly good meditator. So I don’t think I can properly answer this. Some days I feel like meditating is like making music, and sometimes I feel like making music is like meditating. The problem is that when meditating is like making music, it’s not very calming! I see music-making more like a conversation between the music maker and his/her instruments, the spaces around him/her, the time she/he lives in and the people who will take their time to listen.
Spiral was recorded in 2018. When you finally gave the final mastered output a listen after three years, did it surprise you? How do you feel it has grown in you over time?
NJ: I think the album didn’t change too much for me. I hear it with similar ears as to the ones I had when we were making it. Maybe in a year or so this will change. It’s hard to tell. I’m curious to know how it will sound in 20 or 30 years from now. By then technology will have changed so radically… Who knows if stereo will be a thing by then… Maybe we will be listening to waves that go directly into our brains, like telepathy.
Generally we are making music for each other while we are working, trying find new things and trying to bring joy and wonder into the room. So I suppose I’d call the style Presence.
In the album, I can hear influences of early psychedelic rock, krautrock, and more. Yet, Spiral feels like a genre of its own. How would you define its style if you had to?
DH: We don’t really talk about references or styles while we are making music together. Of course there are artists and musicians from all different styles and places and times that Nico and I both share a love of and that we have listened to and talk about and bonded over over the years, but while we are making music these specific references rarely come up. Generally we are making music for each other while we are working, trying find new things and trying to bring joy and wonder into the room. So I suppose I’d call the style Presence.
What are some of the overlooked records that you love within the psychedelic music realm? (Psychedelic being in its broadest sense, of course.)
DH: Hmmm cool… Interesting question… I wonder what constitutes “overlooked?” Hard to answer that, but I can say that some of my personal favorite psychedelic music that might be less well-known or less obviously “psychedelic” in the genre sense, but very much is in a musical sense, would be: Don Cherry/Bengt Berger’s Bitter Funeral Beer, Ornette Coleman’s Dancing In Your Head (with the Master Musicians of Jajouka), also other Morrocan gnawa music like Nas El-Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi, Hawkwind (especially when Lemmy was in the band), some Charles Lloyd stuff from the 70s when he had the quartet with Keith Jarrett and they were playing at the Fillmore on bills with rock bands… The soundtrack to Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain is just amazing, it’s Jodorowsky and Ron Frangipane and Don Cherry and it’s wild. Oh and also this incredible Sun Ra record Nico sent me a few months ago, The Solar Myth Approach Vol. 1, that’s a new favorite.
What have you been listening to these days?
DH: I’ve been listening to a lot of improvised music like Derek Bailey, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton -and also I went through a heavy Thelonious Monk phase earlier this year while I was reading Robin Kelley’s biography of him. That was kind of a gateway into looking back at that later 70s free music for me. And a lot of Ry Cooder. And Mdou Moctar.
The final question: Let’s imagine we are a hundred years into the future, and there is a Music Legends Theme Park. You also have a memorial stone there. If you could have one of your lyrics written on that stone, which one do you think it would be?
NJ: Hahah! Crazy question! Maybe… “And if it went into a spiral, Regardless of direction, There I saw your face.” (From the song Spiral.)
You can check out DARKSIDE’s Bandcamp profile here.