LONG LIVE THOSE DARLINS: An Exit Interview with Jessi Zazu
January 25, 2016
Jessi Zazu was still a teenager when she buddied up with Nikki Kvarnes and Kelley Anderson back in 2006 to form Those Darlins. Ten years later, Jessi, Nikki, and longtime band member Linwood Regensburg announced an “indefinite hiatus”, leaving behind a trail of memorable work, unforgettable live shows, and a legion of loyal fans across the country.
This Thursday, the band will play Off Broadway in St. Louis one more time as part of their farewell tour. Before hitting the road, Zazu took time to speak with IWTAS about overcoming self-doubt, St. Louis/Those Darlins history, and what it’s like to be movin’ on:
So how are you feeling?
I feel pretty good; I haven’t really thought about the tour too much, as far as what the actual experience will be like. I’m trying to just let it happen.
Was the decision to call it quits a difficult one to make?
It definitely wasn’t easy. It took a while to figure out if this was really what needed to happen. I will say that once [the band] actually had the conversation, we unanimously agreed that ending it was the right thing to do. That was a huge relief. We wanted to preserve the relationships we’d made with one another, and also all we’d built together. No one wanted to force a continuation and wind up in a disastrous end later. So yeah, getting there was hard, but once we arrived, it was a happy relief.
At the end of the day, you’re a band but you’re also people, and keeping those human relationships intact is more important than keeping a band going.
We thought it would be best that we go on a last tour, that we play these shows so the fans could share the end of this with us. We wanted to say goodbye the right way, with a final song and a final run.
Over the years, how did you develop strong relationships with fans and venues in particular cities on the road? Off Broadway seems to be your St. Louis “home”. How was that established?
I don’t know, it’s one of those things that develop over time with touring bands. I remember our first show [at Off Broadway] — we were opening for O’Death. It was our first tour, really. We had done a bit on our own, but we had booked little tiny places that were barely venues. I remember playing Off Broadway that first time, and it wasn’t a crazy huge crowd, but they responded well to us. We had a $5 EP out, and we sold a bunch. After the show we hung out with the staff, and some way or another we made an impression. Who knows what we did, honestly [laughs]. But hey, people remembered us and we came back again and again.
And I remember one show there when we were opening for King Khan & BBQ, and they got arrested and didn’t show up. But at the time, no one knew that had happened, all anyone knew was that they weren’t there. We ended up playing so long! We just did our best with the understanding that a lot of folks were really upset that the headliner never came. That was one in a series of experiences at Off Broadway that made our time memorable.
When you start touring, you don’t realize that you’re going to see some of the same people over and over in certain cities. Eventually you roll into town and it’s like, “These are my buddies!”
Is that a way that you’ve stayed grounded, considering how heavy you’ve toured over the years? Does having people in cities that you know will take care of you help?
Yeah it really does. I’m the only vegetarian in the band, and I remember one of the Off Broadway bartenders made me my own food at her house and brought it to the venue. I couldn’t believe she did that for me. Joel [former New Belgium MO Beer Ranger] also used to take us in when we were in town, making us dinners and breakfasts.
When you play in a city where you don’t know anyone, it’s fine but it feels so different. Those are the nights in unfamiliar cities when you really feel like you’re on tour. You can get lonely.
Y’all were asking for song requests for the tour on Facebook, and I understandably saw a bunch from your earlier days as a band — fans are feeling nostalgic. How does it feel to pull out songs from the archives that you don’t play anymore?
Personally, I don’t find it difficult or emotional or whatever, but it does feel a little weird. I mean, I was 17 when I started writing Those Darlins songs. 17, 18, 19…those years…not everyone wants to travel back to those years [laughs].
Most people don’t.
Yeah, so it’s not sad but it feels a little silly. I’m slightly uncomfortable because I’m such a different person now. I’m still me, but the differences in who I am are glaring differences. Over the last year, we’ve been working in requests from old albums that we get a lot on tour. It just felt like we were far enough away from Blur the Line that we were like, “Let’s just play the songs people want to hear.” It ended up being a lot of fun because when people heard what they requested, they got super excited. They freaked out. So that silly-feeling aspect of it is fine for me as long as fans are having fun.
Nikki and Jessi, Off Broadway, 2012
Considering songs from your back catalog, can you talk to me about a song or project that sticks out as really special?
Yeah, okay that’s a shitty interview question. But your sound has changed substantially over the years.
Haha. I really feel pretty proud of the catalog as a whole. I wrestled a lot over the years with just liking the music we’d made. We transitioned sound-wise so many times. After deciding we liked a new way of writing or playing, I felt like, “I don’t want to hear any of the other crap, this is the only way I want to play now.” There’s also a bit of…well, constant self doubt. The whole process of writing a song and putting it out into the world is a battle against my own vulnerability.
At this moment, looking back from the vantage point of the end of a really big era in my life, and thinking about the people I worked with, those people who I really love…I feel good about it all. I’m proud and kind of amazed by all we accomplished, and all the opportunities that we had. Every day now there will be a new memory that pops into my head and I’ll think, “I can’t believe we did that, or I can’t believe we made that.” We built [this band] up out of nothing. We knew nothing. We put all our albums out ourselves. We built a business out of this, and it’s kind of incredible. I feel able, at this point, to just be excited about the music and be grateful for each album. They’re like little time capsules into who and what we were, as opposed to when I used to listen to them and think, “Oh, this is how I’d do it differently.”
I was thinking about that 2012 tour you did with Heavy Cream. At the end of your set, you all brought HC back on stage and you did a cover song together. I remember thinking that it was the most women I remember ever seeing up there at Off Broadway at one time. Looking back on that self-made success you mentioned earlier, can you tell me where you found encouragement through your career with Those Darlins, and what you might pass on to younger female musicians today?
I think what I learned over time was the power of women, and moreover the collective power of women. Any of my success can be directly correlated to the women in my life growing up who encouraged me, and who are there still to encourage me. There are, of course, men I get advice and encouragement from, but there is something really unique about having supportive women.
The hard part about being a women in this country, trying to do music or anything, is that you’re constantly taught to mistrust your own intuition, your own guiding voice. There’s this whole way that things are “supposed” to be done. To be the woman I want to be, I’ve had to go against that a lot of the time, which is hard because going against what’s “supposed” to be done can feel really wrong.
Sometimes we feel programmed to question the validity of our own ideas.
Yeah, in the music business, I have been the only or one of two women in the whole room countless times. It’ll be me and Nikki, or me and whoever, or just me, and a plethora of guys. A lot of advice is given. It’s just good to find yourself a group of strong and supportive women. I’ve had a lot of guys tell me what I should do to “fix” my problems. I’ve had a lot of women tell me, “You already know what to do; pay attention to your intuition.”
When you push up against enough walls, you get tired and you start to feel that you aren’t getting enough done. That’s why it’s so helpful to have people to remind you that what you need to know is already inside. And it’s important to nurture those relationships instead of becoming competitive toward other women. The world is made to make you feel crazy, and we’re almost hard-wired to compete with instead of support one another.
So what’s next for you individually? Will you be pursuing more visual art or more music, or both?
Linn and I are going to keep playing music together. I have some songs recorded and we’re going to be putting out an album eventually. We don’t have a name for the project or anything yet; I want to finish the album first and decide from there. I want to know what the music sounds like and build the rest out, which is kind of the opposite of how it went with Those Darlins. Like I said, when we started Those Darlins, I was 17 and I barely knew who I was or what I was doing. “Let’s make a band! Let’s find a band name! Then let’s write some songs!” This time around, I want the music to determine the direction of everything else.
I also have two art shows coming up, happening concurrently with the finishing of that album. So I’m not really taking a break, except as much as I have to. I’m going to keep going after music and art full force, because that’s what I want and what I know how to do.
So you’re not tired.
I’m not tired. I’m invigorated. I’ve got a lot more in me.
Those Darlins play Off Broadway on January 28th with Tristen. Tickets are available here.