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Jason Darling

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NYC-based singer-songwriter Jason Darling started life in a small town in the Catskill Mountains above Woodstock, NY, where he picked up his first guitar at the age of 7. After a stint at art school studying graphic art and illustration, Jason applied � and was accepted � into the prestigious Berklee College of Music at the age of 20. He started co-writing songs with a friend who turned him on to albums by artists ranging from The Replacements and Gram Parsons to Bob Dylan. A paperback copy of Dylan�s bio became an obsession, and Jason realized that what he was searching for musically couldn�t be studied or found in a school. He made a decision: “After reading the Dylan biography, I felt like I was in the wrong place. So I just left.�

What followed was a musical and personal odyssey for Jason, who traveled the country looking up old friends, settling in towns for a few months and then moving on. �I always thought that it was about songs,� he says of the time, �and that if you wanted to get the songs together, it just seems that you needed experience.�

But at 22, life threw the itinerant musician a curve ball � his parents� 30-year marriage ended and he found himself back in his hometown of Catskill, NY, helping his mother. It turned into a year-long detour.

He ended up working in the town�s century-old rope factory � the only employee who wasn�t a lifer. �The older backwoods guys�there was toothless old guy who drove to work on a backhoe every morning– were wondering what I was doing there.�

Sometimes he�d bring his guitar to work, teaching himself to play slide next to the railroad tracks behind the factory. “Train tracks are attractive because they lead down the road to someplace far away,� he says with a laugh. Evenings, Jason played in the area�s workingmen�s bars. �I was playing in bars every night — Frank Zappa to Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters – whatever came into my mind, I�d play it.�

After Jason�s mother decided to move away, he was left with a decision. �For me, it was like I was confronted with the fact that I didn�t know what I was doing, facing the fact that I could end up like my dad in this little town, working in a factory, living with this girl who was having an affair behind my back � a complete dead end.�

And the monotony of the job got to him. �I took a board and made a fake guitar so I could play guitar by ear in my head � the machines were so loud I couldn�t even hear, and I�d be just waiting for the rope to finish. I felt like I was out of my mind, but I was learning, �It just doesn�t matter what people think,�� he says.

The day he figured out his girlfriend was cheating on him, he lit out for New York City. He didn�t know a soul. Crashing on his sister�s couch in New Jersey for a start, he�d take the train into the city each day and wander around, hitting up recording studios for a job — any kind of job. “You read about your heroes having it rough and it seems cool, but when it�s you walking around with no place to go, it�s not so cool.”

He landed a job as janitor at Electric Lady Studios where, after sweeping the floors, he�d would sit and play slide guitar in the lobby, drawing the attention of artists like D’Angelo and Dave Matthews, who were there recording. Every night, he�d play around the Village with the new friends he�d met. It was an experience that brought Jason the community of musicians he�d been looking for. He met a singer named Leona Naess at an open mic night sponsored by the Pink Pony. When Naess got signed to MCA Records, she invited Jason to London to help write and record her album, Comatised (he co-wrote the album�s single, “New York Baby,” with Naess). Jason went on to tour the world with Naess.

He attracted the attention of label owner Matt Roberts (who owns and runs Surprise Truck Entertainment in Los Angeles). In between touring with Naess, Jason spent a week writing, producing and laying down all the instruments for his solo debut, Underground, at Lincoln Lounge Studios in Venice Beach, CA.

After working on Naess� follow-up album, Jason returned to LA to begin recording Night Like My Head with Jason Lader (Mars Volta, Fur Slide). This time, he had some friends there to help: New Radicals� singer Danielle Brisoisse (who co-wrote �Don�t Give Up�) and guitarist Joel Shearer (who�s played with Alanis Morrisette). Adam Mcdougle (who�s played with Macy Gray, now in Ben Taylor�s band) plays drums and keyboards. �I didn�t hire them — they liked the songs and they gave their time for it, you know?� he says.

While Surprise Truck sponsored the recording as a follow up to Underground, everyone involved realized that the album could appeal to a wider audience. Yep Roc Records is proud to release Night Like My Head, an accomplished, lyrical collection of urban folk compositions that contains nods to such artists as Grandaddy and Beck�s experimental side, characterized by Jason�s knack for unfolding a story, setting a mood, and his distinctively gritty, broken-in vocal style.

Live, Jason has been playing as a duo with drummer Aaron Johnston, who also serves up keys and backing vocals. Jason�s harmonica playing, fat guitar sound and use of guitar loops, coupled with Aaron�s dynamic, melodic drum parts and vocals, combine for a spontaneous, richly textured sonic experience.

�It�s all pretty organic,� he says of the band�s looser, more improvisational live sound. �I definitely see the studio as a sound canvas � that�s for sure. I take a song as a blueprint, nothing more than a place to start.� After seven years of playing, working and recording in various facilities with different engineers, the studio is Jason�s second home, and he tries to �bring the ease of the studio on to the stage� by putting across a song while feeling free to stretch it out and experiment with it. �There�s no telling where it�s going to lead,� he says. �Some nights, we�ll come out of a song and look at each other like, �Wow, how did we get there � and how did we get back?�

Jason Darling is the kind of artist who can make his album come alive in front of an audience � the kind of guy who barely blinks when he snaps the headstock off his high-end Taylor acoustic guitar and finishes the show playing slide on an electric. It�s just all part of the musical process, a lifestyle he�s already embraced. �I am going to get in a car and keep touring up and down the East Coast,� he says. �I know I�m just one in a handful of many bands out there — I just want to get out there and work it. I�m writing the story as I go.�–


On Tour:

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See Also

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  1. Jason & The Scorchers
  2. Jason Ringenberg
  3. C.C. Adcock
  4. Paste Magazine catches up with Eleni Mandell.
  5. Wesley Stace