Few bands can point to one event or festival as a catalyst and jumping-off point for its success. For Massachusetts's Darlingside, however, much of the group's recent success can be traced back to the Westin Hotel in Kansas City, where last year's Folk Alliance Festival was held.
While it took the musicians four years to discover the festival and ultimately apply for it, it only took them two more years to essentially conquer it, earning the highly coveted Artist of the Year award in 2015.
The band, which comprises Don Mitchell (guitar, banjo, vocals), Auyon Mukharji (mandolin, violin, vocals), Harris Paseltiner (guitar, cello, vocals) and David Senft (bass, kick drum, vocals), has seen a sharp rise in popularity since winning the award, which has led to tour opportunities with notable musicians like Patty Griffin. In October, the band released the Whippoorwill EP, which continues to showcase its unique songwriting and impeccably crafted harmonies.
We caught up with Mukharji and asked him what Folk Alliance has meant to him and his band.
Westword: Talk about your history with Folk Alliance International and what it meant to win Artist of the Year.
Auyon Mukharji: This last year was a whirlwind in the best way. We are super-fortunate to be a part of the Folk Alliance scene, and it’s been a huge thing for us. Everyone has always been super-welcoming, and we feel fortunate to have found them.
We found it late in the game, because we started as a rock outfit seven years ago. When we lost our drummer, we transformed it into the folk outfit where we all sing around one microphone. But from the very beginning, the Folk Alliance community has been extremely welcoming, not only in our home region of New England, but across the country and now internationally. We feel very fortunate.
It feels like not so long ago we were a small regional band and were trying to figure out what the next step was. Now the opportunities are coming in at a rate that we feel we can barely keep up with. We’re trying to figure out how to capitalize on all of this wonderful momentum and still find time to write and record. We’re not a band that's great at writing on the road, in that we don’t do it. [laughs]
You’re from Kansas City originally, which was where last year’s festival was. That had to make the experience that much more special for you.
I’m from Prairie Village originally, which is a suburb [of Kansas City], so, yeah, every time we go back there, we stay with my family, and we’ve done that regularly for years. The conference moves around, but I think our first time at Folk Alliance was the first time it was in Kansas City in 2014.
Even though we were a rock band initially, we had a lot of harmonies and strings, so we had been hearing about [the festival], but since we were plugged in and had a drummer, we didn’t give it any real consideration. When we stripped down and it moved to Kansas City, it seemed like the perfect time.
Another piece of that puzzle was when we collaborated with Heather Maloney and put out an EP [Woodstock, 2014]. Her label, Signature Sounds, put it out and then invited us to come along for the release at Folk Alliance. We applied largely because of that release.
How did that collaboration with Heather come about?
We all grew up in the Western Massachusetts scene, and she’s from Connecticut. I booked one of her first shows at a pizza shop — I was the buyer! [laughs] We knew of each other for while but didn’t play a show until 2011 or so. A year or two later we decided to do a tour, and that spawned the project.
Was it a conscious decision to part ways with your drummer in order to change your sound?
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It depends on who you ask [laughs]! The way I remember it was that our drummer wasn't a huge fan of touring and wanted to be home more. He’s still a very close friend of ours, but we were faced with some options. We thought we could find a new drummer and bring him along occasionally or figure it out as a four-piece. We had all been interested in the four-piece thing because of the way we rehearsed harmonies in the room — we had always done them, even as the rock outfit. So we thought, "This is the most comfortable way to rehearse, maybe we can perform this way." Once we got into it, we realized it was a lot of fun and the audience was responding. It wasn't that we wanted to be a folk outfit, so we asked him to leave [laughs].
You’re are reportedly a good cook; are you still finding time for that?
Yep, I’ve been home, so I’ve been cooking. I made some soup yesterday, and it turned out well.
Darlingside performs with Frances Luke Accord on Friday, November 18, at 8 p.m., at L2 Church, 1477 Columbine Street, 303-321-3291.