By David Rolland
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Proof that seduction in reverse is still seduction is Nashville-based Those Darlins' "Be Your Bro" video. Backed by the second track off their sophomore album, Screws Get Loose, three bona fide babes and a lean male drummer devolve from lingerie-clad sex symbols into casual attire. "At the end of the video, it's just us in our regular beat-up shoes and jeans and shows us like we really are," frontwoman Jessi Darlin says. "We wanted to reverse the image of us as sexual girl symbols to say, 'Hey, we're just like bros.' "
Still, it's hard to convince people that Jessi, Kelley, and Nikki Darlin just want to be "bros" and nothing more. Each female member of the 4-year-old band is attractive enough to drive a potential male friend to distraction in a remarkably different way: Jessi is a dark-haired pixie with large brown eyes, Kelley a tall blond with an intimidating gaze, and Nikki a brunet with broad cheekbones and sleepy eyes.
That most men would prefer to, as the song says, "be their boyfriend" (or more crassly, "to stick it in") than to "beat each other up on the playground to see who gets the bloody nose" or "to put a bunch of eggs in the microwave and sit and watch them busting out the shell" is not surprising. The perils of trying to pal around with boys is just one lesson of the nomadic touring lifestyle that informs the 11 tracks on Screws Get Loose, released in March through their Oh Wow Dang label.
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"They're not on-the-road songs," Jessi says. "They're just influenced by the way that the road influences us. That song was influenced by playing with dude bands that don't really want to hang out and are kind of afraid because we're girls. As a female, you're always going to be seen in a sexual way, no matter what, because that's just the way that things are. It's always there. It's a good thing and a bad thing."
She won't name any of the guys who found bro-hood with Those Darlins insufficient, but their impressive list of past tour mates includes the Strange Boys, Gentlemen Jesse, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, Black Lips, and Turbo Fruits.
It's not just the boys in the other bands, it seems, who want a piece of these ladies, though. "Boy," the album's eighth track, treats the topic of "a boy in every state, every town I go," including dalliances with fellas in New York City and Panama City that are cut short by the realities of touring: "Baby, I gotta roll to the next show." But do these ladies really receive the same kind of attention male rockers get? Jessi replies in the affirmative: "Anyone who plays music, people like. Anyone who doesn't play music or do it for a living will always find that there's something magical about it, the dreamy rock-star thing.
"People definitely say" — she imitates a deep, dumb voice — " 'You play guitar; you're hot.' "
Even when no boys want to hang with them, the ladies of Those Darlins still have one another. Four years of touring has built a close kinship among the three females sharing the fictional surname Darlin. "It seems appropriate that we all have the same last name. We're just like a gang. We look out for each other." Drummer Linwood Regensburg, the lone male member of Those Darlins, joined more than two years ago, but he doesn't take the surname. "It never really happened for him," Jessi explains. "He's the boy. Plus, his name's Lin, and it sounds kind of funny to be Lin Darlin."
Between the release of a self-titled debut in 2009 and their newest release, the Darlins' sound has expanded significantly from the punky cowboy-rock sound that landed them a slot opening for Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys' tour two years ago. Now they'll incorporate influences that Jessi describes as "a combination of '60s garage and girl groups and '70s punk stuff." These changes have landed smack in the middle of an energized scene of Southern garage-rock bands and made tour pairings with the Black Lips, Turbo Fruits, and other previously mentioned bros all the more logical.
Deterring certain types of male attention is just one of many topics that come up in Screws Get Loose. The punky title track sneers and snarls its way through a treatise about the general craziness of life on the road. "We don't have jobs at home," Jessi says. "The only way to keep our business going, the only way for us to keep making enough money to stay afloat, is to keep touring."
One song, simply titled "$," takes on the economics of being in a band, which is particularly apt for Those Darlins. Jessi relates these financial woes to another song on the album, "BUMD." "[That song] is kind of like the same thing. You play in a band and write an album, and it's the only thing that you've done in the last four years."
Those Darlins have certainly done quite a bit more, though. They've toured across the United States many times over and even spent a month in Australia. They've played slots at SXSW in Austin for the past three years and notched a slot at Bonnaroo in 2009.