INTERVIEW: Tim Darcy’s Personal Document

Tim Darcy loves Nashville and open-G tuning.

He writes poetry and has recently taken interest in Japanese ambient music. A lullaby his mother once sang for him is embedded in the song “St. Germain” off his debut solo album Saturday Night. He says it’s the work’s most personal point. With the stage presence of a Bowie-like post-punk ghost in concert, he wags a finger to his own beat– or that of his full band Ought, as if to say, “You don’t know all of me yet.”

“When I’m writing solo, I often write occurring around something a little bit more ineffable than the sometimes hyper-direct stuff that happens in Ought,” said Darcy in our phone call with on the road. The interview took a similar shape. Discussing Darcy’s solo tunes led to discussing Darcy’s inner process. In fact, his goal with Saturday Night was to merge music and man into the same thing.

Allston Pudding: The sound of your solo stuff isn’t any less full than Ought, but the lyrics are much more clear. Has it been a smooth transition for you?

Tim Darcy: Yeah. I think of the two singles, especially “Tall Glass of Water,” are probably the closest things to something in the Ought world, but I’m excited for people to explore the rest of the record. There’s a lot of different sound worlds and different textures that are definitely way more outside the palate that Ought has spawned from.

It wasn’t really a question of it being hard or that sort of thing. It was more just a great period of getting to be more exploratory with my voice and songwriting. I’ve been writing solo songs since I was 16 in varying palates but pretty much in the vein of lyrical songwriting. So, when getting serious with Ought, it was really only a matter of time until I dipped back into this world just because it’s been in my musical architecture for so long.

The impetus for making the record was the opportunity came up to record with some friends in Toronto, and that led to access to a studio after hours. It was during the same time Ought was working on Sun Coming Down, so there was bit of initial culture shock of switching that abruptly, but it was really helpful being in a different city and being with a group of people who are really concretely dedicated to this project in particular. We made it over about a six-month period as I went back and forth between Montreal and Toronto, and there was no time constraint, per se, because there was no end goal at first. I mean, as soon as we started tracking stuff it sounded so good we thought, “Okay, let’s keep going,” and then at a certain point we then thought, “Well, we’re near a tipping point. We almost have an album here.”

AP: Can you tell me about some of those songs you wrote at the age of 16? What kind of songwriter were you back then?

TD: Yeah… again, it’s funny looking back on some of that stuff, and it’s pretty similar to certain songs on my record. There are certain things that come through. Like, when I first started writing songs, I’d almost exclusively play in alternate tuning. This has come back to bite me, but I’m the type of person who just couldn’t do a bar chord, so I was immediately like, “Okay, I’m gonna look up a different way to do this. So, I’ll do open-G tuning, and I’m just gonna write songs in that.”

It’s just a progression of that, but there are some songs like “St. Germain.” It’s the oldest track on the album, and it felt still relevant and that it could be given new life by re-recording. When I’m thinking about what a debut would be for me, I tried to pick some songs from that crop that still felt relevant while also pairing them with newer jams I had written like “Joan” and that sort of thing.

AP: Cool. So, in general, what are you writing about on this album?

TD: It’s all over the place. I mean, when I’m writing solo, I often write occurring around something a little bit more ineffable than the sometimes hyper-direct stuff that happens in Ought. But also, it changes. Obviously, there are some tracks on the album that are written about very specific instances, like “You Felt Comfort.” It’s a song about being there for friends who are going through depression and that sort of thing. Whereas, other jams like “St. Germain” are more about almost a moment.

AP: That album’s called Saturday Night, so what’s your preferred Saturday night?

TD: It depends, especially now. With touring, I’m traveling so much it seems like the day of the week loses its relevance a little bit. If I’m coming back from somewhere and it’s Saturday, I could just curl up in a chair pretty much and watch “Nashville.”

AP: Nashville? The show with that same actress from “Friday Night Lights”?

TD: Yes, exactly. Big fan. Big fan.

AP: I forgot to ask before that, what is the inspiration for the album title?

TD: It really came from the track “Saturday Night,” which was a poem I had written called “Saturday Night,” and then I had written sort of an addendum to it. I went back and looked at it, and I thought, “This doesn’t really feel like it actually is part of that song,” but it felt like something that I needed to express in a different way. And that is one the jams that came together completely in the studio, sort of like a pastiche. So, in that way it felt like it really exemplified some of the magic that came out of the sessions, but at the same time, it feels like a turning point in the record for me, kind of the B-1 where things start to get thematically a little deeper. Once it got in my head, I couldn’t quite move away from it even when I tried and, to me, that’s usually a sign that it must be so.

AP: For a lot of solo artists this isn’t a real question, but was there a decision made in just going by your name as a solo artist, especially coming from the broadly spoken band name of Ought?

TD: Yeah, it wasn’t taken for granted. I did think about it, but once the record was finished, it felt pretty clear that that’s what should happen. I’ve played under pseudonyms before. I did that for the first six years that I was my making music. 

Part of my intention behind this album was to lay myself out there a little bit, even with the album art. Having a photo of myself on the cover just worked because it is a personal document in a lot of ways. It’s an intense thing to do to attach something directly to your name. This is now “Tim Darcy’s music.” It’s not like… a flying hand. Wait, why isn’t my band named that? Don’t print that. Well, whatever. Print that. That’s fine. Flying Hand. That was not in the running. I just came up with that now.

But yeah… I think at the same time, playing under your name forces the matter a little bit. I think it forces a certain level of commitment and confidence toward what you’re doing because it’s so attached to your person, and a lot of my heroes and artists I really love just were who they genuinely were or who played under a name that became their definition.

AP: Since you call this a personal document, what’s the most personal moment on this album? Any specific lyric, song or even note?

TD: Well, the moment that’s jumping to mind right now is also in “St. Germain.” The final verse and refrain that happens there, that was a kind of nursery rhyme my mom taught me when I was a kid. She’d sing it when I’d have a scary dream or something like that. It just has a lot of resonance for me, almost like an incantation. It conveys for me that powerful feeling of ridding yourself from a personal demon.

It’s: “Covered in the violent flames / Saint Germain, I forgot you name / Covered in the violent flames / Saint Germain, I rid myself of pain.” The first line shows there’s another figure in this song that the speaker is kind of letting go of, and the second line is the feeling I’m really trying to convey. 

Saturday Night is out now on Jagjaguwar.