the triad music scene

by Ryan Snyder

Bold choices provide catalyst for a ‘Darling’ debut

There are countless inspirational narratives about some ne’er-dowell hitting a rough patch in life, which in turn plants the embryo of spirituality, setting them on the course to personal salvation. The very notion has become a Made-for-TV cliché, fit for a primetime slot on ABC Family. Maybe songwriter Jacob Darden is the exception, rather than the rule, but the 21-year old architect of emerging Greensboro indie-country band Israel Darling has been down that same road, waving politely as he passed the newly-redeemed heading the other way.

Darden maintains the utmost respect for the faithful; it was only a few short years ago that he counted himself among their numbers with the utmost sincerity, but then a series of tragic events led to the complete unraveling of his own strongly held beliefs. It began as any ruinous teenage decision-making gaffe might; a good kid living in a small, boring town falls in with the wrong crowd and disaster ensues. In Darden’s case, it was the abuse of opiates that led to an inevitable overdose, a few days in a coma and, eventually, time in rehab. Darden says he woke up and realized that he had humiliated himself in front of his family and that experience, coupled with his objections to the terminated pregnancy of someone close to him and time spent working in the horrific conditions of the North Carolina mental health system, sparked a decided change.

“I just gradually got more comfortable in saying ‘I don’t believe in anything,’” Darden said. “I don’t think they believed it, because I used to be the kid who listened to all of the hardcore Christian music and went to church all the time.”

He’s not shy about his spiritual transformation and he’s taken more than his share of guff about it. His sometimes confrontational lyrics have been known to turn heads at the most inopportune times. Once while playing a coffee shop in Hickory, a church youth group entered and began ordering in the middle of “Billy Walker,” a song marked by the question “Anywhere I stand, I’m standing in piss/what if God himself didn’t want me to exist.” It was awkward, but Darden is still sensitive to the impact his creative outlet can have.

“I tried to censor myself, but you could see heads turning and the adults covered the kids’ ears as they walked out,” he added.

It was music, however, to which Darden began to commit himself as an escape from his demons, as he began writing songs practically from the moment he awoke from his coma. It only takes a single listen to Israel Darling’s debut album Dinosaur Bones and Mechanical Hands to get an earful of insightinto Darden’s troubled past. Amidst the beautifullylayered folk andcountry arrangements suggestive of Elliot Smith, Broken Social Sceneand Golden Smog, Darden’s highly emotive voice relays the personalexistential crises that pressed the band into being. The robust andmeticulous seven-piece arrangement aside, it’s the contrapuntalfragility found in Darden’s voice that epitomizes the band uniquesound. There’s an amazing sense of urgency found within that gives thesense it was painstakingly developed, but Darden says it simply comesnaturally.

“Mybass player says I’m the best when it comes to linguistics, even thoughI don’t know what it means,” Darden joked in his distinctly Appalachianaccent. He does credit his father, a professional luthier whomaintained Etta Baker’s own guitars, for his indoctrination into folkand bluegrass, in addition to instilling a keen sense of detail. It’shis guitarist Mat Masterson, however, that nudged him in the band’scurrent direction.

“Iwas from a small town and I didn’t know I was a weird kid — there wereabout three kids at my school who looked like me,” Darden said. “Matopened my eyes to that, along with a lot of music.”

He’sembraced his weirdness to release one of the most compelling albums tocome out of not only Greensboro this year, but the entire state andhe’s doing it alongside six of his best friends, though onlykeyboardist Isaac Crouch remains from the revolving door outfit thatrecorded the album. While they hope to relocate to the more fertilemusical soil of Asheville within the year, Greensboro is IsraelDarling’s home for now and the local music scene is better for it.

Israel Darling’s CD release is happening at the Green Bean on Friday.