On its new album “Fish Pond Fish,” Boston-area band Darlingside harnesses its exquisite vocal harmonies to celebrate the wonders of nature, with stars, mountains and caves serving as themes. It’s a welcome shift away from the chaos of 2020, but the band did not intend the album to have any sort of theme, about the outdoors or otherwise.
“No, not at all,” says vocalist and bassist Dave Senft. “Nature is something that for it to be all over the album, it had to come up in different contexts and different times, and we clearly responded in a positive way when nature found its way into the sounds. But at no point did we set out to write a nature album.”
Senft, Don Mitchell (vocals, guitar, banjo), Auyon Mukharji (vocals, violin, mandolin) and Harris Paseltiner (vocals, cello, guitar) began working on “Fish Pond Fish” in late 2019, then moved into producer Peter Katis’ (The National, Interpol) studio in Bridgeport, Conn. The pandemic eventually forced the band members to head their separate ways and finish the album from their homes.
“We had just lost a ton of momentum when it first happened,” says Senft. “It just meant we all went to our separate home recording setups, which fortunately we already had gear at home to work from. I had some of the nicest stuff at my house, and some of the guys just had tiny USB microphones plugged into their laptops, but we made it work.”
At the core of the group’s sound is its ensemble singing, which dates back to the four members meeting in The Williams Octet, an a cappella group at Williams College in Massachusetts.
“I was an a cappella geek before … I don’t know if it was ever cool,” Senft recalls. “I had been into this for like a decade. When I was a kid my parents loved a cappella and we’d go to competitions to see college a cappella groups. Everyone in my family, we sang hymns and stuff like that. I’m not religious, but a lot of the a cappella music I liked was gospel music and religious, so I was really into that gospel and vocal thing. We certainly talk all the time about the Beach Boys and Beatles and CSN and more modern bands, that would be like Grizzly Bear and Guster and chorale stuff like Roomful of Teeth.”
When Darlingside formed 10 years ago, harmony-heavy bands like Fleet Foxes were in full swing as part of a larger Americana movement, but the Massachusetts group wasn’t exactly sure where it fit in.
“We had a pretty unique trajectory, I would say,” says Senft. “Our earlier five-piece with full drum kit, that was almost maybe even prog rock, at least that’s what we were compared to a lot, bands like Yes, who I’ve never even listened to. That made it so when our drummer and us went separate ways amicably — he just didn’t want to be on the road again and was looking to settle down a little bit more — so we ended up being a folk band and leaning into the folkier side of what we did, and suddenly we were being embraced by the folk world even though we felt like imposters.
“We truly were imposters in that world for a little while. We’re not a bluegrass band by any means, but we set up at a single mic in a bluegrass format. By virtue of that we felt we stood out like a sore thumb. In some ways we were eager to fit in, ‘No, we’re a folk band now, embrace us as a folk band.’ So we’ve never really tried to stand out as much as try to figure out where we fit in.”
The band’s imposter concerns weren’t necessary, though.
“The folk community was so warm,” he says. “When we played our first folk festival, it didn’t matter. We were playing music for people who were so happy to hear it and were so warm to us. We just felt that love.”