Dark Dark Dark explores breakups, moving on

Dark Dark Dark: Lost in the world?
Tod Seelie

A sunny, late-summer day at Modern Times Cafe provides Nona Marie Invie a relaxed setting to open up about the bleak themes layered through Dark Dark Dark's evocative new album, Who Needs Who. "It does a disservice to the album to call this a breakup record," the group's frontwoman says, despite the fact that her romantic relationship with the primary songwriter in her band, Marshall LaCount, ended shortly before recording began on the new songs, and those painful, heartbreaking undertones color most of the album.

But what Invie is getting at is that there is plenty of hope and self-assurance to balance out the heartache, and that underlying sense of discovery and confidence is ultimately what gives these songs life. "It feels like a growing-up record for me, and just being more aware of my feelings," Invie says assertively, adding that not all these songs are about LaCount in the end. "I know it's hurtful, a lot of it is hurtful. But I have to be honest to what I'm feeling, and he totally understands that, and he deals with it in his own way."

And LaCount, speaking by phone from his current home in Brooklyn, seems to be quite happy that Invie's blossoming songwriting talents are starting to get wider recognition while the band managed to see its way through their stormy past. "I vaguely remember at the beginning of our romantic relationship, [and] committing to our music surviving even if that didn't," he says openly. "Even when we're in our worst moments, somehow our music has survived it."

And the music that was born out of their painful dissolution is among the best of the chamber folk act's burgeoning career, as Who Needs Who is filled with poignant and playful songs augmented by piano, string, and brass arrangements, as well as Invie's penetrating vocals. The new album was recorded in the Living Room studios in the band's second home of New Orleans with their longtime recording engineer Tom Herbers. But both Invie, who grew up here, and LaCount, who fondly remembers catching shows in the late '90s at the Church at 26th and Chicago, have strong ties to Minneapolis, a city that consistently inspires their work.

"Being around other musicians and artists who are working and being driven in the same way really helps push me, and challenges me to keep working," says Invie. LaCount continues the local praise: "I have always really respected the Minneapolis music community as being very diverse and very experimental, and not afraid to take influences from everywhere. And even after traveling the U.S., Canada, and Europe, I still feel that Minneapolis has one of the most incredible music scenes. Even compared to whatever towns are supposed to be the greatest for music, Minneapolis is definitely one of them."

As for what the name of their new record truly means, Invie and LaCount's answers prove elusive. The simple fact that there isn't a question mark included in Who Needs Who makes the title and the songs more of a statement than a question — a subtle but powerful distinction that adds an enduring strength.

And now that the band has solidified into a fully realized quintet, with the steady presence of multi-instrumentalist Walt McClements, drummer Mark Trecka, and bassist Adam Wozniak, Dark Dark Dark's sound has matured and evolved naturally. "When we recorded this record, it felt really collaborative for the first time," says Invie. "It felt really exciting that everybody seemed to love the songs, and had ideas for development."

The recording took longer than with their previous two full-lengths, but LaCount says that part of that was by design. "This time we allowed for a little more time, and for a little more uncertainty going in," he says. "And we wanted that freedom. We had the freedom to break our own rules or experiment if we want to." That space and flexibility gave the band a chance to explore the darker themes of Invie's impassioned lyrics, and whether it's wishing "To live in a time when you cherished me," slow dancing with a lover to a Patsy Cline song at a bar, or recalling a friend smoking cigarettes while reciting Roger Miller on her front steps, these vivid images stick around long after the captivating music fades away.

The band will celebrate their record's release with two shows at the Cedar, which will also be the only shows on their current U.S. tour to feature the vocal accompaniment of the choir with whom Invie occasionally performs, in addition to the talented Mountain Man and Emily Wells. Invie hopes that these will be a special set of shows for Dark Dark Dark's local fans as well as for the band themselves. "I love it there [The Cedar]," she says. "I think the people there have really been kind to us. It feels like our hometown spot."

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