What I'd like to do is write an article about Kid Dakota where the focus is on something other than depression, where the narrative arc of "finding a light in the darkness" is put out to pasture. I'm not particularly interested in the grisly details of Darren Jackson's life, or in finding a resonant truth somewhere in his 15-odd years as Kid Dakota.
I mention this to Jackson over dinner — how this one is going to be different.
"Sure, do whatever. Hopefully it will get people out to the show. Do I write depressing music?" the South Dakota-born indie rocker responds, almost as a rhetorical joke. "I remember someone from City Pages, this was years ago, she was really eager to get into that. Her first questions were like, 'Why are you so depressing? What's your fucking problem?'"
So far, any preconceived notions of the potentially mercurial musician are pleasantly obscured by the warm and candid musician in front of me. Jackson, who will play his first Twin Cities concert in more than a year Wednesday at Turf Club, occasionally launches into his renowned reservoir of sensationally depraved stories, but there's always a punchline. His girlfriend, Jamie, is seated with us at Sen Yai Sen Lek. They seem like they're in love.
I've got this half-baked question about why Kid Dakota's music gets labeled as depressing. What is a sad song, exactly? What recipe of minor chords and platitudes is most effective? I'm fumbling until I mention Adele, the current Kleenex Queen of pop music. Jamie stops me there. "Darren has a theory about Adele," she says. Does he ever.
"She's got a great voice, right? We can't argue with that. Whether she has any truly sad music though, I'm not sure," says Jackson, 44, who left Minnesota years ago to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy at Virginia Tech. "I'll say this: If you had a mediocre singer doing those songs, let's see how they stand up. Because, with Adele, I'm sorry, but the songs are bullshit. Here's what's wrong with that song 'Hello,' okay? You didn't call him a thousand times. Don't lie about it. You called maybe seven times."
Taking issue with the amount of times Adele called her old flame is preposterous. When dealing with heartache, though, it's key that the narrative feels specific to the listener's own sensations — the things you did or didn't say; what the subject was wearing; the crushing recall of apartment layouts. Jackson posits Elliott Smith — "He's got the facts without pulling any punches" — as a sort of anti-Adele, though his modesty prevents him from using his own music as an example.
Our entrees are cold by the time we get into the reason I'm doing the interview.
Wednesday's Kid Dakota show will be the band's first with the original lineup of Jackson and drummer Christopher McGuire in a long while. To fuel expectations, Kid Dakota, who once played live consistently with a rotating cast of standout local musicians, has rarely performed in recent years, and Jackson hasn't released new music since 2011's Listen to the Crows as They Take Flight.
When pushed for details about the group's absence, Jackson's response is dizzying.
But first, the welcome news for Kid Dakota fans: There's a ton of new music. Sessions with Low's Alan Sparhawk were recorded back in 2013. Then, last year, after something of a musical breakthrough, more recordings began at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, with friend/studio owner John Kuker. More Kid Dakota music and gigs should arrive in the summer when Jackson plans to move back to Minneapolis.
But we're talking about Kid Dakota, a band whose sadness is baked into its DNA. Any hope for a new narrative vanished as Jackson presented the following details: The musical breakthrough of 2014 was the result of a bicycle accident that broke his pelvis. He was effectively bedridden for months; he couldn't even hold a guitar. Once Jackson became healthy, the recording process at Pachyderm was cut short by Kuker's unexpected death in February. The silver lining? Jackson and McGuire were reunited at Kuker's funeral.
"After the destruction is over and you're still alive, there's the matter of just how to live," Jackson says. "That's what I'm trying to figure out."
It's dark stuff, but Jackson isn't marinating in darkness. When dinner is over, we go to the place where he's staying, and he plays Christmas standards on the guitar. We sing along.
I reach McGuire by phone on Christmas Day for his take on the upcoming reunion. He's preparing for a casino gig with another group in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. "We're doing like holiday jazz standards for the blue-haired," he reports, struggling to remember the city or the name of the casino.
McGuire has spent large portions of his life on the road. He's toured all over the world with the Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice, in addition to drumming locally in bands like 12 Rods and Kid Dakota. Recently, he's been working on his own music in a project called Model Hawk that'll be preparing a release in 2016.
I explain the hope for this article to McGuire: A Kid Dakota story that's free of sadness. It doesn't register as I hoped it would.
"I hope I'm not saying too much, but then, I guess I don't care if I do embarrass him," he responds. "Not that this is particularly embarrassing because it's part of everybody, but Darren does get dark. You saw a great side of him, which isn't to say there's a bad side to him — he just gets dark. That's still with him. He's a depressed, dark dude. But things change. More of his music is hopeful now."
I mention that this would be a good time for hopeful Kid Dakota music, with the world being such a horrifying place nowadays. McGuire alleviates my concerns about doing another sad Kid Dakota piece, while doing a fine job promoting his show in the process:
"Well, and I really mean this, even if we can't be hopeful and the Earth is doomed, if you're going to come to the Turf Club, you should forget about your troubles for a while. You should go into this trance with Darren and I, hear some stories, and then, when the lights come up, the air will be a little sweeter."Kid Dakota
With: Dosh, the Person & the People.
When: 8 p.m. Wed., Dec. 30.
Where: Turf Club.
Tickets: $8; more info here.
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