Tim Darcy on Creativity with a Purpose

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Story / Monica Wolfe

Photos / Jenna Ledger

I’m talking on the phone with Tim Darcy, frontman of Canadian post-punk band Ought, who’s releasing his debut solo album, Saturday Night, this week, and it’s immediately evident that his personality is a direct mirror of his music. He speaks with confidence and intellect, going on winding tangents brimming with emotional awareness, but he’ll consistently stop to ask whether he’s making any sense or apologize for being too vague or long-winded. Lyrics are central to Darcy’s music. He’s as much a poet as he is a musician, and he draws inspiration from soulful, lyrical music, having grown up listening to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Nick Drake. So, not surprisingly, listening to Saturday Night from start to finish is somewhat of an emotional ride. Underlined by a nihilistic questioning of reality, his lyrics also offer an uplifting counterbalance of smooth melodies and a voice full of hope, which seems to reassure the listener with a pat on the shoulder saying, “Everything isn’t okay, but it will be.”
The opening track, “Tall Glass of Water,” is one you can’t possibly listen to without thinking of The Velvet Underground. It’s the can’t-help-but-dance-even-if-you’re-listening-in-headphones-in-public star of the album, but one of his favorites on the record is the three-part song, “Joan,” which he says doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. It defies genre, floating between dim-lit deep folk and surreal experimental sound. And Joan, by the way, refers to Joan of Arc.
He explains, “I’m really interested, beyond any faith element, in people who undertake seemingly impossible struggles. It’s unfathomable to think that someone could summon that much courage. And there’s such a passion and intensity in that.” Although some of his songs are built on narratives, most are more conceptual. And “Joan,” though influenced by the historical figure, Darcy says, has a foundation in the social workings of modern gender dynamics. He says it’s about “patriarchy and this evil era of toxic masculinity, and thinking about what that comeuppance would look like, because you can’t replace an evil with just a gender-reversed equivalent, you know? It’s more like entering a new era.”
He continues, “You know the line ‘Joan doesn’t have a gun, but she’ll raise the tide to bury you’? That, to me, is sort of a wave of sentiment and consciousness that will make these [toxically masculine] people obsolete, and I think that the wedge of hate that society eases into young men at a very vulnerable stage in their development would dissipate and be overcome by a larger wave of consciousness.” (I feel like we need to take a moment here to thank Tim Darcy’s mother, because, honestly, how often do you hear a man speak out on the flaws of patriarchy? Whoever taught him to think critically in that way is a saint. Darcy says that his mother raised him on her own for most of his childhood, and he credits her as his very own Joan of Arc.)
The album experiments in sound, from interspersed recordings of birds chirping to segments of bowed guitar that seem to screech and wail. He says that taking a bow to his guitar was a gut feeling, and “when those feelings come up, it’s not one hundred percent of the time going to precipitate into something that you want to keep, but on the occasions where that feeling comes up and you do follow it, and something great happens, that’s the closest thing that we get to experiencing the magical.” He describes those moments as the brain functioning on autopilot, following feeling more than logic in a moment wherein “you step outside of time.” Much of the album creates this feeling of being disconnected from time. It floats, flows, and sways. “There’s something about the fluidity of the voice,” he says. “It’s part of the reason I feel much more connected to the voice as a way of musical expression than the guitar. Guitar, to me, is very much like a backdrop or a palette.” And so this album embraces the contrast of experimental sound with sweet and crooning vocals.

One of Darcy’s strengths in songwriting is his ability to approach the darkness of reality with a light held to it. He says honesty is key to writing an emotional song: “If you’re being honest about something that is dark, that can be sort of hopeful and uplifting in a way, because you’re not wallowing in it. You’re seeking catharsis. You’re working through it.”
The first album Darcy released with Ought was more directly political than Saturday Night is. In this new release, he focuses more on personal relationships, at times touching on depression he sees both in others and himself. He says he hasn’t moved away from being political, though: “I really believe that there is an emotional politicism as well. And things like honesty and vulnerability contribute to a more nuanced progress. I think people who are hateful are disconnected from their spirits.”
With this “emotionally political” album, he seeks to create change at the innermost level of being, fostering an emotional core that can combat the hate and violence seen all too often. “I really believe,” he says with genuine hope, “that what’s important is people making art that moves people and awakens the spirit, but then that just being who you are as a person—not necessarily having a song called ‘Fuck Trump,’ but just sort of being a part of that broad-spectrum consciousness, and then however you choose to live out your politics being a part of your personhood.”
Darcy says he broke down when Trump signed the Muslim Ban executive order, but was kept sane by the support of fellow socially aware citizens marching and protesting to protect human rights and values. He says, “That makes me feel like what’s happening is almost a necessary evil. I think a lot of these things have been percolating under the surface, and what’s happening now is that we’re forced to look this shadow directly in the eyes, which I think is a necessary part of moving past it instead of pretending that it’s not there.”
So, no, Saturday Night isn’t the political force that he felt Ought’s first album was, but this masterfully crafted solo album is a piece of art that will make you feel the profound connectedness for which we’re all so desperately yearning in this brave new world.

Tim Darcy Tour Dates:

Mon. Feb. 13 – Hudson, NY @ Half Moon
Wed. Feb. 15 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
Fri. Feb. 17 – Toronto, ON @ The Drake
Mon. Feb. 20 – London, UK @ Lexington
Tue. Feb. 21  – Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso
Wed. Feb. 22 – Brussels, BE @ Botanique
Thu. Feb. 23 – Rennes, FR @ La Route Du Rock D’hiver
Fri. Feb. 24 – Paris, FR @ Olympic
Sat. Mar. 4 – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz
Mon. Mar. 6 – Boston, MA @ Great Scott
Tue. Mar. 7 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
Wed. Mar. 8 – Washington, DC @ The Black Cat
Thu. Mar. 9 – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
Fri. Mar. 10 – Raleigh, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
Sat. Mar. 11 – Savannah, GA @ Savannah Stopover
Sun. Mar. 12 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
Sat. Mar. 18 – Dallas, TX @ Not So Fun Wknd
Mon. Mar. 20 – Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
Wed. Mar. 22 – Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop
Thu. Mar. 23 – Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle
Sat. Mar. 25 – Detroit, MI @ Marble Bar

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