Darsombra | Interview | Baltimore Psychedelic Galaxy Rock Duo
Baltimore, Maryland psych/prog duo Darsombra continues their trans-apocalyptic galaxy rock experimentation. A lengthy double-album is currently under construction.
Darsombra is a cinematic conceptual rock band featuring composer Brian Daniloski on guitar, bass, vocals, and sound design, and filmmaker Ann Everton on synth, vocals, percussion, and projections, Darsombra is internationally known for walking the line between glam-prog-psych-stoner metal and site-specific installation performance art. Live, their carefully crafted songs and videos create a hallucinogenic synesthesia for the audience, as Everton and Daniloski build a temporary reality from sound, sight, and movement.
But beyond their notoriously psychedelic stage shows, they have a strikingly distinctive and unique sound, which runs the gamut from minimal pulsating drone soundscapes, to intricately layered album-length psych/metal opuses, to glam/prog Krautrock-esque tracks drenched with field recordings. Expect cosmic guitar solos and interweaving riffs, blissed-out synth arpeggios and bass lines, and emotive whacks of a gong or tolls of bells peppered throughout their work, in addition to vocal stylings that range from wordless choral harmonies to percussive chants, grunts, and word-salad lyrics. These sonic elements combine to conjure seamless, evocative music, communicating a sense of emotion, narrative, or ideas that are all entirely subjective for the listener—this is music for the imagination.
Darsombra calls their sound “trans-apocalyptic galaxy rock”: dynamic, kaleidoscopic music for people transitioning through end times and dreaming of space.
In 1998, Darsombra was initially conceived as SUCKPiG, Daniloski’s solo side project to his internationally-known sludge metal band, Meatjack. In 2005, he began touring under the new name Darsombra. In 2010, he started collaborating and touring with video artist Ann Everton. By 2013, Ann had joined Brian as a musician, performer, and composer, as well as continuing to produce and project her mind-bending video tracks composed exclusively for each song.
A true cottage industry DIY band, self producing their music and videos and booking their own tours globally, Darsombra brings a stadium show in a cargo van or a handful of suitcases.
“Keep the faith, be a freak”
You just came back from the recent tour, how was it being back on stage after two years of lockdowns?
Brian Daniloski: We have actually been road tripping and doing some light touring since spring 2021, right after we got vaccinated. We did outdoor shows only at first, then eventually indoor, but this past fall 2022 we were back to a full on touring schedule. It has been great to reconnect with people and meet new people. We’ve been hearing from a lot of folks that have just started coming back out to shows again. Sometimes our show is the first one they’ve attended since 2020, and that’s pretty cool. People are excited that shows are happening again. It’s been very heartwarming.
Ann Everton: It’s fantastic! Everything has changed, which can present a lot of challenges, but we’ve been keeping track of those changes as we’ve been slowly warming up to post-COVID-style touring since the spring of 2021. Maybe the biggest change was gaining a better understanding of my purpose as an artist and performer, because of the quietude of 2020.
Did you miss the energy of live shows?
Brian: Very much so. We missed playing and going to them.
Ann: Absolutely. Every day. I missed going to shows, being inspired whether the show was good or not, connecting with other independent music fans, and of course, entertaining folks like me.
Last year you released ‘Call The Doctor / Nightgarden’ EP which will be featured on the upcoming double album. Can you reveal some information about the upcoming album?
Brian: It’s going to be about 80 minutes of music. About 8 or 9 tracks. All stuff composed during initial COVID quarantine lockdowns. Since we couldn’t go anywhere, we wrote and recorded prolifically for a few months, and we now have several albums worth of material. The versions of ‘Call The Doctor’ and ‘Nightgarden’ on the EP are exclusive to that release. The album will feature different versions, plus a lot more.
Ann: The songs on the album capture a lot of the feelings we experienced during initial lockdown, like uncertainty, grim resolution, sardonic humor, woe, and that scary manic sense of freedom-from-the-previous-normalcy that those of us who found ourselves suddenly unemployed may have experienced. There was a big, strange sense of potential in there as well, as long as we didn’t get too bogged down by the sorrow of our species.
What will be different this time around if we compare it to your latest ‘Transmission’?
Brian: ‘Transmission’ was one forty-minute song. The new album will have a lot more songs, but a longer overall running time. It will have more moods and changes. It will have some new and hopefully unexpected directions as well. It should be an interesting trip.
Ann: ‘Transmission’ has a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle playfulness to it, despite its depth and heaviness—this new one seems a lot more playful and, at times, uplifting, but the depths are there if you look for them.
How did it all start for you? Was there a certain moment when you knew you wanted to do this?
Brian: There were a few pivotal moments. My father taking me to see Kiss in 1977 when I was 10 made a big impression. And then 10 years later in 1987, being totally stone cold sober and seeing Butthole Surfers play the most mind-twisting, psychedelic rock show in a tiny, dirty hotel basement bar and thinking, “I could do this!”
Ann: The encouragement of friends brought me this life. I always admired the strange realities of touring musicians, but as a visual artist, I never dreamed being in a band would be in my future. I thank these friends for helping me out with my myopia!
Brian, Darsombra evolved from SUCKPiG. Can you tell us about the early beginning?
Brian: SUCKPiG originally started as a sort of studio side-project from my main band at the time, Meatjack. It was a testing ground and repository for some of my more musically abstract and weirder ideas and recordings, and something to do while Meatjack was inactive, which could be frequent because of all the lineup changes we went through. The only SUCKPiG album was self-released in 1998. I started playing live shows as a one-person band in 2001, and even did some short weekend warrior tours up and down the east coast, opening for bands like Mastodon, High on Fire, and Jucifer.
After Meatjack disbanded in 2005, right before my first big U.S. tour for SUCKPiG, and the upcoming release of its first official record label album, I decided I didn’t like the name anymore, and if I was going to do anything about it, this would probably be a good time to do so. With the help and inspiration of a good friend, I changed the name to Darsombra, which continued as a one-person project until 2010, when Ann Everton joined.
How did you meet Ann Everton and how did that evolve from being a visual artist to becoming a full time musician member?
Ann: Brian and I were in the same yoga class, so we connected initially through a shared passion that had nothing to do with art or music! But within maybe five minutes of talking to each other, we quickly found we were kindred spirits in our creative drives, tastes, and mindsets. At the time, 2009, I was a video artist pretty much exclusively, and Brian had a solo project. We both admired each others’ work, but again, myopia—we never imagined the sort of collaboration that lay in our future!
Brian: In 2010, a mutual friend of ours was curating a multi-arts event with music and other stuff, and asked if Darsombra would play, while Ann projected her video art. It sounded like a good idea, so we went for it. It was such a hit and we had so much fun that we decided to join forces.
Ann: Eventually, in 2013, a friend of mine encouraged me to join Brian on stage at one of our shows—at the time, I was in the band as a video artist and projectionist, so I was offstage working the videos while Brian performed solo. She told me, “You can do anything up there, even hold still, and it would be interesting. Just get up there!” So I joined him, singing at first, and then tapping out a few notes on the synthesizer, an instrument we had been discussing bringing into Darsombra’s music—the last thing I wanted to do on stage is hold still!
Okay, I’m gonna use this opportunity and kindly ask you if you can share a sentence or two about all of your albums that we haven’t discussed.
‘Ecdysis’: Darsombra’s first official release in 2006 on At A Loss Recordings. This was a sort of hodgepodge collection of songs, soundscapes, and pieces that Brian had been working on for the previous few years during Meatjack hiatuses. Early Darsombra was darker, noisier, more atonal and droney.
‘Deliriums & Death’ EP: Darsombra’s second release was a limited edition 3-inch CD on Public Guilt in 2007. Very droney, a little more fully realized than the first album, and the band was starting to bring in some less darker, more psychedelic ideas. The album is a pretty good representation of the live show at the time.
‘Eternal Jewel’: Released 2008 on Public Guilt. This was all taken from music that Brian had been commissioned to record as part of a theatrical production of Macbeth. It’s very dark and droney.
‘Nymphaea’: Also released in 2008 on Public Guilt. This was a limited edition release which included the Darsombra song ‘Nymphaea,’ and several remixed, reimagined versions of that song by various experimental artists all over the world.
‘Mega-Void’: Self-released in 2012 as a limited edition DVD, this is Darsombra’s first collaboration as a two-piece. It is made up of Ann’s video art, and recordings Brian had done in 2008. Sonically, it’s very similar to ‘Eternal Jewel’.
‘Climax Community’: Also released in 2012, this one on Germany’s Exile On Mainstream label. With this album the band started bringing in more psych, prog, and krautrock influences, and exploring lengthier compositions. Not quite as dark, droney, and noisy as earlier stuff.
‘Polyvision’: Released in 2016 on Translation Loss, this is the album where Ann makes her debut as a musical contributor to the band. It is a continuation of the psych, prog, krautrock direction and consists of two long songs.
‘Transmission’: Self-released in 2019. This is one 40+ minute song. This is like one big trip. It starts out kind of mellow, gets pretty heavy and dark, and even noisy at times, then we bring it back down to earth with a nice, trippy ride-off-into-the-sunset sort of ending, with chanting.
What about Meatjack? How did that come about? Originally were you called Stranger Than Fiction?
Brian: My brother Jason and I started jamming together and writing songs in our parent’s basement in Sykesville, Maryland in the late 1980’s. We both played guitar and thought it would be cool to have a band. We found a drummer and bass player, and by the end of 1988, we were playing local shows under the name Stranger Than Fiction, then shortly after, in and around Baltimore, Maryland. Over a few years, and a shifting lineup of drummers and bass players, we put out a few albums and did some light touring up and down the US east coast.
In 1993, our band was served with papers from a lawyer representing a band from Texas with the same name. They were challenging our pending band name trademark. They had been using the name longer than us, and were able to prove it legally. So that was that. At first we were kind of bummed out, but at that time the band was already in this transitional phase where we were changing our lineup and sound. So with all that going on, we took the enforced name change as an opportunity to sort of start from scratch.
So we changed the name to Meatjack in 1993. After a further series of bass players, Jason moved from guitar to bass around 1997, the band became a trio, and that’s when we really started to refine and define our sound. Meatjack put out several releases and toured the US pretty extensively. The band was active until 2005.
Then there was also Trephine and King Travolta?
Brian: Trephine was an amazing instrumental prog metal band from Baltimore and friends of Meatjack. We would often share shows and practice spaces with them. The music sounded like Slayer meets King Crimson meets a horror movie soundtrack. Around the time Meatjack was disbanding, Trephine asked if I would join as their bass player, since they were firing their current one. We had some fun shows and wild adventures for a few years. Darsombra’s first big tour was opening for Trephine right after I joined. Darsombra was still a one-man band, and it was fun doing double duty playing in both bands. It was a show for weirdos for sure.
King Travolta was a side-project of the band Fistula from Ohio. Meatjack played many shows with Fistula as well. They asked if I would contribute vocals to a song that they were putting on their album. They said each track on the album would feature a different vocalist. I thought it sounded like a good idea. They sent me the track to do my thing. I ended up recording not only vocals, but also a guitar lead, and a bunch of effects pedal noise. The band was kind enough to keep all of my contributions in the finished recording.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Brian: These days I’m really into buying stuff on Bandcamp or from bands directly on tour. Tonetta is still prolifically cranking out stuff. I’ve really been enjoying the Gemini Revolution, out of Kansas City. Some cool bands we’ve played with lately who have recent releases are All Souls, Cortège, Cadaverette, Cultic, Dead Register, The Three-Brained Robot, Doomstress, and always Stinking Lizaveta. Locally here in Baltimore, Quattracentra, Moth Broth, Katrina Ford, so, so many more I could name. My appetite for music is insatiable.
Ann: Brian and I live together, and there’s always a lot of music playing around the house, but we both tend to dive deep into a band and listen to their entire repertoire when we get into something—even the albums that the fans hate. So, some total-repertoire artists we’ve been enjoying these past few years have been Rush (naturally, we bonded over our love of Rush within the first 20 minutes of knowing each other), Sparks, Gary Numan (or, as we refer to him at chez Darsombra, “Gazza”), Grace Jones, Magma, Butthole Surfers, Black Flag (we’re on an exhaustive Henry Rollins kick right now) … that’s a very abridged list! Out of all of those artists though, I would recommend Grace Jones’ 2008 album, ‘Hurricane’.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Ann: Keep the faith, be a freak.
“It’s better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t done.” —Butthole Surfers
Headline photo: Julia Vering