Localized: Darling & Debonair
Gather ’round the campfire this March and enjoy the warmth of the soft, spirited sounds emanating from SLUG’s Localized showcase featuring the folk-blues-funk soundscape of duos Early Successional and Darling & Debonair with openers Columbia Jones and Blackout. Come to Kilby Court Thursday, March 16 (doors at 7 p.m., music at 8 p.m.) for a folkin’ good time. SLUG would like to thank Riso-Geist for sponsoring the event and Old Cuss Cafe for generously hosting the photoshoot.
A fortuitous meet-up at a house party and gathering place for local musicians prophesied 15 years of musical interweaving for Salt Lake artists Thom Darling and Claire Debonair. You may be thinking—as I originally was—that anyone with last names as perfectly complementary as “Darling” and “Debonair” were born to collaborate together. Although those aren’t their actual last names, Darling & Debonair have found a genuine musical partnership within their collaboration since becoming an official acoustic duet in 2020.
Debonair grew up performing for family and friends and singing along to old tapes, later graduating to performances at talent shows. “It took me a really long time to feel comfortable finding my power in singing; feeling like I belong on a stage without playing an instrument, just me and my voice,” she says. Recalling his own musical beginnings, Darling discovered the guitar at age 12, simultaneously realizing that the world can be a hard place to live in and that music could become an avenue to process life. “It’s almost spiritual in a way,” Darling says of his relationship with music and songwriting. “It’s like you’re waiting to receive something—you have to surrender. You can put in the work, but you have to hope and pray that something is going to hit.”
“We have all of these influences, and it’s really tough to put us in a label. We’re not just folk-y. We have some blues notes; we have old soul notes.”
Darling alternates between the guitar and the piano, which he explores in their upcoming 2023 album, and Debonair takes the lead on vocals. Both contribute to singing and songwriting, and they label themselves as such. “It’s two brains working on the same problem,” Darling says of their creative process. “It’s songwriting first and foremost. [Instrumentation] is a necessary piece of the puzzle so we can come in with the vocals. The emotional life is in our vocals, and the guitar is there to help us deliver that performance.” Inspired by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ work being labeled as singer/songwriter, the duo agrees that this description is the safest blanket-genre to be categorized under without feeling like their musical ceiling is too limited.
“Soul or folk or country or funk,” says Debonair when asked about the duo’s genre-defying sound. “We have all of these influences, and it’s really tough to put us in a label. We’re not just folk-y. We have some blues notes; we have old soul notes.” Within their upcoming album, Darling & Debonair worked on finding a home between being an acoustic, singer/songwriter duo with a live, intimate sound without becoming overproduced. With their previous 2022 release, Just Us Two, the duo presented a fully live recording. Darling says, “We were incredibly rehearsed and capable of performing these songs and capturing this moment … We were ready to do something like [a live album].”
The duo also cite Debonair’s affinity for NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series and Darling’s fondness for Jeff Tweedy’s Love is the King/Live is the King as inspirations for a more stripped-down sound during recordings. “I think with this [upcoming] album we’re trying to find a hybrid of live sound with studio production quality and instrumentation we can’t do live,” Debonair says. Mentioning their album releasing this year, Darling says listeners can expect themes of catharsis, mainly forgiveness and acceptance between themselves and the world.
“It’s like you’re waiting to receive something—you have to surrender. You can put in the work, but you have to hope and pray that something is going to hit.”
Discussing musical influences behind their sound, Debonair cites local artists as her current inspiration, but the pair recognize that the valley’s music scene has room for growth. “If we want a good music scene here that’s beyond just passion projects […] We need to step up and support bands. Music is something that I love and something that I have to do,” says Darling. Debonair adds, “I’m so grateful to the pandemic because it’s empowered artists to know their worth, and we now know that we can expect payment.”
Be sure to catch Darling & Debonair at SLUG’s March Localized, happening Thursday, March 16 at Kilby Court. You can listen to the duo on streaming services and find information regarding upcoming shows through their Instagram @darlinganddebonair.
Read more on local musicians with a blues/funk sound:
Local Review: Brother Chunky – Down Low
Local Review: Helichrysum – These Apes Think They Heady
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