The band Darlingside drew its name from an old chestnut for writers - the instruction to "murder your darlings." (Killing your darlings would be "darlingcide," which is made softer and more enticingly opaque as Darlingside.)
All the band members met at Massachusetts' Williams College, at which they heard that advice in class.
Guitarist/singer Don Mitchell explained it this way in a recent phone interview promoting his group's November 12 show at the Redstone Room: "You should be willing to get rid of the things that were initially what made you excited about the work, because those ... tend to be the clever ones; those ... tend to be the most indulgent moments. You might need ... to blow up the song in order to put it back together and continue to move forward."
That's an important lesson for songwriting, but it also applied to this band as a whole, which has over the past year-plus reinvented itself - shifting from an atmospheric, earnest rock band to a folk outfit.
"We're a group of guys who wear our emotions on our sleeve a little bit, and we don't deal very well with the mystique side of things that's a little more important in rock music than it is in folk," Mitchell said. The change fostered more dialogue with the audience - with more conversation and storytelling.
"We are still playing the same songs, and I think our vocal harmonies in particular were always at the core of our rock sound," Mitchell said. But the new approach "speaks more to who we are as people. I think we're just playing to different strengths now."
The band started in 2006 and has had multiple iterations - although it settled on a quintet format when Mitchell joined in 2009. Its debut LP, 2012's Pilot Machines, certainly emphasizes the vocal harmonies in an indie-chamber-rock context, but it's hard to imagine it without the drums or the occasional blasts of rock majesty - such as buzzing guitar, throbbing bass, and aggressive strings on "Only Echoes," or the rhythmic core of "The Woods."
About a year and a half ago, however, Darlingside began playing as a quartet because of the spotty availability of its drummer and the types of rooms at which it was being booked.
"All four of us stood around one condenser mic in the middle, and we sort of get that bluegrass format of just getting closer to the mic when you need to be louder, for a given instrument or vocal," Mitchell explained. "We started doing that, but with our not-traditional-bluegrass music. That sort of has become the standard."
As a rock band, he said, it was difficult to get the proper vocal blend. Because the group features four vocalists in equal prominence, the vocals sometimes got "clouded over" when each singer had his own mic. "Now ... the blend happens before it hits the microphone, not after. So we're sort of taking out some variables."
Although the sound is quieter, the quartet still creates rich musical textures - with its members playing guitar, banjo, bass, violin, cello, and percussion. "We still have a really eclectic array of things that we're doing," Mitchell said.
The band's new sound is on display on the split EP Woodstock from earlier this year - which pairs Darlingside with singer/songwriter Heather Maloney - and the group plans to start recording a new album later this year.
Mitchell said that although "we don't think about it too often," the songwriting process forces Darlingside to abide by the "kill your darlings" advice inherent in its name: "Any given song has to run the gauntlet of all four of us."
Darlingside will perform on Wednesday, November 12, at the Redstone Room (129 Main Street, Davenport; RiverMusicExperience.org). Admission to the 7 p.m. show is free to River Music Experience members and $6.50 for nonmembers.
For more information on Darlingside, visit Darlingside.com.