BBT 1v1: Darlingside’s Dave Senft

By Matt Wickstrom

Darlingside has had a lot of “firsts” occur recently here in the bluegrass. Their first Kentucky show was May 2 when the Massachusetts quartet performed at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington as a part of Wood Songs Old-Time Radio Hour, and their first trip to the Moonshiner’s Ball in Berea will take place this Saturday at 8:30 pm. Big Blue Tunes recently scored an exclusive interview with Darlingside’s Dave Senft to discuss the band’s evolution, “Bird’s Say”, the creative process, and much more. Read the full interview after the break.


Matt Wickstrom: “I read that growing up your primary interest was computers, not music, despite growing up in a musical household. How and when did your primary focus shift from computers to music?”

Dave Senft: “You did some good research. I was always into music and had a musical background from my family and singing at family gatherings and that kind of thing. I was always very passionate about music, so I think it was just over the course of college I got more interested in songwriting and more comfortable performing, which was something I was definitely terrified of as a kid. I loved to sing, but couldn’t perform if you paid me. Through being in the a capella group and then taking a class at Williams College that sort of forced me to get over my fear of performing and get more comfortable performing songs I had written. Once I did that for a while — it’s addicting once you start doing that, and so I think once I graduated I tried to get a normal job and it didn’t work out. I’m really glad that it didn’t, because it really forced me to think about what I’d rather be doing and spend some time playing music on the streets instead of having a real job. I continued to get more comfortable doing that and more addicted to it, so once my friends, or Harris (the youngest), graduated and the band became sort of a viable thing that a number of people wanted to do, it became the easy, clear choice to move into a house together and see if we could make it work.”

MW: “You mentioned you spent some time busking. What were some things you learned or picked up on in your time playing on the streets?”

DS: “I think most of it was just getting comfortable performing around people. It was something I had done in the a capella setting, but I had only played a few times on guitar, so I wasn’t a very good guitarist. I was mostly playing cover songs and just building up a confidence to present and project and perform in front of a ton of people. It’s easier to start in front of a bunch of people you don’t know — half of them aren’t paying attention. You just gradually get more and more comfortable. I sort of became addicted to busking too. It’s really fun, especially if you do it with friends, so I ended up travelling around Europe a bit with some friends (who aren’t or are no longer in the band) busking along the way, trying to pay our way with the money that people threw at us. It’s a pretty fun thing, and not something that most people get to do, so it felt really cool to get to experience a lot of European countries that way. I highly recommend it to anyone just starting out in the music world. I always talk about how much busking helped me, and how much I think it can help anyone who’s interested in performing.”

MW: “Absolutely. I can’t tell you how many other musicians I’ve talked with who’ve also gotten their starts busking, Old Crow being one that really sticks out…”

DS: “And it’s also one of the only ways starting out. It’s so hard to get a gig anywhere, but you can always get one on the street, and it’s just a sure-fire way to get some kind of feedback and experience.”

MW: “I was with Darlingside’s latest album “Bird’s Say”, the album’s compositions were written over a three year span. During that time did you test any of the new songs out at shows, or were they all worked on privately amongst the band?”

DS: “So that period was sort of an unusual one, mostly because we had had a drummer prior to that, and he went on to pursue other things, and it was a very amicable split, but we had to figure out how to — we decided we didn’t want to replace him, and we were just going to do it without drums, and that required re-thinking the arrangements of the songs we were already playing and figuring out how to accommodate the new set-up and make the songs not feel like they were missing drums, but makes them feel like they are still powerful and connecting with people, so that took some tweaking. We spent a little while just figuring out how to play our old songs in the new format. Some of the songs that ended up on “Bird’s Say” we did start performing — “The Ancestor” was on the previous album (2012s “Pilot Machines”) so we’d been playing that for a while. “The God of Loss” — we actually tested that out. I remember busking that song, and we started performing it for a couple years before the album. “White Horses” and “Go Back” were two that came together a little bit before the album. We started playing those two live, but only for maybe a few months before we went in to record them. Most of the remaining songs were written in studio — we had never performed them, then once we released the album we had to figure out how to perform these live because we had never played them in front of people we had just come up with the parts in studio. We had a mix of songs we’d been playing for years and songs that we had never played, and everything kind of in between.”

MW: “I saw Boston got hit with a massive snow storm while you guys were in the midst of recording “Bird’s Say” as well?”

DS: “Yeah, Boston got absolutely hammered that winter. It was the most snow that had ever fallen in Boston in recorded history, and it all fell within a two week period, and that was the two week period that we were supposed to be in studio. The first two days we had to cancel because we couldn’t even move and there were travel bans so you couldn’t go anywhere. Once we were able to make it in it was still insane how much snow there still was everywhere. It took three times as long to get to the studio because of all the snow. For that reason I think of this album as a very snowy, wintry album. I don’t know if that comes across, but I just remember being so unbelievably sick of snow during that process.”

MW: “Did you guys trek to the studio every day during the snowstorm to record, or did you sometime have to stay there overnight due to the conditions outside?”

DS: “No. We travelled every day, because we all have significant others. We like to sleep in our own beds, be at home with our ladies and pets and all that. It was two weeks of hardcore studio time, and then it was sort of a longer period — we used a few different locations to record, so it wasn’t actually all in the same place, so that meant the schedule changed week-to-week as far as where we were going and what part of the recording we were doing, because we did vocals in one place and the majority of instruments in another. We also took a trip out to western Massachusetts to do some recording in a barn that belongs to a friend our ours, so there were a few different locations, but for the most part we were at home.”

MW: “I understand all four members of Darlingside work together to construct songs. What is that process like for you guys collectively, since songwriting usually seems to only fall on one or two members of a band?”

DS: “Every song is a little bit different, but the process is typically a slow one, because all four of us are always involved in every song, but not always at every step of the way, so sometimes a pair will split off and work on a song for a while and then bring it back to the group, and sometimes one person will present something half or mostly complete and the rest of us will finish it. Sometimes it’s the other way around — we’ll all start working on something, and then one person will finish it, so every song is different, but the main thing they have in common is that we all need to sign off on it. It’s pretty much a unanimous thing that if anybody is not digging a song we’ll try to keep working on it to figure out what’s going to make that person connect to and feel better about it, because we know if all four of us connect to a song, that’s a good sign that other people are going to connect to it too, and we have to play each song hundred and hundreds of times, so we want all four of us to feel really good about every moment we’re presenting as a band.”

MW: “Earlier this year the band won Best Artist at the International Folk Music Awards. I know sound wise you guys try not to pigeonhole yourselves into one category, but what does this kind of recognition mean to you and the rest of the band?”

DS: “That was an unbelievable honor. The coolest thing about it to me is the Folk Alliance community — there’s so many amazing artists that go to that conference and are a part of that community, and so the pool of artists that we were among for that honor was amazing. That conference, I don’t know if you’ve ever been, but you’re basically walking around a hotel where there’s music happening in every single room, and it blows your mind at how good it all is. We’re pretty new to that community, so to be honored and recognized that way when there’s so much good music happening is amazing. We’re hoping that since it’s an international thing that it’ll maybe open some doors for us overseas. I think that’s something on the bland business side of things that we’re really excited about. We’re going to England this summer and that’s the first time we’ve ever gone overseas as a band. It’s a really exciting time for us.”

MW: “Over your years of playing music, both solo and with Darlingside and other projects, what is something that music has taught you about yourself?”

DS: “It’s tough to narrow it down to one thing. This kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier, but just having anxiety about performing is something I’ve dealt with, much more so as a kid, but I still have it, and every time I go to perform I’m a little bit nervous. I think having that challenge every day and seeing that I’ve gradually conquered that anxiety, but still have to conquer it on a daily basis is something music has taught me. It’s a fight that you never totally win, even though you’re constantly winning little battles, there’s always the thought of a bigger show and getting nervous for that. It’s been a very cool way to realize that you can challenge yourself every day, and still be challenged by the same things, and it’s not something you’ll ever necessarily put behind you, but you’ll just keep putting more and more positive experiences under your belt and using those to believe in yourself a little bit more.”

To read more about Darlingside visit the band’s web site. To get more information about the Moonshiner’s Ball, including purchasing tickets, visit To view the original Kernel article as is on BBT, go here.


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