Interview by Sarah Williams.
If you have haplessly stumbled across Shout Louder in the past, you may have heard us mention Darko once or twice. They were our Album of The Year 2017, one of the top acts at Punk Rock Holiday and a lot of other shows. Okay, so maybe we’re a little obsessed with them. Shuttup.
We love them enough that we have convinced them to play our birthday party (Feb 2nd at The Smokehouse in Ipswich) as a warm up for their album anniversary party on February 3rd. They are throwing a big shindig at The Boileroom in Guildford to celebrate a year since the release of their incredible melodic hardcore opus Bonsai Mammoth.
Darko have been around for quite a few years and have always struck me as one of the most talented, hardworking and savvy bands in the scene. Their recordings and their live shows are delivered with stark in-the-moment passion, but there’s an intellectual undercurrent that shines in many of their lyrics and their complex compositions.
To get to know them a bit better, I spoke to guitarist Rob Piper, who also looks after the infamous Lockjaw Records, home to some impressive punk and hardcore acts.
It’s nearly a year since you released Bonsai Mammoth. I’m sure I’m not the only one to put it in my top picks of 2017. How have you found the reaction to it?
Well firstly, thanks loads for your support and kind words about the record; it means alot to know people are enjoying the album. This year has flown past. We’ve had a lot of fun touring the new tracks, hearing people’s reactions and seeing people sing or scream along with us.
Darko had been together for a long time before Bonsai Mammoth, so it feels like success has been a slow burn for you. Do you think there was a particular turning point for the band?
For me I think the biggest success with Darko was finding four other members that can put up with each others shit and share the same ‘can do’ attitude to just go for it, unphased by how popular the genre is, just doing it because we love playing our music live. When we first started the band I had no idea we would be touring Japan and touring to Greece and back. Since releasing our very first EP in 2010, we have hit lots of milestones which I would class as successes. I think myself fortunate for the experiences we have shared and hopefully will share in the future.
Where did the title Bonsai Mammoth come from?
From what I remember, the original phrase was coined on one of the many long van journeys across mainland europe, most probably scooting the autobahn. A plethora of seemingly random phrases and noises are produced from the cabin on these journeys. A lot of it is bollocks but some is thought provoking and meaningful… In some opinions.
With Sea of Trees, Bonsai Mammoth and a lot of the lyrical content in a lot of your songs, there seems to be an underlying nature theme. Is that a deliberate choice? If not, why do you think that theme comes across?
From Trust to Conformity and the Sea of Trees EP both follow a concept which involves nature versus machine, so I’d say it was more intentional in those two records than the full length. Nature is a such an epic spectrum; it encompasses the reasons why we are alive and how we interact with the earth. I think it’s important for all of us in the band to recognise this and, when writing, it makes sense to use nature to help describe scenes and relay emotions with metaphors. I think each of our personal ecosystems can be compared to the planet and being aware to treat ourselves with respect, as we need to do to the world, to try and avoid the heavy pressures causing poor health.
I heard that you offered an ‘essential’ beard oil with your US release of Sea of Trees / From Trust To Conformity. Is there any chance of you offering bonsai trees as a bonus item? I want one.
Oh yeah! I almost forgot about that. Those essential oils where hand blended by a friend too. We would of love to put trees with Bonsai Mammoth, but I think it would of been a minefield trying to get them out to people. The beard oil was hard enough in the end. Maybe seeds… maybe next time.
You’re celebrating the anniversary by putting on gig at The Boileroom in Guildford. It’s unusual to celebrate an album anniversary, but I like it! How did the idea for the Bonanza come about?
We are indeed and to be honest, any excuse for a party, eh! After playing the Punkle Fester all dayer put on by the awesome dudes in Captain Trips I was having a chat to a local promoter and we came up with the idea.
What are you most looking forward to about the show?
6 hours of awesome live punk rock, hanging out with mates and beers, and seeing Actionmen again!
Rob, you also run Lockjaw Records. Have you got any exciting news you can share with us?
Indeed I do. As some may have heard, we have the new full length from Drones which I’m super excited to show the world. Two of the singles are already out so go check ‘em! The release will be on CD and super reeeem purp vinyl.
Also this week I’ve been finalising the plans for Waterweed coming over to the UK. If you haven’t heard of them they are a bloody awesome band from Japan.
Darko played with them on a half pipe in a skate park when we were out there and they smashed it. We are releasing their new album Brightest in the UK and Europe and they will be playing Manchester Punk Fest and touring the mainland after.
What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about running a record label?
I find a lot of enjoyment from running a label. It’s great to be able to work with bands from over the world, it’s great when you get people say they discovered the music through the label, as it makes me feel I’ve done something right. The biggest challenge is spending enough time on it as it’s a part time job alongside many other things I do.
Traditionally record labels had a lot of control over releases, but now the responsibility seems to lie with the band while the label offers support. As someone who is part of both a successful band and label, what do you think is the main role of a label nowadays? Do you think it’s changing?
I think this is the case with labels our size especially. As far as I know, major labels still keep a lot more control on releases. That’s not really the point for me, it’s more to facilitate something I already enjoy. Depending on when we get involved with the production cycle we still give feedback on demos and creative elements, but that’s more of a support than demand. I think labels still offer that stamp of approval; I often discover new music though Big Scary Monsters, Specialist Subject, TNS, Umlaut, just as I would religiously listen though the Fat Wreck compilations when I was younger to discover new music.
2017 was a big year for Darko! You had the album release, lots of UK gigs an a European tour. What was your highlight?
Wow, tricky question. It was great to finally get a full length out and we played a couple of release shows in Guildford and our second home Nuremberg in Germany, which where both smashing. Touring with Rebuke is always a pleasure and we got to hangout for an entire month. Such a great band and awesome people.
Skate-punk or melodic hardcore doesn’t seem to be as popular in the UK as it is in mainland Europe. How does the reception differ when you’ve toured overseas?
I think there are pockets all over the world where the genre is still more alive and the nice thing about touring mainland is that you can access so many countries and cities easily. The first few times we went on tour out of the UK we definitely noticed much more buzz from the audiences. Maybe it’s the intrigue, as we had come further, maybe it is more popular out of the UK. The UK still has its die hard fans and some absolutely cracking bands and I feel there is still an energy here.
Are you planning to tour or record any new material this year?
We have a couple of pretty epic tours that we will be announced shortly so watch this space. In regards to new music we are demoing some new material but won’t likely have anything out for a while, as we really want to make sure the follow up from Bonsai Mammoth is acceptable.
Finally, what’s Darko’s New Year’s resolution in 2018?
Get to a new continent and a second album of new tracks.
Shout Louder are putting on Darko in Ipswich on February 2nd, along with Actionmen, PMX and Pessimist, as part of my (Sarah’s) inability to let a birthday slide by without celebrating with beers, friends and face-melting noises. Come party with us! There is more information on the Facebook event, and Mark Bell’s done a rad poster for us:
Darko have curated their own punk-stravaganza at The Boileroom in Guildford on February 3nd. There’s more info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/149807238985753/
Finally, if you’ve been living under a rock for the last 12 months, this might be a good time to go part with some cash for a copy of Darko’s stunning good album, Bonsai Mammoth. It’s available from Lockjaw Records.