Jon Darling
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Jon Darling

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Alternative Singer/Songwriter

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Despite the ‘sold out’ marquee, the Bowery Ballroom was actually penetrable last night (Oct. 18); evidence that CMJ ‘07 is kickin’ some serious booty, perhaps? Is New York City wearing you down, dear festival attendees?

But while the venue was chiefly vacant, the stage was a different story — openers the Grey Race deserve an award for max sonic capacity, squeezing drummer Ethan Eubanks in a five-foot space amidst every subsequent acts’ equipment. It didn’t faze the recent Unfiltered Records signees as they made light of the dinky crowd, dropping clever lyrics about the meaning of the world (“On the Chin”) and giving between-song props to purveyors of sudsy good times, Miller and Bud. The trio are an odd mix of West Coast percussion (Eubanks), New York City rhythms (Jeff Hill/bass) and New Zealand wit (Jon Darling/vocals), that, partnered with some demonic pop duel harmonies, bring back those days of sweet album-dependent, late ‘90s alt-rock a la the Wallflowers. But here, quite a few shades darker, as broadcasted on the set’s standout track, “Goodbye to You,” which could have been a Queens of the Stone Age B-side.
- SPIN


“I need to leave the cracks and creases in,” sings Grey Race front-man Jon Darling on “Cracks”. You’d never know it by listening to Give It Love. On the debut by his trio, Darling’s repeated efforts to plummet into the craggy abyss are cushioned by the tightly layered acoustic and electric guitars, brush-stroked waltz tempos and subtle orchestration. (Vibes anyone?) A New Zealander living in New York, Darling displays a near-perfect mastery of the endless contradictions posed by mood and melody, playing the languid off the lustrous with the skill of an artist who’s been doing this sort of thing far longer. (Think XO-era Elliot Smith, Big Star’s Chris Bell or even Paul McCartney’s more somber moments) Credit Darling with finding quality help in the form of seasoned bassist Jeff Hill (Rufus Wainwright) and drummer Ethan Eubanks (Ivy). You’d never know it, but Give It Love’s expansive sound was hashed out in Hill’s Brooklyn bedroom with a drum set, ProTools, a Mac and a few microphones. Darling’s vocals – a resonant, if largely one-dimensional, instrument – perfectly convey an expat’s sense of longing and culture shock. An edgy detachment looms over Give It Love, from a deceptively serene paean to excess (“Stop Before You Start”) to a wickedly dead-on reflection on the perils of band leadership (“On The Chin”). “Lights Out”, a perky charmer, slams the door shut on the album with a giddy Britpop flourish: “Lights out for now/Lights out forever” goes the chorus. Forever, whatever. Here’s to brilliant beginnings.



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- MAGNET


Life is not as gloomy and wistful as The Grey Race’s name would have you believe. Despite the pessimism, the aptly titled Brooklyn band’s debut is a dreamy, cleverly disguised pop record that flirts with proggie post-punk and hints at the more clear-headed moments of the psychedelic movement. Singer and guitarist Jon Darling’s moody, reverb-laden fairy tales soar with elegance and sophistication alongside the band’s detached, atmospheric divergence with Darling passionately brooding over the death of a lover while the guitars pluck and dart, shrouded in mystery. It’s a very airy and opaque song, despite the rudimentary instrumentation, and is one reason the band’s sound remains fresh and interesting throughout the 4—minute disc. At times the three-piece’s precocious pop finds itself contradicted by a romance with dark, orchestral textures. The tension-building is emblematic of a group lingering between the overt and nocturnal side of chamber pop. For such a small outfit, The Grey Race gracefully retains depth and precision in songs like “Straight For The Middle” and “The Johnsons”, which both feature simple, tactful acoustic guitars and melodic vocal harmonies one moment before shifting towards a fuller, more dynamic verve the next. Give It Love is a solid introduction to a band musically mature beyond their years.
- CMJ


Paste Magazine
4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Culturally speaking, 2007 has been New Zealand’s year. The breakthrough of The Brunettes, Flight Of The Conchords, the debut of Liam Finn and a new album by the reunited Crowded House all indicate a new level of brouhaha simmering down under Down Under.

The Grey Race, a Brooklyn three-piece built around the songs and voice of Kiwi Jon Darling, might be Wellington’s newest outpost for aesthetic diplomacy. Produced by bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Ethan Eubanks, the band’s debut, Give It Love, makes a serious run for the gold medal in this year’s Pop Masterpiece competition, without ever revealing any overt ambition toward it.

This album is what might’ve happened if Elliot Smith had been blessed with Ray Davies’ sense of humor and Coldplay’s self-esteem. The songs swirl and shimmer, gently oscillating in the gravitational pull between darling’s leathery falsetto and deceptively asinine lyrics. The centerpiece is “Cracks”, an unwilling anthem with a mantric chorus (“It’s easy without the pain/and twice as boring/mix it up and keep the blood flowing”) and a humble restraint applied to what is essentially the disc’s defining fuck-you moment. From here, Darling continues to ebb and flow between memories of childhood classrooms (“From Me To You”) and decidedly adult manipulations (“The Johnsons”) without so much as the flick of an eyelid. The music offers little resolution to these twists and turns, only the assurance that they’re all somehow connected in an infinitely circular scope.

But Give It Love is far from another listless exploration of ill-defined emotional states. The aggression of “On The Chin” is initially belied by the candid tones of Darling’s vocal delivery until-like the buzzing of a cracked bell-the chorus begins to resonate with disillusionment toward the song’s intended target. “Through Your Eyes” opens as a paean to a lost lover, but soon reveals an identity crisis; the protagonist doesn’t want the lover back, she just desperately needs to see the world the way she once did.

By allowing Darling’s transcendent melodies to be the primary color for his lyrical sketches, the band is never forced to back away from the inherent weight of his subject matter. In fact, it succeeds in spinning it all in a manner both arresting and empathetic, the kind of stuff that could just as easily be the soundtrack for a high-school make-out session as for a brutal divorce. Give It Love is a stunning debut, fully formed yet enigmatic enough to warrant suspicion that The Grey Race’s best work is yet to come.
- PASTE


Discography

Jon Darling (self titled EP)
The Grey Race EP
The Grey Race LP "Give It Love"

Photos

Bio

“I don’t really like the norm – I get a kick out of things that are a little messed up,” says Jon Darling, singer, songwriter and guitarist for The Grey Race. “Leaving the cracks and creases in, the imperfections, is attractive to me.” And who would expect anything less from a singer who, on his New York band’s eponymous debut album (due in September 2007 on Unfiltered Records) sings: You see it’s easy without the pain/ And twice as boring/ Mix it up/ And keep the blood flowing/ You know you can. Jon says of his collaboration with bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Ethan Eubanks, the pair he credits with designing The Grey Race’s sonic architecture: “We’ve got this sweet-and-sour thing going on. My stuff is pretty dark and moody, but Ethan and Jeff’s production brought a completely new dimension to it.” An unsettling lyric like Remember to turn the blade full circle, for instance, now swirls pleasantly atop an intoxicating waltz in “Straight For the Middle.” With Ethan and Jeff’s discovery of Jon’s treasure trove of songs, a lightning bolt struck the songwriter’s creative norm. “We loved Jon’s voice and envisioned this whole sound around him,” Ethan says. “We wanted to see what that voice could do if you put it right up front and arranged all the other musical elements strictly to complement it.” That entailed letting Jon’s acoustic playing take the lead and not relying on electric guitar to carry the songs. Confides Jon, who taught himself to play bar chords with a distortion pedal via Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Sepultura, “I have to admit that at first the production freaked me out. It wasn’t heavy. It was a brand new sound for me. But Ethan and Jeff’s instincts were right on, and now I can’t imagine these songs any other way.” Jon’s own musical instincts were developed as a lad growing up in New Plymouth, New Zealand. He stumbled onto songwriting after learning The Cure’s “10:15 on a Saturday Night.” “I figured out how to play it, and I was blown away,” he recalls. Ethan hails from the San Francisco bay area and has spent the last 10 years recording and performing with many singer songwriters and bands including Ivy, where he met Andy Chase, who mixed the record and EP and ultimately signed them to his label. Jeff Hill, who was raised in New York tri state area, is one of New York cities most respected bass players and he has shared the stage with many greats including a long standing stint with Rufus Wainwright both in the studio and his touring band. The songs populating the Grey Race CD and EP (slated for a summer 2007 release) were recorded with a little drum set, a ProTools rig, a Mac, and a few basic microphones in Jeff’s bedroom in Brooklyn, NY. Friends (including Tracy Bonham, for whom Jon plays guitar) and family (Julia Darling, Jon’s singer-songwriter sister) were called in to lend backup vocals, keyboards, vibes and strings, all contributing to a richly textured, deeply atmospheric sound that belies its humble origins. “The process of making this record was so great,” Ethan attests. “We were doing it for the love of it.” Without a record deal, says Jeff: “There was really no purpose except trying to make some cool music. And we didn’t labor over it.” The resulting EP (boasting a brilliant cover of The Zombies “Care of Cell 44”) and full-length debut are windows into the particular way Jon seems to have lived his life since leaving New Zealand for America. Certain themes emerge, however. Album standouts “Goodbye to You,” “The Johnsons” and “The Stop Inside Your Start” limn the pitfalls of too much of a good thing. Jon notes of the latter, “That’s a reminder to myself of how excited about life and excessive I get, and how I tend to jump the gun on things like drinking and partying. The best lesson for me to learn is to stop before it starts.” The lovely “Through Your Eyes” finds Jon thinking wistfully of an old girlfriend. “Taking It on the Chin” suggests his ambivalence about fronting a band, an issue that has receded of late. “I feel comfortable performing with The Grey Race,” he reveals. “It’s a nice little unit, a real collective. It makes me feel at home.” “Try Not to Think” is about songwriting itself. “The standard format of songwriting doesn't appeal to me,” Jon opines. “I’d rather just try to let something flow freely from my mind into the song.” In fact, The Grey Race has not been run on a straight line; it twists and turns through unexpected tributaries. It is alternately muscular and delicate, melancholy and amused, pop and something decidedly uncharted. “I think this sound is quite different from a lot of stuff that’s happening in music now,” Jon ventures. “I couldn’t begin to say what bandwagon it would jump on. But I find that interesting – I think that’s exactly why people should give it a listen.” ..

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