With a Nod to Faulkner, Band Offers Operetta
Story & Photos by Matt DeBow
“Drink first, before the world ends,” a tall man holding a small mandolin tells a sparse crowd at the Axe and Fiddle in Cottage Grove. The public house is dimly lit by a candle at each table as the man starts to play a “folksy and forlorn ballad” with his group, Strangled Darlings. The Portland-based group includes the mandolin player George Veech (who also contributes vocals and banjo) and Jess Anderly (cello and saw). They’re currently on tour to promote their latest album, The Devil in Outer Space: An Operetta.
Despite the name, the album sounds nothing like a futuristic opera set in outer space. Rather, it is an eclectic mix of instruments ranging from the trumpet and washboard to the vibraphone and organ. This variety comes from the contribution of eight additional musicians to the album. The core of Strangled Darlings is the duo of Veech and Anderly, who during their live shows play with whoever is available. For the April 8 show at the Axe and Fiddle, the only extra musician is Sharon Cannon but the songs lack none of the emotion from The Devil in Outer Space. Throughout the show, Cannon’s violin is immaculate, even when she begins hula hooping while playing.
The duo intertwines classical music with modern indie stylings. Veech is a self-taught musician of only a few years while Anderly is classically trained and has played since “I could walk.” Their blend of modern and classical is exemplified by the track “Circus,” which opens with a long sustained and high pitched violin note (played by Cannon). The violin continues on in a classical style while a mandolin begins a more modern and simpler riff and a washboard provides rhythm as the singer raps about joining the circus in Georgia.
Although Veech says the duo’s sound is “all folk music probably,” that seems an unlikely genre for Strangled Darling’s range of styles. Anderly’s cello playing resembles classical and the mandolin and banjo provide simple sounds compared to the complicated overtones of the cello and violin.
The third song on the album, “Mousetrap,” starts with a soothing melody while Veech sings about a woman doing dishes. Everything sounds perfect with the music going only happily. Then about a minute into the song the tempo wanes and the cello plays a creepy melody with high notes from a vibraphone as Veech whispers about ghosts in the attic. Suddenly, the song is no longer about a woman with the perfect family.
“['Mousetrap' is] my ode to the suburban meltdown,” Veech says. “I’m from the suburbs which nothing ever happens, except perfect families don’t act perfectly and then they start to implode.” The name, he explains, refers to people coming up with reasons to get along but ending up miserable.
As for the band’s own name, Veech says “strangled darlings” comes from a William Faulkner reference.
“[He said] you have to strangle your darlings, meaning that you have to be a good editor,” Veech says. “You write something you really like, but it doesn’t fit with your picnic story and you have to get rid of it so you have to strangle it. Jess and I have to be really severe in our editing which is why are songs are so short.”
They may feel that there songs are short, but they are the perfect length to keep your attention. True to their name, the Strangled Darlings have gotten good at self-editing.