Darlinghurst are a four-piece band who recently announced their arrival on the Australian country music scene – in great style – with the single ‘Sorry Won’t Get You Back’. The band is made up of singers Pagan Newman and Cassie Leopold, guitarist Matt Darvidis and songwriter Jason Resch. All four members sing, creating beautiful harmonies. All four also have extensive musical backgrounds, and I found out more about Pagan Newman’s when I spoke to her recently.
You’ve been a musician for a while. When did music first come into your life and what did you grow up listening to?
I started singing lessons when I was about eight years old. Growing up, I think my big main influences were Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, I was very much R’n’B, soul, pop influenced. I did countless amounts of tribute acts growing up and into my twenties. Then I met Cassie and we started playing together and we have over the last eight, nine, ten years. That’s when the country stuff started coming in because of the harmonies and the stories. We love harmonising together and I think a lot of those songs really stuck with us.
You mentioned tribute acts, and of course that’s different to playing covers because it’s a whole concept. Which sorts of tribute acts were they?
The first one was a Meatloaf tribute act, and I did all the female parts, obviously, which was slightly outrageous.
Was it fun?
It was so much fun. I was 18 and that was all really new to me and I was thrown back a little bit, but it was very fun. Then with Cassie we were doing a whole heap of seventies and eighties. We did ABBA, soul sisters, we did Beach Boys [laughs]. I’m probably missing a whole heap, but we delved into a lot of them.
From a vocal point of view, that’s a lot of different things going on there and different styles. Given that you started having voice lessons when you were eight, do you draw a lot on your technical knowledge for how to interpret these different songs or do you have enough experience now that you tend to go on feel?
I think it’s a bit of both, really. I now teach as well, music and singing. I think a lot of it is being able to use your voice to adapt to different styles and getting the feel for the song and the genre as well just picking up how you feel about interpreting in your own way.
And you and Cassie sound so great together. Obviously you have been singing together for a while. When you started, though, was it an instinctual thing to harmonise with each other? Did you sort it out pretty easily?
Yes, I think we did. We found out really quickly which one sat better. Normally I take the higher harmony and Cassie takes the lower, but depending on the song that all changes, and I think it clicked instantaneously. And once it did we thought, okay, we don’t really want to sing with anyone else.
And that must be a really lovely feeling. I would imagine it’s really hard to find someone so compatible musically with you.
One hundred per cent, especially when we have two totally different voices, and to get the blend that we feel that we get, it’s very hard to get. So when you find that you don’t really want to let it go.
Except, of course, two did become four in the new band. How did you meet the others?
It’s been absolutely amazing. We met through a mutual producer and everything just clicked so quickly. We get along with the boys so well and writing has come really easily. One of the songs that will eventually be on the album was the first song we ever worked together. So we’re really happy with how it’s going.
It sounds like there wasn’t much adjustment for you and Cassie going from that duo into a quartet. I would think after doing it for a while you would have your own way of working, but it seems like that hasn’t impeded you working with the others.
Not at all. I think we’re pretty adaptable. We’re pretty cruisey girls. When we first started writing – we started with Jase then Matt joined – we all just really got along and we got the vibe that everything was working. It was surprisingly so easy.
Some might say it was meant to be. And I do think there is an element of that with bands like this.
It definitely feels like it at this point [laughs]. I think we’re all pretty grateful for finding each other, to be honest.
I think you can hear that element of it being meant to be in the song. When I first heard the song I thought, This sounds like a band that’s been together for a long time.It’s a really cohesive song. Everything’s really tight. It’s unusual when it’s your first single to have a sound that mature a work, but now I’m understanding more why it is.
Oh, thank you. We only really had our first performance together in May. It’s been a bit of a slog at getting the songs right and getting everything right. It means when we started properly playing with each other we thought, Yep, this feels right.
Now I have to mention this because I’m in Sydney and Darlinghurst is a place in Sydney. You’re all from Melbourne yet your band is named after a place in Sydney. So how did the name come about?
So we struggled to find a name. We struggled for so long. Cassie has written a movie script which was called Darlinghurst. It’s a musical movie. I think as a joke she said, ‘So what about Darlinghurst?’ I said, ‘Done.’ And Jase said, ‘Done.’ And that was the only name that we could all agree on.
Now this means that if the movie goes ahead you’ll have to all do the music on it.
Absolutely. I’ve already saying, ‘I’ve got a lead part. Right?’
I think that’s totally reasonable. You mentioned that when you and Cassie were singing together as a duo that you came to country music. Given that you do have such a diverse background, I would think as a band you could have gone a number of ways because the boys also have a range of music in their backgrounds. So as a band, did that decision to be in country music come very naturally? Was it just that when the songs started to come that’s the sort of songs they were?
Yes. And I think that it’s not straight country music because of our diverse styles and our backgrounds and all the rest of it. Different songs have a bit of a pub-rock crossover, some of them have a bit of soul, some of them have a bit of a folky thing. I think because of that our songs have a slight difference. And we all love the country vibe about it.
Yes, there are elements of rock and pop. The storytelling side of things, for me, is what usually tips it over into being defined as country.
For sure. And being able to actually sing what you want to sing about is a big thing that drew us to country as well.
Country music in Australia is an industry. There are many artists in it and it has its own festivals. Are you feeling quite engaged with the industry yet or are you just starting to make those relationships?
I think Groundwater was good for us because we were able to branch out and meet a few other artists and just go out and immerse ourselves and watch a few other artists. So I think that’s helped. But we’re just the newbie, so we’re going to make our way in as much as we can and just really get into as much as we can as well.
To go back to talking about the single, you – as in, the band – have quite a lot of songs written already, so how did you come to choose ‘Sorry Won’t Get You Back’ as the single?
It was actually quite difficult, but I think we all had a vibe that the song had a lot of impact and a lot of other people that we’d shown it to as a test thought it was a cool song. So that helped, and we all really loved it so we all thought that that was the best place to start.
And shooting the video, the location looks perfect for the song, but also it’s a gorgeous place, wherever it is.
We flew up to the base of the Blue Mountains [NSW], near Richmond, and we shot there for a few days. The locations were absolutely amazing and we were absolutely freezing, but it was such a good time. We all had a ball and can’t wait to do the next one.
And on the question of the next one, given that you had so many songs written, I’m guessing there’s an album in your near future or at least a new single coming soon.
We are focusing on this first one, but there’s definitely a second single and an album most likely at the end of this year. But this first single is our focus for the short term just to see how it all goes.
With the backgrounds you all have, I don’t get the sense that you’re putting it out just to wait and see. It seems more of an announcement than a test flight, if that makes sense.
For sure. We’ve all been doing this for as long as we can remember, so we’re going to make as much as we possibly can.
You have been in music for a while, and you’re now teaching –what are the joys of being a musician?
This is all I’ve ever known, so to be able to do what you love constantly is the most amazing thing possible. You see lots of people who struggle with what they do and not like what they do, and the fact that we get a chance to do what we absolutely love every day except when you can’t take for granted.
Have you ever had moments of not being in love with it?
Oh, isn’t that wonderful?
Yes. There have been certain times when I haven’t liked the environment or a certain band, but knowing that you can always go to your room and have a bit of a sing to just escape a little bit, that’s always what it’s been for me.
If someone’s a guitarist, they can put the guitar in a case and they can tune it and all those sorts of things. To have the instrument within your own body would require a bit of care. Are there certain things you’ve done over the years to protect your voice? Certain lifestyle things or just staying away from hard situations? I would imagine emotions affect the voice quite a lot.
For sure. And I think that’s where technique definitely comes into it. The more you know how to support around your voice, that’s the most important thing. Because if you can do certain things to help you along the way, especially when you’re feeling crappy or you’re not having the best day or you’re feeling sick, if you can find out ways within yourself how to work slightly around it I think that always helps. But trying to get enough sleep and trying to do all the right things always helps as well.
I sometimes wonder when you’re a singer as great as you are, if there’s a sense that the voice doesn’t always entirely belong to you.
Yes, and I think too when you are singing from your heart, when you’re singing emotionally, it does take you to somewhere else. You do escape from the rest of yourself and that’s something that’s so special about it.
And also something wonderful that can connect with people straightaway when they’re in your audience.
If you’re feeling what you’re singing, then hopefully it conveys to whoever is watching and listening.
Now, Darlinghurst is a four-piece band and you and Cassie were a duo. Have you ever been tempted to work alone or do you think your best in collaboration?
When I was younger I did, then ever since Cassie and I started and then we started playing with the boys, the vibe that you get with the rest of them on stage and the harmonies you get, and the friendship and the bond that we all have is way bigger than something you can get on your own.
Tamworth seems a long way off but at this time of year I start to ask people about their plans. So I think it’s natural to ask if Darlinghurst will be at the country music festival next year.
We are hoping and praying and trying our best to get spot because that would be amazing, but we’ll just have to wait and see how we go.