The history of UK rock music comprises a succession of outspoken personalities. Key provocateurs from past decades include foul-mouthed punk Johnny Rotten, belligerent vegetarian Morrissey and baffled egotist Liam Gallagher. In recent years it’s been serial fuck-up Pete Doherty, cartoonish saviours Kasabian and eloquent heir to the throne Alex Turner perpetuating the lineage of outspoken rock’n’rollers.
Emerging less than a year ago, Blackpool three-piece Darlia are currently exciting UK audiences with their brash yet melodic take on guitar music. And the trio’s frontman and songwriter Nathan Day doesn’t hesitate to voice his bold ambitions.
“I don’t care how it sounds, it’s the truth: I’m playing a game, I’m antagonising,” he says. “I’ve always liked rock music. I liked that there was less bullshit and they weren’t trying to fool you. For example, John Lennon or Bob Dylan, they’re just using a guitar to convey something. I love that and that’s what the core of [Darlia] is. It’s using a guitar to say, ‘I’m not fucking about, I’m just doing something.’”
As soon as Darlia’s debut EP Knock Knock landed last October, the group’s sonic semblance to both grunge and Britpop led the UK press to nominate them as harbingers of a new rock revival. Day is aware of garnering comparisons to such iconic forebears, but recapitulating the 1990s’ major rock movements wasn’t the intention.
“I don’t want to be a grunge band at all,” he says. “I’m not a fan of grunge, I don’t love grunge, I don’t have anything to do with grunge. The only thing that ties me and the ’90s together is the fact that I was born in ’94.”
Given that Darlia’s peroxide-blonde creative force is only 20 years old, it’s fair to assume he’s still cultivating a songwriting personality and developing the band’s sound. Conversely, Day says he’s been working towards this project for years.
“I’ve known what I’m doing since a young age. I’ve planned it all. I know what I’m doing. That’s the way I’m rolling. I’m doing it my way and what works and what stinks, with what I’m doing, is what happens.
“Before I’d even met Dave [Williams, bass] and before I’d even met Jack [Bentham, drums], I had albums’ worth and albums’ worth [of songs] ready. I knew how things would unfold, even the bad side of things. I knew that we’d get compared to grunge bands. For the time being I know that what we’re doing sounds grungy and I know that it sounds poppy and grunge-poppy. But in time it will be truly what I meant it to be.”
While the UK music press has a tendency to make exaggerated proclamations about paradigm shifts in rock music every other month, hindsight suggests that nothing from the last few years justifies use of the terms ‘movement’ or ‘revolution’. However, Day believes the time for a change is here. “In 2000 and 2001 there was new wave of new guitar and it was like, ‘This is the new noise,’ as opposed to the ’90s. I think that restarted in maybe 2012, but did not actually happen at all. Then in 2013 it was like, ‘Is it going to happen? No it’s not.’ And then, 2014 – ‘OK, yes it is.’”
Day might be confident that a real resurgence is upon us, but he’s not necessarily satisfied with the work of his contemporaries. “There’s a lot of bands that I like what they’re doing,” he says, “but there’s no message and there’s nothing that you can take from that.
“Last year I did not read the NME, I didn’t read any music magazines, I didn’t care about anything. But I was kind of aware that Palma Violets and Peace and Swim Deep and anyone who basically held a guitar – that was cool again. And I knew that this was starting again, this whole guitar bollocks.”
Bollocks? Surely the guitar’s return to the spotlight is a positive shift for a band in Darlia’s position. Well, to paraphrase Morrissey, Day stresses that simply playing an electric guitar is not enough to make you a rock’n’roll star.
“That’s what annoys me, because if you’re a session musician and you’re playing for Florence And The Machine, for example … it does not make the genre; what you hold in your hand.
“The Prodigy – I would say that’s got rock and that’s got punk inside it. I don’t even think there’s a single guitar, apart from a few tracks, but they’ve got more punk than anything that’s around today. What really pisses me off is when people are not rock’n’roll and they’re not punk but they are conveying that false image by holding a guitar and using that as imagery.”
Fair enough. There have been plenty of bands and artists through history who’ve utilised the guitar as their primary tool without producing music appropriately deemed ‘rock’ or ‘punk’. But if Day’s willing to make these hard statements, what does he believe it is that properly constitutes rock music?
“The human species is a primal thing and we act on instinct,” he says. “Instinct is raw and instinct is basic. I think that if you’ve got a guitar in your hand, a drummer and a bassist – that’s instinctive, that’s primal. You’re just doing it, you’re not fucking about with any politics.”
Darlia are playing at Splendour In The Grass 2014 with Outkast, Two Door Cinema Club, Lily Allen, Foster The People, London Grammar, Darkside and heaps more at North Byron Parklands from Friday July 25 to Sunday July 27. They’ll also be playing a sideshow at Oxford Art Factory on Thursday July 24 supporting Skaters, tickets online. Candyman out now through Dew Process / Universal.