As a child, Jessi Darlin and her brother Emmett followed the creek that ran by the farmhouse where her family lived. They hoped to make it all the way to Lake Cumberland. There, they had been told, lurked a mythical beast, a terror of backwoods legend. “There was this rumor that there were giant catfish that lived in the lake — man-sized, man-eating catfish,” Darlin says.
Fortunately, they had some help. A kind soul told them exactly where they could find the killer catfish. “He told us he hiked five miles down our creek, a long time ago before we ever lived there,” she says. “He said there was a catfish that got caught in a pool and just kept growing, getting bigger and bigger.”
Looking back, they say the kind soul was probably full of shit. Not only did he have teardrop tattoos on his face, but he was probably out of his mind on meth. But back then, Darlin didn’t know any better.
As fate would have it, Darlin and her brother never found the catfish, but years later, those days inspired the whimsical and ultra-catchy “Be Your Bro,” one of many standout tracks on Screws Get Loose, the latest from the Nashville-based band (Jessi Darlin on guitar/vocals, Nikki Darlin on bass/vocals, and Linwood Regensburg on drums/vocals). On “Bro” Jessi Darlin laments, tongue firmly in cheek, “I just want to, I just want to, be your brother/ You just want to be my boyfriend/ I just want to play in the dirt with you/ You just want to stick it in.”
And that’s not the only time on Screws Get Loose where Darlin lets her funny flag fly. Take the title track for instance. On this peppy Pixies-meets-the-Ronnettes mash-up about a neurotic Nelly, she sings, “I went to the doctor/ I guess I must’ve shocked her/ when I told her what my troubles were ’bout/ She didn’t understand me/ said I’m too demanding/ and they don’t just hand that stuff out.”
Like “Bro,” “Screws” was also inspired by real-life events, in this case, a first-time trip to New York City that Darlin took on an all-too-rare break. She went alone. “I was nervous about everything. Everything was just freaking me out,” she says. “It was all getting to me and I remember thinking that this is just how it’s going to be the rest of my life. I’m just going to slowly fade into crazy.”
These days Darlin has learned to embrace her nutty side. “For me, whenever I feel bigger and better and stronger, I have to go into this weak self and accept the craziness and accept my own insanity and say, this is OK, and try to harness it and turn it into something,” she says.
Thankfully, Darlin has decided that the looney bin isn’t such a bad place after all. In addition to playing in the band, she’s also a visual artist. One of her biggest successes so far is a collection of hand-drawn cards featuring some of America’s nastiest gunslingers and gangsters. As for why she chose this particular subject matter, Darlin says, “I like the fact that some people see them as murderers and thieves, just general bad people, and some people see them as heroes and revolutionaries, rebels.” She adds, “I don’t know if it’s anyone’s place to say if they were one or the other.”
Darlin currently sells the tiny portraits on her Etsy site, and the side biz is treating her quite well. However, she isn’t much of an Etsy fiend herself. She jokes, “I save most of my money for drugs.”