They’re American. They’re all female. They’re more rock than Gibraltar. Welcome to the fun-filled, sleaze-infused playground of The Darts. Photography by Armin Weisheit.
“We’re gonna conquer the world!” the punk queens of American girl band The Darts declaim as they arrive at Disorder Towers. With their signature black slip dresses tucked under leather jackets and sunglasses topping tousled hair or artfully smudged eyeliner, the quartet could be the house band for the Rocky Horror Show… let loose on the streets of London.
The Darts comprise black-banged bassist Christina Nunez, lone blonde Rikki Styxx (drums) and tomboy-in-a-minidress guitarist Michelle Balderrama, who all flew into London the night before this interview. Powerhouse but pint-sized lead singer Nicole Laurenne arrived the very same morning. Tonight is the kick-off of their tour across the UK into Italy, and the four agree that European hospitality is an upgrade. “In the States, you have to fight for every dollar,” Nicole says. “Here they’re like ‘hey, we’ll book you dinner and give you a hotel room and a green room full of wine.’”
The Darts’ musical genre, says Nicole, is garage-psych-rock, and ten years in the making. Michelle had played with Rikki, while Christina and Nicole enjoyed a successful run in garage rock band The Love Me Nots. They all had fan crushes on each other from afar. “When she plays, you just die,” Nicole says of Michelle. “She’s the dirtiest, nastiest guitar player you’ve ever heard.” Michelle says of Christina: “It was like, she will be mine.”
The vitality of being in an all-girl band is definitely a change for the better, Nicole says. “I’ll be like, ‘Okay you guys, we’ve gotta play at an ice cream parlour at six in the morning, be ready!’ And they’re like ‘Okay, let’s go!’ and they’re jumping on the tables.”
The typical tour bus experience, Christina says, is sitting in headphoned silence. With The Darts, the camaraderie can’t be contained, and even their drivers are unprepared for the flood. “They think, oh it’s so nice to be driving around a group of girls. I’m like, just wait,” Christina says. But for all their repartee and obvious bond, they hardly see each other off the road. They have never recorded a song in the same studio and only rehearse together right before tours or, sometimes, not until soundchecks. “No one has time to rehearse anymore,” Rikki says. “It’s punk rock.” They have been writing songs at a breakneck pace; Nicole carries her keyboard and laptop on to tour buses to write on the road. Each member brings a different spin on their genre, from metal to stoner rock to electro-blues.
The live experience is raucous. Nicole is a sexy pocket rocket, throwing a fishnet’d leg over her piano and just about maintaining her dignity. The 1960s Italian Farfisa organ is bounced around throughout, and gets broken once every tour. For at least one song it ends up on a floored Nicole who continues to sing and play. Christina and Nicole run the banter, Michelle does the rock god, lead guitarist thing to shameless extreme, while Rikki steals focus at the back, a bleached blonde force of nature. They end the gig in a dogpile onstage, a big heap of exhilaration and energy.
Between shows the girls explore each new place together, and this year they made a resolution to have as many adventures as possible. That includes canoeing, ziplining, river rafting, and, if possible, shooting guns while riding horseback – if that’s no go, checking out good record stores and restaurants.
The name of the band channels a feminine spirit – “darts” reference the pointed folds sewn into the bust of women’s clothing. They originally wanted their stage costumes to tie into the name... via bullet bras. “We tried it in the house one time and... no,” Christina says of that short-lived wardrobe idea. But the uncomfortable undergarment did make it onto the cover of their eponymous debut album, The Darts, released in January 2017. Follow-up LP Me.Ow came out in September ’17. Check out the tracks You Got Me or I Wanna Get You Off or Take What I Need for a dirty-amped, fuzz-soaked introduction.
The band can find the fun in any place, and want their audiences to do so too. Their favourite crowds are people from all walks of life coming together. Says Nicole: “I want them to be sweaty and laughing and enjoying life. Hopefully by the end they’re making out with each other.”