The image at the head of this post is a slightly altered version of one that has existed in the deeper Internet for some time. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at, it’s a royalty free graphic showing a Planet of the Apes-looking character passed through the charismatic filter of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. Variations of it exist, some more faithful to the typical visage of a chimpanzee, but all carry the tagline “Viva La Evolución” (Long Live the Evolution) which is a humorous Darwinian take on the rebel cry of “Viva La Revolución” (Long Live the Revolution).
You see what’s happening here. Among the millions of species subject to the principles of the theory of evolution, homo sapiens emerged as gene-mutated adaptations of the primate family. By incorporating the idea into this famous photo, we get a punny chuckle. It’s what attracted me to the image initially, along with something possibly unintended by its original creator yet suited to a band concept I had been kicking around.
A few years back, me and my first (and still best) friend (we met at the age of four) decided to embark on a musical journey. He plays the drums and I play a few instruments (piano/keyboards, guitar) and we’d written music together in the past with the idea to take it into the world come what may. For various reasons, and despite garnering some interest from a major music publishing company, we never achieved our goal. This time we thought we might try something different. Which is to say, we thought we’d scrape together a couple of songs for a two-piece (think The Black Keys, Royal Blood) and play a show for old time’s sake. Maybe we’d even incorporate some cool lights or a video screen. However we chose to present it, it would be a stab at playing together one more time while we were still at the top of our game, and I found the idea most welcome after having spent a few grueling years producing a film/web series. My life had begun with dreams of making music, having been taught to play the ukelele by my father at the age of five. The passing years saw my writing and singing for a few bands and even playing acoustic cover shows in various venues, but this would be different. We never spoke these words in anger, but somewhere deep inside it sort of felt like we were giving it one last shot.
A few months after our discussion, as life continued to interrupt as it does, I found myself walking the steep hills of a densely fogged Seattle, WA, a city that had given the world so much in terms of music, and in particular, rock music. It was October and the towering leafy trees were turning colors amidst the even more imposing pines. Dew hung from green needles and everything as I made my way to an emotionally delicate destination, one that meant a great deal to me personally as it did millions of other music fans around the world. It was a small bench covered in graffiti that paid homage to the late grunge god Kurt Cobain, located on a sloping, grassy clearing across the street from Lake Washington and adjacent to the beautiful lakeview property he once owned and on which he took his life. The death of Cobain hurt me when it happened, and in a very real way it stopped my writing. I would compose songs with others after but I avoided doing it entirely on my own. In the odd way these things often go, I had gone from losing the desire to write to eventually running out of the belief that I could. After my visit to the bench, all of that changed.
I returned full of a need to write. Where in the past I would spend hours wondering about which direction my sound and style should take, this time I simply stopped caring and let everything rip. And rip, it did. One very long winter later I had nearly forty songs, with almost a third recorded as surprisingly listenable demos. In fact, I only stopped because I had worn myself out. I also discovered that stopping was exponentially harder than starting had been, marking a complete reversal to any previous writing experiences. The rest unfolded very quickly. I emailed my friend the demos and he began recording drum parts and emailing them back. Soon, our idea to be a two-piece expanded into a trio. The stuff I was giving him, he said, seemed to ask for it. So we added another more-family-than-friend member, picked our name, and the expanded recording process began in earnest in January of this year. Flash forward to April and we had our very own Bandcamp link to share. Flash forward to this month, and we’re hot off our first performance that by all accounts (somewhat unavoidable technical difficulties notwithstanding) went as solidly as we could have hoped. We are also in daily rotation on a half-dozen Internet radio stations including Boston Rock Radio and Rock Invasion Radio. Darwin Candidate is now a thing.
So what’s this thing all about? To start, I’m incapable of creating anything without multiple layers of meaning, and this band is no exception. The three of us often talk about those important bands that influenced us with perfect records from front to back, and in these discussions we developed some rules. For one, we wince at any suggestion of striving for approval. To do so would be to court imitation and miss the point entirely. You must create for yourself and your ideas, and let the accolades fall where they may. Also, we keep it simple, cutting all filler, and serve the song above all else. Every note counts, as does every moment of space. And while my lyrics may at times be considered vaguely impressionistic and mysteriously evocative they are laid in with purpose, avoiding any over-indulgence that might direct them too inward. We aim to connect, as the bands we revered connected to us, but above all we reject forcing that connection. There is a belief that if the meaning and delivery is true, it will find a way to stick.
So why the name Darwin Candidate? If we return to our image of the “CheChimp”, it might be easy to assume that we’re simply poking fun at those unfortunate souls who have perished whilst performing impossibly stupid deeds of malicious and/or self-serving intent, thereby receiving the dubious honor of a “Darwin Award“. Indeed, I have always loathed all things ignorant and arrogant, and more generally I’m sure I speak for many when I say we could all use a little less stupid in our lives. However, as you may have expected, there’s a bit more to it than that. Che Guevara – all socio-politicking aside – fought for the poor and the oppressed of South America, leading his men into battle and risking his own life. Unlike most world leaders of today, he didn’t simply recruit the hopelessly desperate or honorably patriotic to do his dirty. So, on that level, one could say he had cajónes the size of white wall tires and one has to respect that. As importantly, while most would see him as a great military theorist, Guevara made education just as important to his guerrilla cause as battlefield bravery. He was well-versed in the poetry of Keats, Frost, Whitman and Kipling, as well as the prose of Faulkner, Verne, Camus and Sartre. He filled notebooks with handwritten thoughts on Buddha and Aristotle, Nietzsche and Freud. In school he studied philosophy, engineering, political scieence, sociology, history and archeology. In short, he was the rarest of bad-asses who, in his younger days, looked like a lost Sheen son, one more likely to star in Apocalypse Repo Man Now than Major Wall Street League. To say this man was an “evolved” human being, I think would be fair debate. To say he was an evolved leader – one who prized intellect over imperialism – is to state an irrefutable fact.
Then there’s the monkey. Well, I like monkeys, and that could well be enough. Of course, it isn’t. For me, the chimp face suggests something beyond a gag about “evolution”. It also tells me that we shouldn’t fall fool to what appears to be evolved. It opens the boundaries of race and the conventional ideas of beauty so that we might, at last, listen. Far too much weight and power is given to what we see on the outside without also engaging in critical thought about what lies within, and in that idea I found the essence of punk rock, and more to the point, our classic/post-punk/new wave/grunge version of it. We call it “evolution rock”, and while the term may sound like we’re having fun with the idea – and make no mistake, we are – there’s also some substance in there that we hope cuts through.
More deep than heavy, more determined than hard; that’s DC. And like our logo (recruited for a time and, like everything in life, subject to change) there’s as much to get from the surface as there is underneath. So, as Henry Rollins once said, “No such thing as spare time. No such thing as free time. No such thing as down time. All you got is life time. Go.”
Here we go.