Local group hits its stride with new EP
A human being’s life is spent passing through a series of moments. Many are mundane, frustrating, disappointing, or downright tragic. Some are pleasant, momentous, poignant, and even magical. Always existing in the present creates the sensation of not knowing when one has arrived at the big moments, or passed them by without knowing it.
A certain kind of magic moment is deceptive and endlessly interesting to study: those moments for which a person doesn’t quite come to an appreciation of their significance until placing them in a different context later in life; those moments whose meaning is revealed in time.
For Cozmo Holloway, three such defining turning-point moments may very well come to be a night at World Grotto in 2007, a reggae jam at a friend’s house between tours in 2014 and a broken-down tour bus later that year.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a brand new band called Electric Darling hit the ground running toward the end of 2015 and into Spring 2016 with explosive early shows at Scruffy City Hall and Rhythm and Roots, wowing crowds who’d never heard of them with their sharp look, big modern soul-rock sound and their tight set, already shining on stage like a polished touring band.
Of course upon closer inspection folks realized why: to scene insiders, this was actually one of the most anticipated local projects in years; these darlings weren’t beginners at all. They were a freshly arranged super group of veteran touring folks from some of Knoxville’s most beloved bands. Guitarists Cozmo Holloway and Kevin Hyfantis had come of multiple successful album tours with the Dirty Guv’nahs, perennial winners of Knoxville’s Best Band in the Metro Pulse who had worked with the likes of Levon Helm.
Original rhythm section Luke Bowers (drums) and Matt Nelson (bass) had been playing with Cereus Bright, a rising star in the alt-country world. Vocalist Yasameen Hoffman-Shahin (Yaz hereafter) was a classically-trained opera singer popping up as a hype girl at Lil’ Iffy shows and doing guest spots in several other bands, and keyboardist Aaron Mastin was a star pupil of the UT Jazz program. Daniel Shiflett is now full-time with the band on the current EP and Garrit Tillman is on drums.
Electric Darling is set to release its first recordings on June 16: a self-titled short album or a “hefty EP,” as Holloway calls it, of seven songs that run the hard rock gamut from soul to classic rock to alternative rock/modern rock stylings. They recorded with Scott Minor at Wild Chorus. The band seems as influenced by their parents’ Allman Brothers and Zeppelin records as they are by Millennial neo-blues and soul like Black Keys and Sharon Jones; but it’s also hard to ignore the fact that most of the band came of age in the ‘90s and hearing some Stone Gossard, Kim Thayil or Jerry Cantrell in the effects-laden finger-picking, riffing or chunking parts of rhythm sections. Likewise Yaz is a Millennial and it’s difficult on some songs to imagine her not being influenced vocally by modern alt-rock singers like Paramore’s Hayley Williams as a contrast to her soul and blues and opera roots.
Electric Darling has played multiple shows on the strength of the members’ past accomplishments and the word-of-mouth of their live material; buzz and demand have now been building for the recorded material and the band is excited to deliver.
“We’re kind of doing it backwards,” Yaz laughed recently, discussing the project during the break on her Down2Brunch radio show, which she hosts with photographer/activist Holly Rainey on WOZO, broadcasting live from The Birdhouse in 4th and Gill on Sunday afternoons at 2pm.
At the time of these interviews, the band was preparing to play its biggest show yet: opening for national indie darlings Dr. Dog at the Oak Ridge Secret City Festival on June 10. A big moment for sure. As the band would tell it, a culmination of several of these hidden moments to be reflected on further that got them this far, and a moment to take a breath and visualize what other moments and places they’d like to find themselves in the future.
Cozmo Holloway talks about 2014 as if it was a musical crossroads point in his life. On break from the the Dirty Guv’nahs, he found himself back in town playing in a jammy reggae band with Suttree’s owner Matt Pacetti. “When I say band, I use that term loosely.” he laughs. They were having fun, yelling out lyrics into the room to any old reggae standards they started jamming on, but they had no singer. Then a friend of a friend brought Yaz by. Cozmo was floored by what he saw next. “She sang, it was amazing, she was dancing around, you’ve seen her–she’s a performer. And that was what we did.”
They talked further and couldn’t shake the notion they’d met before. Suddenly it dawned on him: that time in 2007 when he’d taken the night off from Dishwater Blonde to sit in with Natti Love Joys in the World Grotto and a certain young lady was tearing up the dance floor then, too! A reggae blast from the past. Something seemed fortuitous about their meeting again and Holloway kept these things and pondered them in his heart as the Guv’nahs set back out on tour.
In 2014, the Dirty Guv’nahs were on the verge. After an impressive three albums that found them working with rock legends like Levon Helm in his Woodstock Studios and touring with the likes of Zac Brown Band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and playing slots at Bonnaroo and South by Southwest as well as licensing their music to major networks like ABC and the NFL Network, they were on the cusp of full-blown fame. Album four was likely to be their breakthrough into the higher spots on the charts, more prime stages at the festivals, bigger venues on tour.
One day on tour buses broke down and the band broke up into vans. The non-writing members ended up in the van and Hyfantis–who had always written his own stuff and written in other bands–proposed to Holloway that they try to write some stuff for the new Guv’nahs album. Holloway was known for some killer riffs and some epic solos as lead guitarist but the thought had never really cross his mind to write. “I had never written songs before,” he says. “I showed no interest in it, I had no motivation to get myself interested in it, so when Kev asked me, I got real excited because the thought had never crossed my mind.”
“It was kind of a fluke thing that we should try to write together,” Hyfantis says. He is the more introverted of the three, and the bridge between Cozmo and Yaz musically in that he writes a lot of guitar stuff and a lot of vocal and lyrical stuff with both of them. “It’s a different way of coming at the writing process,” he says.
Once the Dirty Guv’nahs went their separate ways, Holloway and Hyfantis thought they’d form a writing collective, try to pitch some songs for publishing, try to get on as sidemen in someone else’s band… and then they discussed a female-fronted rock group and Cozmo remembered that girl from the reggae jams.
Hoffman-Shahin is a fiery, exuberant front woman. She boasts the benefit of classical training (she spent her childhood years in the Community School for the Arts youth program honing her chops in and in Vocal Performance classes at West High and at the University of Tennessee) coupled with natural rocker knack: she’s guested in reggae, hip-hop, 90’s, opera, jazz and rock projects all over town with the likes of Ben Maney, Lil’ Iffy, Jonathan Sexton, honing her rock and roll stage presence. At a recent Scruffy City show, Yaz finished the night on Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy!” taking the mic down into the pit to dance with the sweaty, excited crowd. She’s already begun being tapped for star-studded local all-star jams like Waynestock 2016’s Dearly Departed Jam, honoring the vast amount of amazing rock stars lost that year, where she brought down the house to Sharon Jones’ “100 Days, 100 Nights.”
“I was one of those kids that lived for the radio.” she says laughing, always laughing. She says her folks tell her she didn’t walk and talk places as a child, she sang and danced her way everywhere.
“We have influence from our parents,” she says of the roots, classic rock, and soul influence. ‘I grew up with listening to everything. You throw all of that in the mix and this is what comes out. One of the advantages of our band is that…it still comes out authentically us as this unique rock and roll sound.” She contrasts this to the ‘genre study’ bands of certain scenes that go all in on an exact style of dress and format, like Piedmont Blues, or Outlaw Country. “When you live and die for one style of music it’s limiting,” she says, explaining why Electric Darling prefers genre-blending. “At a certain point it’s not art anymore, you’re just doing it to do it, and it’s just a skill.”
Hoffman-Shahin says writing with the boys can be a little wild when it comes to explicit subject matter since she sees them as older brothers–either they write something from a woman’s perspective she’ll think is…interesting, or she will write some racy and wonder what they’ll think of it, but for the most part they have a lot of fun with it. “‘Oh My” is sexy and flirty and I was like ‘they are kind of my big brother and are they ready for me to talk about that?” But they got right on board! It’s been interesting to mend two different storytelling or poetic styles.”
To Hoffman-Shahin, the recordings turned out great but the live shows are what she believes will make Electric Darling stand out and move forward.
“Our live show is where we really get a chance to shine and the songs get a chance to see their full potential. Things have shift once they’re being recorded. To me the next phase would be really bigger and better shows and hopefully an opening slot on a tour…would be super fun for me.”
“We’ve both been in successful bands and we feel like we’ve got a pretty good grasp on how to make it grow,” Hyfantis says. “Obviously the people have to be into the music. We are continuing to grow as a band as writers and we are continuing the writing process as we speak and we are exciting to be working on other songs even as we speak and trying to just keep looking forward.”
Hopefully it spreads,” Cozmo says.
Here’s to many more big moments to come for Electric Darling.