For over 25 years, Darren Cross has found himself at the forefront of the Aussie music scene. Now, his latest venture has seen him release the gorgeous Ecstatic Racquet under the moniker of D.C Cross.
For most people, the first time you would have heard the name Darren Cross is through Gerling. Tearing up stages throughout the ’90s and releasing killer records along the way (Children Of Telepathic Experiences is one of the greatest Aussie albums of all time, in case you were wondering), the group were an iconic piece of the local music scene until their dissolution in the mid ’00s.
Free to spread his wings somewhat, Cross kicked off a solo career soon after, performing under a number of guises along the way. From the electronic sounds of The E.L.F., the indie-rock of Betty Airs, the folks stylings of Jep And Dep, and the solo releases made under his own name, Cross is the very definition of a musical chameleon.
After releasing 2018’s PEACER, a quick turnaround saw this year’s announcement of a new record titled Ecstatic Racquet, an instrumental offering under the name of D.C Cross.
Noting that the album is “in the the vein of Nick Drake meets John Fahey and Thurston Moore,” fans were undoubtedly wondering how this new record would fare, and whether this new stylistic departure would serve as yet another feather in his already highly-decorated cap.
With Ecstatic Racquet out now via Bandcamp, we chatted with Darren Cross to get the low-down in regards to the new record, and to understand where the desire to strip away the vocals and let the music do the talking came from.
Check out ‘Presslufthammer Catfight’ by D.C Cross:
You’re obviously someone who hasn’t been afraid to dabble with different styles of music in the past, but where did the inspiration to make an instrumental record come from?
I guess just through playing the guitar more. I’ve been playing the guitar now for a long time, but I developed from my last record this open tuning thing that I was really getting into. Then, digging through that stuff, I just became more focused on trying to express myself through the instrumental guitar.
Even in the indie days of Gerling, we were always playing around with open tunings, from bands like Sonic Youth, and Polvo, and Truman’s Water, and stuff like that. Then, by reading what they were influenced by, I’m kind of getting influenced by what they’re getting influenced by.
It’s just been a natural progression, but yeah, I really love it so I’m really focused on just doing that at the moment.
You said previously that the new record was initially inspired by a trip around Europe. Were the seeds for an instrumental record sewn on that trip, or was it something you’d been wanting to do for a while?
Yeah, it’s been something that I’ve just been doing for a while. I’m always developing, or whatever, but going to different places and going to different surroundings… I was kind of living the full-on beat poet, kind of scumbag troubadour thing on that tour , and I’m kind of inviting any weird situation to happen.
It was just me and a guitar, so to get stories and waking up in some weird place, and then a song comes to you — that’s how I write. I kind of just get inspired and then I record all this stuff, and then I have to go back and figure it all out. I won’t really do that until a few months later.
Y’know, wake up in France and you could almost see Oscar Wilde’s tombstone from the floor I was on, and I was like, “okay, where’s the guitar?”, and I wrote it, sketched out an idea like that in the morning, really hungover.
Check out ‘Cockroaches’, by The E.L.F:
You’ve also used a different name on the new album. Fans can still tell it’s Darren Cross, but it’s just a tad different. What inspired the name change for this one?
I’ve just been doing so many different projects. The D.C. Cross one is always going to be just instrumental guitar, and more on the folk slant, and probably more ambient, ‘cause I did the Darren Cross thing out of my own name, and that was more with lyrics.
Through my history, even with Gerling, and my solo records, they’ve always been crazy, and different diverse styles, and I thought, “nah, I just want to do the D.C. Cross one, and that’s going to be instrumental guitar and ambient.” It’s just more of a way where I can compartmentalise everything.
Then, I can do something else more lyrical with the Darren Cross thing, or more electronic based, or whatever. I still have got The E.L.F., which is dance music that I haven’t touched in fifteen years, but at the moment I’m just more into the folk kind, or more the instrumental compositions, mainly with the steel stringed guitar, acoustic guitar.
You’ve cited the likes of Nick Drake, John Fahey, and even Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth as influences. How exactly did their influence come through on the finished project?
With Nick Drake and Sonic Youth, I kind of discovered them at the same time. I remember when I was quite young I got a Nick Drake ‘best-of’ CD, I think it was called Way To Blue, and it just blew me away. I didn’t really ever think that I’d be able to play guitar like that. Like, it’s taken me a while to be able to.
If you listen to Public Enemy, or something, you don’t really say, “oh, one day I’m going to be able to sound like Public Enemy,” or something. It was just like Nick Drake’s there, and it was not in my periphery that I’d be able to even attain a level to even be able to compose music like that.
Then, I was just playing around with this tuning that I spend a lot of time with, firstly with Jep And Dep, and then it became apparent that I was kind of gravitating more towards the same de-tuned kind of thing, as Nick Drake, and stuff. I remember I played a show, and my friend who’s a full on music dork said, “man, that sounds like John Fahey”.
This was a couple of years ago, and I’d heard of him but I hadn’t really. I read this interview recently with Sonic Youth’s Thurston More saying that the de-tuning with John Fahey was always the secret weapon in the bag. Some of those tunings are the same as his.
So, yeah, it’s weird. I guess when you start playing around with different tuning on the guitar it invokes this different emotion and ambience that I lock into, and it’s familiar with different open tunings that all of those kinds of artists use. Bert Jansch was another one, although he sings a lot. I guess that’s how it all ties in together.
Check out John Fahey’s ‘Sunflower River Blues’:
Was there any material that didn’t make the cut during recording?
There’s heaps of stuff that didn’t make the record. I thought, stylistically, that it didn’t work, but it’s all a development. As a whole album, I knew that it was finished when it was finished. It ebbs and flows and it’s got three or four different vibes, and there’s all the found sound in between. I recorded a lot of that stuff around here.
Just trying to match up the ambience where I created the music as well. Especially with instrumental music, it’s about an ambient or a vibe or feeling or emotion. That’s imperative with what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to take you somewhere different.
Was there any sort of concept or mission statement behind the album at all? Or, was it just a collection of the songs that you had recorded?
It’s funny, the whole thing about taking the lyrical ideas aspect out of it, I think that’s really what I wanted to do, that was my mission statement. I wanted to be able to write this beautiful music, and people could put it on, and it’s just escapism.
People can listen to it in many different places, like, listening to it on a bus or while doing yoga, or trying to put your kid to sleep, or making a pizza or going for a jog — whatever the hell you want to do — I’m just really into that music myself, at the moment.
I think a lot of people with the advent of music at the moment, there is so many people doing music at the moment and I think the whole vocals and lyrical thing doesn’t move me in a way anymore.
I listen to old stuff, and I’m more inspired by the instrumental stuff at the moment. That was my idea. Going to see the Dirty Three or hearing John Fahey or hearing Enya’s first record that I find just outstanding. At the moment, I’m just so tired of everybody telling me how they feel. I just want to listen to music.
Check out ‘Blank Sabbath (feat. Jessica Cassar)’ by Darren Cross:
One difficult thing with instrumental music is that it occasionally becomes repetitive as the artist gets stuck on a theme or idea. Was there ever any worry of that when you were writing it?
Not at all. I used different tunings in it. I’m quite aware of doing different things. Stylistically, there’s probably three or four different styles on Ecstatic Racquet. When you’re doing the same kind of thing, fingerpicking patterns and tunings, you’ve got to be mindful that you they don’t overlap each other.
The record is out on Bandcamp, but not officially released yet. What has the response been to the record so far?
Really good! I’m getting lots of different reactions. Music aficionados are really getting into it, especially overseas, which is quite good. My partner’s mum listens to the CD at work and she likes it [laughs], everyone’s really really liking it which is quite good. but I’m just swimming around the pond where all my friends and followers are. I haven’t really pushed it out into the scary ocean yet. Hopefully everything’s going to be alright.
Everyone’s really getting into it. I think it’s a novel idea, like people have been doing instrumental music since the crack of dawn — it’s not really that hard to fathom.
Check out ‘Never Let You Go’ by Jep And Dep:
You’ll be playing a few solo dates around the country as well. Do you notice a different vibe when it comes to playing instrumental shows?
I’m not really sure. I’m quite protected in a way that I only just do small shows and I book them myself, and I manage myself, and run my own label, so I know that if I go to a particular place there will be sympathetic people that will want to hear my music. It’s not as if I’m doing something that’s not appropriate.
So, when people are there and ready to listen to me, I keep it on that cottage industry level at the moment. If you play anywhere in Sydney, like as a singer/songwriter, to get people to shut up if they’re not really wanting to listen, it’s going to be different.
That’s one thing that deterred me, really, from singing, especially with Jep And Dep when we used to do lots of shows. Especially in Sydney, people were just so rude and talking over us, and it was quite upsetting… it’s hard to be focused.
It’s not as hard as singing, but still, especially with folk music, you can’t crank it up, so you’ve got to be a bit more choosy where you play. When it’s happening, people just get lost in the moment ‘cause I’m trying to evoke this ambient kind of thing that’s happening, and when people get it, they just get lost in the music.
It sounds a bit utopian and a bit flippant, but when the music gets you like that it’s pretty good.
There was such a quick turn around between this album and the last one — do you already have plans for what might be next?
With the D.C. Cross thing, I’ve already started writing again. I’m just trying to figure out what to do. I’ve also just been playing more now so I can do a few more trickier things with the guitar. There’s always stuff going on in mine and Jess’s house, so there’s a bunch of different projects going on.
Writing music is never the problem, it’s like, “okay, how do we get people to hear about it”; that’s the problem. How do we get it on the radio? How do we get people to hear it? The game changes so quickly, and it’s a bit frightening how it’s all going, but musically there’s no problem.
Check out ‘Sur La Vague (DRIVE ME NUTS)’ by Darren Cross:
D.C Cross Ecstatic Racquet Album Launch Tour
Thursday, September 26th
Dusty Attic, Lismore, NSW
Friday, September 27th
Howling Moon Records, Byron Bay, NSW
Sunday, September 29th
(With Jessica Cassar and Melodie Nelson & Singing Skies)
Petersham Bowling Club, Sydney, NSW
Saturday, October 5th
(With Jon Flood)
Plant Based Wholefoods, Katoomba, NSW
Sunday, October 6th
(With Andy Nelson)
Little Albert’s, Bathurst, NSW
Thursday, October 10th
Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel, Beechworth, VIC
Friday, October 11th
Edinburgh Castle, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday, October 13th
Merri Creek Tavern, Melbourne, VIC
Tickets: FOMO Events
Saturday, November 9th
Frank’s Wild Years, Thirroul, NSW
Sunday, November 10th
The Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine, VIC