Traveling around the USA in a 19-foot, Class C Coachmen RV they call "Shakeyhouse" with a 20-pound Labradoodle named Mr. Smalls, Jess Anderly and George Veech are learning the rules of the road. Together, the creatively and romantically linked couple is Strangled Darlings, a multigenre indie band from Portland, Oregon, who play their first-ever Florida gig at Burro Bar this Saturday.
"It's a lot like the Navy in every regard except that we don't have any nuclear missiles," says Veech (vocals, mandolin, harmonica) of their life on the road. "As long as you establish certain ground rules, it's easier than you think to survive or actually be happy on tour because you're always doing something new."
Last summer, Veech and Anderly sold most of their earthly possessions, bought said RV and hit the asphalt for a whirlwind U.S. tour to support their upcoming release and fourth album, Boom Stomp King, dropping nationwide in March and available now at shows.
"Our previous three albums had included a backing band, more orchestration and production," says Anderly (vocals, cello, bass). "When we started recording this album, we'd already been touring regionally as a duo, and we were going to go out nationally as a duo. I really felt strongly that we should try to record the album as just two people."
Veech and Anderly met in Portland in 2010 at a friend's Winter White party — singing Prince songs late into the night.
"I wasn't playing much at that point," Anderly says. "I grew up playing classical violin. And George was just starting a little band and he asked me to come play violin in the band that dissolved within six months, and then Strangled Darlings started out."
The band once had a violinist, keyboardist and drummer, "but a couple of years ago, we scaled down to just a duo because it made it a lot easier to tour," Anderly says. "And we like to practice a lot and most people don't like to practice, so a duo is much more workable — especially now that we're touring all the time. I can't imagine there are that many people who want to be on the road all the time like this."
Out and about since June, Veech and Anderly haven't experienced any major emotional meltdowns or catastrophic RV troubles, but that doesn't mean this is a stress-free scenic journey through America. They've scheduled some 75 shows, and the two spend all of their "off days" handling the business side of Strangled Darlings — i.e., booking, promotion, press.
"We just have gear for a small venue performance and clothes and that's about it," Veech says. "It's so you can run a small indie band like a business and cut costs. You don't have to stay in hotels and you don't have to couch surf for so long that you're miserable. It's not as romantic as you'd think."
The band's name, Strangled Darlings, comes from a William Faulkner quotation about the "ruthless editing of your creative work by removing the parts you might really like but have no place in the piece." As Faulkner put it, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings."
The name is fitting for a band that can lean toward the macabre elements that sometimes guide their lyrics and sound. Veech's savage, varied vocal style and aggressive mandolin skills, combined with Anderly's playing of a custom-built cello, which she plucks like a bass, has helped the Darlings produce a unique sound. Or as Veech likes to call it, "trying to be original without trying to be too weird."
The song "Snake and The Girl" is driven by a relentless descending bass riff and some cookin' mandolin, with Veech's vocal delivery more akin to a crazed preacher than an introspective folkie. In the official video for the song, Anderly seduces Veech in a bathtub as a snake wraps around his body. Their tune "Orange Peel" plays like a somber waltz; "King of Kings" features junkyard percussion that's like a tip of the hat to Tom Waits.
The duo has also become well-known for high-energy live shows, which always feature crowd interaction and snarky side comments.
"You know, you get this kind of über-sincere folk artist who is like, ‘This song is about my grandmother's struggles to maintain a dignified life as a coal miner and yadda yadda and all this stuff,'" says Veech. "And that gets tiresome, so instead we'll say something like, ‘This song explains how to become a drug addict' or whatever comes to mind."