“Have I said anything remarkably stupid yet?” Darren Locke wonders halfway through our chat over breakfast … in the afternoon. His MySpace page claims he’s no good at talking about himself, that writing about yourself is easier – and safer – because it can be refined. Anything he says now goes. He warns, reaching for the recorder sitting in the middle of a corner-end table at The Fly Trap in Ferndale: “I could walk out the door with your best friend.”
He’s all talk.
Instead, he nibbles at an egg concoction, taking long breaks between to fill us in on his full-length debut, “Dreamtalking,” released earlier this month. Culminating from a year and a half of writing, and a long-term relationship’s fizzle, the LP is an atmospheric folky disc spiced with the flare of indie-rocker Ryan Adams – both in Locke’s fragile-to-husky delivery and his gravitation toward down-beat bummers.
The influence is apparent, and that’s likely because of a little obsession Locke, 28, had after he moved to New York two years ago and ended an eight-year long relationship: “Easy Tiger,” Adams’ 2007 album. It’s full of heartbreak and despair and loneliness and everything else that mirrored Locke’s mood. There’s a lot of that on “Dreamtalking,” with lyrics about dying inside, losing his mind and everything just totally sucking.
“My mom used to get on my case about writing sad songs all the time,” he recalls, noting that his happiest tune is about a friend who had testicular cancer. “I guess I’ve written a couple of lighthearted, funny songs … that are still kind of sad. (My friend) had to have one of his balls removed, and I wrote a really fun song about lefty’s missing testy.”
That one didn’t make the cut, so to speak. “Dreamtalking” was recorded over a few weeks at White Room Studio on Griswold Street in Detroit, where Locke served as an almost one-man band, despite help from a few pals.
The process turned out to be a cinch – Locke had previous experience in that same studio when he recorded his 2008 EP, “I’m Not Here,” in a finger-snapping fast two days. Everything was on a whim; they just set up a mess of instruments and went at it. “We bounced back and forth, seeing what works,” he says. “We probably could’ve done it quicker if there was a plan, but it would’ve been something different.”
Locke’s never been much for those anyway. He’s lived all over the world – from his birthplace of England, to New Orleans, Colorado, England again, then back to Colorado and finally Saudi Arabia. In 1993, his family landed here in Dearborn, where he worked for some crappy theater productions, burning out, and then deciding “to pursue a lucrative career in music.” A two-year stay in uptown Manhattan proved too pricey and uncomfortable, and “I kind of just got fed up – and broke – and came back here to regroup.”
But before leaving NYC, he worked at an indie record label and bartended, which he’s continuing to do locally at Atlas Global Bistro in Detroit. Turns out bartending gigs in the Big Apple are hard to come by, and he lost one after the two owners replaced him with their respective girlfriends. A very short stint at Red Lobster was next – unfortunately.
“That was one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had in my life,” he says. The only plus was free Cheddar Bay Biscuits, which he tried to nab before they brushed them with butter. “I don’t think I actually succeeded in that effort. I’m like, ‘Can I have them before …” (They’d say,) ‘They’re not – ready,'” he recalls, exasperated.
Nor was he successful when it came to men. He dipped his toes into the NYC dating pool, but it was too soon after his last relationship, and letting go of his independence proved more difficult than he thought. “I’m a Sagittarius,” he says, “so I want to do what I want, when I feel like it. I’m not in the mood to compromise lately.”
Or look for love.
“You can be open to it, but I don’t think looking for it does anything but end in frustrations or projected expectations that aren’t met. All the cute guys have boyfriends, anyway. Or they move away. Or they’re slightly retarded.”
After ditching bad jobs and ill-timed boyfriends, he did something he never planned to do again: He moved back to his Dearborn home in October.
“Summer in Detroit is magical,” he says, a slight smile folding and his scraggly red-orange mustache upturning. The cost of living is lower, which helps as he scours for some paying gigs in order to, he says, offer more to his bandmates than free drinks. They played at the Big Gray Shack in Detroit the day of the album’s release. “It was a rock ‘n’ roll party atmosphere in that place” – with a lot of gays, he says. Locke was surprised. And shirtless.
“It’s very hot in there,” he laughs. “I didn’t plan on that, but there were a lot of gays there, so ya know.”
Oh, yeah, we know.