Darius Holbert is a multi-talented and multi-faceted singer-songwriter who has performed with, directed and written for Wu-Tang Clan, Bobby Brown and Everlast, among others. In addition, he is a sought after, award winning composer for film and television whose works have been featured on American Horror Story, Grey's Anatomy and Making A Scene with James Franco (season two of which he is currently scoring). As a solo artist, Holbert goes by the moniker, dariustx, and on December 11th, he released his latest project, DARIUSTX V. THE ANGELS OF GOLIAD. The new release, mixed by Ryan Rees (CeeLo Green) and mastered by Adam Boose (Dawes) is a personal, seventeen track collection that successfully blends many of his influences into an exciting and ear pleasing listen. Holbert graciously took the time to talk about the making of the record, finding the time to write, the stories behind the songs, and more.
It has been five years between this record and the last, which is a little bit longer than the typical album cycle. Was it simply a matter of finding the time, as you are an insanely busy individual.
(Laughing) Yeah, I guess so. My main gig these days is composing for film and television. I’ve really been busy and haven’t had a whole lot of time to devote to this solo project, so I snuck in some writing time and little sessions in between other gigs to get it done.
Did you do anything differently with this record, being that it is your fifth?
Yeah, it’s slightly different than the albums I’ve done in the past. The whole approach to this one was one where I leaned more heavily on my Texas and Louisiana roots. It’s not necessarily a country record per se, but it is what we like to say “country adjacent,” or “y’allternative.” There’s a lot more fiddle, there’s a great pedal steel player and a lot more of a southern country- ish vibe I guess I would say.
It definitely has that country-ish vibe, yet the listener can hear so many varied influences. You work with a lot of pop/rock artists and score tv and film, but you must appreciate many different styles of music. Where do you draw from or what inspires you?
I listen to pretty much everything. I’m not really genre specific, I love all music. I had a piano teacher growing up who said it didn’t matter what kind of music you listen as long as it’s good. I like good music and that comes from a lot of different places. I love Shostakovich as much as I do George Jones and Jeff Buckley. I love playing country and Bach and gospel stuff, it all kind of informs everything I do.
It’s almost a double record with 17 tracks. Were these songs you had since year one, ones you wrote during the five years or something else?
Some of the stuff I’d been working and reworking for five years and some of the stuff I rewrote during sessions. One of songs, “El Dream Cancion,” I wrote after waking from a dream. I wrote the song down, almost fully fleshed out, and we cut it later that day. So some of the tunes took maybe twenty minutes, while others really did take five years to write, scrapping stuff and coming back to it; it just depends on the song as far as the length of time that it takes.
So then for the songs, where were you writing from? Self, others, original stories or something else?
For me, songs and lyrics sort of come based on very specific things and then thematic things, that are going on in my own life, especially these on the solo side project. These songs are much more personal than the stuff I have written for other people, like say Wu-Tang Clan. This is a lot more directly personal because it’s informed by my personal experiences. I try to be as honest as I can to make it reflective of what’s going on in my life so that it almost reads like an autobiography in many respects, at least I hope it comes across that way.
Tying into that question then, do you feel you are able to express more of who you are when doing dariustx albums as opposed to when you are writing for film and television?
Yeah totally. That’s why I spent time making this record, it’s more of a cathartic exercise, of a specific demon as it were, writing about stuff that I don’t have a lot of creative avenues where I can talk about them otherwise. The songs are so inherently personal in story, feeling and theme that doing this [album], the best way I can put it, was a good way for me to be able to talk about stuff I wanted to talk about.
The album opens with three, maybe dark, emotional tunes that I love because while the melody sets a tone, you have to really listen to the lyrics. You have previously spoken about the story behind the opening track, what then is the story behind “Dark Blues?”
A lot of times I’ll build a song around one specific lyric that appears periodically. I grew up mainly in Texas, but also in Louisiana too, and when people say, ‘Oh, I love New Orleans’ I’m thinking, 'Louisiana is not just New Orleans.' New Orleans is a fantastic place and I love it dearly, but I grew up in West Louisiana, in Lake Charles, so when I say in the song ‘I’m going back to Louisiana,’ it doesn’t mean New Orleans. So the whole song is a structural narrative built around that. And you’re right, it’s a pretty dark song.
Many of the songs are stories about relationships and some seem to be linked. For example, you mention the phrase "a good horse" which is the title of one song, in “Dancing Shoes."
You really did some listening. Yes, I would say there are specific similarities between many lines in the songs in the album. Lyrically I write stuff that is kind of temporal, that has to do with where I am in life and what I’m thinking about. I always loved that line “You couldn’t keep me away with a good horse,” and yeah, that draws some parallels between those two songs, which are about bad love - where love is requited, but probably never should have been requited.
The final track, “Goodbye Buckaroo,” has a lullaby feel to it. Was it intentionally placed as the album closer?
It’s last because it fits the arc of the full album, which has a lot to do with redemption and wrestling with whether or not you’re going to take it. There’s also a recurring thing, which is slightly autobiographical, about a dirt bag being in love with one of these Angels of Goliad. I don’t want to wax too poetic and too convoluted because a lot of these songs are just ones I liked and wanted to hear, so I wrote them and played them, but I do think this song fits the arc of the album. It was written when my wife, who was pregnant with our first daughter, and I lived in NYC. We were in our apartment during Hurricane Sandy when the power went out and it got really cold. We lit candles, which was like this romantic notion of weathering the storm, and I pulled out my guitar like in the pioneer days and wrote that song. We wanted the song to have a dark beginning, with struggle and bad love, with it eventually becoming this song about redemption, and kind of a beautiful lullaby to our daughter.
It is a beautiful song and perfect closer.
What is the significance of the album title, DARIUSTX V. THE ANGELS OF GOLIAD?
During the Texas revolution there was this woman on the battlefield, most prominently in the Battle of Goliad, who saved hundreds of revolutionaries’ lives. She was turned into this historical figure, the Angel of Goliad, who became part of Texana lore, I guess you would say. Growing up in Texas, you have to take mandated Texas history classes in your schooling and I wanted the title to reflect that, this arcane, specifically Southern thing, which also fits with the themes of the album: redemption and wrestling with whether or not you’re actually going to take it, and being saved by this mythical figure, the Angel of Goliad.
Plus, I wanted a band name since a couple of my favorite singers, Nicole Britton and Caroline Wilson, are on this album. I thought they’re both angels with angelic voices, so it all works together. I kinda like it.
What’s in store for the in new year in relation to the album? Will you be going out and supporting this record with live shows?
We did an album release show in LA last month that a bunch of folks came in for and was really fun. I think we’ll do some shows here and there, maybe in NYC when it gets a little warmer (laughing) and we’ll probably do a run through the South, but my days of heavyweight touring are in the past. The vinyl comes out, I think March 1st, so we’ll probably tie something in with that and do a couple showcases trying to promote that way. It’s exciting and refreshing for me to do something that I really want to do, where I’m completely not beholden to any label restrictions or any management issues or anything like that. It’s fun to play this music and be completely wide open.
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Photos Courtesy: Big Picture Media