on the edge of night
Collected Liner Notes from Darke County's Edge of Night LP & Associated Singles
Darke County in 1990 as photographed in San Francisco by L N Cavender.
Edge of Night 20-track LP — July 2020
In late 1987, popular Dayton indie act The Pleasures Pale disbanded. Fronted by singer/lyricist Jeffrey Bright, The Pale left an indelible mark on the burgeoning southwest Ohio scene, releasing one LP post breakup then evaporating into the ether of pop ephemera. In the aftermath, during a show at the now-defunct Canal Street Tavern, a young guitarist and composer approached Bright. Above the din, Eric Schulz introduced himself with a direct imperative: “I wanna be in your band.” What ensued was a songwriting partnership that would last into the mid-90s, spanning three different band names, even more genres, and a catalog of distinctive material. Bright and Schulz were joined in Dayton by bassist Chris “Troy” Green (previously appearing with avant-garde acts Dementia Precox and Mom). The three transplanted to San Francisco later in 1988. After spending the better part of a year acquainting themselves with their new home, developing a sound and auditioning drummers, the three began playing the city’s small club circuit, debuting as Darke County on September 9, 1989 at the deliciously funky Chi Chi Theater Club on Broadway in SF’s bawdy strip club corridor. San Pedro native David Rojas handled drumming for the band’s first half dozen dates. Finally, in March of 1990, Oakland native Christopher Fisher (teen skateboard sensation and one-third of 80’s punk outfit Impatient Youth) was added as permanent drummer. Thus began a musical relationship that would endure through the quartet’s various future incarnations. Darke County’s music was a landscape of tall tales and mysteries of the heart, a ghost-town brew of haunted longing and ironic nostalgia populated by tormented characters from the creases and folds of so many darkening American dreams. Fronted by Bright’s crooning and noir-tinged lyrics and Schulz’s eclectic arrangements, the band’s sound was an amalgam of mid-century American styles, sharing more DNA with cool jazz, old-time country, exotica, TV detective themes and Mancini film scores than with rock, but never straying too far from pop idioms of the day. Schulz’s composing chops were formidable, often outpacing the band’s ability to fully realize his fevered ideas. From 1988 to 1991, E-Bone, a nickname bestowed by flat mate Green, utilized all at his disposal — the band’s SOMA district rehearsal room filled with assorted acoustic and electric instruments, and a 4-track recorder — to capture on cassette a cache of wildly imaginative compositional sketches, many of which were never fully developed — but thankfully survived the intervening years in their ferrous oxide tombs. Eventually, the band’s ever-evolving vision outgrew the initial, theatrical Darke County persona. Veering toward harder-edged, more lyrically pointed, surrealistic alt-rock, the outfit renamed itself Myself a Living Torch in 1992 —a move not universally accepted among the band’s followers. As the decade ensued, the quartet’s individual paths diverged. In the 00s, Bright, Green and Fisher would, in varying degrees and ways, fade from the music stage. After leaving San Francisco in the mid-90s, Schulz would eventually resurface and flourish in Memphis, and later France, as Harlan T Bobo, whose impressive output can today be found on the Goner Records label. Much of the work from early days of the Bright-Schulz collaboration has languished in obscurity for over 30 years. Now, as a project of the Jeffrey Alan Bright Music Archive, this uniquely rich material is being exhumed from cassette, restored using current digital techniques, in some cases complimented with further recording, and now presented here — at last receiving the exposure it justly deserves. Time has only rendered this mash-up of styles and forms more fascinating, poignant, and oddly brilliant — a trove of artifacts from the waning years of San Francisco’s once vital bohemia.
As a collection, Edge of Night is designed around four full-band demos, recorded to 4-track cassette, featuring the Bright-Schulz-Green-Fisher ensemble: “Milky Way Baby” in two versions, “Super-Natural,” and the title track, which also appears in two versions, “Edge of Night (Carnival of Desires)” as a download bonus track. Around these recordings — what were foundational pieces of the 1990-91 DarCo sound — is assembled a diverse constellation of intrigue and titillation. Brief instrumental encounters and interludes occur as narrative twists between fully developed episodes, some completed only recently, in a tableau of restless intent — as if delineating an aural cinema of aesthetic trial.
Taken as a whole, Edge of Night is at once a poetic odyssey “through the ring of fire” to a place where the “nightmares don’t scare you anymore,” and a voyeuristic peek inside the young adult psyche of late 20th Century America. As Bright, Schulz and Green journeyed from the relative white comfort of suburban Ohio across the country and across cultural divides to the recession-worn, pre-internet California of the late 1980s, so too did their sensibilities. Accordingly, Edge of Night is a construct of multi-faceted desires, dread, fantasy, paranoia, and romantic fatalism — and eventually a perpendicular, if bleary-eyed, reckoning with life’s most consequential ultimatum. “Are we doomed from the start?” Perhaps the knowing, Edge of Night suggests, is the essential oil infusing art with force and meaning; the subconscious knowing that gives existence its value; the keys to resilience and survival when the darkest hours mount the clock.
Milky Way Baby Reprise 3-song single — September 2019
The forthcoming parade of gothic Americana leads with a three-song release featuring one of the band’s signature numbers. “Milky Way Baby” encapsulates Darke County’s fascination with doped-out, beatnik slow jazz and lyrically plays in a chancy space where promiscuity's spoils teeter on the brink of paranoia and neurosis. Two versions of the song exist: This, the “reprised” version, goes all in on slinky groove and literal sound expressions of twinkling stars, whereas the original is a spare and atmospheric rendering worthy of its own focus in a later release. Filling out the MWB installment are a flamenco-influenced instrumental sketch highlighted by Schulz's expressive, surf-drenched guitar, and a lilting, saccharine-tender waltz double filtered through the gauze of 20th Century musical history. “Through the Ring of Fire” would, shortly after initial composing, be fleshed out to a lyrically notorious, full-band arrangement titled “Edge of Night” (also forthcoming). “Midnight Lullaby,” the piece in triple time, was a seldom-performed song in the band’s show repertoire. Its initial and only recording was a live-rehearsal, single-mic capture, which here has been mixed into a broader arrangement hinting at tragic sweetness and innocence lost. Welcome then to the strange and seductive otherworld of Darke County — a land readily found on any Ohio map, but here, in alter-ego, a floating, elusive state on the western edge of the American psyche — a place where dreams drift above the clouds then descend in free fall, eventually to be washed away in the Pacific’s receding surf.
Super-Natural 3-song single – September 2019
This three-song excerpt from the “Edge of Night” LP centers on a cornerstone of Darke County’s live show. Years before Santana’s hit of a similar title, DarCo’s “Super-Natural” was shaking butts and prompting bar-top dancing in the SF underground. The song’s ending vamp was prime for a sweaty end-of-show send off, often churning its way into a frenzied rendition of the James Brown classic “Sex Machine.” Atop the tight groove from bassist Chris Green and drummer Christopher Fisher, and alongside Schulz’s expressive, wah-wah guitar, singer Bright weaves a yarn of temptation and submission — the naïve son “a good mother reared” drifts not-unwillingly into the occult’s velvet grip. In so doing, the narrative conjures a metaphor for the creative life, where the leap from conformity’s safety to a state of radical thought and invention assumes the form of a supernatural “possession.” Set against the song’s underlying rumba, the episode is one of stylish doom and foreshadows the gypsy and Latin influences to follow in other tracks on the LP. Backing “Super-Natural” on this release are “Chinatown Incident” and “Crushed Velvet.” The former, a brief, off-handed guitar sketch employing random radio static and a clichéd Oriental motif, hints at what were likely the duo’s initial exposures to San Francisco’s infamous Chinatown, an exotic district — stereotyped by its own authenticity — who’s dark alleys, garish window scenes, narrow, teeming streets, harsh bouquet of aromas, and glaring signs fit neatly into the backdrop of any American West Coast noir tableau. Ultimately, “CI” serves as a send up for “Crushed Velvet,” the set’s finale. Fans of Darke County and their later incarnation Myself a Living Torch will recognize “Crushed Velvet” as the seed that would vine and flower into “Fear of Velvet,” a song that, as much as any other, defined the band’s “dark-with-an-e” aesthetic. Here, the original composition draft — featuring Schulz playing drums, guitar, 6-string bass guitar, and harmonica — has been rescued from cassette and finished with Bright’s vocals and additional tracking as one more headlong roll in an existential tumble toward the edge of night.
International Dateline 3-song single – October 2019
Darke County’s music, a product of the late-80s-early-90s songwriting partnership between ex-Pleasures Pale front man Jeffrey Bright and fellow Ohio native Eric “E-Bone” Schulz (now Goner Records artist Harlan T Bobo), has been described as “a tilted landscape of tall tales and mysteries of the heart.” For sure, it was a cinematized construction of 20th Century Americana, pivoting from rustic to urbane, perpetually cloaked in a gothic fog, and more often than not tinged with the unsettling undercurrents of film noir. But DarCo’s irony-charged nostalgia also served to set a stage where the props and players included more modern antiheroes and physic phenomena that, upon close examination, foreshadowed a new era and its ills. Continuing the leak of tracks from the forthcoming “Edge of Night” LP, “International Dateline” features three pieces of a kind — all dealing variously with the attendant anticipations and anxieties of travel and relocation — and can potentially be seen as metaphor for the duo’s own transplantation and disassociation from the relative certainty of middle America to the chancy enticements of the West Coast underground. The title track is a taught, waltz-time dirge, riding on Schulz’s steadily mounting guitar figure and ending in resolute crescendo. Bright opens and closes the piece chanting the song’s prosaic title, as if attempting to (vainly) exercise the doom from the pun implied. Between is a wistful, if paranoid, narrative of love lost in real time — where the demarcation between today and tomorrow — between love and despair — is an abstract line drawn capriciously, beyond sight and tactile meaning, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Finishing the set is “The Purest Atmosphere,” a spacious composition that would feature early in the band’s 1991–1993 Myself a Living Torch incarnation, and would aptly represent that effort’s far-reaching, and often high-flying, surrealistic themes. Notable for its use of 6-string bass and trumpet, “Purest Atmosphere” details what presumably is regretful retrospection in the free fall of a fatal air crash; but could also be viewed on another level as what might today, as we approach 2020, be described as a kind of Dark Mountain Project, “naturocentric” environmentalism, where the failing aircraft stands in for man’s hubris and mistreatment of planet Earth. “In the dead of night, no siren cries. She’s the upper hand at all times.” However interpreted, the song, written in 1989 or ’90, speaks of a time when smoking was freely permitted on commercial flights — in hindsight, a stunning anachronism and symbol of industrial-era human folly — and plays out as a harbinger of even less certain times to come, foreboding and unsettling in its possible prescience. Bridging the two lyric songs is a curious instrumental. “Oh the Places We Will Go,” showcases Schulz/Bobo’s talent as a multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger. E-Bone plays all instruments on the “sketch” and crafts an off-handed, compelling tableau of exotica. The piece represents the innocent, intoxicating promise against which the other two songs play out in uneasy contrast. Remain on standby for more thrilling turbulence from Darke County and, eventually, far out over the horizon, the full Edge of Night LP.
Kiss Me Friday 3-song single – November 2019
Continuing the countdown to the release of the full “Edge of Night” LP by the JABMA label, the three tracks on “Kiss Me Friday” offer a potent glimpse into the early songwriting partnership of guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and arranger E-Bone Schulz (now Goner Records artist Harlan T Bobo) and singer, lyricist Jeffrey Bright. And, perhaps more intriguing, offer a speculative look at how Darke County’s sound might have evolved had they maintained the path laid in these early efforts. The title piece, along with “Lover’s Tattoo” and “Careless Smile,” were song sketches recorded by Schulz — playing all instruments himself — sometime in the 1990–1991 period, around the time Christopher Fisher was added as drummer to complete a rhythm section with bassist Chris “Troy” Green and round out the quartet’s lineup. That the three songs never emerged in Darke County’s set lists is likely more a reflection of the band’s prolific output, and eventual rebranding as Myself a Living Torch in late summer 1991, rather than a comment on the quality of the material. It’s inevitable that the window of opportunity for some ideas will close before they can become fully realized, or before the group’s sound shifts toward another direction. Now, as a project of Bright’s music archive, the three original recordings (among others) have been recovered from cassette, restored and just this year given a measure of completion. The brief compositions here paint in stylish strokes a provocative and compelling scene, noir-tinged and elegantly teetering on a razor’s edge. Bright’s world weary tenor, romantic fatalism, and Schulz’s restrained but acutely expressive playing portray a bohemian milieu where existential drama unfurls against a building wave of suppression and doom, where fleeting embrace is a sanctuary from humanity’s folly, and where the stakes of love, life and the search for meaning are no less than ultimate. Atop Schulz’s languid, surf-flavored guitar work, “Kiss Me Friday” tangoes with tragic grace “down the steps of decline / from lucid to blind,” imploring a would-be inamorata to fulfill a poetic and potentially carnal — if the Henry Miller reference is applied — salvation in the throes of ruin. Or it may simply be a rallying cry to jailbreak the banality of another workweek (or all responsibility for that matter) and dive headlong into the promise of one immediate, boundless night. “Lover’s Tattoo” plays out in melodramatic staccato, a vaguely Spanish flamenco obsessing on passion, memory and a peculiarly unsettling notion: As Bright sings “In dreams it comes to steal away your sleep / In dreams we dream what happiness will not allow” he seems to suggest that the quotidian perception of happiness cannot abide our deepest, most primal desires; that on the fine point of being — existence in extremis — is an all-consuming flame, an unquenchable thirst haunting the subconscious; that what we really want may actually devour us. The thought is deliciously taboo, and like all overly delicious sensations, clocking at 1:39, “Lover’s Tattoo” is here then so quickly gone, leaving only a complex, bittersweet taste to linger. Closing the set is an equally short and masterful slide-guitar blues in waltz time. Perhaps more poignant for its brevity, “Careless Smile” is a multi-layered, morning-after hangover, as wistful and heart-rending as it is blunt in its acknowledgment of an impending and inevitable finality. Woven through Schulz’s emotive tonality, the various possible meanings in play, ranging from macroscopic to keenly personal to commentaries on the music itself, are almost too numerous to quantify. What can readily be said, though, is the song would have you believe that the seduction act — what happens just prior to such morning-after reprisals — is where real meaning, temporal as it may be, lays its head (and makes its bed — sorry). Then again, in contrary, it seems throughout history we’ve never fully grasped the whole action-and-consequence thing. Off we go into the deep, purple night… Not too many fuzzy mornings from now the full 20-track Edge of Night LP will be available. And so many mysteries of the human project will be presented in burlesque, offered up as eternally tasty taffy for the incurably curious.