The Darden Sisters are a musical group from Fullerton comprised of four sisters: Selah (violin), Clarah (guitar), Havi (mandolin), and Tabbi (bass). Known for their Americana folk sound and re-imagining of classic and modern tunes, the Sisters focus on musical harmonies and blending of styles. We sat down with the Darden Sisters to learn more about the past, present, and future of these rising local stars.
Photo by Kristin Johnson
Fullerton Observer (FO): How did you get started?
Selah: We started very young singing all together as a family. We were traveling gospel singers and we went all around the US. We’d go to different churches and sing gospel music, and then we came back here. Fullerton was always our home base. About ten years ago, we started to sing different types of music, and kind of branched off.
FO: A traveling family gospel band? That seems like something people would do back in the 1930s. You don’t hear about that kind of thing much now.
Clarah: We would tour for nine months, and then we’d go home for the holidays. We got to see so many places: The Grand Canyon, the Great Lakes. We got as far east as Kentucky. We used to visit Washington every year. There was this family camp they had there with kids our age. We got to swim in the Columbia River, and fish for salmon, the best salmon I’ve ever had.
FO: How would you describe your music?
Clarah: It’s kind of an alternative sound, but with Americana and folk influences. But since we have the gospel influence, we have a lot of harmonies. We love to harmonize together, sometimes in four part harmonies. We all play acoustic instruments for now: mandolin, violin, guitar, and bass. We do a lot of covers of 60s, 70s, and 80s music. We write some originals that we’re starting to integrate into our set.
Selah: People will say, ‘I’ve seen you so many times, but it’s different every time.’ And it is, we’re just growing and experimenting.
FO: Who are some of your influences?
Havi: We like a lot of Americana—The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, stuff like that. And then, coming off the road, we started playing in rest (senior) homes, so we learned a lot of old music—songs the older folks would know and be familiar with.
FO: What are some examples of “old” music you played?
Havi: The Andrews Sisters, old jazz classics, Frank Sinatra. That shows through in our music as an influence as well. We listen to a wide variety of music.
FO: When I hear you perform, I can hear the influence of old folk singers like The Carter Family as well.
Selah: Yeah. I think that has a lot to do with us being a family band. No matter how much we may want to get away from it or like it, that’s always something that we’ll go back to—those family roots, family harmonies. We are sisters.
FO: Where do you play shows now?
Clarah: We play around downtown Fullerton: Back Alley, Bourbon Street, the Matador Cantina. We also play at The Packinghouse in Anaheim. We played at the OC Fair this year and last year. We’re trying to get into more festivals. And we’ll be playing a Christmas show at the Muckenthaler in December.
FO: How does the fact that you’re sisters influence the band?
Selah: I think there are many pros and cons, but I would say mostly pros because we all understand each other on another level that you would probably not get with just co-workers. We’ve been doing this for so long and it’s our life, it’s become just a part of who we are.
Tabbi: We can’t really fire each other because we live together. A lot of times if we get in an argument before a show it doesn’t really matter, because once we start playing, we just can’t be in an argument. And then, by the end of the show, we totally forgot what we were arguing about in the first place.
Photo by Kristin Johnson.
FO: Do you see this band as being a full-time job? What do you see for the future?
Selah: That is our ultimate goal and dream, is to make this work for as long as we can. We’ve all made the decision that this is our main thing for as long as it takes, or as long as we can keep it going.
Clarah: Right now it is a full time job for us because we perform almost every day.
Selah: And we’re still passionate about it.
FO: How has your music evolved over the ten years you’ve been a group?
Selah: I would say that it’s always evolving, and it probably always will be, but the one thing that does stay the same is our harmonies. No matter what the different song or style is, we try our hardest to make it our own.
Clarah: When we were younger, there was a lot of older music that we would sing and listen to, and so we had a lot of an older sound. Now we’ve been listening to all sorts of music, and broadening our influences and the music we listen to and play. We’re tying to keep up with the times a little bit, to appeal to people our age. So that’s been a challenge but always really fun, because music is always changing.
FO: What are some things you love about Fullerton?
Selah: Fullerton’s such a good place for artists generally—everybody’s very open towards any type of art. There are so many beautiful places to sit and reflect or take a walk. You have a city aspect with a small town feel. Our family has roots here. My grandparents have lived here for almost 50 years now. My mom grew up here, so it’s cool. It’s a good environment to grow up it.
FO: What are your dreams for the future?
Clarah: Right now we’re working on preparing original music to record, so we’re really excited about that. We’ve done a couple recording projects in the past. A couple years ago, we recorded some older songs to give to the senior homes, because they always want to have that music just playing. We’d come and play live for them.
FO: Which senior homes do you play at?
Clara: There’s a bunch. Sunrise on Bradford in Placentia, Acacia Villa, Cambridge Court, Fullerton Gardens, Morningside, Crescendo, and the Pavilion Center at St. Jude. We go there for a lot of holidays.
FO: How did you get into doing that, playing at senior homes?
Clarah: When we came off the road, my mom wanted an outlet for us to keep doing music. We didn’t have the churches anymore. My grandpa, who has been playing piano for over 50 years in clubs all over the world, now he plays at senior living homes. So he said, ‘I’ll let you guys join in on my show.’ He gave us some of his contacts, so we started playing around. It was perfect. They love it.
Selah: We just went to one today. It was a little luncheon for Veteran’s Day. We get to sing for these old timers who have their hats on still. We go in and they’re like, “How are you? Do you have boyfriends yet?” It’s like having grandparents everywhere. It’s really fun, and it’s shaped our music.
FO: You said you come from a musical family. Can you talk about some of those influences?
Clarah: Our grandfather has been an entertainer for over 50 years. He had his own act which he actually took to Japan. He had a show with his sons (my uncles) and my mom (who is a dancer) and a couple other people. It was called The American Can Can Revue. The show had a bunch of old classic songs, and a dance choreography. He did jokes and impersonations, like Jimmy Durante, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, cool stuff like that. It was like a family business. And my uncles now are in punk rock bands—D.I. and the Dickies. We’re going to see one of them tonight.
Selah: Our uncles are Eddie and Joe Tatar, and they play in D.I. together. And uncle Eddie plays in other bands as well.
FO: Wow, so you also have a connection to some local punk history?
Selah: Our basement is like hallowed ground for the beginning of that scene in the 80s. We have some Social Distortion graffiti on the wall down there. We think No Doubt’s been down there too.
FO: You’ve got a lot of musical history in your family, from the old time American Can Can, to gospel, to punk rock.
Selah: Really good influences.
FO: Would you ever get an RV like when you were kids and hit the road as The Darden Sisters?
Tabbi: We definitely want to tour again. We all have that traveling bug. We love being out there on the road.
Selah: We’ve done little tours. We went to the Netherlands. We played and recorded there. We’ve played Arizona. We’ve played Northern California a couple of times. We do have some work, but it’s mainly us just getting out and traveling which is fun.
FO: Can you tell me about the show you have coming up at the Muckenthaler?
Selah: It’s going to be Christmas-based. We’re going to have some special guests. It should be exciting and fun. It will be December 21st.
For more info and to keep up with The Darden Sisters, visit www.dardensisters.com.
‘Twas a Darden Sisters Christmas will take place December 21st at 7:30pm at The Muckenthaler Cultural Center (1201 W. Malvern Ave, Fullerton, CA 92833). Tickets are $15. To purchase tickets visist www.themuck.org.