Harris Paseltiner of Darlingside’s Songwriting Survival Kit

Darlingside #SongwritingSurvivalKit
Darlingside #SongwritingSurvivalKit

Darlingside’s #songwritingsurvivalkit: Harris’ car not pictured

Want to know what the Boston alt-rocker couldn’t write without, then look no further as he reveals their 10 essentials

Darlingside’s new album Extralife has been on permanent rotation at Songwriting HQ since its release last month. It’s a record that creeps up on you, with exquisite harmonies often belying the mournful message at its heart – if you’re a fan of Fleet Foxes or Sufjan Stevens then we think you’ll love it too. Such is its charm, we were desperate to know a little bit more about the essential items that the Boston alt-folk quartet use to aid their songwriting. Thankfully, Harris Paseltiner (guitar, cello and vocals) is on hand to reveal just that…

1. iPhone Voice Memo app
“The most important tool for survival! I could’ve put down ‘tape recorder’, but I have my phone in my pocket more often than I have a tape recorder. So if a song idea strikes me while I’m sitting in the car or walking, I can pull out my phone and record a memo. If I’m struck with a new idea for a melody or have a lyric jump into my head, I want to record it immediately so that I don’t forget it. There’s nothing worse than having a whole tune unfold in my head and then I can’t remember it an hour later. Also, I use the video camera on the phone to tape my hands when trying to document a picking or fingering pattern on the guitar.”

2. Santa Cruz Guitar Company H-Model acoustic guitar
“This is a small guitar that I can curl up on the couch or lie on the floor with, carry to the kitchen, take out to dinner, read to in a hammock… I want to be able to write a song anywhere and anytime. If there was only one instrument left in the world, I’d choose this one.”

3. Kyser KG3B Short-Cut 3-String Acoustic Capo
“This capo changed my life. It only pushes down three strings, allowing me to quickly get a guitar into open tuning (without having to turn any tuning pegs). So I can play almost any chord and it feels good while songwriting. That way I can focus on the melody and vibe of the song, rather than whether my left hand is playing the perfect thing. I also discover a bunch of crunchy chords when I use this capo that I wouldn’t find in standard tuning.”

4. One instrument I’m unskilled at playing
“It’s good to have an instrument on hand that I’m not good at playing…say, banjo. If I try to figure out how to play the banjo while writing a song, some really strange chordal moves will pop out accidentally that I wouldn’t have found on guitar. I find my hands follow the same patterns over-and-over on the guitar through muscle memory. It’s nice to force myself out of well-trodden grooves by grappling with something I don’t know.”

5. An amplifier with a spring reverb tank
“Sometimes I want a song to already have ambience, even when it’s in a nascent stage. I like to plug in an acoustic guitar and turn up the reverb tank on the amp. I often get away with simpler guitar arrangements when I write with an amp—the chords have more sustain and fill the space. Without an amp, I’m prone to over-playing.”


Darlingside: “The four of us are equal co-writers on every song, and all four members are very opinionated”

6. A car
“A good song should be able to be sung without any instruments while driving in the car. I like car-testing tunes by going for a drive and singing them aloud. If it’s a pleasure to dig into and if it gets stuck in my head, it’s probably worth setting lyrics to.”

7. A few books
“Reading someone else’s words for a while gets me in the flow to write lyrics. Hearing the different cadences and sentence-sounds gets me loosened up a bit. So far, Steinbeck’s best.”

8. OneLook.com
“The OneLook dictionary search website is a powerful tool. Type ‘cr*:rain’ into the search bar and it’ll show a complete list of words that start with ‘cr’ and have a meaning related to rain. Or type in ‘*black’ and it’ll find words and phrases that end with the word ‘black’. When I’m stuck on lyrics, this’ll help me find a rhyme, a turn of phrase, or the alliteration I’ve been looking for.”

9. Tea
“Oolong, pu-erh, green, herbal throat-coat, rooibos… All helpful for getting me in the right mood for writing, or loosening up the voice for singing in the morning.”

USA Songwriting Competition 2024

10. Three opinionated co-writers
“In Darlingside, the four of us are equal co-writers on every song, and all four members are very opinionated. Usually, if I ‘complete’ a song alone and then bring it into the group, it’ll get torn to shreds. If a song has any chance of survival, I need to invite the other members to collaborate early in the process. If I have a melody for a verse, I can hand it off to someone else and he can write the chorus. The other two might write the lyrics. Teaming up with others often pulls me out of writers block and allows me to toss a bunch of small ideas out there rather than obsessing over one tune.”

Darlingside’s latest LP Extralife is out now. For further info, head to darlingside.com

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