One wouldn’t be remiss in expecting the music of a band calling itself Dark Dark Dark to contain a touch of gloom. Who Needs Who, the band’s third full-length album, finds singer Nona Marie Invie capturing the acute pain of love and loss, seeming to sing out of a cave of ice walls.
Invie cofounded Dark Dark Dark, who play the Arlene Francis Center on Nov. 1, with Marshall LaCount in 2006. The two had a romantic relationship until early 2011. “The breakup is hard,” admits Invie, on the phone from her home in Minneapolis. “But being together unhappy in the band was hard, too.”
Who Needs Who courses with the brittle nostalgia that comes of failed relationships. Lyrics like “I want to live in the time when you cherished me,” on the record’s gorgeous first single, “Tell Me,” convey that particular yearning. But, Invie adds, “people think all of the songs are about [LaCount], which isn’t the case.”
At the same time, she says, the songwriting process, which consists of sending demos to band members spread across the United States, was influenced by the experience.
“I was in such a writing mode when this was all happening,” she says, “before and after. It was about just letting it free flow without a filter.”
In the midst of this rawness, Invie’s singing style is surprisingly controlled, imbued with a knack for bringing deep emotion. This talent comes of a pure love for singing, which Invie says she does “constantly,” and from an early age, when she’d sing Joni Mitchell and Carole King songs with her mom in the car. “My mom was really into these ’70s strong ladies,” she says.
Invie, however, does put 10 years of classical piano training to work in her music. (On previous records, her main instrument was the accordion.) “I’ve always played, but I wasn’t performing or writing on it,” she says, regarding the piano’s prominence on the new recordings. “Then I started approaching it in a new way outside the classical spectrum, and it feels really good.”
Invie wrote all but two songs on the album, but she’s backed up by LaCount on electric banjo and clarinet, Walt McClements on accordion and trumpet, Adam Wozniak on bass and Mark Trecka on percussion.
The struggle toward realization, of finding light in darkness, is a strain that runs consistently through the avant-garde pop cabaret of Who Needs Who. Is this an album about growing up and facing the loss, either through physical or emotional death, that’s an inescapable part of being human?
“It feels like part of this record is about becoming more mature,” says Invie. “Maybe that’s the simple way of putting it.”