Three Great Things: Auyon Mukharji of Darlingside

Plus, the premiere of their track "Green + Evergreen."

Three Great Things is our series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. Auyon Mukharji is one-fourth of Darlingside, the Massachusetts-bred band that’s drawn favorable comparisons to the likes of Simon & Garfunkel and The Byrds. Alongside Mukharji’s great things, below you’ll find the premiere of “Green & Evergreen,” a track from the band’s upcoming album Fish Pond Fish, which was produced by Peter Katis (Interpol, The National, Frightened Rabbit). 
—Josh Modell, Talkhouse Executive Editor

1. Fermentation

I recently discovered the magic of home fermentation, and it has completely changed my relationship with food preparation. Fermentation in a culinary context generally refers to the transformation of food by microbes (bacteria and/or fungi) and the enzymes those microbes produce. I had previously assumed it was a fussy enterprise requiring sterile containers, precise thermostats, and careful humidity control — a burden best left to commercial kitchens. 

It turns out that although some fermentative processes require some slightly specialized kit, a great many others involve nothing more than a clean jar and a daily stir. Hard cider, for example, requires just one ingredient: unpasteurized apple cider. Leave it in a glass or plastic jug and give it a stir once or twice a day. Eventually, wild yeast from the air and apples will start fermenting the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol, transforming the sweet juice into a fizzy, boozy treat. The processes for pickling vegetables and making a sourdough starter are similarly straightforward. Other ferments, like yogurt or kombucha, require a starter to get them going (commercial yogurts and kombuchas can often be used as starters, and there are several sources for cultures online as well), but there’s not much else to them. 

It’s a surprisingly empowering thing, to make things in your own home that previously had only been accessible via supermarket shelves and faceless corporate kitchens. It’s also an addictive hobby—by the end of our Fish Pond Fish recording sessions (which coincided with the first couple months of quarantine), every member of the band had a jar of mead or kombucha bubbling away in his kitchen. 

If you’re interested in dipping a toe in, I’d recommend investing in Sandor Ellix Katz’ The Art of Fermentation, which describes and draws on fermentation traditions around the globe with an emphasis on science and process over strict recipe-following.

2. Steady, imperfect practice and the body’s capacity to learn

I loved playing sports growing up, but I was never particularly good at anything. I can attribute some of it to my size—I was a couple years young for my grade, and as a result was prepubescent until the tail end of high school — but I was also constantly hurting myself. Intermittent injury followed me into college, and eventually bloomed into full-blown chronic pain in my 20s. Healing was slow, but I learned to pay better attention to my body and, over the course of a decade, grew to be pain-free. A major part of that process for me was learning to believe in my body’s resilience, understanding that my history of injury was the result of mistreatment and not some innate fragility.

During that period in my 20s when I was cuffed in braces and unable to even type, I fantasized about all the things I would do with my body if I ever got back to being pain-free: handstands, pull-ups, flips, etc. When I was finally able to pursue some of those goals, I found myself getting injured quickly, just as I had when I was younger. This time, though, rather than getting discouraged and moving on, I started doing a bit more research on physical learning. I read about the massive impact that sleep can have on progress, and how the development of proprioception (the awareness of one’s own body positioning, also known as the kinesthetic sense) is best done slowly and steadily. I realized that so much of what had been problematic about my learning when I was younger was the stressful pace I demanded of myself, and that slowing things down allowed me to progress both more efficiently and injury-free. 

The biggest takeaway for me was learning to trust my body’s muscle memory to learn through consistent, steady repetition and proper sleep, instead of over-intellectualizing and/or pummeling my way through every practice session. For example, I’m now learning guitar, and I’ve found the most efficient way for me to practice a new lick is for just a few minutes each day. The first week or so will feel clumsy, but then at the beginning of that second week, something will click! Allowing myself that time to noodle around sloppily is directly at odds with the “only perfect practice makes perfect” mantra that some folks subscribe to, but I’ve found it to be less stressful and more sustainable to make space for imperfect practice, and to trust that my body will fill in the gaps.

3. Turning my phone off

This one is especially pertinent in today’s screen-intensive quarantine dystopia. I’ve done a decent job of limiting my ability to waste time on my phone by abstaining from social media and deleting game apps, but I still find myself automatically picking it up any time I have a free moment — to check the news, the weather, what Jonathan Taylor Thomas is up to these days, the weather again, etc. The only tactics that consistently free me from temptation are either turning it off or leaving it at home.

The charms of phonelessness are hard to describe without resorting to New Agey platitudes, so I’ll merely suggest you try it for a few hours if you haven’t yet. It will feel different, but it will also feel good.

Fish Pond Fish is out October 9.

With Fish Pond Fish, DarlingsideDave Senft (bass), Don Mitchell (guitar, banjo), Auyon Mukharji (violin, mandolin), and Harris Paseltiner (cello, guitar) — has created a natural history in song, taking us into gardens, almond groves, orchard rows, down to the ocean floor and under stars. The band has long been praised for their harmonies and intelligent songwriting, described by NPR as “exquisitely-arranged, literary-minded, baroque folk-pop,” and their dynamic presence (crowded tightly together onstage) has made them a live-performance favorite.

(Photo Credit: Rob Stey)