Darlinghurst: “Music Is Always There When I Don't Feel Like I Have Anything Else”

29 May 2023 | 9:32 am | Ellie Robinson

“I’m going to be who I am, and if you don’t like it, you can go jump – life’s too short to spend it living for someone else.”


Darlinghurst (Image: Supplied)

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Within months of releasing their debut single (Sorry Won’t Get You Back) in the second half of 2019, Darlinghurst were a household name in the Australian country scene. They had a winning formula from the get-go: tight hooks and sharp songwriting, spun through a web of buoyancy and charm that made it impossible to ignore them. Subsequent singles like So Long So Long, Picture Frame and Gotta Go Rodeo only amplified the Naarm/Melbourne band’s stature, leading to a #1 debut on the ARIA Country chart (and #9 on the primary albums chart) for their eponymous debut long-player in September 2021.

The quartet are currently hashing out the minutia for their second album, as singer-songwriter Pagan Newman tells Countrytown: “We’ve got a little bit of time off from touring right now, so we’re pretty much just writing non-stop. We’re constantly sending each other new ideas and new songs, and we just recently started really honing in on them… Hopefully there’ll be a few more coming out this year.”

Keeping the hype alive is Darlinghurst’s just-released single Pretty Doesn’t Make You Good, a barnstorming scorcher about the gravity of self-empowerment. When it landed earlier in May, Cassie Leopold (Newman’s mic-toting sister-in-song) described it as an ode to those “trying to escape what the world sells” – the deeply poisonous, yet ever-prevalent narrative that one’s success is innately tied to their appearance. She explained: “Our personal internal dialogue, self-deprecating, body loathing struggle is real, and this system is deeply unconscious, yet faithfully repeated.”

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This narrative isn’t new. Vintage adverts from the ‘40s and ‘50s paint a grisly picture of patriarchal mendacity, desperately hocking (often useless) products to women by taking low blows at their appearance and societal worth: most of their pitches boil down to some variation of “men will only love you if you’re pretty, and you’ll only be pretty if you buy this radioactive sludge to wear/eat/smoke”. Advertisers haven’t stopped shilling these tropes, they’ve just gotten more clever; subtler. So too has the entertainment industry, which has long viewed women with bitter contempt if they won’t bend to archaic, unrealistic and demoralising standards (or lack thereof). 

In their formative years, both Newman and Leopold felt the sting of their jabs. “Cassie and I have been singing since we were babies,” the former tells us, “and I was quite a large child, so I’d always hear things like, ‘We'll sign you, but you need to lose weight,’ or, ‘You've got such a pretty face, buuuut…’ And it’s just one of those things where as you get older, those messages keep buzzing around in your mind. You get further on in your career and suddenly it’s like, ‘Okay, you need to have your tits out. You need to show your legs in this music video’ – and it’s the most ridiculous thing! It’s such a damaging standard, that if you don’t look a certain way, you’re not good enough.”

Rather aptly titled, Pretty Doesn’t Make You Good is Darlinghurst’s shot at disrupting the status quo, sending the ever-pertinent message that no matter how much effort you put into your hair, make-up and outfit, no amount of aesthetic rizz can substitute real, authentic talent. “We’re told that the most important thing is looking pretty and acting a certain way,” Newman says, “but in the end, it doesn’t matter. Doing your job matters. Being a good person matters. And as I've gotten older, I’ve come to this realisation that I don’t need to listen to those dinosaurs telling me who I should be. I’m going to be who I am, and if you don’t like it, you can go jump – life’s too short to spend it living for someone else.”

Newman admits that in the years before she joined Darlinghurst, she herself could’ve used a song like Pretty Doesn’t Make You Good. “Ten years ago,” she says pensively, “I had no self-esteem whatsoever. I disliked myself thoroughly… I was a shell of a person, to be honest. I was going through a lot of things that kept pushing me back further and further. So I think it’s important to show [people who might now be in a similar position] that yes, you can be yourself and succeed; you can achieve your goals by working hard and believing in yourself; you can surround yourself with really good people, who nourish you and encourage you to be who you are.”

Asked if those “really good people” for Newman are her bandmates in Darlinghurst, she responds with a hearty “mmhm!” Leopold in particular has become her right-hand-woman, as she gushes: “We’ve been singing with each other for about 13 years now, and we’ve both come so far together. We’re the ‘naughty ones’ in the band, and our label [Helium Records] actually love that. They’re like, ‘We’ve never seen anything like it! The girls just do what they feel like doing – good on ‘em!’ It feels so good to have that support and knowing that they’re happy for us to just run with our own instincts. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem and it’s helped me come out of my shell a lot more.”

Today, Newman’s modus operandi as a songwriter is to help those who listen to her songs find some reprieve from their day-to-day malaise. It speaks to her own relationship with music, which has always been a source of comfort and catharsis.“Music is my escape,” she declares. “No matter what I’m feeling – whether I’m down, or happy, or angry, or whatever – I can always rely on music to take me where I need to be. I kept a lot inside, growing up, because I didn't think I was able to express myself, and I felt embarrassed about how I felt – so I would just find a quiet spot where nobody could see me, and I’d sing. It was always in those moments that I felt the most like myself. Music is always there for me when I don't feel like I have anything else.”

From here, the world is Newman’s oyster – and Leopold’s, and Jason Resch’s, and Matt Darvidis’ (the latter two also sing and play guitar in Darlinghurst). The band’s new music is shaping up to make their earlier hits sound like jam room demos, and as Newman vouches for herself, Pretty Doesn’t Make You Good is “a great start” for their next chapter. “We’re branching out a bit more,” she teases, “and we want to make this next round of songs something you haven't heard from us before. There’s a lot more of our voices being heard, and a lot more experimenting with our sound; we’re playing around more with some of the different genres and types of music that brought us all together in the first place… Fingers crossed it all works out!” 

Keep up to date with Darlinghurst on their Facebook page here.