"Too Slow," one of the more delicate songs on Those Darlins' new album, holds special significance for Jessi Zazu.
"I wrote that when I first started dating my boyfriend," the 24-year-old singer said by phone from her home in Nashville last week. "It was just a rough time period, but that was really sweet. Whenever I play it, it reminds me of the beginning of my relationship."
It's a time for new beginnings for Those Darlins, the rock quartet that released its third record, "Blur the Line," last week and headlines the Metro Gallery on Friday. Zazu said the band had to do some soul-searching before it recorded the album this past spring.
"Every discovery was a surprise, but it's hard for me to describe what we found," she said. "I know that I've changed a lot, and I know that the band has changed a lot."
When the group released its self-titled debut in 2009, a reputation as boozy Southern party girls with an attitude began to precede the music. Zazu said the band did not shy away from the label at first, but found it eventually grew stale.
"I wouldn't say I was uncomfortable with it because it was pretty accurate, but after awhile, it was like, 'If I hear the word 'sassy' one more time in an interview ...'" she said. "Me and Nikki [Kvarnes, the band's other singer], we have a lot more inside of us. It was frustrating because we know it's there, but we can understand why we got pigeonholed."
"Blur the Line" announces a fresh start for Those Darlins. A band that once included a song about drunkenly eating a whole chicken ("The Whole Damn Thing") on its debut was ready to turn in a more serious effort, both in tone and performance. "Blur the Line" took two months to write and record, and Zazu said it was the first time the group truly worked hard in the studio, spending eight to 10 hours per day fine-tuning tracks.
But Zazu sounds most proud of "trying to break out of our particular mode, lyrically."
"I wanted to write words that I knew, every time I performed them, that I would feel something behind them, something I would never lose," she said.
The goal, she said, was to finally allow the music to define the band, and not its image. While writing "Blur the Line," Zazu learned she could still be provocative without histrionics.
"Some of the rebelliousness or whatever, I wanted to put that specifically into the music," she said. "You don't have to push it so hard on the surface."
"Blur the Line" is also the first album since founding member Kelley Anderson amicably left the group. Anderson's departure last year was a catalyst to the band taking itself more seriously, Zazu said.
"When Kelley left, it was our job to figure out, 'OK, what are we going to do?'" Zazu said. "We had a lot to work out. I would just say that once we got through this long period of 'What the hell are we doing,' and we defined our roles a little bit more, it ended up helping us become a lot more solid."
Adrian Barerra replaced Anderson on bass, and Zazu said he's made the transition easy on everyone. Clearly, the new foursome has reached a comfort level few bands ever reach. The cover art of "Blur the Line" features the four members, naked, holding each other. Zazu said the image was about accurately portraying the band in its new form, and not merely about catching eyes.
"The idea was to represent the vulnerability on the album, and baring it all," she said. "Also, to just not have anything that would signify a time period or anything. This is us, right here."
If you go
Those Darlins perform Friday at the Metro Gallery, 1700 N. Charles St. in Station North. Doors open at 9 p.m. Gambles will also perform. Tickets are $10. 18+. Call 410-244- 0899 or go to themetrogallery.net.