DARKMINDS’ new single, “Good News,” has a bit of an unsuspecting start. Upon hitting play, you’ll be greeted by a loose vocal melody paired with just simple snaps on beats 2 and 4. It’s catchy enough, it’s a bit alluring, but it certainly leaves you wanting more… and after the brief intro concludes, more arrives. With a jazzy piano fill and a bombastic kick drum on the downbeat, the song blossoms open into a gorgeous, catchy and irresistibly feel-good bop.
In a lot of ways, “Good News” is just like DARKMINDS themselves—organic, uplifting and oozing with natural talent. Made up of songwriters Daniel Ellsworth and Christopher Umana (who uses the stage name C4), the duo has been effortlessly collaborating on expressive pop tracks since they first met at a writing session in 2019. Now, with the release of “Good News” on May 21, the duo is gearing up to release their first full-length record, Good News, on June 4.
“We weren’t planning on doing an album, it just fell into place,” C4 told American Songwriter. “The music set its own pace. I remember Daniel said ‘Hey man, I’ve been listening back to our stuff … we have two or three projects here. Just built into everything we already did.’ From there, we were like ‘Okay, well, let’s organize this.’”
As nonchalant as that seems, DARKMINDS really does have a strong “happy-go-lucky” energy around them. See, while some songwriters might labor months or years over a single composition, C4 and Ellsworth have been endowed with the ability to crank out good songs left and right … which is why they’ve been able to score so many high-profile placements. With a growing reputation for providing songs for sync, the duo’s music has been featured in ads for Apple, PGA Tour, Vh1, KT Corp and GQ Sports, as well as in movies and shows on Netflix, Disney+, CBS, Fox, NBC, ABC and more. So, how do they work so well together? Well, maybe part of it has to do with their roots.
For Ellsworth, music has been a companion for as long as he can remember. In the early 2010s, his band—Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes—began releasing records, which opened a lot of doors for him while he was still living in Nashville. He rolled with that for a while, building up his name and resume, but eventually, he got the same itch Willie Nelson got back in the early ‘70s: the itch to ditch Nashville and go out west. Except for Ellsworth, he went a bit further west than Texas—he went all the way to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile in Atlanta, C4 was coming of age in a household full of eclectic music. “My mother and father are Nigerian, so there was always a lot of rhythmic, percussive music in the family—it’s in my DNA,” he explained. “Plus, growing up in the South, there was so much music buzzing at the time, whether it’s R&B or the early emergence of trap music and those types of things. It all plays out in my production style, both prior to and with DARKMINDS. It’s a ‘melting pot,’ so to speak, from the Bible Belt—you get everything, like a gumbo of music from the South.”
But it didn’t take long for C4 to make his way westward too. “I came out to Los Angeles shortly after graduating college in 2009,” he said. “I came with just a ‘toolbox of ideas,’ pretty much, and was ready to take on whatever Los Angeles had to offer. I got plugged into a lot of different writing sessions, different camps, landed a lot of placements with major recording artists, like Musiq Soulchild—which was kinda like the end of the neo-soul era—Trey Songz, Kelly Rowland, Big Sean, stuff like that. That got me exposed to a lot of other opportunities, like television.”
This is where Ellsworth and C4’s paths finally collided—one day, they were both called to the same writing session. “It was just one of those things where a session gets put together for you,” Ellsworth remembered. “I showed up to write and C4 was there. Right off the bat, we hit it off—vibe-wise and because we’re both trained keyboard players, which is a rare thing. The first time we worked together, we were like ‘Alright, this is cool, this is a thing.’”
For his part, C4 attested to the magic feeling after that first session. “Daniel has an amazing writing ability—both lyrically and on the piano,” he said. “Basically, our worlds collided and it became what we know now: DARKMINDS. We’re still trying to figure out who the person was who introduced us so we can credit them with starting this nice collaboration! Now, it feels like I’ve known him since childhood.”
Perhaps that natural chemistry has more to do with the DARKMINDS’ success than any of their “luck” does, but nonetheless, the more you hear about how effortless the duo’s collaboration is, the more it sounds like a magic act.
“We always work over at C4’s studio—sometimes I’ll come in with a melody idea or some kind of chord progression, just something that’s intentionally not fleshed-out, but is more of a jumping-off point,” Ellsworth explained. “Then, with C4, it can be instantaneous—if I play him something he’s feeling, he’ll be like ‘Yep, I know where this is going, I can hear it in my head.’ Then, he dives right in on the production stuff. From there, it becomes a back and forth, like, ‘Okay, let’s lay this down.’ Usually, by the end of the day, it’s a finished track. It might not be ‘done’ done, but the song is done.”
It’s true—C4 is the kind of musician whose brain can skillfully execute any idea once it comes into focus, which is why it’s such a nifty arrangement that Ellsworth comes up with so many ideas. “Daniel will start with a voice memo or a piano thing,” C4 said. “He’ll usually have some kind of chord progression and a melodic line. He’ll say ‘Okay, here’s the jumping-off point’ and I’ll say ‘Okay, cool, I know what parachute to put on.’ Ideas come in waves—and sometimes it’s overwhelming—so I try to volley off the idea as fast as possible while keeping track of all the arrangements in my head. It’s a God-given ability—if I ever have writer’s block, it’s just because I can’t see the picture yet, I can’t find that jumping-off point. Daniel does that so well, he’ll say ‘Here’s an idea’ and then it’ll be ‘Boom, boom, boom’ and we have a great thing going. Our collaboration fits like a glove. Those jumping-off points allow me to see the whole song before we even write it, and then it comes together so beautifully.”
This is the process that’s seen DARKMINDS find so much success in the sync world, as well as in the early stages of their artistic debut. With a string of successful singles under their belt, Good News will mark the first step in a thrilling new direction.
“Good News is upbeat and has a lot of positivity, kinda like summertime feels—we thought maybe that’s the thing the world needs right now,” Ellsworth said. “Since the beginning of DARKMINDS, we’ve always joked that we’re just kinda following it, not the other way around. We go where the project leads us, as opposed to the more traditional ‘Start a band, build potential, make a record, go on tour’ and all that stuff. We’re just making music together and following it wherever it goes.”
And especially after a historically turbulent year for so many around the world, Good News is arriving at a pretty good time. “We’re just really grateful,” C4 said. “We’re grateful for the opportunity. Even through the pandemic, we’ve been given a lot to be thankful for… and a lot to write about! The pandemic itself was a ‘jumping-off point’ in some regards. There was so much sadness around us, but we have this gift to be able to reach others through music. Music is the universal language. So, it’s amazing to see how far around the world music can take you. We’re just really grateful to have gifts that are able to weather the storm.”
And while that proverbial storm isn’t quite “over” yet (if “over” is even a term that can be used in the context of a global pandemic), the music of DARKMINDS is so enchanting and infectiously warm that it can make even the darkest of rainstorms feel like a sunny day on the beach. So, despite their name, DARKMINDS has certainly crafted some brilliantly bright music and are ready to share it with the world.
DARKMINDS’ new album Good News is out on June 4. Their single “Good News” is out now and available everywhere—listen to it below: