When The Dutchess and The Duke’s previous appearance in Salt Lake City was canceled, the Pacific Northwest duo scraped together a “shadow show,” thanks to a few helpful Provo contacts from their early punk-rock days. It’s the type of DIY fix-it that co-founder Jesse Lortz found absent from the indie-folk community that he inadvertently infiltrated when his songs started traveling down a pensive acoustic path.
“All of the scenes around here are really kind of elitist,” Lortz says from his home in Seattle before hitting the road in support of the group’s sophomore release, Sunset/Sunrise (Hardly Art). “The attitude is like, ‘If you didn’t start at the same time my band started then you can’t be in our club.’ So, at first, we had a hard time finding bands to play with.”
It didn’t help that Lortz and musical partner, guitarist/vocalist Kimberly Morrison, were largely unfamiliar with their buzz-worthy neighbors. Lortz hadn’t even heard critical favorites Fleet Foxes until about a week before The Dutchess and The Duke landed an industry gig with them. The gig was so successful, the two bands wound up on tour together, and suddenly Lortz and Morrison were snagging favorable press—and getting stopped in the street by total strangers.
“If it happens enough times [in a short period] I wonder if people are looking at me because I’m in this band or because I remind them of someone. It makes you really self-conscious,” Lortz says, adding that the notoriety extends to some pretty random places, like the Canadian border. “The guard told us his friend was trying to convince him to go to our show—that never happened in our other bands.”
Lortz isn’t sure why The Dutchess and The Duke caught on so quickly but assumes part of its appeal has to do with a certain quality inherent in the loose, stripped-down material— familiar, positive and arguably more universally palatable than the raucous songs they delivered as punks.
Not that the duo went soft. In fact, many people have pegged The Dutchess and The Duke’s ’60s-flavored folk as surefire party fodder. Strange, considering the lyrical content of even their liveliest songs wades into some dark territory.
“If I don’t see the sun soon then I know I’ll go insane,” Lortz sings on “Reservoir Park,” the opening track off their 2008 debut, She’s The Dutchess, He’s The Duke. His voice is desperate, but the agony is somewhat obscured by a round of mismatched handclaps pounding out a raucous beat that some folks confuse as lighthearted. “I get a really big kick out of people who review the first record, describing all these fun, drink-on-your-porch sing-along songs, and they aren’t—they really aren’t,” he says. “I wonder if these people are even really listening, or if they put it on while they’re doing the dishes.”
It’s not hard to pick up on the emotional struggles woven throughout Sunset/Sunrise, an album that details Lortz’s attempts to reconcile his recent transition into fatherhood and the responsibilities such a major life-change entails. The lyrics are raw, unflinching and refreshingly candid—brave, even. It’s not easy admitting that you want to flee your wife and “keep what’s left of me.”
The album’s confessional nature ultimately brought about revelations and much-needed catharsis for the artist—Lortz wonders, though, at what cost?
“I say things that I can’t normally say in a secret sort of way—only it’s played over the air waves and sold in record stores,” he says. “But it’s kind of an awful thing to do to somebody—to talk about them without any sort of filter. It’s almost calling people out in a public forum and they don’t have any way to respond.”
Sunset/Sunrise doesn’t exactly come across as a scathing attack on friends and family. The demons Lortz reveals are mostly his own and reflect an uphill battle that, while likely painful, inspired one gorgeous album.
Lortz penned the bulk of its content months after booking recording time with producer/engineer/musician Greg Ashley (Gris Gris, The Mirrors), whose work with retro-flavored groups including The Strange Boys seemed to fit their conception of Sunset/Sunrise—lush and warm.
The album, primarily Lortz’s baby, is buoyed by contributions from friends/extended family, not to mention Morrison’s heartbreaking harmonies, which pack a crucial wallop.
Lortz finds comfort both in recording—which he describes as a solitary experience even though Morrison’s involved—and hitting the road, reclaiming and savoring the vestiges of freewheeling youth.
“Touring is all about socializing, which can be draining at times but also pretty great,” he says. “All of us have been going through some shit so it will be nice to get out there.”
THE DUTCHESS AND THE DUKE
Thursday, Nov. 19
741 E. 330 West