Seattle duo the Dutchess and the Duke take a little Intelligence and a little Fe Fi Fo Fum to make songs so tall, you gotta look up. Kimberly Morrison speaks just before a surely therapeutic tour with King Khan and BBQ. This interview by Vanessa Gonzalez.
You and Jesse [Lortz] have known one another since high school. Do you remember how your initial bond was forged?
Kimberly Morrison: I was going out with a friend of his, and he always told me about his friend Jesse. He said that Jesse was really mean, but if I didn’t get mad about it then he would like me. It was kinda weird. The guy’s name was Chris, and he made it out to be a big deal. He was like ‘Okay, you’re going to meet Jesse, but just be cool…okay?’ I was just like ‘What?’ I don’t know why he was making it out to seem so scary. But Jesse came over to my house, and I’m kind of a cluttery person, we went to my room and he’s all, ‘THIS IS FUCKING DISGUSTING…WE’RE GONNA CLEAN YOUR ROOM RIGHT NOW!’ This is how I met Jesse. He cleaned my room.
I heard he liked to cross-dress back then. Was this just an excuse to go through your clothes?
I didn’t know about that. But it doesn’t surprise me in the least.
He has that lyric in ‘Back To Me’ about dressing up like a chick.
Oh! I don’t know what that’s about. You’d have to ask him.
He says that you’ve always been ahead of him musically.
He was really caught up in that whole early ‘90s San Francisco scene, like the Mummies, Supercharger, the Phantom Surfers. It was all he would listen to. He was also really into Nirvana, but he didn’t get into Love or the Beach Boys or anything for a really long time. When we used to work together we would drive around listening to music, singing along, and I tried to play Pet Sounds for him one day and he was just like ‘Ugh, I just don’t like this.’ Now he totally loves it. My favorite band is Love, and he was always like, ‘Ugh, I’m not into that.’ Then one day he left me a Myspace comment that said ‘I finally get Love.’ and I was just like, ‘Oooooo, my little boy’s growing up!’ For the longest time he wouldn’t listen to anything. It was just surf and garage, but he finally blossomed.
What do you think the Jesse from back then would have thought of the Dutchess and the Duke?
He probably would’ve would’ve said ‘This shit’s gay.’ But he’s so different from how he was back then. He’s grown up so much. I mean we all have. My God, that was like fifteen years ago.
I read that you took your time recording the new album: She’s The Dutchess, He’s The Duke, and you recorded your former band the Flying Dutchmen with a recorder hanging from the ceiling. How would you compare those processes? Is hanging a recorder from the ceiling something you still consider a viable option?
For certain music. For the Flying Dutchmen it worked, because it had so much energy, and the lack of musicianship is what the band was. We used to tape our practices all the time, and sometimes we’d listen to the practice tape and be like, ‘Oh man, this is rad.’ So when we were going to put our record out, we didn’t know anyone with a four track or anything, and we liked our practice tapes, so we just did it that way. But the music between those two bands is totally, totally different. So it was nice to spend more time working on the songs, and getting them to sound the way that we wanted, because we could do that.
Between the two of you, there’s been a variety of musical territory covered in previous bands. Should audiences expect the Dutchess and the Duke to take a different turn for the next album?
It’s kind of just an evolution for us because we’ve been playing for so long, and with each other for so long, and the cool thing about this band is that when it started, we thought it was just going to be like a one off 7’ thing, but then Hardly Art wanted us to do a record, and we’re like, ‘Okay, cool.’ But when we first started we were talking about getting a little cigarette box amp and going on tour, just renting a car and not have to worry about anybody. Our first show we had Oscar from the Gris Gris play third guitar with us down in San Francisco. Then in Seattle, our friend Ruben Mendez, who plays in the Coconut Coolouts was playing with us, and then when we got offered the tour with the Fleet Foxes, Oscar couldn’t go, and Ruben couldn’t go so we said, ‘Fine, we’ll just figure out how to sing and play the leads at the same time.’ On the next tour with James Jackson Toth, our percussionist, Donnie, couldn’t come. So that was the first time we played just the two of us. We figured that playing electric, without percussion, would just be too much. We decided to just play acoustic, and we wouldn’t have to bring amps, and then we could bring a car instead of our van.
How did your acoustic debut go?
We had NEVER played acoustic. There’s acoustic guitar on the record, but we never even TRIED practicing. We were just like, ‘Alright, we’ll just get some acoustic guitars.’ So we get down to San Francisco and played a little at our friends house the night before the show, and we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is gonna be cool.’ When we got to the club, the sound guy was REALLY MAD we didn’t have pick-ups. And we’re like, ‘Well, sorry dude, but we DON’T… so you’re gonna just have to deal with it. Isn’t that your fucking job?’ We did an okay sound check, but it sucked. And when we actually started to play it was just feeding back so bad, after the second song we said, ‘This is stupid!’ So we put our microphones all the way at the back of the stage and played without them. And the whole room of people just shut up and listened to us. It was so cool. Some girl actually sneezed during a song and people shushed her. It was pretty funny. But after that we were like, ‘Fuck that, why would we ever sound check again? Sound check isn’t fun. IT SUCKS! Especially if every time they’re gonna be a dick about it. We’ll just make them not work.’
Did you get down in the audience and sit with people?
We hardly ever played on stage. It was too awkward. It would be dumb for us to be standing up there without microphones. And the crowds were a lot smaller than on the Fleet Foxes tour, so it was nice. We could move around, and walk up to people. We’d get places and walk around and say, ‘Oh, that corner looks nice,’ and we’d just play in the corner. Sometimes we’d set up bar stools in the middle of the room. Sometimes we’d start in front of the stage and then end up walking around to different parts of the bar so that different people could hear us.
Did this approach ever backfire?
We thought it was going to be weird without microphones. But what we found was that the quieter we were, the quieter that everybody else was. Certainly there were shows where people didn’t care, just didn’t want to hear us, but that’s fine, because people that did want to hear us would just get close and be able to enjoy it, and the people that didn’t could have there conversations in the corner or wherever.
Sounds like a campfire scenario.
Yeah, that’s totally how we felt about it. But you know, it’s weird for us to be up on stage anyways. They’re shining lights in your eyes, and you can’t see, and you’re, like, taller than everybody. It’s just awkward. We want to sit and have a bottle of wine while we play, or drink beer, or we screw our songs up and laugh about it, and it’s nicer to just be quieter and just be able to sing to people and walk around. We had so many people walk up to us after the show and tell us, ‘Wow, that was so intimate. I loved it.’ It sounds really gay or whatever, but it was really cool. It was like, ‘Hey, we’re the same as you, we just have guitars.’
It seems like that tour was more fulfilling—although not as glamorous—than the Fleet Foxes tour.
Definitely. It was really good! And after that we were like, ‘Man, we’re never fuckin’ playing on stage again.’ And then we played a show in Seattle when we got back, at a bigger club, and we’re like, ‘Oh, okay, I guess we’ll have to play electric on the stage at this point.’ And it was strange, but you know—just the way the band has evolved. First not having another guitar player, figuring that out. Then not having a percussionist and making that work. We’re really good at just working things out, just dealing with what we’re given. And I think that we’re going to get some pick ups for our acoustic guitars and just have them D.I.-ed so that we don’t have to bring amps or anything, because we really like the sound of acoustic. Who knows, though? Hopefully one day we’ll get wireless pickups, so we can walk around and have the guitars be amplified like we’re a mariachi band or something.
How was the Fleet Foxes tour for you?
It was… different? It was good but just really weird because the venues were so packed—every show on the tour sold out, and the clubs were over selling because there was a demand. It was like being in a sardine can a lot of the time. I don’t think they even had any idea how big they were blowing up, and it was really weird and hard at times to be on tour with a band that everyone wanted to see, and rightfully so, I love there music, but you know, there was a lot of texting going on while we played, and talking. It was just like, ‘ugh…okay…’
B Jay Womack said ‘The kind of jackasses who come out to see them play with the Fleet Foxes didn’t appreciate what they do.’
Definitely we converted some people, but the fact of the matter is, it was their tour, and we were there to support them. We did our job, and they did theirs.
When you do this upcoming tour with King Khan and BBQ Show, will you have a percussionist?
We will. We’ll be DD&D: The Dutchess and the Duke and Donnie.
But D&D has such a wonderful connotation to it.
We got interviewed in Austin and these guys were like, ‘Our friend Travis wants to know if you named yourself D&D after the game.’ and Jesse’s like, ‘Your friend Travis is an idiot.’
You and Jesse didn’t bond over goblins and sorcery?
More like Rock & Roll High School.
THE DUTCHESS AND THE DUKE WITH KING KHAN & BBQ AND THE FLASH EXPRESS ON MON., NOV. 10, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8:30 PM / $10-$12 / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM. THE DUTCHESS AND THE DUKE’S SHE’S THE DUTCHESS, HE’S THE DUKE IS OUT NOW ON HARDLY ART. VISIT THE DUTCHESS AND THE DUKE AT MYSPACE.COM/THEDUTCHESSANDTHEDUKE.