almost exactly a year ago, but their beautiful new album Sunset/Sunrise (produced by Gris GrisGreg Ashley) has Lee Hazlewood smiling proudly down from somewhere above Sweden. They speak now to the Black Lips’ Jared Swilley, conducting his first interview ever." /> L.A. Record


November 10th, 2009 | Interviews

michael c. hsiung

Download: The Dutchess and the Duke “Hands”


(from Sunset/Sunrise out now on Hardly Art)

The Dutchess and the Duke were already great when they came through Los Angeles almost exactly a year ago, but their beautiful new album Sunset/Sunrise (produced by Gris GrisGreg Ashley) has Lee Hazlewood smiling proudly down from somewhere above Sweden. They speak now to the Black Lips’ Jared Swilley, conducting his first interview ever.

This feels weird. This is the first interview I’ve ever done.
Jesse Lortz (guitar/vocals): Are you starting your journalism career?
Yeah, I guess. Was the Fe Fi Fo Fums single ‘You Might Get Me’ the precursor to the Dutchess and the Duke switching to that kind of style more?
Jesse Lortz: Kind of—like I tried to get out of it. I kept telling Tre, ‘I can’t write anymore stupid Fe Fi Fo Fums songs anymore.’ And he was like, ‘Dude, you have to because you said you would.’ ‘All right—I’ll write this song that’s totally unpunk, but probably more punk than anything I’ve ever written.’ That is what was in my heart pretty much. It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s party! Let’s get fucked up!’ It was more kind of miserable shit I guess, in my heart. And that doesn’t make for good party songs.
When you first started playing out with Dutchess and the Duke, were the crowds automatically kind of different? Like switching genres?
Jesse Lortz: Yeah, and plus we hadn’t really done any shows until that Fleet Foxes tour. So everybody at our shows was like Pitchfork dudes. Just jokes or whatever, just people that I had never really associated with or gone to shows with. I didn’t even know Pitchfork existed until our record came out and then it was like, ‘Oh! There’s this whole thing going on.’ It was crazy. You’ve gone through the same thing, I’m sure, where all of a sudden it’s not the same 50 people at your shows. There’s like strangers coming to your shows that are talking to you about your songs. Mark [aka. BBQ] I know gets pissed because he’s like, ‘There’s all these fucking jokes at our shows.’ It’s weird. It’s not really who you’re trying to reach out to. But that’s who picks up on it because that’s who reads the Internet, I guess.
But you don’t mind doing that?
Jesse Lortz: No. I’ve also learned along the way that you can’t really judge. You know, I don’t want to be judged. You don’t want to be judged. You can’t really judge somebody just because they wear certain clothes. Some dude that’s walking around in a football jersey, you know—he might have been raped by his dad. We don’t know.
Did you get any fallout from the Horizontal Action crowd? Or any of the old-school stuff?
Jesse Lortz: I don’t really think so. I kind of feel like everybody in that crowd was ready to do something different. You can tell by the Black Lips or Jay Reatard or King Khan and BBQ—like all that shit is really different than Rip Off Records or shit like that. I kind of feel like that whole scene has evolved with us in a way.
I always felt like it was a good thing to break out from—it almost felt like a little club. It was cool to get out of that. I still like it, and I still see the same people for the most part everywhere. But it’s kind of neat to get to play in front of college kids or people you never associate with.
Jesse Lortz: Totally. They like music too, and they have experiences too. It’s not like it’s just us or the same people that would go to all our other shows. And the people that liked the Fe Fi Fo Fums like the Dutchess and the Duke even better. I’m sure we’ve alienated a few people but I think that they obviously don’t really care about us or care about our music, so we don’t really need them.
Is it more fulfilling? Like your other bands were more punk bands that were fun—dance party stuff. But is it more fulfilling getting up there and … well, obviously it’s more heartfelt and deeper than other stuff you’ve done.
Jesse Lortz: I feel like when we were doing the Flying Dutchmen or the Fe Fi Fo Fums, I was lying. I felt super fucking depressed every time we played a show. I felt like, ‘Fuck, this sucks. I hate all these people. I don’t want to fucking be here.’ And now I actually feel good after we play. I’m happy. I like talking to people after we play at our shows because I don’t feel like I’m faking it.
I’ve felt like that too—where you have to put on a ‘every night is a Saturday night, everywhere you go’ thing, especially when you’re on tour. Was it hard making the switch to just you and Kimberly? With just two acoustics and your voices? Is that nerve-wracking at all since you’re like naked up there?
Jesse Lortz: Not really. I feel like it’s more real. We connect more with the audience. We connect more with each other. We connect with the songs more. We’re not hiding behind a bunch of stupid shit. It’s more about the music. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s more distilled.
How has it been since you added the full band?
Jesse Lortz: It’s cool. It really fills it out. Like we had Jered and Melissa from the Ponys come with us. And we’re playing a show Friday where we’re going to have piano and bass. It’s not like a permanent thing but we like to mix it up. We’re going to do an East Coast tour in January and it’s going to be just Kimberly and me. A lot of it is just whatever we feel like doing. It’s nice to not have to fill a certain sound or niche. We can just do whatever the fuck we want.
Y’all had a string section in Chicago, didn’t you?
Jesse Lortz: It was these two girls. I totally can’t remember their names. Matt would know. He was just like, ‘Hey you’ve got strings on this record. Do you want a string section for your Chicago shows?’ And these girls are in the Chicago Orchestra. They’re professionals and shit. They just came in and we’re like, ‘Here’s the notes.’ And they played it once and nailed it. It was cool.
You guys did a big tour with Modest Mouse, didn’t you?
Jesse Lortz: Yeah, we played the Aragon in Chicago. There were at least two thousand to four thousand people.
How do you find the transition to a huge stage treating you?
Jesse Lortz: We just curl up into a little ball up on stage. Being kind of a small-sounding band with huge rooms, you have to make it more intimate. But I like playing to more people sometimes because you can’t really pick anybody out. You’re just kind of playing to a mass.
I don’t know about you, but the most nerve-wracking shows I’ve ever played are to like ten people at a record store because you have to make eye contact.
Jesse Lortz: I HATE playing in-stores. I hate it so much. Like that thing we did at Vacation was like miserable.
I always feel like my face is on fire.
Jesse Lortz: I’m always shaking. I get up and I’m like, ‘Why am I fucking shaking? There’s like ten people here and they all like us.’ But you know, when you’re playing for three thousand people and you can’t see shit, it’s like, ‘Okay, fuckers. Here’s some songs.’
How were y’all received with Modest Mouse? And the Fleet Foxes? Those are two pretty big tours.
Jesse Lortz: I think people really liked it. It was really different than Modest Mouse so it was a nice little change I guess. And it was cool to play because that’s not really our … well, maybe it’s becoming our audience, but it hasn’t historically been our audience. There were like kids or whatever. It was cool. People really liked it. We sold a lot of shit. Signed some autographs.
Were those your first big-ass tours?
Jesse Lortz: Oh, well—yeah. We’d only played like three shows before we went on that Fleet Foxes tour. We had to literally learn the songs on stage. I just play all the parts in the studio and then we just learn them after, so it was kind of weird to be developing our sound or our stage show in front of hundreds or thousands of people.
Now that you have been touring a little more and playing bigger shows, are y’all able to make a living off this yet?
Jesse Lortz: Yeah—I mean, it’s not carrying us, but it’s definitely supplementing. With record sales and touring and playing shows around town and shit, it’s definitely putting some food on the table.
I heard you recently had a baby.
Jesse Lortz: Yeah. He’s four months old. His name is Oscar.
Kristen said you named him after Oscar from Gris Gris.
Jesse Lortz: Yeah.
How is having a family now? Is that going to affect your touring schedule at all?
Jesse Lortz: Not really. It’s kind of my job. If I had a 9-to-5 job I’d be gone everyday, but this way I’m only gone a couple weeks at a time. So it works a little better this way, I think. My wife would probably disagree with me, but she’s not here.
Has that affected your songwriting at all? That’s a huge change in life.
Jesse Lortz: Yeah. With the second record it was all about that pressure—to be fuckin’ Dad or husband or whatever, and it actually kind of cracked me a little bit. I didn’t really know how I’m going to do it. It’s scary. And I’m also figuring out how to do it while I’m playing these songs, while I’m in front of a bunch of people being scrutinized. And not like we’re super-famous or super-big or anything like that, but there is a level of scrutiny that comes with being a performer.
Absolutely. There’s a lot of pressure when everything you do is being looked at. I’ve been listening to the new album a lot. I think it’s awesome. I love the strings on it. It even sounds like there’s more country stuff in it too. Do you get weirded out when people describe you guys as a folk band?
Jesse Lortz: I don’t really care how people describe us. Everybody’s gotta put a label on everything. So whatever you think it is, then that’s what it is. If you think it’s folk or country folk or campfire punk or whatever. You can say whatever you want.
It reminds me of kind of like Satanic folk.
Jesse Lortz: Charlie Manson sort of stuff.
Yeah, or just that idea. Prettier than Charlie’s stuff. Do y’all have any connection at all to that folk scene that’s coming up?
Jesse Lortz: Not at all.
You recorded the new album with Greg Ashley in San Francisco. How did that come about?
Jesse Lortz: We knew we had to do a record and we wanted to do it with him just because the Gris Gris shit sounds so awesome and he has his studio and you can smoke in there and he’s pretty cheap and he’s a friend. And a lot of it was getting out of the city and doing a different kind of record.
Was it just you and Kimberly doing all that? Because there’s a lot of instruments on the record. Did Greg play with y’all at all?
Jesse Lortz: Yeah. He played piano and then I did all the guitars. Oscar did some bass, Greg did some bass. We all just changed it up—whoever happened to be there at the time and wanted to play. It was awesome.
Gris Gris is one of my favorites. They’re over now aren’t they?
Jesse Lortz: No, they’re playing out. They played at the Great American a couple weeks ago. In November and also December, he’s going to do a West Coast and Midwest tour with us. He’s going to open, and then he and Oscar’s going to be our backing band.
Is this the longest any of your bands has ever lasted?
Jesse Lortz: Yeah. Two albums. Three 7”. This is definitely the longest I’ve ever been in a band.
Is it just because you enjoy it more?
Jesse Lortz: Yeah—because it’s real. I’m not trying to regurgitate someone else’s shit. I’m regurgitating my own shit.
Since you guys are getting bigger, what do you think about licensing songs to anyone? Like if some company asked y’all to use one of their songs—if you didn’t write the song for them?
Jesse Lortz: I don’t fucking care. I mean, I’ve got a kid to feed. We got bills. Once it’s written and it’s out there, I’m kind of done with it. It’s more of a relief just writing it, and then once it’s out there, if I can make money off it … like we had a song on “Entourage.” I think that show is horrible, but I don’t care. They paid us to use it, and they wanted to use our song. They have a good musical director, and a lot of people heard it and a lot of people bought the record because of it. But if it’s like McDonald’s … nah, actually I’d take McDonald’s money, too. I don’t fucking care. It’s just money.
That’s how I feel. If you’re not writing a jingle for something, why does it matter if you’re taking a corporation’s money?
Jesse Lortz: Totally, and I think that our generation and our crowd has gotten to the point where we’re all a little older now, and you can’t fucking holler ‘Sellout!’ just because someone’s making money off their music. This is how we make money.
I think you get past the point of screaming about that after high school or your early twenties because you realize that everybody has to make a living. You wouldn’t call someone a sellout because they got a promotion at their job. And none of us see too much money from record sales anymore, so you kind of have to supplement your income because nobody’s buying records like they used to.
Jesse Lortz: True. You just got to tour and tour and tour.
Do you still enjoy touring?
Jesse Lortz: Yeah! I love touring. I love it more now than I ever have because I’m in a place where I’m a little more pleasant than I used to be, so I make friends instead of, ‘Oh, there’s that asshole Jesse!’
I’ve never toured with just one other person.
Jesse Lortz: It’s awesome. We get along really well, so we can just sit. There’s times when we’ll sit in the car for three, four hours in total silence with no music and no talking, and it doesn’t get uncomfortable or weird or anything. It’s just relaxing. You don’t have to be ‘normal,’ if that makes any sense. You don’t have to make conversation or entertaining or anything like that. You can just be you and shut the fuck up for a change.
How’d you guys hook up with Hardly Art?
Jesse Lortz: They liked our single and they called us in and were like, ‘Hey, we want to do an album.’ And we were like, ‘Okay, give us some money.’ And then they gave us some money and I wrote a bunch of songs.
So they signed you with just a single recorded?
Jesse Lortz: Yeah, we hadn’t even played any shows. They’re really friendly and supportive and cool. We’re actually supposed to be up there right now—celebrating and drinking mimosas.