The Dutchess and The Duke

Posted on November 1, 2009 – 11:16 PM | by OldManFoster
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Interview by Tim Foster   photo by Andrew Waits

Seattle’s Dutchess and the Duke will be coming through Sacramento on tour November 7th.  She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke, their debut long-player on Hardly Art, has garnered raves nationwide, with words like ‘classic’ and ‘timeless’ turning up so often you might think you’re reading reviews for a Beatles reissue.  Fair enough- if She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke isn’t quite as good as a Beatles LP, that’s about the worst you can say about it. Built on handclaps, rough harmonies, and cheap 12 string guitars, the record is chock full of solid songwriting, unselfconscious pop folk at its absolute best.

Jesse ‘the Duke’ Lortz and Kimberly ‘the Dutchess’ Morrison have played together for years, first in the gloriously insouciant garage punk band Thee Flying Dutchmen, who recorded their only album at a single practice on a cassette deck at the back of their practice space.  Even in that setting, Lortz’ songwriting stood out with a clear knack for hooks and catchy guitar lines. Thee Flying Dutchmen played a memorable drunken set at Old I a few years back, and the debaucheries of a subsequent European tour put an end to the band for good.

Fast forward a few years and Lortz had traded in his Supercharger and Mummies LPs for Out of Our Heads and a stack of early Dylan albums, resulting in the most dramatic musical shift since Billy Joel ditched heavy metal after quitting Attila.   Lortz’ embrace of folk coincided with a general uptick in responsibility- marriage, college and the birth of his son, Oscar- that put sloppy punk rock in a different light.

Things are going well for the Dutchess and the Duke.  “Reservoir Park,” the first song off their debut album recently turned up in an episode of Entourage, and the band has just released Sunset / Sunrise, their sophomore effort, recorded earlier this year with Greg Ashley (Gris Gris) at the all-analog control board.

I caught up with Lortz recently to talk about life, music and playing a pizza parlor.

How did you and Kim start playing together?

We were both in different bands and I just ended up needing an organ player for a project and she just started playing organ.

That was in Thee Flying Dutchmen?


And you guys also had a Supercharger cover band?

Yeah, that was just because the Dutchmen couldn’t do a show so we just did a couple shows with that.

D&D is a big departure from those types of groups.  What changed?

I dunno… just kind of, my mood changed, life. The content that it felt safe to write about changed.

So there was no way to keep writing those simple rock n roll songs with what was going on in your life?

Yeah, pretty much.  It kinda felt like lying a little bit.

She’s the Duchess, He’s the Duke was clearly influenced by mid-sixties Rolling Stones- what other influences were going on there?

Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Jackson Frank, uh, Velvet Underground, the Beach Boys.  The second record probably uses a lot more of those influences just because there was some time… like, basically when I wrote the first record I had just started listening to Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground and stuff like that, so that was at the forefront.

Seattle isn’t particularly known for folk or pop- it’s more of a rock town.  How does the band fit into the Seattle music scene?

We don’t.  And there actually are a lot of wimpy, folkie kinda bands out here. I wasn’t aware of them until I started playing this kinda music. But we don’t know anybody- we didn’t come up with all those bands so we’re kind of on our own a little bit.

You just got out of art school not that long ago. Daniel Johnston said that art school is where he learned to take his music seriously.   Anything you got out of that experience?

Not really, it was kind of distracting, school was distracting from the band and it was kinda hard to really get much out of it at all.  Like, I didn’t even graduate, I have to go back and finish.

You didn’t graduate?

Yeah, but that’s because the baby came. I had to deal with that.

So this is kind of the generic question: has having a kid influenced the songs you write?

Yeah, I mean, I guess I have more reason to be honest.  It gives you a different perspective on mortality, or the timeline of things, so I guess everything feels more immediate.

What is the division of labor in D&D?

I write all the songs, and record all the instruments and arrangements.  Greg played some stuff on this record, and Kimberly did, like, flute on the first record, but for the most part it’s just easier for me since I write all the songs to just go in and do all the instruments.

How do you go about writing songs?

They just kinda come along.  Like I’ll come up with a melody or something, and hum it into my phone, like leave myself a voice message, and then when it’s time to write an album I’ll just sit down and listen to the melodies and come up with lyrics. It’s pretty… it’s super-straightforward, like I just sit down and lay it all out.

Has the process of developing the songs changed since the band started?

It’s the same.  I just go out in the garage and write songs.

You changed recording engineers for the new album.

We recorded with Greg Ashley.

And that was just to get a different sound?

Yeah, just like a fuller sound.

What do you see as the big diff between records?

Just overall… the sound is way bigger and the content is kinda more ‘outward’, I guess than ‘inward’.  They’re just totally different records.

Your songwriting has really evolved over the past five years.  You were great at writing rock and roll songs, and then, honestly, that “Reservoir Park” single was the last thing I ever expected to hear out of you.

Yeah, that’s what’s kinda great about it.

Is this gonna be the first time you’ve ever played a pizza parlor?

No, we played a pizza parlor in Iowa.

The Dutchess and the Duke, Blues Control (Siltbreeze), Greg Ashley
November 7
Luigi’s Fun Garden
1050 20th Street, Sacramento

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