Friday, January 20, 2012

Ticket Giveaway - Dare Dukes -Interview - Club Cafe - 1.27.12 - Show Preview - Concert Preview

Dare Dukes will be performing at Club Cafe on 1.27 opening for Emily Rodgers. The Savannah, GA based artist is touring behind his new album Thugs and China Dolls released on Mazarine Records this month. He had assistance from several other acts including TV on the Radio, Of Montreal and Jim White. We are happy to be giving away a pair of tickets to the show. As usual just email us with your name at

Dare was kind enough to answer our questions about his new album, residing in Savannah and his subject material for his lyrics.

You have lived in a multitude of cities while growing up. How did you end up in Savannah? How do you like residing in a true southern city?

Well, I grew up in Saratoga, CA (near San Francisco). But at 17 I was off to the races. Lived in Boston, Minneapolis, New York City, and now Savannah. My wife and I moved down here from New York City four years ago. She was offered a job teaching anthropology at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). We had just married, and we were looking for an adventure. We visited and immediately loved it. So we leapt, and we promised to never compare Savannah to New York City, because it was clear then and still is that they are very different cities.

Savannah is one of the most beautiful, most exotic, and weirdest places I’ve ever lived. I didn’t realize just how weird until I’d lived here a couple years. In many ways, good and bad, it’s a hundred years behind the rest of the country. I still can’t believe some of the things I see while driving down the street--incredible beauty juxtaposed with images of poverty that are unreal. One of the weirdest and most counter-productive forces here is the drive to turn the historic district into a museum, a simulacrum of a pretty antebellum South where there’s next to no representation of the history of slavery and no room for an aesthetics of the new (though Banana Repbulics and McDonalds are fine, apparently). As an outsider, it’s extraordinarily glaring. The other thing that’s painfully apparent is how race and class are conflated here. Savannah has a very high poverty rate--almost 22%--and something like 80% of those living below the poverty level are African American. This stark fact, of course, doesn’t worm its way into the museum zone. But you have to drive only a couple of blocks east or west of the tourist center to be smack in the middle of some of the poorest neighborhoods in America. And this isn’t Robert Moses poverty. This is old poverty, shotgun-shack poverty like you see in old footage of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. It's a trip.

I should say that I don’t think Savannah or the South have cornered the market on bad things, like structural racism. Savannah’s history, for sure, is stark for obvious reasons, but I don’t think the North or the West get a pass just because slavery didn’t happen there.

“Old West Broad,” the first song on the new record, is specifically about these clashing forces of beauty and badness in Savannah. West Broad used to be the name of what’s now, ironically, called MLK Boulevard. When MLK was West Broad it was a thriving center of African-American business and culture. Apparently there were some amazing jazz clubs there in the 60s. And I think it was a Jewish center, as well. Then, like in many an urban center across the US in the 70s, they built a flyover from an Interstate that literally cut the neighborhood in half. Then the population was displaced, Robert Moses-style, into dreary public housing that, if you squint, looks like a prison. They killed a neighborhood in the name of progress. I used this event in “Old West Broad” as a way into treating the stark juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness in Savannah. Very challenging.

Anyway, so living in the South has been very interesting, for sure. There's lots to think and write about down here. And I must also say that the people are extraordinarily hospitable and generous of spirit in ways that are unimaginable in the west or north. It's easy to get into long, lazy conversations with strangers here.

Your new album Thugs and China Dolls is billed as having members of Sufjan Stevens, Of Montreal and TV On the Radio. How did these partnerships come about? How much influence did they have in constructing your songs?

Thayer Sarrano, who plays with of Montreal, came to me through Claire Campbell of another terrific Athens band (that deserves national attention) called Hope for Agoldensummer. Claire is a very generous soul. After only a little prodding, she acted as my tour guide of sorts for the Athens music scene. She introduced me to Suny Lyons, her band mate, and the owner of Popheart Productions, where the record was recorded. I liked Suny's work as an engineer and producer, and I enlisted his help with the record. My steady band at the time (Blake Helton, Daniel Beauregard, Chris VanBrackle, Anna Chandler) tracked basics, and then I started layering on all the magical instruments I also wish I had—horns, strings, keys, synths. So Suny and Claire helped me pull in the amazing Thayer (of Montreal) and the amazing JoJo Glidewell (Modern Skirts). I had a tough time recording horns in Athens for some reason, so I did it in Brooklyn. I know an amazing trombonist up there, Kevin Moehringer (who also played on my first record). He had just tracked horns for TV on the Radio's latest record, and he gathered that same crew of horn players for me. They were phenomenal to work with. Came in and just nailed it.

A friend, Marla Hansen, has a huge presence on the record. I met Marla at an open mic night in the East Village years ago, right after I started taking my music seriously again after a long hiatus. She went on to record and tour with an incredible list of people (Sufjan Stevens, the National, My Brightest Diamond, DM Stith, Kanye West, to name only a few). And when I was struggling to find a female voice that could nail one very tricky song, I thought of her. We emailed her the tracks in Berlin, Germany, where she lives with her fiance. After the first song worked out so well, we tracked her vocals and viola on several songs. Thank god for the internet.

And I can't list of the cast of characters without talking about Jim White. Jim produced one song, “Simon Says,” and he did an incredible job. I met him last year when I was lucky enough to get put on a bill with him in Athens. He was very kind and supportive. I played “Simon Says” solo at that gig, and he like it. At that pointed I had recorded it twice with two slightly different bands and I wasn't happy with the arrangement. I was very close to dumping it from the record. I gave it to Jim to produce and he turned it into this off-kilter chamber piece. He managed to find the perfect blend of poignant and strange—which is exactly the nature of crumbling relationships, the subject of the song.

Your musical content appears to resonate around non mainstream characters and life. What is your fascination with these factions? Would you consider yourself in this same category?

I think that humans just might save us from the ill effects of humanity as a whole. There's a great deal of pressure to franchise not just our food, but our culture, our thinking, and values. I'd like to say it's worse than ever, but I suspect there have always been bad ideas adopted on large scales. These ideas are eroded by regular people like you and me, misbehaving, disrupting, being rude, not doing what they're told, or inventing eccentric work-arounds to the everyday invisible obstacles to light and joy. Some of these strange people do it intentionally. Others do it quite by accident, just by having a particular knack for being who they were meant to be. Such people are like saints to me. They make miracles happen in the desert.

In your bio it stated you wrote for a while in NYC before coming back to music. What made you decide to try it again?

Music insisted itself upon me again. Really. I'd had a band in Minneapolis that no one has ever heard of. It was heavily influence by my adoration of bands like the Pixies and Fugazi and maybe a little Nick Cave and Jesus Lizard and PJ Harvey. Then I moved to New York and, over a long and tortured time, wrote a long-winded and tortured novel that not many people could get to the end of. I got an agent then watched it get rejected a lot by a lot of publishers. I was working on a second one and feeling worn out and idealess and lonely. And I looked around and saw all these songs and fragments of songs I'd been writing but neglecting over the years, like orphans. It suddenly seemed ill-advised to ignore these little critters. Like they might eat me if I turned my back on them. And a dear, dear friend looked me in the eye one day and said that it was god's business, not mine, this little talent I had. And that to ignore it would be self-centered and self-destructive and wasteful. Her words took me by surprise and sounded true, and she had tears in her eyes so I knew she wasn't bullshitting me. So I set out to cultivate my music a touch more. I had friends who were pro musicians, so I asked them to back me. They generously did. I would be miserable for days in advance of a show. Performing still scares me. But I do it because it is the most important point of communication for a musician. The earplug experience just can't compare to hearing sound of the singer's breath in the same room.

How many eccentric characters are found in Savannah that you wrote about? It’s a quite a unique city.

The place is jam-packed with them. It's a southern city, but it's also not. There's a high degree of tolerance here for the weird. I'm told that's because it's a port city, and port cities attract people who don't fit in.

You utilize an assortment of instruments on this album including the accordion, mandolin, upright bass, cello, viola, trombone and french horn. How proficient are you with these? And why utilize so many?

I'm not proficient in any of them! I'm a guitar player, and not a very good one. And I can also sort of play banjo very ineptly, but only if I tune it like a guitar. I'm really a songwriter. Every time I sit down to get better at guitar I end up writing a song instead. But what I am good at is arranging my music and picking excellent players to manifest those arrangements. Why did I pick these instruments for the songs? The basic instrumentation was rooted in what was available to me in my backup band. Savannah has a very small music scene, so if you want to be a musician here you must learn to adapt to the personnel on hand, or play solo. I've never been that interested in playing solo, because when I compose my songs I hear a full band and arrangements. The reason the record is largely acoustic is because once it became clear to me that those were the instruments available to me I started writing for those instruments, especially banjo (“Meet You at the Bus”) and accordion (“Jim Eggers' Parrot”).

When you are creating your music do you enlist others to assist with lyrics/structure? Or do you perform most of this on your own? What is your current process?

I hear music in my head. I don't have to decide to activate anything to make that happen. It's just there. The musical and melodic cores of my songs fall out of my head almost effortlessly. Can you imagine? This is a great gift, and a nice and entertaining thing, and probably a little bothersome to my loved ones, who often wonder why I'm mumbling and humming to myself most of the time. The process for the words is the opposite, in most instances. They come hard and only with patience and a commitment to staring at the whiteness of the blank page. Writing a novel helped a lot with my lyric writing. I gained patience in the slow workings of words emerging. I am a bad collaborator. Ask my band members. And I've never really tried to write a song with anyone. I don't really have any interest in it. It's hard enough collaborating with myself.

What are your upcoming goals? What would you like to accomplish?

The tour, I hope, will bring our music to a bigger audience. We'll be traveling with a 6-piece band, which is pretty ginormous for me on the road. One of my goals is to be nice to everyone in the van. And I'm looking forward to meeting all the kind people who've booked shows with and for us.

What made you want to dedicate your life to music? Was there a show or album?

I don't feel like I really had a say in the matter. It's just in me and it insists on coming out.

Anything you would like to say to Pittsburgh?

I'm very thrilled about the Pittsburgh show. This will be my first time not just playing but visiting your town, and I've always heard great things about the art scene there. I'm also excited to play with Emily Rodgers and the Turpentiners! I love their music and still can't believe I get to share a stage with such smart and talented people.

Show is scheduled to start at 10:30p with doors at 10p. Tickets are only $7 and can be found here. More information on Dare Dukes can be found at these links:

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