Black Clouds Breaking:
The Dutchess & the Duke Try To Hang Onto Hope

The Dutchess & the Duke pic #1
(l to r) Jesse Lortz & Kimberly Morrison. Photo by Andrew Waits.
After hearing She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke, last year's debut album by Seattle-dwellers Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison, aka The Dutchess & the Duke, I'll admit I was a bit worried. Not for me, no, but for singer, songwriter, and guitarist Lortz.
The songs he crafted for She's the Dutchess were so unrepentantly bleak, bitter, and nihilistic that I found myself hoping he wasn't about to just end it all and move on (so to speak), or fall victim to some Final Destination-esque fatal accident. Right from the start, the album seems focused on a life without much further to go, with the gypsy's possibly-prophetic words in "Reservoir Park": "You ain't got no future / You ain't never growing old."
Thankfully, the gypsy's turned out to be wrong. Lortz and Morrison have instead gone in a bit of a different direction for appropriately-named new album Sunset/Sunrise (out this past October on Hardly Art), turning down the jangly, Stones-/Animals-esque garage-pop some and coming up with songs that, while often still melancholy and starkly depressive, have at least a hint of hope for some kind of a new beginning.
The Stones-ish songs are still around, don't worry, but on Sunset/Sunrise, the palette's broadened to include more out-and-out "pop" sounds, from the Byrdsian "Living This Life" to the protest folk-sounding "Let It Die" (which I'd swear is a direct nod to Billy Bragg's "To Have And to Have Not"). The end result is like some kind of funhouse-mirror Mamas & Papas, the jangly, tambourine-tinged California folk-pop masking lyrics about suicide, betrayal, loss, and pain, but always with the promise that the sun will come back up, in the end.
Before the revised-and-expanded Dutchess & the Duke come to town, SCR was able to have a quick chat with Lortz as the band cruised southeasterly across the Midwest. Read on, then check 'em out in person.
The Dutchess & the Duke play Sunday, December 13th, at Walter's on Washington, along with Greg Ashley & Passengers.

How're you doing?
Jesse: Good -- we're driving to, ah, Columbia, Missouri.
How's the tour been going so far?
Pretty good... We hit some pretty crazy weather yesterday, so now it's hopefully going to chill out again. We had like a three-hour drive yesterday, and it turned into like an eight-hour nightmare. We were going back to our buddy's house after the show, and he drove off the road into like this huge snowdrift, so... It's been kinda crazy.
Oh, man. Don't do the Weezer thing.
What happened with them?
Apparently they went off a bridge.
Oh, shit -- are they dead?
No, no, they're just kind of banged up. Everybody's still alive, as far as I know.

We've had some crazy weather down here in Houston, lately.
Oh, really?
Yeah -- we had snow for the first time since I can remember.
Wow...that's kinda the way things are going, man. In Seattle, we get a lot of snow now, and we went like ten years with maybe like one snowfall that didn't stick. Winter, winter, everywhere.
Getting more extreme in every direction.
Are you guys touring as a trio right now, or...?
No, we're touring as a five-piece on this trip, because we've got our crew in the Midwest, in Chicago, to do these Midwestern things with us.
Okay, so it's not just drums, bass, and guitar anymore?
Well, it's always been two guitars and a drum. And now it's two guitars, drum, piano, and bass.
Oh, cool. That'll be an interesting change. Did you guys end up having to do that kind of because of the new album?
Well, we did it because we got asked to play the Pitchfork thing or whatever a couple of -- was that last summer? I think it was last summer. And we wanted to do something a little special, y'know, a little fuller, something cool. So we had a couple of violin players, and it just kind of worked so well, and we love these guys so much, that we just said, "well, fuck; let's just do tours that way."
We don't make much money, but it's a lot of fun.
Yeah, I'd imagine coordinating all the people makes it kind of a hassle.
I think you guys were just playing as a duo the last time you came to Houston. I missed it, but...
Yeah, we were playing as a duo, but our friend Shade was playing tambourine with us.
I wanted to say, by the way -- I read that you just had a child?
Mmm-hmm, yeah.
First child? How's that been going with the touring? And congratulations, by the way.
The Dutchess & the Duke record cover
(Music courtesy of Hardly Art and The Dutchess & the Duke.)

How old is he now?
He's six months. Pretty fresh, and collectively I've probably toured two months out of six months he's been alive.
Is that kind of a hard thing to decide to do?
Yeah, of course. Y'know, but, gotta do it. He'll be there when I get back. He'll know more tricks.
Hopefully be sleeping through the night when you get back, and all that stuff.
Yeah. Well, he's teething right now, so he's kind of in a transition period.
Oh, boy...
But for the most part he's really relaxed and mellow.
That's good. The mellow ones are good.
Yeah, but they're the ones who probably end up being psychopaths when they grow up. I'll keep an eye on him.
My daughter was mellow; I don't want her to turn out to be a psycho.
[laughs] We'll see...
I wanted to ask if you could give a little history of the band, just for folks who aren't necessarily familiar? I didn't know if the band was something you'd been planning on doing, or if it fell together.
Yeah, there was nothing planned. It just happened, and we made a record, and then we went on some tours, and then we met a bunch of people that wanted to play with us that we wanted to play with, so... It's cool, 'cause it's really organic, and it just kind of carries itself. We don't really worry about it too much.
Were you surprised by the reactions?
Yeah... I mean, I was surprised, but they're good songs. Not to sound egotistical or anything, but they're good songs.
No, I agree.
Thanks. I'm glad you agree with me. [laughs] That'd come off as a real asshole: "Nah, they're not good songs. They're not at all." I mean, it's always surprising to be successful at anything, y'know? What success we have is pretty cool.
I like the music because it's sneaky, almost, to me -- it's like you've got these pretty '60s melodies and things, but if you listen to the lyrics, it's really bitter and dark and kind of painful. And I like that, because I think the stereotype of the '60s is that it's all happy sunshine and fun and all that stuff. I think it's very subversive, the music you guys play.
I didn't know if that was intentional, or...
Well, no -- lyrically, that's just the content that I'm... That's just where I am now. For a lot of that stuff in the '60s, it was written by the same ten guys, y'know? They wrote all those pop songs that were bubblegum or whatever. And the '60s that I think of are like the garage bands, y'know, bands that're just these kids that can't get laid, so they'll pick up a guitar. Even the bigger bands, like the Beach Boys or the Kinks, they were all struggling with some pretty major issues.
I definitely see what you're saying, and I think that if people dig a little deeper into anything, you're going to find some pretty dark shit in a lot of those big pop bands.
It's in there anyway, but people just aren't seeing it very much.
Have you heard the Langley School Project record? This choir teacher taught all these Beach Boys songs and Beatles and shit to his class of little kids. So it's little kids singing, like, "In My Room" or "The Long and Winding Road" or something like that. And it's really crazy to hear these sad messages sung by these super-innocent kids that you wouldn't think would have any concept of what they were singing about. They probably did, a little bit.
I had just recently heard this Langley School thing, because I was talking with a friend, "oh, I want to record some songs with kids singing like Dutchess & Duke songs." And he was like, "oh, you should listen to this Langley School thing." And it was exactly what I was thinking about. Hopefully we can convince the label to let us do that.
That'd be cool to hear.
I dunno if it's sell a lot of records, but it'd be cool to hear. [laughs]
Well, I know for the new album, it seems a little brighter, almost, than the last one. Maybe not "happy," but more hopeful, I guess? Do you think that's true?
I think I was trying to be more hopeful. I dunno if it really worked out that way, but I was trying.
It kind of comes off that way to me, so...
It was kind of like a thing where I don't know if I was hopeful, but I was definitely trying to make it a little less "heavy" than the first record, I guess. But it might've come out just more heavy-handed. I don't know.
I don't think so, if it helps any.
Okay, thanks...
So, why did you guys go with Greg Ashley for the recording?
Well, 'cause he's got a great studio, and he's a good friend of ours, and you can smoke in his studio, which is really important to us, as smokers.
You knew him already?
Yeah, we knew him already. Actually, we had planned to record it with him before the record was even written, so...
Oh, wow. So that was the end goal for the second album, completely.
Yeah, pretty much.
I think he's touring with you guys, isn't he?
Yeah; he's sitting right behind me, watching a movie. Giggling like a fucking girl. [laughs]
That's kind of scary.
The reason I was asking about him is because he's sort of a hometown Houston boy. I remember seeing him a long time ago, when he was in The Mirrors here, before he moved out west.
Yeah, he's a good guy. Maybe a little misunderstood.
The recording went pretty well?
It was fantastic; it was exactly what we wanted.
The Dutchess & the Duke pic #2
Photo by Andrew Waits.
I saw one interview that you'd done where said if you wrote an album, you'd like to put all the guitar tabs in with the album, and I just wanted to tell you that, as somebody who's just kind of a half-assed guitarist, that would be awesome. I would love that. Please, could you do that?
You can read music?
No, I have to do the tablature. I suck at reading music.
Yeah, I don't even know what any of the chords are called or anything like that. I'd have to have somebody sit down and do it for me. 'Cause I have no idea. We think it'd be cool to just like...
I mean, and that way we could tour, and we wouldn't really have to bring anything. People could just bring their own guitars and play all the parts, and we could just sing. That'd be kind of cool.
Play along with everybody? That'd be pretty neat, a campfire singalong kind of thing.
Yeah! I think that's what we're going to try to do for our next record, is I'm going to actually write the songs in advance -- 'cause usually I write 'em a week before we go to record, so -- and I'd write 'em in advance and plan a camping trip with some friends or something , and just go up into the woods and have everybody bring something. And just have a singalong.
In theory, it sounds kinda corny, but I think it'd be really cool. And then make some sort of nice package for it, have the tablature in there.
I'd listen to it.
I did have one other burning question for you, and it's about the band name. I was just curious where "The Dutchess & the Duke" came from? Well, we used to have this band The Flying Dutchmen, that was like this really awful kinda R&B...I don't even know what it was. It was a garage band. I asked Kimberly to play organ, and all our shirts were like, "Kick me, I'm dutch," or whatever. And then she came in, she was the only girl in the band, so she was The Dutchess.
We were trying to figure out what to call the band for the first single that we did. And I got the Dutchess & the Duke, which sounds classy... It was just kind of the name I picked out of the air when I needed to make the cover art, so... It just stuck. Now we're stuck with it.
Okay; I'm kind of surprised that that's the backstory. I was thinking it was more like kind of an homage -- there seemed to be at least a few bands in the '60s with names like the Kingsmen or something like that, and I was thinking you were trying to point to that.
Everything we do is kind of an homage to something that came before. It wasn't intentionally. It just sounded like a name we could use. Sorry! END