The Dutchess and the Duke, a Seattle duo whose sound people like comparing to the very early Rolling Stones, had barely played live when Sub Pop’s boutique label Hardly Art offered them a record deal. In the 18 months since their debut She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke, Kimberly Morrison and Jesse Lortz have toured extensively (with fellow Seattle band Fleet Foxes, among others) and, in October, released a second album, Sunset/Sunrise. The record’s lyrics, written by Lortz, deal with one-sided relationships, personal demons and, in at least one case, fatherhood. (“All of the songs are autobiographical,” says Lortz.) These are smoldering, after-dark songs, songs that build to gloomy-yet-somehow-uplifting guy-girl choruses.
The Dutchess and the Duke plays Union Hall in Brooklyn tonight and Mercury Lounge on Friday. When we spoke with Lortz last month the band was headed from Birmingham, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia in a Dodge Sprinter that Lortz seemed to be enjoying. “It’s roomy,” he said. “You can stand up in it!”
You and Kimberly Morrison have known each other for quite a while?
Yeah, about 15 years probably.
How did you meet?
We just grew up in the same area, and did teenage shit together, then didn’t talk to each other for a while. Then a couple of our [former] bands played with each other, we kind of did like an incestuous band thing, where we would just swap out from each band. We’d sung together and played together already, so we knew what our dynamic was.
What kind of music were you playing then?
It was kind of like ’60s garage.
And how did that evolve into the Dutchess and the Duke?
It just kind of happened. I wrote a couple songs, and we recorded a single, and that was just going to be it. Then Hardly Art approached us to do an album and we kind of needed the money, so it was like, “Yeah, sure.” I wrote the rest of the record as we recorded it. Once we recorded the record, we figured out how to play most of the songs live. But we had another guy who was playing all the lead guitar parts. We probably played like four or five shows that way, and then we ended up going on that Fleet Foxes tour. The guitar player couldn’t come with us, so we had to figure out how to play all the leads and sing at the same time. We kind of work best under the gun anyway.
Lyrically and sonically, how does the second record differ from the first?
The first record is more about the past. We were recording it in our friend’s basement so we were kind of limited sound-wise to what we could do, we couldn’t go super-crazy with it. Then with the second record, we had the studio booked before I’d even written most of the songs so when I was writing them I could kind of decide, “Okay, we could have strings here, we can have piano.” We could kind of build it more.
Lyrically, the second one’s more about the present. So it seems like it’s maybe a little harsher than the first one. I’ve read a lot of reviews that are like, “It’s difficult to get through. The songs are good, but it’s a little rough.” Which is good, I think.
Tell me about the band name.
We played in this band Flying Dutchman quite a few years ago. It was kind of a boys’ club, and then Kimberly joined. She was the Dutchess. When we recorded our first single we didn’t even have a band name, so if she was the Dutchess…It just kind’ve sounded right.
How do you two play off on another? Do your personalities mesh?
She’s great to work with. She can also be difficult to work with. We get on each other’s nerves, but we also love each other. I guess I’d relate it to a brother-sister relationship with the added stress of being business partners.
You mentioned the reviews. Do you read them all?
I keep track of them. If I’m bored I’ll kind of check out what people are saying. We just got distribution in the UK, so there’s an outfit over there that forwards all the reviews, they pop up in my e-mail.
So many of the reviews compare your sound to early Stones and Leonard Cohen. Is that what you’re after? Or not at all?
With the first record I was listening to a lot of Stones and a lot of Leonard Cohen and a lot of Bob Dylan, so it makes sense that the songs would kind of musically sound that way. I’m not offended by it, or wowed by it, or anything like that. Everybody has to compare shit to something else, that’s how people define things. That’s okay with me.