Interview: Duke Special

By Francesca Fortunato
By October 21, 2015 July 21st, 2016 Features, Interviews, Listen

In our latest interview we chat with Duke Special about his evolution as a musician, inspirations and his plans for the coming months.

Duke Special

S] You’re currently doing a smaller UK tour. How important is it for you to play these smaller shows?

D] “I’ve played all kinds of venues in the past thirteen years. Some are on the more traditional club circuits, some bigger than that and all different shapes and sizes. It’s always great to play somewhere new. I have an interesting following. The kind of stuff that I’m doing and playing, people are telling their friends about it and I think it really helps when I play in places that are on someone’s doorstep and introduce new people to my music.”

S] Over your career how do you feel you’ve changed and developed as a musician?

D] “I think probably I’ve grown a lot more confident in being an artist. When you’re starting out you’re so unsure of yourself, whether anyone is going to like what you do. I think I’ve grown more and more of the opinion that it’s about being able to trust your own judgement and less about trying to impress the industry. I feel like I’m in it for the long haul and I’ve created a body of work that I’m really happy with and that I’m interested in. That’s led me down a lot of places that wouldn’t be on the normal cycle of things like theatre and writing songs with other projects. I find that really satisfying.”

S] How would you advise an emerging artist that doesn’t want to take the conventional route to get noticed by the industry?

D] “Trust that there’s an audience for what you’re doing. That’s the wonderful thing now, people from anywhere in the world can access music from anywhere else in the world quite easily. I think the sensation used to be that you had these gatekeepers in terms of record labels and that’s less and less the case. You still have gatekeepers in radio and there’s a lot of radio which is crap and it doesn’t reflect at all what people like. Obviously there’s many exceptions to that. I think just stay true to what first got you into music and try and find your audience. I think definitely get out of the city that you come from and go out and play a lot of places. It’s a great learning curve.”

S] When you go on stage how do you combat your nerves? Has your approach to performing changed over the years?

D] “I’ve always enjoyed performing, it feels natural to do. I had an experience this year that I’ve never had before; I watched something that I’d written but wasn’t actually in. I’d written a musical for Gullliver’s Travels and it was the first time I’d ever not been in the thing that I had written which I found incredibly nerve-wracking. It made me realise that I think it’s putting any nerves into actually performing to the energy of the gig. Then there’s this wonderful two way exchange between yourself and the audience and you get something back. I put the energy into the performance and loosing myself in the songs. It was realising that when I didn’t have that I was unbelievably nervous. When I was just watching I realised ‘I have nowhere to put this energy’. I’ve done this a long time now and it’s different with every record and you have to figure out how the hell to make it work. It’s this dilemma and this quandary to figure that out so I’m always nervous at the beginning of the tour, for example tonight. I know there’s some things that work really well and there’s other things that we’ll have to see. It’s not like theatre where you have months of rehearsal.”

S] What personally inspire you outside of music?

D] “There’s a radio play about Arthur Miller, it’s really interesting. At a time in America when everyone was paranoid about communism there were people like him trying to tell the truth. Visual arts I really love, movies, all kinds of things really. At the minute I’m going to try to finish a work about Huckleberry Fin, that’s going to be my focus.”

S] Is that process different for you than writing songs?

D] “Although the subject matter may be different, we have to live with something and dwell on it. I have three boys so I’m quite busy, so I find the project and deadline thing really helpful, it forces me to sit and dwell on things. I think any writer needs that space and focus and discipline. I find the project thing really helps me with that because other people are counting on me. I use the project as an excuse to work and spend time thinking about something. There’s no shortcut, inspiration is definitely part of it.”

S] What are your plans for the rest of the year?

D] “After this tour I’m spending a little time at home and then I’m going to Germany. The band that are supporting me on this tour are called Sea + Air, they’re from Germany and I’m going to be supporting them for ten days in November. Towards the end of November, I’m doing a bunch of dates with Billy Bragg. A couple in London and six in Scotland. I want to get better at recording myself so I’m going to be figuring that out.”

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