I was lucky enough recently to chat to Duke Special in the middle of his tour of Ireland and I asked him what we can expect from his imminent album and his forthcoming tour when it hits our shores later this month.
“The album is called Look Out Machines! and it’s a little bit of venturing into new territory for me, there’s a lot of synthetic drums and synthetic strings and a lot of beats; it’s a very rhythmic album. Kind of tipping the hat to 80s influences like Depeche Mode and The Blue Nile so there’s influences on there that haven’t really featured so much on previous records. The songs are very direct on this record, it’s not as concept-based an album, the songs are there to be whatever they want to be. The tour is primarily solo on this occasion, with collaborations with guest artists. There’ll be still plenty happening, I’ll be mixing it up a lot. The production on the album is by Dave Izumi and Phil Wilkinson, both are people I’ve worked with many times before, Phil drums live with me a lot. There’ll be a full band in London, Dublin and Belfast, the other dates in March and April will be solo with three different guests at various points, there’s Paul Cook and The Chronicles, She Makes War and the inventor Thomas Truax.”
Duke continued “I’ve worked with Gary Clark on this album on the song ‘Look Out Machines!’ He was someone I wanted to write with and it was like a blind date, just going round to his house and meeting him and hoping that there was something we’d have in common that he’d want to talk about. He just started playing keyboard and I started scribbling down lyrics and we came up with ‘Look Out Machines!’ And another song actually, which may see the light of day sometime called ‘Tennessee Williams is Breaking my Heart’.”
Elephant Graveyard by Duke Special
I then quizzed Duke about his well-known love of old audio equipment and his involvement with the Shellac Collective.
“Shellac Collective is an umbrella of enthusiasts of all things gramophone and 78 rpm. It’s headed up by a guy called Greg Butler, ‘Greg’s Greats’ is his website and he’s an amazing man, the most knowledgeable person I know, and has the biggest knowledge of recorded music and he’s probably got the biggest record collection I’ve ever seen. He has about 150,000 78s and The Collective is basically just like-minded people who come together for different events such as Camp Bestival and I met DJ 78 probably around 7 or 8 years ago. He’s from Norwich and I know he’s been using a gramophone on stage and he offered to come and spin some shellacs in the foyer of the arts centre I was playing in before I went on stage. That’s where we first met and then gradually we’ve got to know each other and then I’ve been roped in to playing the festivals, DJing with him and I’ve set up a gramophone club in Belfast. I think that there’s something about the aesthetic, the attitude, the passion.”
When I turned to the inevitable question of musical heroes there was none of the hesitation I’ve grown used to with most artists, just a swift delivery of a very impressive list.
“The Beatles, Elliott Smith, Magnetic Fields, Tom Waits, Ivor Cutler. I wanna be him when I grow up!” When I point out that this seems to be a fine ambition my comment is met with a prompt reply “I could do worse!”
Duke continued to tell me that Look Out Machines! will also be available on wax cylinder.
“Yes, it’s a very, very limited run we’re doing. It’s released obviously digitally, on CD, vinyl and wax cylinder. It’s pretty expensive just because the process is quite expensive; it’s available on Pledge, through Pledge Music. There’s only a couple available, I’d say the demand is going to be quite limited. I’ve made 78s before and vinyl and sometimes people buy stuff like that even if they haven’t got a player, but it’s definitely easier finding a record player than a wax cylinder player these days. Maybe this will encourage a renaissance!”
Duke Special, supported by She Makes War, plays Sage Gateshead on Sunday April 19th. Definitely not one to be missed!
Interviewer: Neil Pace