The Dutchess & the Duke
Grand Royal
by Matt Slaybaugh

After years of playing in varied and various combos around the Pacific Northwest, Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison hooked up as members of the Flying Dutchmen and, subsequently, the Sultans. After those outfits fell apart, the pair began working as a duo, releasing She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke in 2008. Critics and fans in many circles hailed the Dutchess & the Duke’s debut as an instant classic. The band followed the release with a brutal tour schedule before hustling back into the studio with Greg Ashley (of the Gris Gris) to crank out Sunset/Sunrise, a somewhat gloomier record that, like the first, massages those areas of the brain which evolved specifically for loving the Rolling Stones circa 1966. The band is now in the midst of another treacherous show schedule that has them criss-crossing the U.S. until the end of January. Despite feeling “like shit,” Lortz peeled himself out of bed after one particularly taxing evening to speak with me while grinding coffee and devouring bananas.

So how’d you end up in the Dutchess & the Duke?

Jesse Lortz: I’ve been playing in bands since I was 21, but this is the only band that anybody ever cared about.

Does this band have a mission or a message?

JL: No, we’re just a band. The songs are just for my own pleasure or to get something out. It’s a therapeutic sort of thing, which I’m just starting to understand. I’ll write a song and then hear it on the radio a couple of months later and then I understand what it’s really about. Maybe that sounds kind of stupid.

So when you’re writing it’s about intuition, not intellect?

JL: They really write themselves, then later I’m listening to it and I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t even see that part of it.”

Are you satisfied with how the new record turned out?

JL: As satisfied as anybody ever is with a record they just made.

What was the process like for this one? Do you spend a lot of time tinkering in the studio?

JL: I took about one week to write most of the songs and then I made demos. I think we recorded it all in about a week, maybe 10 days. Then we mixed it for about three months. There are a lot of people to please, so that took a while, but the actual recording process was really quick.

So you do all the writing at once? You don’t write while you’re touring or doing other things?

JL: No, I find it’s easier to write when it’s for a reason. Psychologically, it’s just easier that way. The deadline definitely helps.

Are there any influences on your songwriting that most people probably couldn’t guess?

JL: You know, it’s just Velvet Underground, Beach Boys, Nick Drake... it’s really just pop music, anything where the lyrics set me off.

So you’re not sitting around listening to Run-DMC all the time?

JL: Well, it’s not influencing my songwriting, but I do like Run-DMC.

Did you enter the studio being very particular about the way the band would sound?

JL: We had a very clear vision in mind. We knew the sounds that Greg could get and it was written around those sounds. Most of the arrangements and songs were done by the time we went in. Then he made the vision stronger.

What about “Sunrise/Sunset,” the song that Kimberly sings—did you write it with her voice in mind?

JL: I was going to sing it, but I gave her the song to mix it up a little bit. We just changed the key to make it easier for her to sing. I think it turned out really cool, and it’s nice for her to get to do a little more than just sing harmonies and play guitar. In the future she’ll probably take lead a little more.

Which do you prefer: the studio or the road?

JL: Well, I like making records a lot, but it’s nice to get out of town too. I guess I prefer neither—or both.

For you, what makes for a really great show?

JL: The usual: the audience being into it, selling a lot of records, meeting some cool people. Mix them all together and that makes a good show.

What do you do to fill time on the road?

JL: Well, right now we’re at Oscar’s (Michel) parents’ house and this miniature poodle is trying to fuck my leg.

Okay, I have no follow-up to that. You seem to be pretty practical and up-front about the business aspect of being in a band.

JL: I think it’s important to recognize that’s what it is. It’s art and that’s wonderful, but it’s not like we’re going to make thousands of dollars just for writing a song and reproducing it. I think it’s important for people to understand that the music is really important, and doing things, meeting people and doing the band thing is awesome, but people should understand it’s a job. And it’s important to do the parts of it that are a job.

When did it become a job for you?

JL: Well, I had no intention of doing it as a thing. We did a single, and the label said, “You want to do an album?” I told them we couldn’t tour, and we had no songs. I couldn’t leave school and my wife needed me to be around. But we ended up touring our asses off. It’s kind of my main thing now ’cause I don’t have time for anything else. Right now I’m getting divorced and I take care of my kid during the day and then I go to work to get the money for childcare. It’s a pretty good day job, though.

In another interview on our site, Matt from the Fiery Furnaces was asked if he had any advice for up and coming bands. He said, and I’m paraphrasing a bit here, “They should not listen to anyone else. Remember our job is not to please, but to displease. That’s rock music. It’s not pleasing. Maybe it agitates you despite yourself, but it’s not pleasing. It might be exciting, but it doesn’t make you happy inside.” What do you think? Is pleasing people part of the job?

JL: Yeah, otherwise you would just do it in your bedroom and not try to sell records. I agree with some of that, definitely, but that’s why people become artists: to get recognition, to please people, to get validation. I think it’s more subconscious than that and however you do that is your deal. It might be unpleasant, pleasant, vapid. But I understand what he’s saying—it’s better to get a negative reaction than no reaction. We get a lot of people who can’t stand us. But we’re doing this to try to get people to understand us, which is pretty egotistical, really. I mean, why should anyone listen to me?