James Jackson Toth's slow trek from the outer limits of folk music into full-blown country songs was inevitable. But no one expected that his transition into a more accessible sound would be so flawless while maintaining the darkness of his more esoteric years. Waiting in Vain does just that. A low and lonesome boom underscores the album's brightest moments, and song titles such as "The Banquet Styx" and "Becoming Faust" say it all. Toth has a sense of humor that gives depth to his solo debut. But with its subtle sheen of fuzz and slow, waltzing melodies in closing cut "The Dome" makes plain that he wholeheartedly embraces the music without losing sight of his own psychedelic roots.
Seattle duo the Dutchess & the Duke (Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison) open the show.
On Monday night D&D played a short-notice in-store performance over at Vacation Gallery & Boutique on North Highland. For this most recent round of touring they've been playing shows as a two-piece. The in-store at Vacation was set up as a test run with their temporary addition to the line-up, Atlanta's one and only B Jay Womack, (A.K.A. Bobby Ubangi.)
Now before the rumors get started, it's important to note that B Jay is only playing a couple of shows in Georgia (Athens and Atlanta). He's being brought on board to be the band's tambourine man, which leaves one hand free for continual consumption of alcohol during the show.
I caught up with B Jay the night before the in-store at Vacation.
Chad Radford: How did you get hooked up with the Dutchess and the Duke?
B Jay: I met Jesse years ago when me and Jared Swilley flew out to the Budget Rock showcase. There were a couple of bands, like the Phantom Surfers and the Bobby Teens, the Flakes from San Francisco. Jesse's band at the time was the Flying Dutchmen.
Later when he came out with the Dutchess and the Duke stuff they started getting written up as being in a similar vein as the Gaye Blades. People had been telling me about it and I found their songs on their Myspace page and I noticed one day that I was in their top friends and when they came to town [Bobby and the Soft Spots] played an in-store with them at Criminal Records. We hung out around town and ate and drank, and I watched them play again at MJQ. They ended up staying at my house and we stayed up all night talking.
So what are you playing in the group?
Tambourine and and maybe some Maracas. I'm just going to wing it, and on the way to Athens I'll see what I can come up with. I don't even know if I can play the tambourine, honestly. I've never really done it before.
I'm going to try to do some background vocals, too, but I can't sing in key with them. It's mainly just to have fun.
What is it that draws you to their music?
His lyrics hit hard. A lot of people have told me that they don't like them, that it's too morose. He's lived a lot of hard times and that's what those songs are all about. The song "Reservoir Park" is about being homeless and having to sleep in that park. I identify with it. There are just some people that you click with right off the bat and he's one of them.
There's something weird about his chord progressions, too. The way he writes them have a really unique sound. And the production gives the song a certain air that I like. There isn't really anyone else around doing what they do, which sucks. The touring bands that they're working with, like Fleet Foxes aren't really even in the same ballpark. I would think that they would be touring with bands that are part of our little network, or that at least have a similar sound.
The kind of jackasses who came out to see them play with Fleet Foxes didn't appreciate what they do. The people who came out to the show were wearing fucking Polo shirts and macromay flip-flops. Those people don't know anything.
A few days earlier I caught up with Jesse Lorts as drove through the desert between gigs in San Diego, CA to Austin, TX.
How long have the Dutchess and the Duke been together?
About a year, maybe a year-and-a-half. We were trying to figure this out the other day and we actually don't know because we did it kind of sporadically. We recorded the 7-inch then didn't play for a while and then we played a show in October of last year.
You were in the Fe Fi Fo Fums, correct? Have you guys been in any other bands I might have heard of?
Those bands are all coming from an entirely different place from what you get with the Dutchess and the Duke.
Yeah, we've been compared to the Stones and stuff like that. Any rock and roll that's been made in the last 30 or 40 years is influenced by the Stones, so that's kind of a no brainer. Often times we get compared to bands that we've never even heard of. Someone just the other day said we sound like Georgie James. I thought 'hmmm I don't even know what that is.' But whatever. If someone thinks it sounds like that, it's fine with me.
The review was mostly about the way we looked. On our last tour we got a lot of reviews that said what we looked like, which I thought was fascinating. But I guess when you go to see a band play you really are concentrating on what they look like anyway, rather than sitting in your house and listening to a record.
People said some really harsh shit. They said that I looked like Matt Groening and that Kimberly looked like a drugged out Parker Posey...
That sounds like a good look to me...
Yeah, it works.
People get hung up on image and I guess it really does matter when it comes to performances.
Absolutely. The whole point of music is that you put into it exactly what you want it to be and that goes just as much for how a band looks as what the songs mean. When you see them and you're like wait a minute, these aren't teenager girls, they're 40-year-old bald dudes...
We don't really look like people in a band. We look like two people from the bar who went home and started writing songs. I think that that's really cool. Not that I have a choice in the matter but it's at least interesting that we're not contrived. We're not wearing bullet belts and Beatle boots and tight pants. We don't feel like we have to wear a uniform that matches our sound. That's kind of what indie rock and punk rock were all about in the first place.
What is your line-up like on the road this time around?
We were playing electric and we had a friend from home who was playing tambourine and maracas and a little bass drum, but he couldn't come with us. We thought it would be weird to play two electric guitars with no percussion, so basically it's just me and Kimberly playing acoustic. We've never played acoustic before until last Wednesday at our show. Apparently it's really hard to mic acoustic guitars so mostly we've been playing on the ground off of the stage and getting people to come in close.
You guys just have one record out and a few singles, but you've been touring a lot over the last year. Has the time on the road had an affect on the way you write songs?
Yeah, all of that stuff affects the way you write songs. We used to have a lead guitar player who played all of the hard parts. But that dude couldn't come on the last tour so we had to learn all of the lead parts and it really wasn't that hard... We didn't put that much time into the songwriting in the first place, though. I wrote most of the songs on the bus after we had already been signed. We did the 7-inch and they said we want to do an album. So we said sure, but we didn't have any other songs written. Most of them were written in the studio as we recorded, and on the bus.
Putting things together on the fly like that can yield some really unexpectedly great songs; the kind that are full of mistakes that you just roll with, and they're part of the experience.
Yeah and that's 1,000% of what we do. We're people and sometimes we fuck things up. Everybody makes mistakes. A lot of bands try to pull it off like you're watching a band on television. I think it's really nice when you see a band that is just trying to be people making music. We played an in-store with Bobby and the Soft Spots at Criminal and they were fucking everything up, but it was totally a lot of fun. It would have been a bummer if everyone was sour about it, but it was just a lot of fun.
James Jackson Toth and the Dutchess and the Duke play The Earl w/ the Good Graces on Tues., Aug. 26. $8. 9 p.m.
(Photo by Chad Radford)
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