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Duke 72 - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 11 / 3 / 2019

Duke 72 - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Justin Lumsden, the main guitarist and songwriter in Glaswegian psychedelic/folk/rock sextet Big Hogg, about his new project Duke 72, with Melbourne-based drummer Jonny Mitchell, and their debut album, 'The Mid Shires Herald'.

Duke 72 is a Scottish/Australian collective centred around Glasgow-based guitarist Justin Lumsden and drummer Jonny Mitchell, who lives in Melbourne. It has just released its debut album, ‘The Mid Shires Herald’, on Bad Elephant Records. Lumsden is also the main songwriter and shares vocals with flautist Sophie Sexon in late 60’s/early 70’s-influenced psychedelic/folk/rock sextet Big Hogg, which has now released two albums, an eponymously-titled 2015 LP (Neon Tetra Music) and 2017’s ‘Gargoyles’ (Bad Elephant Records). Mitchell has drummed in various Australian bands, including Future of Dead Relic Memories and Bricolage. ‘The Mid Shires Herald’ was conceived in a remarkable nine-hour tracking session with no prior rehearsal at Anchor Lane Studios in Glasgow when Mitchell was over in Scotland in December 2017 for a brief visit. Some of the nine songs on ‘The Mid Shires Herald’ were entirely improvised on the day of the recording session; others were revisits of old unrecorded songs written over a decade beforehand. Lumsden finished the album off by overdubbing contributions from Sexon (vocals, flute); ex Trembling Bell Lavinia Blackwell (vocals, piano); Big Hogg member Ross McCrae (trombone); Glasgow musician John Cromar (Hammond organ, electric piano) and his partner and regular sleeve artist Julia Jeffrey (vocals). Duke 72 incorporates many of the 60’s and 70’s psychedelic, folk and hard rock influences of Big Hogg, but perhaps inevitably given how it was recorded has a much more free-flowing and less taut sound. It also contains a stronger funk element. In Big Hogg, Lumsden takes some of the main vocals but Sexon overall is the dominant presence, while on ‘The Mid Shires Herald’ he is the lead on every track. With plans for Duke 72 to tour Britain, Europe and Australia, Justin Lumsden, in what is our second interview with him, talked to Pennyblackmusic about ‘The Mid Shires Herald’. PB: How did you first meet Jonny Mitchell and how well did you know him before you went into the studio to complete the mammoth tracking session which provided the backbone to this album? JUSTIN LUMSDEN: I met Jonny Mitchell (or 'Handgrenade' as he's also known) about fifteen years ago. He was really into Spirit and Tortoise and a weird mix of 60's, 70's and 90's music which we connected over. We hung out for a while before briefly forming a three-piece psych group with bassist Mark Alexander called Jonny And The Lights. We recorded some demos, including a song called 'Turn to Prayer’ which I've kept playing to this day - it's on the first Big Hogg record. Jonny got bored of Scotland and moved to Australia in 2008 but we've always kept in touch. He came over in 2010 and we made some more demos, and when he said he was coming over in late 2017 I thought that maybe we can go one better here. PB: Much of the music was born on the day, while other parts you had written many years earlier and revisited. It all comes across as very watertight and seamless. Which tracks were new and which tracks were older? JL: The oldest tracks were ‘Backbone of a Jellyfish’ and ‘Antique Antiques’ which dated back to the 2010 demo sessions although I changed the form and wrote new lyrics for 'Jellyfish'. ‘Weekend by the Sea’ and ‘Trapped’ date from 2013 and are pretty much as I wrote them at the time. I deemed them a bit too heavy for Big Hogg so they were just lying about ready to go. The rest were new. To both of us! PB: Is it true that there was no prior rehearsals before you and Jonny went into the studio? Did you come into the studio with any criteria of what you wanted to achieve beforehand or was everything totally improvised at the time? JL: Initially the plan was to play a gig but given the time available we booked a single studio date at Luigi Pasquini’s Anchor Lane Studio. There was no time to rehearse. We just pitched up and set up to record. I had the four oldies, five actually, but one didn’t make it, and I thought we could get the ball rolling with those and see what happened. Very early on, it was obvious we were getting good takes so we had a bunch of time on our hands to see what we might create out of thin air on the day. The five other tracks occurred pretty naturally. With ‘Isadora’ I had this two-part idea for and we were like, “Let’s play this like a Free or Creedence song," so you get the feel and off you go. Tracking drums and guitar allows a certain freedom - a jam becomes an exploration which then turns into structure fairly quickly. ‘Oxblood and Rings’ just came out of nowhere. Musically it’s my favourite song on the album and it just popped out fully formed. The other three were looser jams, although ‘Rust and Stars’ somehow turned into a pretty neat structure. The real slog started afterwards. I got the bass parts down in one session and then it took months to write around the structures and finish the songs to my satisfaction. Not the easiest method of working! PB: Where does the name of the band of Duke 72 come from? One reviewer has suggested you have taken your name from the music of approximately 1972. Although it is at one level a very 21st century take on it, one can hear the influence of bands of that time such as Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in your sound. Is that where your name comes from? JL: In a nutshell, yes! 1972 is a great year for rock music although 1969 would be my top pick if I had to dispute this. A tedious argument that one though... I thought Duke 72 had a certain ring to it, despite my partner telling me it sounded like an email address, and the idea was to evoke the vibe and music of that era. Sabbath, Floyd and SAHB are all in there as well as less well-known bands from the time like Help Yourself, Flower Travellin’ Band and May Blitz. The Pretty Things' ‘Parachute' album is a massive influence, and there’s a whisper of funk and soul in there too. PB: ‘The Mid Shires Herald’ was completed with appearances from your Big Hogg bandmates Ross McCrae and Sophie Sexon and ex-Trembling Bell Lavinia Blackwall who had guested on Big Hogg’s second album ‘Gargoyles’. Do you see Duke 72 as a Big Hogg side project or as something completely different? JL: I hope it doesn’t seem like a side project. Jonny is a wonderful drummer and a completely different cat from Nick Gaughan, the Big Hogg drummer. Perhaps further recordings might take the music away from Big Hogg territory. By having Ross and Sophie on the album it may have the appearance of party rock Big Hogg, but this was never the intention. Basically, with Jonny back in Melbourne, I had to complete the album on my own. It’s amazing how quickly you get sick of the sound of your own voice, so I roped Sophie and Lavinia into doing some singing, mainly because they’re the two best singers I know. With Ross I thought, “Which player and instrument would complement the music most?” I had originally planned to put synthesizers all over the record and make it a bit more sci-fi but one night listening to Beefheart’s ‘Shiny Beast’ album made me think trombone might be a bit more… funky. Also Ross, like Sophie and Lavinia, is a studio monster, a real one take Jake. What you can get from a single two-hour session with them is mind blowing. PB: The cover art work is by your partner and regular artist Julia Jeffrey, who also provides backing vocals on ‘The Mid Shires Herald’, is stunning. In the past your sleeves have always involved a lot of symbolism. What does this cover imply to you? JL: I always take a bit of time with Julia to consider the art work as I find her paintings very evocative. I’m lucky enough to have a source of magic passing me the peas of an evening. We chose the cover for a number of reasons. Firstly, I had the title of the album from quite early on and it really seemed to chime with that. Secondly the music is unashamedly retro - some of the songs are very old and even with the new ones there’s a certain amount of make believe - it’s not a real band as such, a studio creation. More than anything I was looking to recreate an era where serious young men, with long hair and duffle coats, would sit around reading Tolkien, listen to King Crimson, smoke cheap hash and pontificate about the meaning of things. PB: As always your lyrics stand up to repeated listening. ‘Trapped’ tells of a group of people fighting their way out of a landslide. What inspired that song? JL: It’s about overcoming the odds, having a never-say-die attitude and also the elation of succeeding from a seemingly hopeless situation. I can’t think of any one event that inspired it - sometimes when you write the lyrics over existing music you just follow where the feeling takes you. Also, our cat Elfreida is a mountain of destruction... PB: ‘Rust and Stars’, ‘Isadora’ and ‘Antique Antiques’ are each about isolation and also touch on the theme of trying to sum up and make sense of your life. Was that something which you were conscious of when you were putting together ‘The Mid Shires Herald’? JL: ‘Antique Antiques’ is an old song. It’s really just about being a miserable artist producing music and working late into the night… What does it really mean if you’re the only one there when it’s finished? That kind of thing. ‘Rust and Stars’ is pretty much the same vibe but on a much grander or cosmic scale, the euphoria and the transience of achievement, existence, etc. ‘Ozymandias’ knocked into a cocked hat. I guess working so much on my own may have driven these sentiments. ‘Out of Reach’ is fairly bleak too. There’s a lot of blues on the album. My playing tends to conjure that colour , that mood. Perhaps I was trying to find a 21st century blues - something a little more opaque than moaning about being broke or out of love - something I can relate to in my own life. I must say, however, that ‘Isadora’ is about our other cat. She’s a precious little so and so who requires a lot of reassurance. PB: ‘Evil Genius’ might be interpreted as being about one of our current political leaders. Who inspired that song? JL: It would be easy to point a finger in the direction of the great orange buffoon, but it was a ginger one I had in mind - namely Vivian Stanshall. More of a tribute perhaps, via Funkadelic. The song was genuinely intended as a bit of light relief after some of the more gloomy subject matter on offer. PB: What plans do you have for the immediate future? Duke 72 are apparently going to be touring Britain, Europe and Australia this year. When will that be, and will all the dates involve Jonny Mitchell? Will Big Hogg also be playing dates and are you working on a third album? JL: Big Hogg are currently writing and rehearsing material for our third album and, I have to say, what’s come out so far has been a real departure for the group. We’ve been playing a fair bit around Glasgow and hopefully we’ll pick up our usual quota of festival slots through the summer and get the album recorded in the autumn. Duke 72 made their live debut on 2nd March at Glasgow’s Nice N’ Sleazy. We also launched the album that night. Jonny is due to fly in to Scotland in June and we'll be playing a few shows as well as recording new Duke 72 material. I’ll fly over to Australia in November and we’ll hit the festival circuit over there. The European leg has been somewhat kiboshed by this impending Brexit thing. No one seems to know what the reality will be so we’ll come back to that when the situation is somewhat clearer. All in all it’s a busy and exciting time ahead though. Huzzah! PB: Thank you.

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Duke 72 - Interview

Duke 72 - Interview

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