Seattle’s Dutchess and the Duke have a knack for throwing you for a loop: Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison’s 2008 debut, She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke (Hardly Art), found new ways into seemingly played-out formulas -- namely an early electrified folk sound familiar to fans of Dylan’s Bring It All Back Home -- and the two’s new full-length, Sunset/Sunrise (Hardly Art), goes one better. The storytelling is sharp and surprising. The pop referents hark to the sweetly tough innocence of the Ronettes, as well as the earnest yarn-spinning skills of Phil Ochs. However you shuffle it, Sunset/Sunrise is a delight.
I traded e-mails with Jesse Lortz not long ago, on the brink of the Dutchess and the Duke’s show Sunday, Nov. 8, at Bottom of the Hill. Sunset/Sunrise’s producer Greg Ashley of Bay Area psych-rock outfit Gris Gris opens.
Q: How did Sunset/Sunrise originate -- and evolve?
Jesse Lortz: Basically we had “Scorpio,” “Living This Life” and “Never Had a Chance” already, which we had been playing for a year or so, and “When You Leave My Arms” left over from this girl group thing we did a few years back that needed strings. I hadn’t written any songs since the first record because I didn’t have to.
When Hardly Art wanted to do the second record, we had a limited timetable to do it in since I was in school and had a baby on the way, so I wrote the rest of the album in a week, recorded it in a week, and then we f--ed around with it mix-wise for a couple months. The concept is tied to a lot of things and relationships coming to an end and, in a sense, kind of starting over. It was originally going to be called Let It Die, but there are a few other albums with that title. The title came from the album art.
Q: It's a beautiful album -- did you go into the studio with any goals in particular?
JL: We wanted to make a bigger-sounding record than the first one. Wanted to impress and gain the respect of Greg Ashley, who we both love. The studio time was booked before I wrote the songs, so he was in mind when I wrote them -- Greg as an artist, but also in his capacity as a producer. I was aware of the sounds he can get, so I didn’t feel I had to constrict our sound whatsoever.
Q: How did you come to shape the recording?
JL: They just came out that way. It’s sort of a backwards consciousness sort of thing that I just write whatever without really knowing what it means until it’s in the package and on the record shelves. Then it’s too late to take any of it back.
Q: What was it like to work with Greg Ashley -- how would you describe the dynamic?
JL: It was great. We could smoke in his studio. It was nice working with someone whose music we both love so much, so him getting excited about it added to our confidence that we could pull such a record off.
Q: Did girl groups or '50s-'early '60s pop artists like Everly Brothers play a big role in the music this time? The '50s and '60s folk elements remain, but there seems to be a distinct lovelorn pop element.
JL: I actually joke when we play “Let It Die” that it’s an Everly Brothers cover! We have always loved girl groups, Spector, Roy Orbison, etc., and, with the studio we were in, were able to incorporate those influences into the record.
Q: What was it like working in the Bay Area? How was it different from Seattle?
JL: It was nice to be away from the day-to-day drudgery of life and see our friends in Oakland.
Q: What else is going on in D&D's world?
JL: We are touring a lot over the next few months to support the new record.
Raising my little son, Oscar. My wife and I are splitting up.
I am working on a solo record project that I will be recording with Greg in the spring. After touring we will probably throw together another DD record.
Kimberly is traveling.
Things are crazy.
Q: What's coming in the future?
The Dutchess and the Duke perform Sunday, Nov. 8, 9 p.m., at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. Greg Ashley and El Olio Wolof open. $10. (415) 621-4455, www.bottomofthehill.com