Last Friday, XPN members and listeners were treated to a special opening set by local musician Matt Duke at the Free at Noon, which also featured a performance by Ani DiFranco and took place in Wilmington at World Cafe Live at The Queen. Duke released his latest full-length record Singer/Songwriter in March so I asked him a few questions about pulling together the new LP and who he looks to for musical inspiration. Following the Q&A, get a free download of Duke’s song “Susannah” and listen back to his Free at Noon performance.
Helen Leicht: Matt you just released a new album Singer/Songwriter. Your fans helped you with this music with your Kickstarter campaign, what was that like?
Matt Duke: The Kickstarter experience was both humbling and empowering and I’m really glad that I decided to give it a shot. For so long, I was at the mercy of record labels and the music industry when I wrote and recorded anything. Through that experience, there’s certainly a chunk of yourself that can get lost, while even the trivial aspects of your songwriting get scrutinized to the point where the song (or even the whole album) feels like it’s exhausted and a bit soulless.
Regardless, I found that it was always important to remind myself that the songs I wrote were really meant for myself and for the fans of my music (and, hopefully, future fans) – much like the way I hope St. Vincent gets as much pleasure out of writing and recording her music as I do listening to her new records when they’re released. I’m not St. Vincent, but you get the idea.
Kickstarter linked the two most important pieces to the artistic equation – the artist and the fans – and I was moved by the support I received during my campaign. With that said, the pressure was on to create something that I was not only proud of (by my own expectations), but something that was absolutely authentic and that would require a lot of hard work. I think Marshall Altman and I were able to do that and I’m proudest that this album derived from the love and support of people that have stood beside me for many, many years.
HL: You have a definite edge to your songs, a darker side. What music do you listen to? And what artists have influenced your songwriting?
MD: There’s a bit of a dark side to my songwriting, but I try my best to level it out with either some upbeat, pop hooks or an entire song where I call out my own morose lyricism (“Anything Will Do”). I suppose my writing could be described as introspective and that would give me the benefit of the doubt when I start using words like “self-immolation”, etc.
My songwriting and guitar playing blossomed near the end of the grunge-era, so I was steeped in Soundgarden and Nirvana and Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins and so on, as well as Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Sunny Day Real Estate, Nine Inch Nails. But the influences that stuck with me when I really started to dig into songwriting were artists like Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate), Jeff Buckley, Ani DiFranco, Peter Gabriel, Conor Oberst, Tori Amos, Dave Matthews, and bands that my Dad had me listening to like The Band, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Supertramp, and Bruce Springsteen. Depending on my mood, I could be listening to Dillinger Escape Plan or Sigur Ros or Béla Fleck…who knows. Also, my daughter has a say, so these days it’s a lot of Fleetwood Mac.
HL: Last Friday you opened for Ani DiFranco at World Café live at the Queen, who you just said was an early songwriting influence. What was that experience like?
MD: The experience of opening for Ani DiFranco at the Free at Noon can best be summed up by imagining butterflies in someone’s stomach, but instead of butterflies, they’re miniature atom bombs and they don’t stop through your entire opening set and you simultaneously feel like you could faint from pure, unmitigated elation and vomit from nerves that make you shake worse than sub-zero temperatures. That was my experience in a nutshell. Once in a lifetime; a dream come true.