Duke and the Darlings are a band like any other, but what sets them apart from the pack is their passion and dedication to their craft, and their overall love for music. Noting this last point, they founded their own monthly live music nights, calling them Ale-ternative, which showcases the best local and homegrown talent there is to offer, they are true music lovers and as testament to this they put these nights on for free, for all of us to enjoy and the nights couldn’t be more great if they tried. Duke and the Darlings are ones to follow, they make melodious, catchy indie anthems and I am proud to say, they are a credit to Manchester’s music scene.
I caught up with the band’s frontman, Alex Reed, to discuss what’s next for the band and what it was like to record at the world renowned, Abbey Road Studios.
Describe Duke and the Darlings in three words or less.
1. Please 2. See 3. Below
If anyone reading this hasn’t heard your music before. How would you describe it to them?
Infectiously subtle and subtly infectious, that is, big melodies, heaps of guitar and an explorative optimism.
You have released two EPs so far as a band. The most recent one being, Champagne of the People, how has the response been to that?
So far so good. The written response has been extremely positive. We felt we knew the music more with this EP; most of the reviews have been in-tune with our own thoughts, which is gratifying, certainly. If anything, we have been chuffed with how closely reviewers have listened to this EP, with plenty picking apart lyrics and deconstructing melodies. We’re almost into double figures with sales, too.
You recorded your first EP at Abbey Road Studios. How was that experience? I expect it was a very humbling moment for you all, especially with it being you’re first recording experience as a band.
Incredibly humbling. We recorded in Studio 3 at Abbey Road Studios, where Pink Floyd and The Beatles had recorded. That sentence still blows us away. We were so respectful of the place, the staff and the overall institution, that we simply did not play tourist enough. I remember breaking a string and having to dash to Soho; as soon as I opened the front door the people outside brought their cameras up in anticipation. Then they realised it was me, or rather, that it wasn’t a Beatle, and I got on the tube with relative ease.
You have been hinting to the possibility of some new material being recorded for release before the year’s end. What could we be expecting to hear from that?
We have plenty of material and motifs, some of which even existed before the last EP was written. I write songs all the time, and I’ve been saying to the lads that ‘I’ve written the next EP’ for a few months now. But we are more democratic than that. We would like to complete a song called ‘River’ which is more Katie Melua than Duke and the Darlings. We have so many sides to the band, some of which we haven’t even played live, that it would be impossible to capture our quiddity completely, as with any artist; we will simply ready 6-7 songs and see if we can put a thread through an EP’s-worth. Expect melodies, though, whatever the groove.
When it comes to writing the songs, is it a collaborative process?
Yes and no. I write the basic song, but then everyone chips away until we think that it would work live. We then try the songs live, and again, thereafter, we alter and adapt the arrangement and all. A song like ‘Stop and Go’, from our Abbey Road EP, for example, sounds better rendered and more improved since we recorded it in 2011, but when we recorded it we thought it was the bees knees. Bands should always be willing to adapt, as music is alive and it breathes.
Who inspires you?
Musically, I take a lot from those swines who can get a melody from doing very little. John Frusciante, Cody Chesnutt, Fugazi, John Lennon, Lauryn Hill. I would argue that their greatest attribute is their involvement with an idea, and not with the idea of being involved: they simplify greatness until it is greater. I think a lot of UK hip-hop operates on a similar Occam’s Razor approach, too. This said, I love pop from the 90’s. Give me The Cardigans and TLC over The Rolling Stones any day. And what happened to UK garage? There was some great songwriting in that scene!
Your monthly live nights, apply titled Ale-ternative, are a must for any music lover. You get a lot more control and freedom through organising the events yourselves, was this one of the reasons why you chose to do this?
Completely. We get to choose the venue, the bands, the day of the week, the ticket price (free) and pay ourselves and the bands with money and ale. We have never met a promoter we didn’t like, but a lot of their models are antiquated. We made zero contacts through using promoters over a year, so we had to jump ship. We were playing midweek gigs to nobody, and some weekend gigs to plenty of people but getting next to nothing for it. With our Ale-ternative nights we get the one thing that matters: an inclusive atmosphere where everybody is having a great time.
Your Ale-ternative nights are a great way to showcase local talent. Who has been your favourite act so far and can you give us a tease into who’s coming up?
Everyone who has played has been our favourite. We selected them because we love their music. And that’s still the point: we have Black Lights up next, followed by The Scandal (Leeds) and then Band of Jackals (Nottingham). We have plenty of bands and artists with whom we want to play, but we will have to record at some point, so that may be the list until next year!
What’s a Duke and the Darlings show like, for those that may have not seen you live before?
Often they are tipsy affairs in the key of E major. High energy gigs performed above sea level.
We’re big supporters of new music here at Bitter Sweet Symphonies. Having said that, are there any new artists that have caught your attention recently that you’d like to share with us?
Anyone we have played with on Ale-ternative, firstly! There is a great songwriter scene Blackpool/Preston way: we have been lucky enough to have had David Shurr, Mog Stanley and Russ Erwin from that way, but there are plenty more. More locally, we like Clockwork Radio, but who doesn’t? Frank’s Wild Years have got it nailed too, and their frontman Mike is extremely hard-working, which we dig (not that the others are lazy). Seriously, anyone who has played with us! I’m going to throw you a curve ball and say Broken Dialect, who are a hip hop group based in Wolverhampton, I used to be in that group. Funnily enough, they got a lot better when I left.
Do you have any tips for new bands starting out, any advice that you could give them?
There is no formula to success, because if there was, we would be successful by now. Just imagine yourself telling your grandchildren about your band: make sure that you can honestly say, ‘we put in 100% and had a laugh’. Record deals are a bonus.
A special thanks to Duke and the Darlings for this interview and for more info on the band, check out the following links below.