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Duhks defying labels

Canadian band blends African rhythms, soul, old-time, folk and blues

December 29, 2008
By Justin McIntosh
Canada’s The Duhks (pronounced like Ducks) has been hitting the tour circuit for five years now with steady growth since its 2003’s debut, “Your Daughters & Your Sons.” 


Despite the steady rise in exposure and sales, the Duhks underwent a substantial change just over two years ago when Sarah Dugas joined the band as the lead singer after frontwoman Jessee Havey left to pursue other interests. A short time later Dugas’ brother, Christian, joined as the band’s percussionist, bringing with him a fuller a sound. That sound has continued to expand in the meantime, including everything from Brazilian samba to North American folk and zydeco to Irish dance music.


The Duhks are coming to the V Club Huntington Jan. 17 and to Mountain Stage at the Creative Arts Center in Morgantown, Jan. 18.


Sarah Dugas took time out of rehearsing recently to talk to us about the Duhks’ tour through West Virginia, the band’s growth and how the Internet is erasing musical boundaries.


Graffiti: So, you’re manager tells me you’re rehearsing today? Is that for the tour coming up or are you doing something else?


Dugas: I’m in the studio, doing background vocals for a man from Winnipeg.


Graffiti: Is this a friend, someone you’re helping out?


Dugas: He’s definitely a friend I’ve known him for years. (He’s) this session drummer by trade and in the last couple years he’s been working on this project.


Graffiti: Catch us up on what’s going on with the band. A new CD out this year, right?


Dugas: Yea, and we just got back close to a month ago from a five month long tour. We were gone for two seasons bouncing back and forth from the U.S. and Canada and Denmark to the U.K. We launched our CD during that time.


Graffiti: And this is the first CD you’ve been on, right? You and your brother are both pretty new to the band. How’s the reception been, both within the band and from fans?


Dugas: It’s almost two years at this point, the end of March will be two years for me. My brother celebrated his first year Nov. 4 or 5.


The reception has been really great. Of course, the people who may not like (the change) may not come up to you (laughs). But I think for the most part people are really liking the new album and we’re having a blast, so that’s really great.


It’s definitely kind of gone a little out of the traditionalist realm for the people who may have liked the more rootsy type of stuff. That’s not to say it’s not there or we don’t like that sound anymore, but there’s probably less of it in the band. I think our audiences have maybe gotten a little younger as well as keeping a wide range of people who enjoy the music, which is a goal of ours. If anything we’ve reached out to a bit of a younger audience with the change in our sound.


Graffiti: Was the sound change something the band consciously agreed to do or did it just sort of arise naturally after everyone met and started playing together?


Dugas: I think it’s organic. The drum kit for example has changed the Duhk’s sound, so there’s more of a demand for a bass sound. Jordan has this new rig so he has an octave pedal to recreate more of a bass sound. The low end is boosted more than it has been and it’s more of a fuller sound. For younger audiences that’s something that’s a little more present.


Graffiti: You have two shows coming up in West Virginia in January. Have any of you played here before?


We were just there.  We played the Jewish Mother (in Virginia) not too long ago; that was nearing the end of our last tour. It was my first time in West Virginia actually, but the rest of the band has toured there. We mostly tour in the States.


Graffiti: Are you excited to be playing Mountain Stage? Is that something the band’s familiar with?


Dugas: I’m not familiar with it but I uploaded a show recently.


Graffiti: It’s pretty neat, really. I’m pretty new to it, too, but a handful of bands play six or so songs and the concert’s broadcast over the radio. It’s a great chance for people to check out some new bands at one show. On tours like this, do you get the chance to check out new bands?


Dugas: The band plays a lot of festivals and that’s something we love about playing festivals definitely.  You get to see some people you know and so much new music. You get to make new friends, whether it’s back stage jams or meetings. You make these new friendships that last a lifetime or even if it’s just a moment that will blow you away. We’re all fans of that and we all just grew up in those settings. When you roll up into a festival you never know what you’re going to expect … I love that. But you do know that it’s going to be a positive experience. And of course being able to see these acts you’ve maybe always dreamt of seeing that happens a lot too.


Graffiti: Talk to me a little bit about the Greenduhks, the environmental side of the band. How did that get started and what’s it all about?


Dugas: Greenduhks is something Tania’s been brainstorming since the beginning of the band’s inception. Only in the last year has it been starting to roll. We’ve all been supporting her trying to get it off its feet. The Duhks have always traveled so much and we just realized how much waste we consume as a band when we’d pull up to a stop and water bottles and all this trash would just fall out of the van’s doors.


So far our big achievements have been that we’re traveling with bio-diesel in our van as well as using reusable water bottles like Sigg or Klean Kanteens. We printed our new CD on recyclable paper and we have hoodies and T-shirts that are sweatshop free and organic as well. We’re always looking for new ways to offset our carbon footprint. On our rider we request organic and local foods as much as possible. It’s smaller things but we’re always looking for new ideas. People can also inform us of anything to help or if they just want to talk to us about it they can go to greenduhks.com.


Graffiti: Is it a challenge on the road to find bio-diesel?


Dugas: It’s not too bad. There’s Web site called biodeisel.com and it shows you where the closest bio-diesel gas stations are. We just go there. It hasn’t totally been a problem; there have been a couple of places of us having to bend our rules and fill up with diesel


Graffiti: As a music journalist there’s a definite challenge in trying to explain a band’s sound to someone without using labels, particularly with a band like the Duhks. Your influences are all over the place. How do you work those influences into the songs and still keep an identity?


Dugas: I think that everyone individually has an individual sound. Everyone has a style within their instrumentation that’s very specific to them. They can recreate all kinds of different moods within the genres. For us the thing that’s kind of crazy — our trademark is that we have so many different styles that are all melded and every individual has a different background and we all listen to different things and yet everyone is self taught so they have a sound more specific to them. That’s what makes the band stand apart from other bands because everyone is self-taught and has a different background, so it makes this sound that’s unique to the Duhks.


Graffiti: So it’s again a rather organic process for you.


Dugas: Yea, it is. The best we’ve been able to classify it is roots-world beat-soul music. With roots you have folk and old-time and Cajun and bluegrass and with world beat you have African rhythms and with soul you have hip-hop, jazz and funk and of course rock has a bit of a presence there too. So we have to have a musical tree somehow that we have to formulate.


Graffiti: Across the music industry it seems genres are bending and morphing more and more. It’s almost rare these days to hear a straight-up rock record without any other genre influence thrown in.


Dugas: With the Internet, people are not necessarily finding their music at stores; they’re finding it at MySpace and through blogs. You can be your own guide. I think it opens the doors a little more because people aren’t taking what’s being pushed on them by the record labels.





Contact Justin at jmcintosh@graffitiwv.com
 
 

 

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