Interview: Duchess

With acclaim from the likes of BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, South London artist Duchess writes from the heart; creating rich soulful ballads reflecting on her childhood of frequently moving from place to place, her experiences in London, and love and life in general.

Having released her debut EP Early Days back in March, she has now shared a special acoustic version of the collection. With her distinctive impassioned vocals at the forefront, oozing a raw heartfelt emotion, it showcases all there is to love about this upcoming artist.

We caught up with Duchess to find out more…

Hi Duchess, welcome to Get In Her Ears! How are you doing?
I’m good thanks – wish it was a bit more sunny though!

What initially inspired you to start creating music?
I’ve always been around music growing up. My mother would always have the stereo on in the morning with her all-time favourite CDs, from Tracy Chapman to Lauryn Hill, and my dad always played Bob Marley and Gregory Isaacs.

What made you decide to release an acoustic version of your EP?
I’m in love with live music and instrumentation, so it was really important to me to have an acoustic version of the EP. I feel it allows you to focus on the voice of the artist and gives you a whole different vibe to dive into. It reminds me of small or intimate shows and concerts with stripped back production.

What other acoustic albums or versions do you love?
I’m a big fan of Amy Winehouse’s acoustic version of Back To Black and ‘I Gotta Find Peace Of Mind’ from Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged album. I really enjoyed Summer Walker’s cover of ‘Fake Love’ too! 

What was behind the choice to use guitar for ‘Elephant’, ‘When it All Falls Down’ and ‘Blame’ vs piano for ‘Why Can’t We’?
When I’m in the studio, I love to freestyle and see where the energy takes me, so we will always start with live instruments – I’m just so in love with the bass guitar. It was a bit of a no-brainer to get Fred Cox involved, as he really understands me, and the vibe I wanted to create with this project. He instantly got how we could strip everything back, but still keep it fresh, and it just felt natural that ‘Why Can’t We?’ was just piano.

How has growing up in a big family and moving around so much affected your music and artistic expression? Were you the sole musician/artist, or was music and art a big part of your family life?
I mean moving around a lot isn’t good for anyone, especially if you want to focus on something, so it was unsettling. But, wherever I lived, music was always there with me. I admit, it was hard to really focus on music when there were family priorities that came first, but I’m also happy I’m pursuing music, at this stage in my life – It feels right and I feel ready!! In the family, I’m the main one involved in music, along with my younger sister who often writes with me, but we are all connected to music in our own way

People compare you a lot to Minnie Riperton. Is she an influence and, if so, how? What other artists influence your music, and how?
Wow, I’m flattered. She is an amazing woman and I’m a big fan of her material – one of my favourites is ‘Inside My Love’ – it’s so beautiful. My main inspirations come from all kinds of places – Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Gregory Isaacs, Lady Gaga – the list goes on, but they main thing is they have all showed me to always be me and believe in my message musically.

What music scenes are you into – offline and online?
Shoreditch is cool! There are some really good live and open mic nights if you want to discover something new and fresh. Online-wise, I love to watch other artists livestreams and special projects. I don’t have a particular genre or focus – as long as it’s good, I’ll tune in!

How are you connecting with your audience and other musicians during the pandemic?
I’ve been doing a few livestreams during lockdown which have been fun. But with social media in general, it’s been really good to connect with the listeners and other musicians. It’s defo sparked off a new wave of creativity in everyone.

As we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists that you’d recommend we check out?
Yes of course! Check out Ray Vela (@rayrayvela) – she’s such a great bubbly character and has such a beautiful tone to her voice which is so soothing. And also Nia Wyn (@niawynmusic) – she’s got such a unique voice and I really enjoyed watching her live. We were on the same bill for a show at the beginning of this year, and she just blew me away.

And what else does the rest of 2020 have in store for Duchess?
Definitely new music which I’m very excited about! I also want to work with other artists more and create together – I’m interested to see what could come from it. And I know it’s probably a while from now, but I can’t wait to start performing live again.

Huge thanks to Duchess for answering our questions! 

The acoustic Early Days EP is out now via Lost Ones Recordings.

Track Of The Day: National Treasure – ‘Come And Go’

Releasing your debut single in the middle of a national lockdown is a pretty brave move – but if there’s one advantage, it does mean that National Treasure had the unparalleled opportunity to film the song’s video in deserted carparks, with lead-singer Mille standing out of the sunroof of a moving car. And it’s fitting, in a way, to have crafted a DIY pop-style video to fit this DIY pop gem, which conjures a mature, well-built and catchy sound that the band are referring to as “Classic cougar pop, with added mellotron”. To these ears, however, what the Bristol four piece have come up with is a hefty slice of indie/sophisti-pop, that belies its debut nature and its DIY origins.

The song, largely centred around Millie’s lyrics and vocals, commences with a C86-style shimmer of a synth riff, which swells throughout most of the running time, dovetailing with the backing vocal harmonies and the pacey rhythm of its drums. Lyrically, the song is written from a male perspective – its title and chorus being something of a double entendre – and subverts its otherwise upbeat sound by depicting a negative experience of love, that its frustrated artist narrator is largely at fault for creating. It’s another smart move, that keeps bringing the listener back whilst also marking out its author’s approach as one to watch. After a middle eight breakdown, around the halfway mark, the song builds back up – featuring a particularly effusive curse – before slamming into an absolutely searing guitar outro, giving it a delightfully AOR conclusion.

With lockdown starting to be lifted, it looks like National Treasure may have to look for other opportunities to make videos in future. But what won’t change will be the group’s ear for a hook, and their pop sensibilities. And, with their “class on a shoestring” ethos, the forthcoming EP The Good Light looks set to be a winner, come Autumn.  Volvo, or no Volvo, NT look to be set to stay.

John McGovern
@etinsuburbiaego

WATCH: GYMNAST – ‘Ghost’

With glitchy experimental-pop synths roaming across a rushing soundscape, Gymnast’s ‘Ghost’ exudes the feeling of exploration, travel and transition.

From the song’s start, long reverb swells set Gymnast’s footprint in a world that is in motion at the speed of light. A sense of urgency is pressing, and the stakes are high risk and eerie. A scurrying string solo continues the feed into the hunt of what ‘Ghost’ is leading us to. Or is it where?

Sounds of pattering keys and echoing vocals beg us to run at the pace of the track and trust its sense of quick direction and pit stops along the way. Skimming through perspectives from “the ghost in the garden” to the “the bride in the branches”, Gymnast’s ability to characterise their captivatingly whimsical lyrics is stellar. Even while only resting for a moment in each one of these characters’ shoes, ‘Ghost’ both instrumentally and emotionally paints vivid personal images of the track’s overall themes. At times, we are all “the kid at the picnic, the pixels in your rockpool”, merely taking part in the background in our transitional surroundings.

With a compelling chorus that sounds as wide as a choir, Gymnast lends a hand to us all in our current universal experience of change – we are in this whirlwind together.

‘Ghost’ is accompanied by an intricately made video; an innovative Google Maps animation, fitting the song’s exploration of themes of belonging vs. hosting, outside/inside boundaries… plus allowing some vicarious world-exploration for locked-down viewers!

 

Jill Goyeau
@jillybxxn

Re-Covered: Sally-Anne’s Illustrated Favourite Albums

If you’re anything like us, throughout Lockdown you may have been seeking refuge in some of your favourite records, perhaps rediscovering some old classics along the way. So, for this new feature, illustrator Sally-Anne Hickman re-imagines her favourite ten albums of all time by painting their covers in her own unique style, using watercolours.

Check out the eighth of Sally-Anne’s choices below, and keep your eyes peeled for the last two over the next couple of weeks…

Best Coast – Crazy for You
This L.A indie rock band are a blend of classic surf-rock and 1960s girl-groups. Fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Bethany Cosentino, each fuzzy pop song comes in at under three minutes. It’s simple catchy pop, with perfect melodies layered with reverb and distortion. Songs about longing for a boyfriend and wishing her cat could talk make this a perfect lo-fi, lovesick summer album that you can listen to all year round.

Sally-Anne Hickman
@sallyshinystars