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.

Illustrator In Residence: Natasha Natarajan – ‘Women That Changed My World’ (Part 2)

Natasha Natarajan is a British-Indian visual artist funding her autobiographical comic strip ‘FML Comics’ and zine habit through Graphic/Web Design, Illustration, Arts Administration, Education and a career that basically makes no sense on a CV. Natasha holds a BA in Indian History and has worked in the arts in Copenhagen and Scotland. She has recently moved home to London where she is whole-heartedly winging it. 

In the second of this new two-part series, Natasha shares some more of the women in music who have changed her world; telling us what they mean to her, and sharing a unique original illustration.

Women That Changed My World

When I love something it generates a lot of energy in me. In the past I’ve unhelpfully unleashed this energy on various people in my life. But drawing has become a wholesome and productive way for me to deal with it; it feels like a labour of love when I draw someone that’s important to me. I started drawing musicians in 2017 – I listen to their music and draw. As much as possible I try to find a photograph of them playing, rather than a press shot, because I think it’s important to me they’re doing what I love them for. I am so inspired and encouraged by the work of other artists. I hope you enjoy these renditions of the women I have loved!

Erykah Badu
We are all living in a cognitive-dissonance reality. We want to live a certain way or do a certain thing, and we don’t because we are emotionally attached to how the group thinks. The hive mentality takes over. But you know what’s right in your mind and your heart, and if you’re strong enough to detach from the hive then sometimes, just sometimes, you may be able to do the right thing.
Speaking in thevulture.com, 2018

Natasha says:
I just love this sound. I love the way it feels in my body. I will forever be thankful that this music exists and that I have been made aware of it. The combination of heavy bass and a soulful female voice makes me weak at the knees. Under the spell of this music I momentarily forget about my problems. All I want is candlelight and a hug from my speakers.

Find out more: Instagram / Spotify

Sara Tavares
“Be sure you love the art more than you love your ego and start working yesterday. Always be humble, speak less and listen more. Please don’t be vain and proud, it slows your evolution.”
– Speaking in meusemba.com. 2018

Natasha says:
Sara Tavares is a strong embrace on a sunny beach. She makes me want to get up and sway side to side in someone’s arms. I love the atmosphere her music creates. I was obsessed with the lyrics of the song ‘Coisas Bunitas‘ – “Say beautiful things to me… Tell me that my curly woollen hair reminds you of a queen’s crown…” They’re delivered in such a sexy way. The melody completely seduces me. It’s as if someone is flirting with me.

Find out more: Instagram / Spotify

 

Amy Winehouse
“I write songs because I’m fucked in the head and need to get something good out of something bad… There were things I couldn’t say to [Blake], but I never thought, ‘This would be a great song. Who’s going to hear this?’ I thought, ‘Fuck, I’m going to die if I don’t write down the way I feel. I’m going to fucking do myself in.’ It’s nothing spectacular.”
– Speaking in www.spin.com, 2007

Natasha says:
I have an Amy Winehouse poster on my bedroom wall – that’s the kind of fan I am. She gives me the confidence to have feelings and be crassly honest about them. I became fully and proudly female under her guidance. Her lyrical honesty and unpolished voice touch me deeply. She will always be my favourite jazz singer. I love the way she talks about music in the song ‘Half Time‘, it reminds me to be viscerally connected to my art form and helps me recognise the great privilege of having music in my life.

Huge thanks to Natasha for her inspiring words and truly beautiful illustrations! If you missed it, you can also check out Part 1 of her ‘Women That Changed My World’ feature here.

 Find out more about Natasha Natarajan at her website and Instagram page (and her comic Instagram page too). 

FIVE FAVOURITES: JEANA

Emerging London-based artist JEANA – who originally made music in Bedford with her siblings – has spent the majority of 2019 working alongside Producer Ginger Snaps to create her smooth, indie pop sounds. Her latest single, ‘Nameless’ is a polished offering that explores the feelings of vulnerability and of power when a toxic relationship comes to an end, and showcases the nineteen year old’s ability to rise from these ashes in Phoenix-like fashion.

We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with JEANA to ask her about her “Five Favourites” – five albums that have influenced her song writing techniques. Check out her choices below, and scroll down to listen to her single ‘Nameless’ at the end of this post.

 

1. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
Like a lot of people, this album was on repeat in my household for a few years when I was growing up as a child. We used to go to a bar on a beach in Spain, which always played this album & even though the bar has since shut we still refer to it as the Amy Winehouse beach. I love this album so much because I felt I could enjoy it as a child as well as enjoying it now as an adult for different reasons. The lyrics are so raw and are empowering I think. The memories are distant from when I first heard this album but I associate it with so many different good times, and i’m sure I can go back and relate to this album in more stages of my life to come.

2. Taylor Swift – Fearless
I found this album in 2011 as a young tweenager and I remember feeling like I had discovered the true meaning of music. I randomly found an iPod on a family holiday with only illegally downloaded Taylor Swift music on, Fearless being the only album. Of course, I rinsed all the songs and wanted to become Taylor Swift, this album actually encouraged me to start singing, pick up a guitar and started me writing (and I really did want to be Taylor Swift for a good 3 years!).

3. Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balcony
At 14 years old I discovered Catfish and the Bottlemen, and wanted to be “Mrs Van McCann”. This album completely transitioned me from Taylor Swift’s biggest fan to the indie girl that started to go to gigs with her Sister. I’ve always loved indie music as it’s what I’ve been brought up on, but this is the first album I remember discovering myself, and loved like it was my own. It made me start to explore similar artists, and led me to the artists who influenced them.

4. Arcade Fire – Funeral
This album is one of my all time favourites, not only because its the soundtrack to my childhood but also because every song is a favourite. The songs are all such massive anthems and listening to it even though it was their debut, feels like a greatest hits collection. Seeing them live last year at Wembley arena just made me love them as a band even more. From the way they swap their instruments during their set, to the show being staged in a boxing ring – they bring such variety to a performance.

5. Ms. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
A truly beautiful album that I discovered through working with my producer Ginger Snaps. Listening to this was my first step away from my indie/pop roots, and influenced my sound more towards RnB. The songs are so raw and vulnerable, it made me feel more comfortable putting my own honest feelings into lyrics. It has so much going on musically with the combination of reggae/latin beats. Since discovering this album early last year I’ve been lucky enough to see Ms. Lauryn Hill twice – at the O2 arena and Boomtown Fair.

Thanks to JEANA for sharing her favourites with us. Follow her on Facebook for more updates.

FIVE FAVOURITES: Esmé

Australian singer and songwriter Esmé recently released her single ‘Ella’ which I fell for on first listen. The track was named after one of her biggest inspirations and has Esmé’s golden vocals laid over the top of samples of Ella Fitzgerald, broken hip hop beats and textured electronic synths. Esmé is looking to release her debut EP which is expected at the end of 2019 – looking forward to that a lot!

In the wake of the release of ‘Ella’, we asked Esmé to share her ‘Five Favourites’ – five artists or albums that have influenced her songwriting techniques. Check out her choices below, and make sure you give ‘Ella’ a listen at the end of this post!

Amy Winehouse – FRANK
I love this album so much and can listen to it over and over again. This album taught me how to use the simple jazz harmonies I knew and write my own lyrics and melodies to them. Amy uses the most beautiful chord progressions like you hear in ‘I Heard Love Is Blind’ and her rendition of ‘No Greater Love’ is just incredible too. I feel like Amy made vocal jazz new again. She is completely honest and raw in her lyrics and storytelling. This album is also characterised by beautiful strings, beat-less guitar dominant in between songs and one thing that I always love in an album is its connectedness. It’s not a series of singles – it’s a body of work, you go on a journey when you listen from start to finish.

Lianne La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough
I discovered this artist and album at the most perfect time. I was writing only with a guitarist (Sean Harlor) and we were both influenced by her honest singing/songwriting, yet drenched in soul style. I love this album for the finger picking guitar elements, interesting phrasing and rhythmically entrancing melodies. There is a song on it called ‘Forget’: it really stretches the overall sound of the album to a darker, more aggressive side and it really inspired me to venture outside of my quietness as a musician too. The most amazing thing though is her voice and lyrics. Listening to Lianne makes you feel like you’re in the same room as her, her voice speaks to your soul. I think it means she is so in tune with her voice and the story she is telling.

Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun
This album for me is a lesson in groove, performance, using jazz in your own way, feeling your lyrics and owning your sound (voice). I’ve been inspired by Erykah for a very long time, I love her last song on this ‘Green eyes’ – it just grows and grows sonically. Her voice is mesmerising. It sounds like she is giving it her all. I think what you hear, is what you would get live. I always think that about Erykah, it’s like she knows how to transmit her energy from live performance into her recorded work. I think that is a really hard thing to do!

Radiohead
I can’t ever really get over Radiohead – their melodies are actually so beautiful, I love all of their songs and I listened to them a lot when I wrote my second release ‘I wonder’. I think there aren’t many artists that have the same harmonic structure an entire song through but make you feel the shift from verse to chorus so much and so emotionally. I think another artist that does that well is Pharrell Williams… You know, 2 chords or at the most 4, and you’re completely transported when you hit the bridge or chorus. That’s always been amazing to me and Radiohead is a master at it! Their song ‘Creep’ is a stunning example. But I’m not going to list my favourites from them because there’s multiple from each album.

Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass
Ella actually had a really girly sounding voice for a long time, it was still beautiful and entrancing, but it was sort of thinner in resonance and tone. Each album of Ella’s witness her growth as a singer, tonally. Her music with just Joe Pass shows her voice to me in its most beautiful state, full and warm, velvety and husky at the same time. Nowadays we don’t get to witness the journey of an artist as much – we are presented with polished things in every medium. Listening to Ella with Joe Pass, or Gershwin, reminds me of the journey you take to really be good, to develop and grow and eventually sit down with just a guitar and not need anything else. Ella has helped me embrace the journey of my voice as a woman and appreciate each stage.

Thanks to Esmé for sharing her Five Favourites! Follow Esmé for more updates via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Listen to her single ‘Ella’ below: