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.

FIVE FAVOURITES: Mentrix

Born in Iran but now based in Berlin, Mentrix blends her experiences of eastern and western culture, along with traditional Sufi instrumentation to create her beguiling, bold soundscapes. Her extensive travels and multiple influences – from Latin and French Literature, to The Qu’ran and traditional Persian poetry – give her music a diverse and fascinating edge. She’s set to release her debut album – My Enemy, My Love – on 3rd April via her own (female-led) record label, House of Strength.

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 Mentrix to ask about her “Five Favourites” – five albums that influenced her song writing techniques. Check out her choices below, and scroll down to watch the video for ‘Nature’ at the end of this post.

Mentrix: “It’s hard to narrow things down to five favourite records. I love soul, funk, blues, rock, punk, hip hop. I have adored James Brown, Mick Jagger, Erykah Badu, Candi Staton, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Patti Smith and Mariah Carey (yes yes, l love Mariah). Who can deny the global phenomenon that was Michael Jackson’s History? And no matter what genre of music you are into, Bob Marley will always have a place of its own in your music-consciousness. As of pop and electronic music; MIA, Santigold and The Knife are among artists I consider pioneers. But when it comes to albums, strangely enough I surprise myself with what popped up. Suddenly, some albums that I had not thought of for a long time came back to mind. I know every note of Smoker’s Delight (Nightmares on Wax) and Fink’s first album Biscuit for Breakfast is a significant one for me. But, as I began to ask myself which were the 5 albums that stood out the most; some forgotten memories returned with their very own soundtrack. Here are my top 5 albums as I remember them today…”

1. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman
The first record that comes to mind is the one that blew my mind – although 10 years had passed since its original release, it was a discovery for me and probably my introduction to songwriting. I would teach English lessons to an older lady in Tehran using the lyrics of this album. I miss that woman and hope to find her some day…

2. The Police – Greatest Hits
Another album that had a huge impact on me was The Police Greatest hits released in 1992. Every track an undeniable hit. Probably my introduction to what a hit is.

3. Radiohead – In Rainbows 
I discovered them much later in life and they won my utter most reverence with the album In Rainbows. Radiohead know how to make that kind of record.

4. Bjork – Vulnicura
Bjork has been a constant inspiration and Vulnicura is my favorite album of the artist. Although I m a huge Biophilia and Medulla fan, I relate much more to the love and pain topic of the artist’s most bold album in my opinion.

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell
I discovered the Yeah Yeah Yeahs a bit too late to be honest… When I did, I listened to this record over and over again. It gave me the confidence to make music and inspired me at so many levels. I consider Karen O a bit of a guru… And this record remains sacred to me.

Thanks to Mentrix for sharing her favourites with us. Follow her on Facebook & Spotify for more updates.

Photo Credit: Gilles Estève