Seeing liabilities as opportunities 

Recent transplant Dare Dukes celebrates a wonderful new alt.rock CD

IS DARE DUKES A SAVANNAH MUSICIAN and songwriter? That seems like it would be an easy question to answer, but the reality is a bit more complex.

The ultra-indie artist —who celebrates the release of his latest DIY album this weekend at counterculture coffeehouse and performance venue The Sentient Bean— was raised in what he terms “the stark, sanitized and soulless” town of San José, Ca., yet moved to Minneapolis in his twenties. It was there he cut his teeth in the early ‘90s rock scene that also birthed the likes of Soul Asylum and the Jayhawks.

As frontman for the popular, noisy and edgy quartet The Penelopes, Dukes cultivated an enviable following in that city’s famously vibrant club and bar scene. However, after relocating to NYC, he took an extended break from music to concentrate on working in theater. He also struggled with a novel that would ultimately be rejected by almost 30 different publishers.

As a result, says Dukes, “I’d lost all ability to concentrate on the second book.”

Then, one day, without warning, his songwriting muse struck. “Bakersfield” —a standout track on his just completed CD Prettiest Transmitter of All— “popped out clean and perfect like a plum.”

“It was effortless,” he recalls with wonder. “It was like something invited me to watch the song being written. I thought, whoa, shit! I’ve been concentrating on prose at the expense of my music. I’d better start to open up spaces in my life for that thing to visit more often.”

Before long, the guitarist and singer began to gig out in public once more — eventually collaborating with two “super-expert friends” who happened to be professional musicians. Soon, they’d begun to record Dukes’ original material, easy as pie.

“Basically everything in my life stopped working for one reason or another,” he recalls. “Then, poof — there was music. Humans make dumb decisions sometimes, and not really showing up for my music wasn’t particularly bright.”

click to enlarge Dare Dukes - IMKE LASS
  • Imke Lass
  • Dare Dukes

Flash forward a bit: Dukes married in June of ‘07, and within a month, his wife was offered a job at SCAD. They came for a look-see and, “were blown away by Savannah’s strange blend of beauty, weirdness, ugliness and plain exoticism.”

The city proved “endlessly fascinating” to the couple, whom Dukes describes as “ready for an adventure.” Now, he spends the vast majority of his time here, flying back to NYC every couple of months to maintain a job in the non-profit sector. These return trips allow him to book Big Apple gigs with his aforementioned collaborators at hip Gotham venues like The Living Room.

He says the current, disheveled state of the music biz affords him more freedom and opportunity than he’s ever felt before as an indie artist. That, combined with the creative boost he’s received from the move, is fueling his renewed ambition.

“The music business as we once knew it is crumbling, or —depending on how you look at it— cracking open. The power centers of culture and commerce are seriously being challenged. It’s a bit of a frontier, to be sure. How long it’ll last, who knows? But bands are coming out of weird places. I’m not sure I would have taken a chance on Savannah if this weren’t the case.”

That said, Dukes has been around some pretty thriving scenes, and is keenly aware of the inherent, frequently dispiriting hindrances to be found in our original music community — which he notes is not due to a lack of standout local talent. Rather, he says, the problems lie with the city’s regressive ordinance restricting underage access to entertainment venues which serve alcohol, and what he perceives as a general lack of vision on the part of most club owners.

“Savannah is what it is,” he muses. “I’ve always tried to see apparent liabilities as opportunities. I’ve met some great musicians here, and they’re teaching me a lot about my songs that I didn’t know — which is fantastic and cool! The one gripe is that it’s been impossible so far to find a lineup that allows me to play the songs as I arranged them on the CD. But guess what? I wasn’t able to do that in NYC either.”


Here's Dare Dukes (with mandolinist Chris VanBrackle) at the Tantra Lounge's Open Mic Night -one of his only local performances to date- playing an original tune found on his new album:


It’s anyone’s guess what the live versions of songs from Prettiest Transmitter will sound like at this Sentient Bean date (Dukes’ official Savannah debut, since he doesn’t count two “under-the-radar solo gigs” which he did not actively promote). None of the backing musicians he has assembled for this show appear on the record — which was primarily tracked in NYC, with backing vocals and guitar overdubs added later in his Victorian District attic. However, if it even approximates the crunchy, earthy, sour-pop of the 31-minute album, this show may come across as a welcome blast of well-constructed, invigorating alt.rock, of a kind which has been noticeably absent from Savannah’s club and bar scene for some time.

The record, which instantly evokes comparisons to Dukes’ acknowledged influences Sparklehorse and Will Oldham’s alter-ego Bonnie “Prince” Billy (as well as contemporaries The Rosebuds and Deathray Davies), is a triumph of sparseness.

Its blend of softly-strummed rhythm guitar, minimalist keyboards, chiming electric guitar leads, driving —but understated— drums and the occasional brass instrument cameo, also recalls the output of a handful of seminal “college” artists of the ‘80s and ‘90s, like Barbara Manning and —at times— the softer and more wistful side of They Might Be Giants.

It’s a real sleeper.

For now, Dukes plans to juggle three different groups of backing musicians: one in Savannah, one in Athens and one in NYC. Though not an ideal situation, this will hopefully allow him to hit the road from time to time and play brief runs of gigs to help plug the CD, which he is also investing no small amount of money to have independently pitched to both radio and print media.

“I won’t be doing a traditional tour,” he says. “I don’t have the money or time, and I’m not convinced it’s the best way to promote a record anymore. I just want a beefier listenership. It’s be great to make my money back, but I’m not counting on it.” cs

Read more at connectsavannah.com.

Dare Dukes, with Adam Klein and Pink Kodiak

When: Sat., 8 pmWhere: The Sentient BeanCost: TBD (ALL-AGES)Info: daredukes.com, myspace.com/adamkleinmusic, myspace.com/pinkkodiak

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