The first time lead singer of The Dukes Are Dead, Lucas Frazier, eagerly told me about his band, in between puffs of a hastily smoked cigarette while on a quick break from the coffee shop where we both worked, I’m pretty sure I said, “Aw! That’s so cute.”
Three years and a lot of hard work later, The Dukes Are Dead are far from cute. Stoic. Diligent. Loud. Confident. Any number of adjectives, but unequivocally, definitely, absolutely, not cute.
Oh sure, they’re an attractive bunch. All slender and tangle-y-long-haired fellows, TDAD are four young men with serious, hungry ambition and serious, twinkling eyes. Randy Proctor, the prodigious bassist for this band, is perhaps the most vivacious, and assertively business-like.
I sat down with the gentlemen of The Dukes Are Dead to discuss their current role as the musical accompaniment for The Know Theatre’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, about the tumultuous and yes, bloody, life of the seventh president of the United States, running through May 12. (Read CityBeat's review here.)
“I was hanging out at MOTR one night,” says Proctor, his red curls all hip length and slightly mussed after a Saturday night performance of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, “getting really drunk, and Eric Vossmeyer, the production manager — he also does Fringe Festival — I overheard him talking about Fringe Festival and he says it nicer than the truth is, but, I was drunk, and kind of being cocky, and I guess I just felt like interrupting his conversation and telling him what he should do at one certain part of the production and this, this and this with the poster, and [I was like] ‘I’m in a band’, and I was being kind of cocky and he was like, ‘Oh, ok, thanks. Wait. You’re in a band? Why don’t I get your number?”
Proctor speaks quickly and efficiently, dropping anecdotes and inflection all over the place.
“And then I had no idea what he was talking about, and I called him up and we went to MOTR and he told me, ‘I like your ideas, but I’d like you to be in a musical with your band.’” Proctor relays. “I thought it was really wacky, and I was not too keen on it at first, actually, and then he just kind of described it to me, and then he told us he was going to pay us, which was cool, and then it just kind of won [us] one by one over to the idea of it. And then the wheels went into motion from there.”
Like Proctor said, TDAD was slightly hesitant at first to agree to being a part of the production.
“It was a lot of time. It was a lot of time that pretty much cancelled [us out of] being able to do anything [else],” says Luke Darling, lead guitarist for TDAD. “We were trying to do big things, and then this came up, so it was very cool, it seemed like a cool idea and like a lot of fun but that was the problem, was time. But we decided we did have time. We had enough.”
Rehearsals began a month and a half before production started, and TDAD quickly adjusted to the different setting and atmosphere.
“It was really fucking hard and stressful. They gave us all the sheet music, they gave us a CD, and basically we had to teach ourselves how to play these songs in, like, a week or two,” Frazier says matter-of-factly. He’s sitting one chair over from me, drinking a Moerlein, with Proctor, Darling and drummer Dave Reid sitting in the row directly behind us.
“Through this process, I think we all have learned tons of shit when it comes to playing music and understanding music. Like, I mean, just chords we’ve never played before, time signatures, key changes, all sorts of stuff that we’d never really attacked as The Dukes Are Dead, all of a sudden we were faced with,” says Frazier.
“And it wasn’t like, ‘Well I don’t like this, let’s just change it’, it was them telling us, ‘Play it like that.’ And they gave us this CD and this music, but then we get into this practice space and all of a sudden there’s all these lines and there’s these, like, times where we’re just playing the same thing over and over and filling the space, and having to get quiet and loud and everything’s fluctuating and changing and it’s just completely different from anything we have ever done before. And it has made us much better musicians, whether we like to admit it or not.”
The intensive rehearsal schedule is best explained by Proctor: “[At one point there were] two weekend days in a row, where we did twelve-hour days back to back, which means we worked a total of like fourteen days in a row [besides] the weekend. And we all have other jobs, too.”
But TDAD is nothing if not diligent and pervasive, and their smoking, blazing Rock and Blues-infused style made itself evident during rehearsal.
“I think that’s unavoidable,” says Darling. “We’re all particular tone snobs in our own way, to our own liking, and we were told to turn things down very far. Because it needed to be done. It’s a guitar-tech-nerd thing. I think tone’s the only reason it’s different.”
Proctor chimes in. “I think we got, three different times, formal requests to say, ‘take your volume down, you’re rocking a little bit too loud for the house.’ I’m proud of that. I think it’s cool that they had to tell us to turn it down.”
“It sucks to turn it down, but it makes sense,” says Frazier. “Because the music is not the most important thing. The vocals are.”
As lead vocalist for TDAD, Frazier has an especial appreciation for the way in which the story must be told.
“[The musical's actors] have to be heard above everything else, because they tell the story. The music is extremely important, but it’s still second to what they’re doing.”
Showmen of a different variety, TDAD performs emphatically, exuberantly at their own shows, with Frazier exuding a magnetism that is firmly in the realm of broody young lead singers. During BBAJ, TDAD is relegated to an elevated platform on the right side of the stage, mostly in dim lighting during the production. Learning to take a backseat was “so weird”, says Frazier. “When I’m on stage and I’m playing in a Dukes show, there’s that connection [with the audience]. [We know] we’re [all] having a good time. But this, they’re hardly ever looking at us, because we’re just playing the music. They’re performing. It’s very interesting to take a step back and really focus on what [I’m] doing. And increasing…”
“Dexterity,” inserts Darling.
“Right, exactly,” continues Frazier. “It’s just a chance to practice and focus and think more about it, because no one’s looking at you. It’s nice. It really is.”
With the spotlight off them in the musical arena, TDAD is eager to get back to their daily grind of performing, writing, recording and being a band.
“I think through this experience, it’s put us all in the mindset of [being] even more determined to do what it is we really want to do,” says Frazier. “Not that we’re not enjoying ourselves here, and we’re very grateful for the people around us, and this is a wonderful experience, but after this, it’s time to get back and hit it even harder than before.”
“This production’s here because some other guy went out and wanted to make music and change the world that way. It’s our turn to do the same thing.”
The coming summer of 2012 holds a lot in store for the gentlemen of TDAD. They will be embarking on an extensive tour, in cities “as north as Chicago, as south as Nashville, as west as St. Louis, and as east as Washington, D.C., and a lot in between” Proctor notes.
“We want to let people know that we’re going to be taking this and then going on out and expect to see us doing some bigger things. More content is going to be on it’s way, and we’re only going to get bigger and stronger and more incredible as time goes on.”
The Dukes Are Dead will continue performing in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson through May 12, and their next show is on June 15 at MOTR Pub.