The Dutchess and the Duke and the haunting debut

The Dutchess and the Duke's full-length debut has earned legitimate comparisons to early Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. That's thanks to frontman Jesse Lortz' raspy, righteous delivery, and his innate gift for simple, timeless song structures. He and silver-throated cohort Kimberly Morrison may have struck critical paydirt here, but they're miles from aping their influences' more outlandish lifestyles. On one recent afternoon, the Seattle duo is simply sipping bottles of beer at Magic Basement Studios, where they recorded said record, She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke. Lortz and Morrison, friends since high school, are also busy finishing each other's sarcastic sentences, bickering lightly in sibling-esque tones, and exuding the casual confidence that comes from knowing that you're paired with a logical, longstanding (and, for the record, platonic) artistic partner.

"We'd always just hang out, watch movies, and smoke cigarettes," says Lortz, recalling their suburban adolescence. "My girlfriend was really square and really hot, and her boyfriend was really square and really hot. So there was them and then us two total scumbags," he laughs.

The pair bonded over junk food and general juvenile malaise initially, but reconnected in their early 20s. Their overlapping peer groups began generating and dismantling bands over the next few years, with Lortz and Morrison achieving relative stability in 2002 with a "deconstructionist R&B" band called the Flying Dutchmen. After the group broke up, Lortz turned his attention to his fledgling label, Boom Boom Party Records, and to bashing out punk chords in Fe Fi Fo Fums, while Morrison did time with garage acts the Intelligence, the Fallouts, and the Unnatural Helpers. Their paths intersected again, and the Dutchess and the Duke released its first 7-inch, "Reservoir Park" backed with "Mary," in 2007. The single attracted the ear of Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art Records — attention on a larger scale than the two were prepared for.

"Jesse told me that we were supposed to go meet with this label and I'm like, 'Really? Why??,'" remembers Morrison. "We were super nervous, downing drinks ..." she continues. "We got wasted before we went to the meeting," interjects Jesse. Morrison was incredulous when Sub Pop president Jonathan Poneman alluded to printing several thousand copies of their debut. "We just laughed and said, 'Do you really think you can sell that many copies of our record?' [Poneman] said, 'Well, we wouldn't be talking to you if we didn't.' And I was like, 'OK, whatever, dude, it's your funeral!'"

No eulogies will be necessary. She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke was well received right out of the gate. The record is currently awash in critical superlatives (Pitchfork christened it a "classic" and bestowed on it an 8.2), and the band is rapidly acquiring a local and national fan base, thanks to strong recent tours, including one with Seattle's Fleet Foxes. While associations with iconic '60s rock and folk artists are entirely merited, the record's strength is more in its durable construction than in any time-traveling cleverness. As "Reservoir Park" leads the way, the 10 tracks unfold with unsettling sonic and lyrical intimacy. Lortz' Jagger-esque vocals and brightly picked guitars push sharply into the foreground, painting pictures of tricks turned, lies perpetuated, and ghosts who won't leave, while Morrison's sweetly bewitching harmonies and flourishes of flute add flickers of light to his dour palette. Donnie Hilstad's minimalist percussion and periodic outbursts of handclaps add punctuation and momentum.

When asked if all those hosannas being shouted in their direction are overwhelming or surprising, Lortz offers a refreshingly honest response. "As shitty as it sounds, it's not that surprising because they're good songs," he says, "and there's the momentum of the PR machine behind us, which we've never dealt with."

"When we listened to the final mix of the record, we all cracked a beer and were like, 'This is so cool,'" says Morrison. "We were almost tearing up."

"I cried outside," says Lortz.

"I cried in the room," says Morrison. "We were proud of each other."

 
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