The roar of jet engines interrupts Jesse Lortz as he discusses his band, The Dutchess and the Duke, during a break from graphic design work at Seattle Central Community College.
“Ah, the Blue Angels! They're practicing right now over the city,” he says. “It's fucking obnoxious.”
It's possible he harbors some jealousy toward the pilots. As he sings on “Reservoir Park,” “The supersonic jet plane taking people everywhere / Well, I wish that I could go there, I wish I could be somewhere.”
The Dutchess and the Duke's debut, She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke is a mournful affair, framed by its songwriter's gloomy perspective. He's not an asshole, even if he occasionally might be mistaken for one. It's just that a sort of defeatism is ingrained in his voice, as if he wakes up every morning to discover somebody's pissed in his coffee.
But Lortz's band is better for it. Applying real-life stories of alienation to a soundtrack of simple, '60s-style folk tunes, the band stands apart from the fashionable revivalist acts because Lortz is less interested in fabricating an image than he is in writing honest, insightful material.
The singer/guitarist says his songs are based on actual events, even “Out of Time,” which explores the struggles of a young woman who has to “suck a stranger's dick” to make ends meet.
“Oh, that song's about my mother,” he says.
However sordid his personal affairs, Lortz (The Duke) and partner Kimberly Morrison (The Dutchess, natch) have pieced together a timeless collection of American music with their new album that's as pure and direct an expression of discontent as you'll find these days. Listen closely and you'll hear the dying voice of rock 'n' roll rasping its last will and testament.
If the emotional outpouring of She's the Dutchess sounds brutal, Lortz says writing it was less traumatic than it might seem. “It was actually really relieving,” he says. “I tried to quit smoking. Honestly. And I had this emotional breakdown, and then I started smoking again and started writing songs about it. Nothing really major happened; it's just all this shit I've been pushing down my whole life, and all of a sudden it came uncorked.”
Guided by an allegiance to his Stones, Kinks and Velvet Underground records, Lortz wrote a good deal of the songs in short bursts, occasionally during his bus rides to school. Although it wasn't always conducive for inspiration, there's poetry at work in his lyrics that even he may not be able to recognize.
“I don't really spend a lot of time writing songs,” he says. “There wasn't a lot of time to really think about it, I guess.”
Even if Lortz doesn't agonize over the process, others can easily see his songwriting talent, which is apparent from positive reactions in the music press. “The album has been getting good reviews, but our live reviews have been pretty lousy. For the most part, they just talk about what we look like,” he quips.
Fresh off a national jaunt with fellow Seattleites Fleet Foxes, he has the right to be cynical. Opening for one of the most hotly tipped acts in the country is daunting, and given that The Dutchess and the Duke were largely unknown at the time, crowds were often apathetic.
“Every show was sold out, and we'd finish playing and everybody would rush up to the front of the stage to save spots for when Fleet Foxes played. It was hard work, because nobody gave a fuck about us—it was just Fleet Foxes' tour,” he says.
Aside from the “Reservoir Park” 7-inch on Lortz's tiny Boom Boom Records, the band didn't have much music available prior to those shows, which might explain the absence of audience buzz. If anything, the early July release of their LP has directed more attention their way. Still, Lortz doesn't want to get caught up in the hype.
“It's cool, but it's hard to get excited about shit like that, because then you get a bad review and you get bummed out,” he says. “So it's good to take it all with a grain of salt.”
As for being lumped together with any sort of fuzzy, neo-hippie folk movement that's going on in the Pacific Northwest, Lortz couldn't care less.
“I have no idea about the ‘indie' scene here, like who's who or anything. To be honest, I don't really go out at all. I just stay home.” The Dutchess and the Duke play Sunday, Aug. 17, with James Jackson Toth at Bar Pink in North Park. 619-564-7194. www.myspace.com/thedutchessandtheduke.