Duckspeak: Your New Favorite Folk Rock
So, I wanted to try something new here. Over the course of the Internet, I’ve had the pleasure of making Internet Friends. If you don’t know what these are, sort through your followers and your email chains and your friend requests and then ask yourself…who do I trust even though I’ve never met them before? These people are Internet Friends. If you head over to this nifty new page I just assembled a couple weeks ago, you can find some of my Internet Friends. If you are dedicated – and smart enough – to click through all the hyperlinks (hell, without hyperlinks the Internet is worthless and nothing else matters) you will find a number of blogs mostly about music. Because music is, mostly, the only thing I care about.
A Horizontal Myth is a blog run by some Internet Friends of mine. They do a number of cool features and columns including my favorite, “What Went Wrong For…”. They write about sports, television, movies but what keeps me going back is how they talk about music. One of their contributors, Giovanni, is a dear-Internet Friend of mine as we see eye-to-eye on a surprising amount of everything. Recently, he was tweeting about a project of his – an effort to listen to 356 new records of 2013. I encouraged him to start a theme blog about it (here is one of my all time favorite theme blogs) and then he turned it into a column. It’s niche and detailed and interesting. I love someone who isn’t afraid to call out anyone and anything.
Giovanni has a band. Actually, it’s just him: Duckspeak – a play on Newspeak from Orwell’s “1984.” I became aware of this when Giovanni posted a piece, “What Is The Value Of Music?” It’s your basic backstory with mentions of our past: Napster, MTV, Total Request Live and Deluxe Editions (I can now see all that money I spent at Tower Records in high school just…off in the distance somewhere.) He started questioning music’s value, more so, when he released another album of his own out into the world. For those of us who have never been a part of anything other than Concert Band (I played clarinet for eight years, baby!) not only can I recommend this incredible book to you by Steve Almond, I can also tell you that when you talk to people who make music and contribute to the endless pool of records we have to chose from, their understanding is different. Maybe it’s because they understand the composition of a song more than the terms, “verse” “chorus” “bridge” and “hook.” Instead of just having an opinion, they understand where a musician is coming from, that it takes serious guts to expose yourself by way of writing music AND THEN giving it to people to listen to and eventually talk about and write about.
Even though I have a background in music performance (high school) and production and recording (college) I still cannot relate to people who write and play music. I’m no musician. However, I can listen to it, tell them what I think, maybe play it on the radio and hopefully, I can point you in certain directions I don’t think you would find otherwise. So please allow me to introduce you to Duckspeak – your new favorite folk rock.
I emailed with Giovanni to talk about his music. Please visit his Bandcamp (and give him money) and this excellent video for “Discovering Oceans.”
This is your 5th LP and 8th over all release. Tell me about your past releases.
I’ve released an LP every year since I started recording, so from 2009 to now the list goes Novelty Orchestra, The Tides, The Death of Flight, Odes and Minuets, and Haunts. There were also 3 EPs thrown in the mix: Dog Mask, My Muse, My Muse EP, and Draw Blood. All of them have been self-released, with the earliest ones going up on Mediafire for free download. They were very casual releases that I’d just drop off on the Internet on the off chance that anyone would want to check them out. It’s only been recently that I’ve become more serious about recording and getting the music out to people, resulting in a switch to Bandcamp and a more involved focus on promotion.
What got you into starting to make your own music?
Back in my pre-college days, I hung out with a very artistic group of friends who were really into music, among other things. We had a multitude of bands between us, and I can’t even begin to count how many projects I was involved with (from fake rap to hyper-antagonistic punk). At some point, I started making music on my own and enjoyed the complete control I had over it. I liked that I could choose every element and place them exactly where I wanted. It felt like a deeply personal form of expression. So, sometime around Summer 2008 things started getting weird in my life. I had finished my first year of college and found myself in a weird place emotionally. A break-up was imminent and I started feeling emotionally mixed-up. So I took to music to try and work things out, using songwriting as a form of therapy to work out issues. It’s only recently that I stopped having a “This is only for me” mentality and started trying to make music that I felt like people would actually enjoy. But I do see this kind of solo writing and recording to be incredibly sincere, so I’ve stuck with it as a way to bear my soul in a way that’s also, hopefully, externally worthwhile.
The term Duckspeak comes from George Orwell’s 1984. It’s mentioned once in the novel, but it’s more specifically talked about in the book’s terrific appendix regarding Newspeak. In Orwell’s world, it’s a term that literally means “to quack like a duck” but is also used to describe the way politicians speak. I’ve always found that to be a hilarious joke, yet it’s in the context of this terrifying concept of a language created to limit people’s ability to express thoughts. It’s always stuck with me, so I kept it as a moniker. I also used to sing in a way that pretty much sounded like bird squawking, so it also fit as a self aware joke on myself.
What bands are your favorite, and what bands inspire you?
Lots and lots. Specifically though, I’m always first and foremost influenced by the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. I don’t think there’s any songwriter who writes music as sincere as him. His lyrics and compositions are so deeply intimate. And not even just on his quieter folk songs. Even his most aggressive stuff is so effecting. “Pig,” for example, is an incredibly loud and balls-to-the-wall punk track, and yet the way he sings lines like “I want a new body that’s strong, I’m a butchered cow” still feels as deeply emotional as any writer who thinks that the less sound you have, the more honest it becomes. So he’s always been my main inspiration. I release music on March 6th every year to commemorate his death. I miss him dearly.
Phil Elverum of The Microphones and Mount Eerie is also a huge one. I love the way he just churns out such a mass amount of music, always experimenting with sound and releasing it. And the way he continually reimagines his own songs. He doesn’t believe that once a song is recorded, it’s just done; it becomes part of a conversation. I love that mentality. Haunts specifically, though, is influenced by a lot of late 90’s/early 2000’s indie rock especially. Built to Spill and The Shins’ earlier records had a major impact on the recording process.
Where are you from?
Originally, I hail from middle of nowhere Massachusetts, where I first started making music. Then it was up to Ithaca, NY for 4 years where I started really recording music as Duckspeak. And now, I’m in Brooklyn. Bushwick, specifically, which I love. It’s an exciting place to be recording music and performing, though daunting as well. There’s such an absurd amount of talent here and I’m proud to be struggling alongside the best.
What else do you do, other than Duckspeak?
Unfortunately, while I want to be making art full time, it’s not terribly feasible currently. So, I work an office job doing Quality Assurance testing. It’s not exciting as making music, but it does pay the bills, as they say, which is what I need right now to keep making music. It’s kind of a bummer, but it puts me in a position where if I need something specific for recording, I’m able to get it, which I wouldn’t be able to do on a struggling artist budget. Pros and cons to both, but until I’m able to support myself in a more creative way, it’s the grind for me by day, art at night.
Do you plan to work with other musicians and form Ducktails into a full piece band?
Recently, I’ve actually been thinking of trying to flesh Duckspeak out into a full 4-5 piece band, but for now, it’s just been me. I love working with bands, and I’ve done it many times in the past. It’s a different experience that’s equally great. Getting to bounce off other people’s ideas as opposed to just relying on your own definitely produces great results and really pushes you as an artist. I’ve had a few songs in the past where I’ll bring people in and just tell them to add whatever they want to a song, giving them free reign. I hope to do it more in the future, especially when I’m surrounded by such talented people. Plus, while I like playing live sets with just me and an electric guitar, I miss the dynamic of playing in a full band. Hopefully I can start pulling things together this year. Maybe Ty Segall will let me join one of his 200 bands?
Is the Mary in “Discovering Oceans” your girlfriend? Did she inspire this song – or she a figment of our imagination? Also, where did you record it?
Quite the opposite, actually. Discovering Oceans was written during a long stretch of being purposefully single. The last relationship I was in ended this long 4-year streak where I wasn’t single for more than a few months. It lead to a lot of unfortunate situations. Learning experiences, if you will. So I told myself that I wouldn’t jump into a relationship again unless I was actually sure about it. That lead to extraordinary pickiness though. I’d meet people who seemed perfectly wonderful, but tear them apart in my head and then retract from them in fear that they’d be interested in me. It was incredibly cocky, as if I was too say that I’m so great that I deserve the most flawless person around. The song deals with that, with the character trying to convince this person to date him because he’s such an amazing gem; discoveries like this are once in a lifetime. And it ends with him realizing that the opposite is true. Such an attitude is damning him to lead a lonely, lonely life. So the fictional Mary is, in some way, a composite of these people I retracted from over this period of my life, who are perfectly wonderful people but I was too picky to accept it. Of course, it’s not based on anyone specifically; I love blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
Fun fact though: I set up a first date with my current girlfriend the day before we actually shot that video. And I took her to that same location featured in the video.
Who shot this video – and why the decision to have it look Instagramm-y?
The video was directed by Josh Wilmott, a really damn great filmmaker and friend of mine. He was visiting from LA for a few days and I played him the song. He spontaneously decided that he wanted to shoot a video for it, so he changed his flight and stayed a few extra days to work on it. He had this idea of shooting the video as if the audience was looking into somebody’s personal photo album. So when we went to touch up the video, the colorist, Zak Ray (who also shot the video), tried a few different ways to push that idea further and give the image a sense of history to it. It’s meant to be a couple’s past. There were a few different ideas on how to work it in with color, but we both decided that using that kind of old film aesthetic worked best to communicate the past and memory. We didn’t intend to make it look like Instagram, but after I sent it to the video’s editor (Andy Hanold), the first thing he noted was how it looked like Instagram. I suppose we shared the same logic, calling back to an older aesthetic to make the images themselves read as aged. I think it’s a solid approach to making digital images look old, so I’ll applaud both Instagram and Zak for the decision.