Name: Andrew Duhon
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current Release: Andrew Duhon's "Everybody Colored Their Own Jesus" is out now. It's the latest single to be released ahead of his new full-length Emerald Blue, scheduled for July 29th 2022.
If you enjoyed this interview with Andrew Duhon and would like to keep up to date with his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I think the impulse to write songs started with the songs I heard as a kid that felt vivid and moving. When I began to try my hand with a guitar and pen, it became clear that the vivid motion happened, I think, because the songs were someone's truth. Great heartbreak songs happen when someone's heart is broken and that person's able to speak honestly.
Attempting to write my honest songs became a vent for my heart and soul that I haven't found elsewhere, not in journaling or writing short stories. I think it's to do with the traditions I recognize in the songs that moved me and the desire to continue that tradition with what I learned from those songs and what I continue to learn from my human experience.
I think it's therapeutic, but not just that. Cooking is 'therapy' to me in that it quiets my mind, but writing songs is a catharsis that lets out the hurt or the truth or the love in a way I haven't been able to access otherwise. I have a feeling or a thought, and when I strum a guitar and close my eyes I manage to speak to it in a way I can't access with a journal, and then its outside of me, but in a place I know that its not forgotten, that I can visit so vividly any time I play that song.
As for inspiration, certainly I'd like to try to tell a more honest love story. Not the 90s ballad about some perfect love, but rather the love that takes work, that has me second guessing the path, that I revere but realize I must let go of. And then there's my Catholic upbringing and the effects I see religion and tribalism have on our ability to relate to each other. That is so incredibly complicated that a song, a story told from one perspective that touches the complexity, talks about what it feels like, is a better way to speak about it than trying to solve the problems with one editorial column.
I think songs are perfect for those elements of complexity in our society that have become polarizing. It doesn't take a 'protest song' to tell true stories about what's wrong and letting that be the beginning of the conversation.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a “visualisation”; of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I'm always amazed at how readily something exciting is conjured just by picking up a guitar and involving myself in that moment. There's more going on than my conscious ideas, and playing guitar and just letting it lead me somewhere stirs up something, some line I didn't know was in there or maybe even where it came from.
When I'm driving on tour, I often do get lines that I'll write down that feel like good starting points, some chink in the bedrock to start chipping at. There's a balance between wanting to tell a succinct story and allowing the 'chance' of those abstractly conjured elements to live within the originally intended direction if they can.
Not so much making complete abstraction for me, but just taking heed of what one feeling might lead me to feel or say next, and then standing back and asking myself how the whole thing feels to me.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do “research” or create “early versions”?
I think 'research' happens in the act of loving someone and in travel and in paying attention to the current events and to my community. I don't consciously 'research' for a song, but I do try and pay attention when the above things glean something that feels surprising, or even better, something scarily honest.
'A good song has to cost you something' is a favorite addadge, and so when I find myself considering a line I'm afraid to say, that's usually exciting to me, because I think someone else is probably afraid to say it, too.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Traveling has become a certain ritual. I journal more when I travel, I jot down more ideas, I recognize more life being lived around me when that life is unfamiliar. Noticing beauty in the otherwise mundane is a special place to start.
I love coffee and stimulating that motion to coax me to just keep going even when an idea becomes cumbersome.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note? When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
I generally start with a line that is a central feeling. I do write songs to the music that comes first, but those songs are more difficult to me, and determining what this cool musical phrase is about lyrically is sometimes such a mystery, but I'll find clues in how the music feels to play.
But certainly once the lyrics and music are in motion, they do grow together informed by each other.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
For one, it's the kind of honesty that is hard to say that makes lyrics great to me. It's some truth that was left unsaid until you said it, and we all gather and hear it and agree we feel it too.
If I can tell a story that speaks to what I'm feeling, and that makes someone else feel something otherwise dormant in them, then that's the best way to connect with songs.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
I'd say there's generally a gestation phase.
I'll often leave a first or second draft alone for weeks, and return a slightly different person with a slightly different approach. Not always, but I do like to give it that kind of time for the yeast in the air to activate something that doesn't seem to happen otherwise.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
That closed eyes emotive search for a word or line that only happens when I'm all alone and playing guitar is certainly something of a 'device credited to the muses,' but the editing part is more analytical and controlled.
I'm trimming the bouquet that nature grows is probably a fair way to describe it.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Without doubt there are developments I didn't anticipate in the writing process and also in the recording process.
I like to say that the songs 'bloom' in the studio, and the buds aren't always clear to me how they'll bloom. I'm certainly less precious about what something 'needs' to be these days. But I'm also cognizant of what feels most effective, and if a new idea becomes powerful but not altogether married to the original idea, it may branch off into two songs, or more.
Songs that don't feel finished might be a salvage yard of lines to use elsewhere, and the longer I'm at it, the more I feel like I have a cluttered garage full of scraps that I can dig into to work with. That's a nice place to tinker.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Not spirituality per se, but back in the days of sleeping in my car between gigs, I was of the belief that I was following in the footsteps of the heroes before me who slept by the roadside or by a campfire in pursuit of something. I was full of the songs of my heroes in my head until I convinced myself that I had something to say, and that even my heroes might be interested to hear it, and that I was the only one who could tell it.
That element of continuing the story, continuing the folklore, creating a record, not just one that spins, but like a fossil record of this moment, connecting now in the way that the past was connected for me by my heroes - perhaps there's a spirit in that.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I'd say mostly, a song is 'finished' when its recorded, but that's not to say I don't have different versions of songs I've recorded that were conjured through the happy accidents that happened in performing the song since I recorded it.
I think there's an inital stage of a song being worthy of performing at shows, and then that playing of the song over and over to a gathering of people has its own effect, and songs often take on something from that. I do prefer to give songs that time on the road before I record them if I can.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I don't generally record songs exactly as I wrote them: my voice and a guitar. So production and mixing are these new colors to add to the pallette and can be crucial. Mastering is more just a polish and less important to me.
I'm very aware and involved in the production and mixing because though the song may continue to evolve in performance, the track is what will live on and what most people will hear of the song.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I'm not sure it feels empty as much as it feels like I'm glad that songs exists now no matter what happens to me.
There can be a sense of anticlimax in the release because, in my experience, it takes time for songs to really reach people no matter how hard I try and promote their release, but I've gained a patience and reassurance that it'll get there, and comfort in knowing its 'out there' now.
As for returning to the process, it takes touring to promote the new songs, that touring and travel conjures new ideas, those new ideas become songs, that cyclical element is something I've relied on to get back into creating after focusing on a release.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more “mundane” tasks?
They're all mediums to me.
Songs are a medium that allow me to release a feeling into the song, and that song can give that feeling or another feeling entirely to someone else. I don't know another way that I create those mediums, but I certainly know many ways in which the mediums find me and I am struck by love put into a meal or cup of coffee or a dwelling.
I think the more you put in, the more there is for someone to find inside.