Friday, 3 April 2015

Interview: Duke Special

Duke Special, 'Nail on the Head'

Info: With his seventh studio album Look Out Machines! released in Ireland today, and Irish dates in Belfast's Mandela Hall on 15th of May as well as a show in Dublin's Vicar Street the following night, Peter Wilson, better known as Duke Special, is back in the limelight with an album brimming with hope and optimism, whilst gently reminding us of the power of melancholy. Duke Special took time out of his current busy schedule to do an interview for us where we talk a little about the past, his new album and what's in store in the near future.

Your grandmother taught your mother how to play the piano, something which she passed on to her own children, yourself included, do you think that you would have entered the realm of music despite this early introduction?

Good question, I'm sure my even being so open to music was nurtured by the family I grew up in.  Who knows, if my parents and siblings had been doctors or some other profession, maybe I would have followed suit.  No one else in my family has done music as their vocation but I was definitely introduced to music at a young age.

A lot of people are heavily influenced by their peers when in their teens with regard to what music they listen to, only later on becoming a bit more independent-minded with their tastes, when you look back to your own school days was this the case with you or were you already listening to music that others in your age group might not have been into?

One of my best friends at school - Alan McClurg was into some interesting music such as Rush, Peter Gabriel era Genesis and Pavolv's Dog among lots of others so tht definitely had an influence but I think the charts were different then too and there was a lot more variety in what you were exposed to on the radio.  

Your well-known interests revolve around the arts, not just with regard to music but also literature, poetry and film, what are the, shall we say, less cultured or slightly less intellectually vexing past-times that you like to indulge in when you're unwinding?

I actually love playing board games, going to pubs to hang out and drink beer and the odd spot of druncle dancing!

You recently played at Abner Brown's Barbershop in Rathmines, Dublin, and something you said in between songs struck me at the time, because I've definitely felt it the odd time myself. You described the rare occasions that you feel an almost euphoric sense of good will and love, in a fraternal way, to your fellow human beings, the stranger on the street. It's a pity such natural highs are rare, but it's a feeling that is reflected in some of the tracks on the new album such as 'Step To The Magical', it must have been hard to recapture such a fleeting mood when writing the song itself?

Part of my job, at least the way I see it is to see the extraordinary in what is supposedly ordinary.  As an artist you are trying to keep yourself open to wonder and direct other people's gaze in that direction.  At least, that is part of it anyway.  I wrote that song you mentioned with my friend Phil Wilkinson and we both imagined this young woman walking through the city brimming with this feeling of wonder and kindness towards other people.  You are right, I don't feel that way very often but sometimes I do and then I remember we are all in this together and everyone is just trying their best.

Listening to the pre-release stream of 'Look Out Machines!' on The Irish Times website, I wasn't even half way through when I got the sense that there is a consistent strain of positivity throughout the album musically, but there are also powerful moments of sadness like on the opening of the title-track, it's like getting a hug while being emotionally pick-pocketed, is that a conscious contrast which you place in some songs?

I love that - getting a hug while being emotionally pick-pocketed!  I suppose good comedy does that, has you laughing one second and then comes the sucker punch.  I am full of both melancholy and joy, hope and despair, contentment and longing, it just feels natural to me for my songs to express all of that.

Songs like the beautiful 'Tweed Coats' and 'Son Of The Left Hand' follow a retrospective narrative, are you getting more nostalgic about the past as time wears on or have you always enjoyed such themes in your song-writing?

What has happened in the past is responsible for all our cracks and stains.  I will always reflect on those things but I also want to think forward and strive towards the light.

This has been your longest gap between albums since your debut '
Adventures in Gramophone in 2005, your just shy of three years since the release of Oh Pioneer, was it intentional or just one of those things? 

Just one of those things, a lot of touring the last record, exploring the world of Harry Nilsson, writing for Look Out Machines, being a parent, life.

With Look Out Machines! now released, and available at all good record stores, what have you planned in terms oftouring, and as a vinyl obsessive can I ask will it be released on the format? 

Well, I've already completed a 21 date tour of Ireland, am in the middle of the same length tour of the UK mainland and started writing music for a play about Gulliver's Travels.  The new album will be released digitally, on CD, vinyl and also wax cylinder!  

If you want to hear more of the new album before Monday's full release, it's streaming in full on The Irish Times website here

You can also find more info on tour dates and purchase tickets via

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