Cooking Vinyl

Grand Duchy

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Once upon a time, Violet and I went into the studio together for a day as an experiment, and we came out that night with “Fort Wayne”.

A leaked version seemed to please others, and so we decided to continue the “experiment”.  We decided that, while we were not expert players on all rock ensemble instruments, we would play everything ourselves as we had done on the “Fort Wayne” session.

She was innocent.  I hadn’t felt innocent for years.  She digs the 80’s.  I had spent the latter part of the 80’s doing my part to destroy the 80’s.  Our second recording session involved a fair amount of shouting and throwing things , much to the horror, I’m sure, of our two engineers Thaddeus Moore and Jason Carter; being pros they just smiled at us.

A “band” truce developed.  Over time we threw less objects and began to enjoy our creative tension.  We fantasized about the future, about success, as new bands do, and decided during a drive to the studio that we would take any proceeds and make a down payment on a house in Luxembourg (for some strange reason, I can’t remember now – perhaps my longstanding obsession with micro states).  I guess that’s where the name “Grand Duchy” came from.  Maybe that’s  where we will come from one day.  Crossroads of Europe.  Near to here and there, but far from Oregon.  Cold, grey Oregon.

Black Francis and Violet Clark had one simple goal heading into their second Grand Duchy album…

Let the People Speak has more confidence,” adds Francis. “For Violet, the confidence of finding one’s voice; for me, the confidence to become submissive. This record was definitely more about slamming it in.”

That’s clear from the start, as “See-Thru You” sets the scene alongside laser-guided synth lines, brass-fitted beats and ravenous riffs, only to be swept away by the manic melodies and fist-pumping choruses of “White Out.” Written by Clark while Francis was on tour with the Pixies, it’s just a taste of how carefree and confident the married couple’s become in the three years that separated their debut LP—an “experiment” that didn’t stay that way for long—and the dizzying highs of a concept album that exists in a “parallel universe in the past…now.”

And the host of that parallel universe? Why, it’s longtime Phoenix DJ Jonathan L, who treats every track like a freshly played single on his popular Lopsided World of L show. So while the steely pulse of “Silver Boys” may put him in a “Warhol-esque kind of mood,” the plaintive piano outro of “Esther” goes one step further, channeling “a glittery Lou Reed, or maybe a Ziggy?”

Which isn’t an accident. As Clark admits, “Andy Warhol is my hero. I’m also fascinated with the dark aspects of nightlife and intoxicated social intercourse, so just thinking about him and his world brought some sexier energy into these songs.”

As did several other factors, from Clark’s position as in-house producer (with the Fall’s Simon “Ding” Archer mixing, and drummer Jason Carter engineering) to the freedom Francis felt as he focused on being a better band member.

“Whenever I wrote for this record,” he says, “I knew that Violet would take it wherever she wanted to. It was nice to just think about music and not worry about the end result.”

“There’s more energy left in the music if you’re not picking it all apart with your brain,” adds Clark, “worrying about whether what you’re doing is ‘cool’ or not.  I have decided that ‘cool’ has no place in what we’re trying to do or achieve.  What is ‘cool’ anyway?”