Listen to this track from British indie singer-songwriter, and Sunderland son Just Duggy and his band, the Insurgents. It’s “A Man Walks Into A Bar”, a tale of excess, empty promises, and a woman wearing nothing much more than a belt. The track is taken from Duggy’s debut record, There and Back Again, which you can download for FREE!
The record was recorded guerilla-style, “after everyone had gone home”, leaving Duggy and his three compatriots to run wonderfully amok in the studio. The result is a rough-hewn blend of rockabilly, jangle-pop, and folk punk, covering topics ranging from the shallow nature of so-called reality T.V, the dubious honour of serving in wars, and even religon sold as a product to be sold door-to-door.
I spoke with Duggy via email and asked him about self-promotion, topical songwriting, great lyricists of the North, and the art of nabbing studio time on the fly.
The Delete Bin: This tune, “A Man Walks Into a Bar” could be looked upon as a cautionary tale set to music. When it comes to storytelling, how does songwriting succeed for you as the best way of conveying narratives like this one?
Just Duggy: I do love a good story. I’ve written a few short stories and harbour a dream of one day writing a novel. But I think that generally things come to me in lyric form. Sometimes, it’ll just be a snippet of someone’s life and I’ll have a little one-liner that I think is either funny, or deep and thought provoking, and then I’ll build a song around that. Keeping a narrative running through the whole song is important to me. I dont like to repeat lyrics often in songs and I like to come to some sort of conclusion at the end. Whether it’s a happy ending or not varies. I guess happy endings are nicer but that’s not always how it works now, is it?
DB: There’s a point of view that folk music is about telling the same stories over and over again in different ways. It seems to me that this tale is one we’ve heard before; the weak guy in the bar being grifted by a temptress. Why do you think this story resonates so well?
JD: Folk music should be about people’s lives. The clue is in the name really Folk – songs about ordinary folk – and I guess the same stories get told over and over again because not a lot changes, really. Technology may move on and change certain aspects of things like communication but at the end of the day, people will fall in and out of love, get drunk and make a fool of themselves, have hopes and dreams, be born and ultimately die. I think the tale of the guy in the bar resonates so well because it happens every night in bars all around the world. I probably got most of my inspiration for this song from working in bars in London. I always think of myself as the barman in the song, not the main protagonist.
DB: The playing on the track, and on the record on the whole is great; folky, but with a lot of rock muscle and that classic Beatlesque jangle-pop feel to it all at the same time. How did you gather the players and decide upon your collective sound?
JD: The Insurgents, my backing band, are all old mates from Sunderland that i’ve known for about ten years. I moved away from the North about seven or eight years ago. But all my family and oldest friends are up there so I’m a regular visitor.
The project was really organic. I got in touch with Kev, who plays bass and co-produced the album, and Ox (drums) first and we were jamming through the songs. I felt like it needed some lead guitar on, and Jukebox was about in town so I gave him a shout. And that was that, really.
Because we’ve known each other for so long and played in different bands together over the years, there was none of the getting to know you stuff; we just plugged in and got on with it. I’d been playing the songs at open mic nights to fine-tune them a bit and I had a good idea of what I wanted them to sound like with a full band. As soon as the lads started playing, they just seemed to know exactly what I wanted, which was great. Nice and easy, really.
DB: You recorded this album on the off-hours “after everyone had gone home”. How did you set that up, and how did this on the fly methodology affect the way the record came out?
JD: It was out of necessity rather than choice. Kev and Ox work at a studio/rehearsal room in Sunderland, so there was the opportunity of free studio time there. The main issue, however, was that it’s not the greatest studio for soundproofing, being that it isn’t soundproofed! So generally we would have to wait till the bands who were in the building rehearsing had finished before we could start recording anything. This was usually around about 10 or 11pm. The first main session we had, where we recorded the drums and acoustic, I think we got started about midnight and were finished by 4am.
The night we recorded the vocals we were half-way through the album, when a hardcore punk band started up underneath us. This was 1AM. They were a resident band who held keys to the building and could come and go as they wanted. We struck a deal with them so that they would play until 2:30am then we would get back in and finish the vocal tracks; bloody nightmare, really. I’m not sure if this affected the way the record came out. Maybe it adds a slightly weary, desperate though determined edge to it. Whether thats a good thing or not, I’m not sure. Put it this way – it was an experience!
DB: You’ve covered a couple of traditional folk tunes on the record in “St. James Infirmary”, and Woody Guthrie’s “Hard Travelin’ Blues” with your own unique mark on them. What makes these songs so readily interpretable?
JD: They’re just cracking songs really. I think “St. James Infirmary” has been covered by just about everyone. My favourite version is probably the Louis Armstrong one. It probably goes back to that thing about folk songs telling the same stories over and over again. They’re still relevant, so they’re easily interpretable for the modern day.
I spent six months travelling around Central America the year before last. And on my mp3 player I had a collection of American folk songs which included “Hard Travellin'”. It just became a bit of an anthem for the journey. I felt like it should be updated for the modern day traveller/backpacker, and I just started playing around with the lyrics. So, instead of ‘cuttin’ that wheat, stackin’ that hay, and I’m trying to make about a dollar a day’, it became ‘drinkin’ that rum, knockin’ back beer and I’m trying not to piss my money away’.
DB: Songs like “(I Wanna Be A) Reality TV Star” and “Name on a Wall” are very topical, very critical of modern Western culture. Why do you think so few mainstream songwriters these days are critical of what’s going on in their cultures in their writing?
JD: The simple answer to that is “I dont know”. Maybe critical viewpoints dont sell enough records. It seems that at one point we had a multitude of protest singers, from the 60’s folk stuff like Dylan etc to the Punks in the 70s and the post-punk 80s scene. Then in the 90s, I think people like Jarvis Cocker, Thom Yorke, and a few other were writing really interesting lyrics and still are, in their current output.
But, it seems like there’s been no one to pick up the baton for the new generation. Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys writes some great lyrics, and there are a few people out there. But no one’s really challenging the status quo. It’s not like there’s nothing to be critical of in the world at the moment.
DB: It seems to me that your music has a great emphasis on lyrics in the traditions of Mark E. Smith, Shaun Ryder, and even punk-poets like John Cooper Clarke. Like them, you hail from the North of England. What is it about the North that seems to inspire punchy lyricists in this tradition?
JD: You’re going to set me off on patriotic rant praising the North here! No, I think that the North does throw up some great lyricists and definitely some of my favourites are Northerners, particularly the three you mentioned there, but also Morrisey, Jarvis Cocker, Alex Turner, and let’s not forget the daddy of them all – John Lennon.
The reason for it is open to interpretation obviously but I have a feeling it could have something to do with the North-South divide. I think us Northerners have a bit of an inferiority complex. All the money and power and even the nicer weather is all down South. Maybe that is partly responsible for producing mouthy young upstarts, or as Mark E. Smith said ‘Northern white trash who talk back’. I cant really leave this question without talking about some great lyricists from the South though, so here’s to Ray Davies, Joe Strummer, Syd Barrett, Thom Yorke, Billy Bragg, John Lydon, Pete Doherty, and many, many more.
DB: Right now, you’re allowing a free download of this record. Can we expect a follow-up any time soon?
JD: Well at the moment I’m just concentrating on trying to promote this album. I’ll be out and about playing solo acoustic spots wherever I can, and we’ll be arranging some gigs with The Insurgents soon. I’ve got a live session on a Plymouth-based Internet radio station next week (16/11/10), the links for that will be on MySpace, and I’m basically up for anything that helps spread the word and get my music listened to. The album will be free, until someone thinks they can make some money out of it.
As for a follow-up, I’ve got an idea of the sound I want in my head. I’m always writing new material. I’m feeling a move to a more electric sound. I’ve been playing acoustic for a while now, and my Telecaster is starting to look at me funny which means it’s probably time to plug the distortion pedal in and crank it up a bit.
Either that, or a Jazz Funk odyssey!
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