Duke Special

<img src="http://www.qromag.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/thedukespecialinterview.jpg" alt=" " />Peter Wilson, a.k.a. Belfast's Duke Special, took some time out of his commute to talk to QRO. ...

 Duke Special : Q&ADo you know the Muffin Man?  Peter Wilson does.  You might be wondering, “Who is this enigmatic Peter Wilson, who is so distinguished as to have the honor of being personally acquainted with the most renowned pastry chef in all nursery rhymes?”  Peter Wilson is none other than the dreadlock-sporting, piano-playing Irishman from Belfast who has been called a ‘Scarlet Pimpernel of pop’, but is more commonly known as Duke Special.  Since the 2006 release of Songs From the Deep Forest, the Duke has been singing his way into the hearts of music connoisseurs throughout Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Europe, as he tours across that continent with his upright piano and gramophone in tow.  This autumn, Duke Special has been taking time off from touring and publicly dueling with his arch nemesis, The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, to perform in Tony Kushner’s translation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children; a play for which he has also composed new music (the soundtrack should be available later this November).

QRO was recently able to catch up with the ever busy Duke as he commutes back and forth between London’s National Theatre and his home in Belfast.  Read on to see what he has to say about Twitter, the possibility of a tour in the United States, and the origins of the name ‘Duke Special’:



QRO: Illuminate us.  Where did the name ‘Duke Special’ come from?

Peter Wilson: I found it in a little box buried under an oak tree.  It was a moonlit night in the autumn.

QRO:  Duke Special is new to most of America.  How would you describe your music to those who have never heard it before?

PW: I am influenced by Kurt Weil, Elliott Smith (QRO album review), Victorian music hall, and the sound of Christmas.

QRO: How was being in Champaign, Illinois to record part of your last record, I Never Thought This Day Would Come?  Do you think being far from your home affected those songs that were recorded here?

PW: It was an amazing experience at Mark Rubel’s Pogo Studios.  It’s a brilliantly eccentric studio with the most instruments on hand you could ever dream of.  While we were there, Mark also organized for us to make a couple of Edison recordings, which was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The intention was to go somewhere else, somewhere that wasn’t Belfast or where I was used to. I learned so much from being there.

I want to take risks in everything I create; that’s when you get to the interesting stuff.

QRO: Speaking of America, you recently stated on Twitter that you had obtained a U.S. work visa; do you have any plans to play upcoming shows in the States?

PW: Yes!  I have never toured in the U.S.  But it’s always been an ambition to go there, so fingers crossed it will happen this year.

QRO: What kind of atmosphere do you strive to create at a Duke Special performance?  If you had unlimited access to people and resources, what sort of show would you put on?

PW: Nick Cave once said that he wants the audience to enter another world or time when they are at his concerts.  I agree.  I want people to almost feel they are at the theatre.  Every tour I do is different with a different line-up of players and theme.  I would love to tour with an orchestra using props and visuals.

QRO: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re currently working on?

PW: I am currently in a production of Brecht’s Mother Courage at the National Theatre in London.  I wrote the music for the pre-existing Brecht lyrics for a new translation by Tony Kushner.  During the day I am recording the album for Mother Courage and getting ready to release two other recordings.  One is a collection of sons I recorded with Steve Albini last year about a silent movie star called Hector Mann.  The other is an unfinished musical by Kurt Weil, based on Mark Twain’s book Huckleberry Finn.  As far as I know, they have never been recorded before.

QRO: Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists?  Are there any in particular that you’d like to work with but haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so?

PW: I would love to work with Stephen Merritt of the Magnetic Fields (QRO album review), Marc Almond, Billy Bragg, Morrissey (QRO album review), Aimee Mann, and Amanda Palmer (QRO photos).

QRO: Amanda Palmer has had amazing success creating an internet based fan community, and has even been able to use sites like Twitter to schedule ‘ninja gigs’ and help her pay rent.  What role do you think the Internet will play in your career and in your interaction with fans?

PW: Ha!  Just scrolled down to find this question!  I think the music industry is rapidly changing and the role of the Internet, especially for independent artists, is becoming more important.  In terms of interaction with fans, ninja gigs and such, I have found Twitter to be one of the best models.

QRO: Touring, appearances, press, and fans all tend to come along with being a successful rock/pop musician.  How do you find a balance between those things, writing and making music, and the other parts of life (family, friends, etc) that are not necessarily associated with one’s career?  Do you ever find it challenging?

PW: I do often have to remind myself of what’s important, and try and prioritize accordingly.  Yes it’s definitely possible to get bogged down or distracted by the many demands surrounding making music, and it’s important to keep that at the centre of what I do.

QRO: We have to ask.  Are you and Neil Hannon still dueling?

PW: Only when we meet in person.  Both of us are still smarting from our last encounter.  Until the next time…



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