High Lonesome, Existential Celtic Music

An interview with The Duhks by Michael Lohr

The Duhks (pronounced ‘ducks’) have been riding the roots music revolution for a little over five years now, and they show no sign of slowing down. The band is made up of Sarah Dugas (vocals), her brother Christian Dugas (percussionist), Tania Elizabeth (fiddle), Jordan McConnell (guitar) and claw-hammer banjo adept Leonard Podolak. Combining a blend of Americana, country and bluegrass with brilliant touches of Celtic, “non-traditional” music has never sounded so good. In 2007, they were nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Country Performance By A Duo or Group With Vocal” for the song “Heaven’s My Home” from their third album, Migrations. The Duhks also won a Juno Award for “Best Roots & Traditional Album” for their self-titled second record. Regardless of the style of music, be it gospel, bluegrass, Americana, Celtic, old time country, samba, zydeco or worldbeat, The Duhks transition effortlessly.The Duhks (1)

When it comes to ecological concerns, The Duhks are just as passionate about the environment as they are about their music. On the whole, they are one of the greenest bands currently touring today, right up there with eco–conscious musicians such as Willie Nelson and the Dave Matthews Band. I recently had the pleasure to talk with Sarah and Tania about the band, their musical and life philosophy as well as the steps they take to help raise awareness about living an ecologically sustainable lifestyle.

ML: Your music is a combination of Americana, Celtic and Roots music. Did this sound germinate as a natural progression of these musical styles, or did the band purposefully set out to establish such a sound combination?

Sarah: All members in the band have a very different musical background. When we jam, everyone brings ideas that come from a  different genre and though everyone in, The Duhks love all kinds of music, sometimes, what one person brings to the table will be a little out of an others comfort zone. So, whoever brought the song helps by guiding the general idea and then it’s free reins to take it into, The Duhks vortex!

ML: Environmentalism is a significant focus of the band. Tell us about the Duhks Sustainability Project?

Tania: Environmentalism has always been a passion for me,  and from day one with this band I had been fantasizing about ways to make the touring experience more sustainable.  Two years ago, when Sarah joined the band, the pieces fell into place.  We were able to have Greg Ching come onboard as our sustainability coordinator, and his contributions really helped GreenDuhks blossom.  Since then, we have been successful in convincing our record company to print our CDs on recycled paper with soy based ink. All of the t-shirts we sell are organic and sweatshop free, we have implemented a recycling program within the band and we have acquired a van that we run on biodiesel as much as possible. In addition, we have been proud to work with allies Rock The Earth, Bioneers, Clif bar’s GreenNotes program and Manitoba Harvest (a hemp foods company based in the band’s hometown that runs entirely on wind energy!).  On our website www.greenduhks.com you can also find products that we promote but do not profit from, such as Sunnight Solar flashlights.
ML: What are your country music influences? What other influences, musically or otherwise, do you have?

Tania: I think when I was growing up, it didn’t really matter who was singing, I really just gravitated to the sound of the fiddle.  Having said that, growing up I loved Mary Chapin Carpenter, George Straight, Randy Travis, Kathy Mattea… Mark O’Connor’s albums “New Country” and “Heroes” got worn out on my player. The band’s musical influences vary so much… Everything from Hip Hop to Old Time to Irish to Indian Classical music and beyond. There are very few styles out there that someone in the band isn’t well versed in.
ML: You’re noted for highly charged, pull-no-punches lyrics in an industry that, in recent times, seems to prefer bubble gum sentimentality. Was it difficult to lyrically focus on more politically charged issues instead of the typical “love you in my pickup truck, oh baby” lyrics?

Sarah: We find it important to be honest about who we are with our music, and political songs are one of the facets that represent our beliefs. It’s important to us and we are passionate about expressing our views through song. That being said, we don’t always want to stand on our soap boxes, if you can’t step down and appreciate the good stuff, then I think it’s hard to know what you’re ”fighting” for. Sometimes all you need is your pickup truck and your baby!
ML: Your self-titled second record, contained the haunting Celtic ballad, “Mists of Down Below.” What was this song actually about?

Tania: This song was written for us by our friend Dan Frechette.  He wrote it from the perspective of a duck migrating across the country!
ML: What is bluegrass and Americana legend Tim O’Brien and banjo legend Bela Fleck’s involvement in with the band? I heard O’Brien produced some of your songs?

Tania: Bela co-produced our self-titled album with Gary Pacoza, and Tim co-produced the following album “Migrations” with Gary.  Both experiences were amazing – Bela was a true mentor and really pushed us to reach a new level of playing. After a year of touring that record, we had the privilege of having Tim, who really helped us feel confident about this new level we had reached.  As individual players and a group we grew immensely during those times!
To learn more about The Duhks and their wonderful music go to: http://www.duhks.com/


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