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Monday, September 10, 2012

Antje Duvekot: The Journey to a New Siberia

Photo Credit: Gregory Worstrel

When your debut album sets the folk world buzzing, and entices music historians such as Dave Marsh, rock critic and former editor of Rolling Stone, to say you are “the whole package," AND he compares you to renowned artist Patty Griffin, well…you'd better keep delivering the goods. As her third studio album is being released, it becomes clear singer-songwriter Antje Duvekot is doing just that.

Antje first garnered attention with her music in 2000 by winning the grand prize in the rock category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Since then, she has continued to receive accolades and high praise for her introspective songs reflecting her personal journey.

Born in Germany, Duvekot arrived in the United States as a teenager. Leaving her father and brother in Europe, she began a new life in a strange country with no knowledge of the customs or the language. Adapting was difficult at best, so Antje retreated into a world which offered her comfort…the world of music.

Her first album, Big Dream Boulevard was followed in 2009 by another highly acclaimed CD, The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer, produced by singer-songwriter Richard Shindell. Her new release, New Siberia, brings back Shindell as producer, and marks the time of transition from an old life to new. A time of looking toward the future with anticipation, while never losing what has brought her here

The week before the release of New Siberia, Antje spoke with me about the journey, songwriting and the life of a working musician.

Kat’s Theory (KT): You came to this country as a teenager, and battled with issues of language, insecurity and a confining family life. Those struggles can create the perfect setting from which a poet can immerge. Looking back, do you think an easier life transition would have made you less of a poet?
Antje Duvekot (AD): That is such a good question; it’s really hard to know. I wonder myself sometimes.  My brain works a certain way and I can’t imagine it working in any other way so if my early life hadn’t been sort of difficult, maybe my brain wouldn’t be so …thoughtful, I guess. When I moved to this country from Germany, at first I was sort of an outsider. I didn’t speak the language, so I spent a lot of time being very shy and just observing people. It’s possible that it came from the ability to pay attention and observe people. But then again maybe I would have been the same way if I hadn’t had such a difficult childhood. 

KT:  Your songwriting style. Because your songs are so personal, does your writing normally begin with the lyrics or do you have a story in mind, and work the music around them or music first?
AD: Kind of separate. The lyrics will come to me throughout my life and I’ll just scribble them down onto whatever I can find…napkins, checkbooks and such. So then I have this pile of lyrics and words, and ideas that came to me. When I think of something I write it down. Then when I structure, when I’m making it into a song, I actually craft a melody entirely, so that it will be ready to go. Then I will turn back to my notes and try to see what fits in nicely.

KT: That’s a very interesting approach, where you have all the music written and you try to find the lyrics that will fit into it.
AD: Yeah, I think that’s unusual, I don’t know a lot of people that do it that way. I don’t think of myself as a writer, I really do love the music component. It’s always tricky to find the right music for the right lyrics, Sometimes you really want to make them fit and you realize the mood is not right.

KT: Your producer for your new album, Richard Shindell, also produced your second album The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer. At that time he said “with songs as good as these, a producer just tries to get out of the way, do no harm and let the artist speak for herself.” Would you say he followed the same approach with New Siberia, or did he infuse more of his vision this time?
AD: Well first of all, I think he was just being modest when he said that, because he did a lot more than “do no harm.” But I think partly why I did want to work with him was that he has a fairly minimalistic approach to producing. I really didn’t want someone to put a heavy stamp on my music. I wanted it to just speak for itself, and he really supported my music very nicely with some of his instrumental choices. But I think it’s a similar production from the last album actually.

KT: I’ve watched some videos of your live performances. Your music at times, comes from such a dark place, and yet there are some songs which are light, for example “A Perfect Date” on this album. But when you are performing live, you are very light, humorous and honest. How do you balance the two, leaving the sadness behind in the music?
 I think when I first started performing live, I did realize that the night was starting to drag with a lot of moody and dark songs, and that I needed to talk in between songs. I needed to get some lightness in there. I found that I enjoyed the banter in between and making fun of myself. In real life I make fun of myself quite a bit, my songs just don’t reflect it that much. Humor is just another way to cope with darkness if you really think about it.

Photo Credit: Gregory Worstrel

"oh amelia, don't i feel like a clown 
oh you went down in history 
well, me, i just went down"

KT: "The Ballad of Fred Noonan". Fred Noonan was the navigator who flew alongside and died with Amelia Earhart. It is a fascinating look at the possible unrequited love he had for her. The song, told from his point of view, relates his love and admiration for her while still seeing her faults. It’s a mixture of melancholy and regret. Where did you find the inspiration for it?
AD: I was kind of interested because I saw a documentary first and it said, in this documentary at least, that she was kind of ego driven and bold, and perhaps she didn’t spend as much time preparing the flight, as she just wanted to set a record. And she was ambitious, and I thought about that part of her personality.

 "oh and the last thing that you said was you were sorry. I did it for love, you did it for glory"

A little bit later, I was listening to a podcast about Fred Noonan and how everyone has forgotten him. He is unknown to history even though he died in the plane with her. And I thought “oh poor Fred Noonan, maybe I should write a song about him.” Then I thought about those two things, ok, I’m going to present Amelia Earhart as ego-driven and narcissistic and poor Fred Noonan. So I guess I painted him in kind of a victim light. It’s just an idea I had.

"I was planted in a flower bed of sorrows, where raven's laughter blew up from the west.
Carried whispers of a dream about tomorrow and my heart it just beat borrowed in my chest"

KT: "New Siberia," the song visits a life’s journey from a cold, dark past to a place of hope and new beginnings. But all the while still retaining the memories and the acceptance that what was, has made you into what you are now. How did you get to that point where you made the concession to your past and found your were able to move forward?
 Yeah, I’m moving forward, but part of the idea of the new Siberia was also to maintain some of my dark core. Because I really had a difficult home life and it really shaped me. I’ve gone on a journey to become a much happier person but I’m always going to have a little touch of that sadness in me. So, I didn’t want to move to some warm place, I’m just looking for a new Siberia. Also, there’s so much beauty and sadness in me that I actually… some of it I revel inside of. That’s the idea of a new Siberia…a better place but still true to myself.

KT: Your first album, Big Dream Boulevard was released in 2006 to a lot of fanfare and critical acclaim. It had to be a bit unnerving as well as overwhelming. 
AD: Yes, that was the beginning of making a true living in music so it was kind of the most exciting time. It was a dream coming true and it was happening. I miss that time because it was so exciting. Now I’m just doing it for a living and it’s more like a job.

Antje with Ellis Paul
KT: As New Siberia, your third studio album, is being released, do you find it is a different type of anticipation with all you have to deal with now; like the interviews and everything that goes along with it?
AD: It still feels new, but yeah, there’s a different anticipation. But I’m still pretty excited about it. I think in the beginning I got to tour with a lot of my heroes, like I got to open for Ellis Paul and the gratifying part was I got to meet my heroes. I’ve met most of them and it’s been really great, but now I’m more focused on my own thing. And I’m looking more towards the fans and the touring.

KT: And when you release a CD, do you start the tour in a different frame of mind, to introduce new music to the people or is it just you’re going out on tour again?
 I think the latter. I mean, I’m always on tour; even I don’t have a new record out. I do have to (tour). At least fifty percent of my living is based on playing live, so it’s kind of an ongoing thing.

KT: Some of your songs have been covered by other artists, most notably by the Irish-American group Solas. And your song "Merry Go Round" was used in a bank commercial a few years back. As an artist, how do you feel when some of your songs grow wings and fly away as someone else interprets them? 
AD: It’s probably one of the best feelings ever. When someone else chooses to cover your song, and you hear them sing it and they make it their own, it suddenly sounds like a real song. Whereas when you’re doing it, it’s just something you made from your head, it doesn’t seem like it’s real. But when you hear someone else interpreting it, then ok, it’s a real song. It’s a great feeling, really honoring and flattering.

KT: For those who have never heard your music before today, describe the journey your music will provide to them.
AD: Well, I think like you’ve already mentioned, it’s kind of honest and a little vulnerable. So, if someone is looking for an emotional experience, and having a deep experience with music, then I think they will like my music. If they are just looking for something to play while they are cleaning, then... maybe not.

The official release date of New Siberia is September 18, 2012. Easy listening to be sure,not recommended for use while cleaning.

For more information on Antje Duvekot and New Siberia, visit her website
New Siberia Official Video

A few morsels of  the music of Antje Duvekot:. Enjoy the tastes.
Into the City
Noah's Titanic 
Sleepy Sea of Indigo and Blue

First published as Antje Duvekot: A Journey to a New Siberia on Technorati


1 comment:

  1. u are getting better with every new one,cub reporter xo