Our Del recently caught up with Duane Bartels for a quick chat following the release of the band’s ‘Electric Baby Carriage’ 10 track album.
The brainchild of Matthew Duane Bartels, The Duane Bartels Band formed in the summer of 2016
when the singer-songwriter sought to combine his unique voice, lyrical sensibilities, and guitar
playing with the power only a tight rhythm and horns section could provide. After the California-born Bartels recruited Matthieu (drums), Colin Provensal (Bass/Keys), Nick Ferreirae, (Sax), David Ginger (Trombone) Jonathan Rizner (Trumpet), John Marcey (Guitar) they went to work developing their sound at local New Orleans clubs and bars across the city. By 2018, the group released their debut album The Ballad of Johnny Loveless, a collection of Americana songs with blues, country, and jazz influences.
The band followed that effort with more shows, expanding beyond NOLA across the rest of the South, and released several singles. Since the latter half of 2021, the group has been in the studio with producer Justin Armstrong (whose credits include Death Cab For Cutie, The Deftones, and Dave Matthews Band) recording Electric Baby Carriage, which,
while sticking true to Bartels’ vision, finds the band approaching songwriting, arrangement, and
recording with fresh eyes and new tools. Like a painter who trades in their oil-based paint for
watercolors, the sextet use a notedly more funky, electric style that shows their force.
Congratulations on the release of “Electric Baby Carriage”, how does it feel?
It feels tremendous, in more ways than one. We put a lot of time and effort into the whole production and release of it. It took three years for us to get to the point we are at now. Delays due to Covid, Hurricane Ida, and of more personal matters threw us all for a loop more than once. Our engineers house got wrecked during the storm. Luckily the gear and his music was ok, but not much else was. Half his house was destroyed, for reference he just finished repairs last weekend and Ida hit August 29th, 2021, but we trudged through and made it work. We really appreciate him for still making it happen amidst all that and the birth of his daughter! That being said, it’s a great relief and a joy to bring our own child out into the world, knowing that we went through all that. We think its a great record and hope that others do too. I’m personally feeling a tremendous sense of anticipation around it, along with the excitement.
It’s a ten track project. What are your favourite three?
That is a tough one, but I’d say “Every Song” is one. It is one of the only political songs I’ve written and in terms of the songwriting is a true collaboration between me and our bass player Colin Provensal. The horn line was a line he had written from an older band he was in called Elephant’s Gerald. It matched perfectly with the chord structure I had written. It was a beautiful thing!
“Wildfires” is another. It is a love letter to my home state of California and the family and friends I have living there. The fires put a heavy burden on my mind, especially living half way across the country while they were happening. A close friend of mine works for Cal Fire and is out fighting them constantly. My family had a close brush with them in Ventura. Its a topic that hits home for me.
Then there is “Waiting.” It was a song we recorded in 2019 and I didn’t like the way it came out so we did it again. Justin spent 7 days mixing it and not cause he doesn’t know what he is doing. He used it as a guinea pig song of sorts to fine tune his mixing room, which previously downstairs was moved up to his recording room a few months after the storm. It evolved into this finely tuned, lush and funky anthem. We got a great video created for it as well by our friends in Cut Dat Productions. A fully animated cartoon adventure involving aliens, ghosts, drunk tourists and all the beautiful sights and sounds of the French Quarter. Y’all can check that out here. It also features a string section laid down by Rick Nelson of Marigny Studios where we started tracking. I’ve also wanted to include a string arrangement in something. The song eventually became an anthem for the entire record “Always Got Me Waiting All Alone.”
You recorded with Justin Armstrong, in his studio what is your favourite memory of recording it?
We had so many good times there, even through the bad times. He became another member of the band in a big way. Justin is a really talented guy and very humble about it. Can’t say enough good things about him. Before the storm we would go out there, record, smoke brisket, have bonfires in his backyard and crash out for the night. Slidell is about 30 minutes away from New Orleans. I remember when we first got there we were all so enamored with his grammy and platinum records. He had some of them hung up and others were just sitting in a pile in his studio. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Death Cab For Cute, Ziggy Marley. They were everywhere. We felt like we hit the big time haha.
After the storm things were a little different. The recording was over luckily but we still needed to mix and master. I would go over there myself and spend the night. One time I was there for two weeks! Helping him as he rebuilt siding on his house. In reality I was mostly just getting drunk by the fire haha, (I’ve been sober for over a year now) but it was a blast. But we had a whole commune living in this half built house. His friend from Seattle was there giving online yoga classes. This guy Cody, a country boy from the deep reaches of Georgie, was helping him. He was a wild character. Pretty sure he is in jail now to be honest. My girlfriend whom I had just started dating came out for a night or two. It was a hard time but a fun one. When we finally got to mixing it was a week later and we still had to set things up, which taught me a lot about what it takes to set up a real studio.
What big lesson did you learn while recording it?
Patience. While we were resetting up his studio I expected it to take a day. It took over a week. Then when we finally got to mixing he had to readjust everything 100 times over. He is a perfectionist and so am I, so I appreciated it. But man was it frustrating. I really hoped to have this record out in 2021 but so many things delayed that. I just had to learn to be patient and enjoy what was going on in my life otherwise.
You’re from California originally, how did it all begin for you?
Well I started playing trumpet when I was 9, switched to guitar when I was 11 and that was it. I joined a songwriters club in middle school which peaked my interest in writing songs. Played in various metalcore/hardcore/iemo/pop punk/Indie rock bands throughout high school and college. But I always had an interest in things outside of that realm.
What did you listen to growing up?
My musical tastes jump around and always have. When I was little it was the classic rock and blues my parents were into. Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughn, artists like that. My Dad was really into New Wave and early more mainstream punk rock. So there was a lot of Talking Heads, The Clash, The Police, Devo floating around our house. I still have this great cassettes he had from the early 80’s that I would constantly listen too. I started branching off into the world of Emo/Pop Punk like any other Millennial my age did in the early 2000’s. Taking Back Sunday, The Used, Brand New, Bright Eyes. Then in high school it was Metalcore and Death Metal.
During my college years and early twenties I was all about the rawest and purest punk rock I could find. A lot of early 80’s stuff and more modern bands like Have Heart, Verse, Trapped Under Ice. Melodic or heavy I liked it all. But I became obsessed with The Beatles around this same time, my Mom gave her entire Beatles vinyl collection. It wasn’t until I moved to New Orleans did I expand into more traditional American music.
Tell us about how the band came together.
When I was 25 I went through a bad break up and hard time in my life. Moved home with my parents for a while, then decided to hit the road. I traveled across the country, playing open mics where I could and moved to New Orleans on a whim. Started working at hostel called the India House Hostel. It is the second largest hostel in the United States at 189 beds. I met people from all over the world everyday and slept in an un-airconditioned attic with 7 other people. I would never do it again but man was it fun. Around this time I got really into the blues, jazz, country and funk around this time, more traditional styles of American music. It was here that I met our drummer Matthieu, he had been working there a little before I moved in. We both worked for the manager at his woodworking company NOLA Woodworks. We hit it off and started jamming. I had been writing some songs on my acoustic guitar during my travels and slowly we formed a band. It took a lot of different shapes and forms throughout the years but we have had the same line up since 2019 when our bass player joined. Some of the guys have been with us since about 2017/18. We are a tight knit group and I love them all to death.
How do your writing sessions take form?
Generally I take a lot of time working on skeletons and structures before I bring material to the band. Sometimes a song will fly out, but usually it is a process. The chord structures generally come first then I will start singing whatever is on my mind, slowly writing the words down as I go. I will bring it to them after I’m comfortable with where its at. Usually Matthieu, Colin and I will work out the rhythm section first then bring it to the horns. Sometimes, for example in “Messin,” I will write the horn lines. Other times the horn section will and then sometimes, as in the case of “Every Song,” Colin will.
We all bounce off each other until we feel its good enough to play live. Then we play it as much as possible, things will change during this process too. An old drummer of mine once told me “the song isn’t done until its recorded.” I still go by that mantra. When we get closer to recording we will record some rough demos at my house just to make sure its all up to speed, then hit the studio!
You’ve played together in New Orleans. What are your favourite venues there?
We got the special opportunity to play Tipitinas in 2019. That is a place of monumental history. Professor Longhair, Dr. John, The Neville Brothers, Allan Toussaint. All the bigs names that we take influence from have played there back in the day. We really hope to make it back to the big stage one day. We play House of Blues all the time and it has become a home for us. Before covid we played there every Saturday which really honed are skills as a live band. I worked there as a server before becoming a more full time musician. I met my girlfriend there. It is a really special place for me. We are playing French Quarter Fest there on April 14th. They have always been kind to us and we appreciate them for it. We play professionally on Frenchman street and Bourbon street on a regular basis as well. They can really be these tourist trap, soul sucking kind of places but at the heart of it all its about the music. We played over 100 gigs just in the second half of last year! Also a special shout out to Another Bar. We have played there quite a bit over the years. I host an open mic there every Thursday. Colin used to work there and host the open mic. We’ve done some really killer Halloween shows there.
COVID impacted the creative industry in a big way. What kept you motivated?
Live music. Its a major part of what we do. We now play 3-5 times a week and not having it for so long only motivated us to get out there and be more active. Before Covid we were playing, but not nearly as much as we are now. It was hard dealing with that during the pandemic but the record pulled us through. Without it, and the stimulus checks haha, I’m not sure it would have developed quite the same. We stayed in our own bubble the best we could and finished those songs during the hardest parts of the quarantine.
The last few years have been a time to reflect on what you learned about yourself?
That I am extremely impatient. This whole experience has taught me to take my time, enjoy what I have and count my blessings. And that I’m worth something, to myself and others. This record brought us all closer, made us new friends and connections and strengthened our bonds as a band. It was a difficult and frustrating experience but only made us stronger.
Did you pick up any new skills?
Well I didn’t make any sourdough if thats what you are asking haha. I did dive into my love of gardening and the outdoors during that time however. I got better at guitar, took some lessons with a great local musician named Coyote Anderson when things started loosening up. Played a lot of video games other than that haha. I was still working at NOLA Woodworks at that time too so my carpentry skills did improve a little.
What are you listening to at the moment?
The latest La Femme record “Teatro Lucido” has been on repeat for me for quite some time now. Tyler, The Creator’s “Call Me If You Get Lost: The Estate Sale” has been another. Kendrick Lamar’s latest release is another. I see a lot of live music in New Orleans and there are some great local bands out there doing there thing. Whisper Party, great female fronted shoegaze/electro pop, have a new record coming out this weekend. Juno Dunes is another favorite, very chill indie “loft rock” as he describes it. Shark Attack!! Are a killer surf rock band I always enjoy. My buddies Knox Ketchum and Cambryn are doing some cool things in the RnB/Hip Hop world as well.
I listen to a lot of older music. Right now I’m going through a big mid 70’s Miles Davis phase. When he was in his experimental rocky phase. I am a free lance writer in my free time. When I’m working its a lot of French Impressionist like Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. Every morning I like tuning into the traditional Jazz show on our local radio station WWOZ. Also a huge fan of Mac Dre and the hyphy movement, being from the bay area. He is on constant rotation with me.
What are you looking forward to doing next?
Touring! I recently bought a van. We are scheduled to play my cousins wedding in Big Sur, California on July 22nd. Doing a string of shows around that. So far we have El Paso, TX at The Rosewood 7/18 and Topa Topa Brewery in Ventura, CA 7/20 booked. Will have more to come soon. Check our website www.duanebartelsband.com and our socials for more details. We are doing a weekend in the Gulf Shores/Orange beach area over by the Floridabama line in September. Would like to hit the road more now that the world is opened up again. Also we will be releasing a single we recorded with our friend Louis Monroe at Sundrip Studios sometime this summer. A handful of new songs are ready to go and we plan to track a few them with Justin again soon.
Interview by Del Osei-Owusu