Interview with James Garrett of Duotone
Barney Morse-Brown (cellist for The Imagined Village and Chris Wood’s Handmade Life) and James Garrett (London based singer-song writer and percussionist) are Duotone, writers and performers of cutting edge acoustica and festival favourites. Here James has answered some questions which take us through the development of their album, ‘Ropes‘, on to their stage work, before he gives us a peek into the future.
How did you meet? And what sealed the deal?
Barney was married to my late sister Kate Garrett so we've known each for nearly a decade. Shortly after Kate lost her battle with cancer Barney hit the studio to record what would become 'Work Harder & One day You'll Find Her'. I ended up guesting on a couple of tracks and spending a few days in the studio with him and Rob Harbron. Barney asked me to perform with him at the album launch show in the autumn of 2009 and since then we've been working together as Duotone. Barney is an extraordinary and generous musician. I think that Duotone works because we share pretty similar views about wanting to create music that's challenging and engaging for both us as performers and the audience.
Recent album 'Ropes' has some detailed arrangements. Is that an issue on stage?
There are certainly a lot of layers on some of the tracks on 'Ropes'. Tracks like 'Broken Earth' certainly have a lot going on. One of our major bug bears are people using backing tracks live. We've steadfastly stuck to the idea that 100% of our live set should be just that - 'Live'. Don't get me wrong, I understand why people use backing tracks and with some of the songs on the new album it would certainly have made our lives a lot easier when trying to perform the songs live. Trying to get the new songs into the set basically means more hours in the rehearsal studio playing around with the loop pedal. However, we think that as long as the songs are kept at the centre, then we can play around with the live arrangements as long as we make sure to keep the original power and emotion of the track intact as it was intended.
Who brought the loop pedal to the party?
Barney began experimenting with looping guitars and cello in the early days. Now we've extended it to vocals, percussion, electric percussion pads and anything else that works within the Duotone sound. We once nearly got the sound of a giant pig from the backstage area of Fire In The Mountain Festival in the loop.
How did the recording go?
We recorded 'Ropes' in small studio in deepest darkest Dorset. Working with producer/engineer Rob Harbron was an absolute pleasure. He understood exactly what we wanted to create and perhaps more importantly knew how to get the very best of us down on tape. Huge lakes of coffee and mountains of cake kept us going through the 10 days we were in the studio. The process was really enjoyable with even the hard long days not appearing so tough when we had people like the lovely Raevennan Husbandes popping in to lay a sweet vocal down or the studio being full to the brim when the choir came down for the day.
How was last year's Imagined Village tour?
Playing with the IV was a lot of fun. We got to take Duotone to larger capacity venues and discovered it didn't make much difference whether we played a tiny cafe or a 1000 seated theatre - we could still make our shows intimate and communicate the songs in the way we wanted. There was also a lot of good natured bus banter but this perhaps isn't the time or place for that.
What have you learnt from your festival appearances?
What has been the highlight? Playing Green Man festival in 2011 has certainly been one our a best gigs. We had the perfect slot of starting just as the sun was going down and finishing when the stars were out. It was a great gig where a big crowd assembled and we both played as well as we ever have. I think we've learned to really grab our festival slots by the frock coat tails and go for it as you don't have the luxury of long set where you can ease in to a performance. Also, I've learnt that I should really remember to pack my wellies as I've been hours away from trench foot on far to many occasions so far this year already!
Please explain some of your individual side projects and session work.
Most recently I've done a session for Oxford group Welcome To Peepworld. Fi from the band sang with Jesus and Mary Chain - she's got a cracking voice. They'll be supporting us at our end of tour show in Oxford this autumn. I also play with a high energy indie 5-piece called The Movie Scene that regularly gig around the London acoustic circuit.
If the phone rings tomorrow and you are invited to join someone's tour, who would you want it to be?
That's a good question ...well at the moment I'd have to say Beirut as I've been listening to them a lot and love the emotion in Zach's voice. There's something about that falsetto voice and the imagery within the songs that really get's to me.
What's coming up for the duo?
We're playing some festivals over the summer including Secret Garden Party which I'm really looking forward to. The big news is that we're doing our first proper headline tour this autumn around the UK. Full dates are up on our website so go check them out. There are also plans to release a double a-side which will include a new video that we're going to shoot this summer. Very exciting times in Duotone HQ.