Heather Duby (1999)

Originally posted on Swizzle-Stick.com (1999)

I called Heather Duby the day before our interview was supposed to take place and gave her a homework assignment. I asked her to think about what songs she would put on a mix tape that best describe who she is. Her response, turned in at the beginning of our conversation the following day, follows:

“Hell’s Bells” would be the first one . . . just kidding . . . pretty much every Patsy Cline song ever recorded would be on there. Everything But the Girl’s “Walking Wounded”. From the Cure’s album Disintegration, ¨Pictures of You.’ There is a Pixies song from Surfer Rosa, I can’t remember what it’s called, just say any song from Surfer Rosa. There’s a Randy Newman song called “Guilty” that’s a real hoot. It’s an old standard about getting drunk, doing too many drugs, and how nothing ever works out right. I used to sing that song a lot. It’s like ¨Honey, I’m guilty, and nothing I ever try to do turns out right.’ There’s a Rachmaninov piano piece called ¨Adagio Sostenuto.’ And also the ¨Blue Danube,’ because it’s in 3/4, and anything that is in 3/4 makes me happy.

Whether or not you can tell by her selections, Heather’s musical style leans towards the ethereal studio-generated music side. SubPop, who released Heather’s debut Post to Wire, describes her sound as “Sarah McLachlin meets Dead Can Dance” and the description is fairly accurate. The sound has caught on, primarily through good word of mouth, and Post to Wire has been selling rather well, especially in Heather’s hometown of Seattle.

“I’m beating Dr.Dre, that’s so fucking funny. He’ll have me shot!” Heather says, laughing about how her CD is outselling Dre’s latest release at a local record store in Seattle.

How much change did the songs go through from the time you wrote them at home using only a keyboard to the time Steve Fisk (Pell Mell, Pigeonhed) got his hands on them?

It varied from song to song so much. I think you can hear that on the record. I think you can hear the things that came off the 4-track and almost went down exactly as they were on the record.

The record came in almost two sections, the front half and the second half. The front half is the all the stuff that’s at the top of the record – “Judith,” “You Loved Me,” “Falter.” But then “September,” “For Jeffrey,” “Kensington Place,” “Halo Sky,” all those came in the second batch and they are much more focused. What happened was that because it’s my first record, and I’m trying to do this by myself, it was really artistically intimidating initially to be working with Steve Fisk. To have Steve Fisk and Jonathon Ponnemon (SubPop co-founder) as my two creative collaborations, the people that I consult, they are like 20 years older than I am and have been in the music business two decades than I’ve ever been alive, it’s kind of daunting. I think it really affected my writing. I wasn’t able to focus on what it was that I was really trying to convey.

There are some disappointments on the record for me, for sure. I think it’s a quality album, but there are certainly things that I can listen to and hear where the struggle was for me in them. They are a little more confused. In some ways, I think that might be good, it gives it a little more complexity than it would otherwise. For instance, “September,” I wrote that one entirely by myself. And I actually produced that. Steve didn’t have anything to do with it. He played the keyboard parts that I had written and taught him. But that was totally autonomous. That was my little one song on there and it’s probably the simplest song on there. But I think through it’s simplicity, it’s much more focused. In that sense, I think it’s very different from the rest of the stuff on the album. You just don’t hear the collaboration as much. It was very interesting. It’s a strange way to do a first record, but I think it taught me some things that were completely invaluable.

So would you do it again this way?

I would do my first record again this way. I won’t do the next one this way — certainly not, not at all. It was like going to school, even just to understand the recording process. It was an education. It was a trial (laughs).

How does the music translate live?

I sing out a lot more live. I really held back on the record quite a bit, as far as hitting the notes with a lot of fortitude in my voice. One of the reasons I did that was because, for me, I like to listen to something that is recorded. I don’t like to listen to someone going for all their big notes on a record. Every now and then, it’s really nice. For example, Jeff Buckley. When he’s going for some big notes on his records, he doesn’t do it all the time, so therefore it makes it something that you are waiting for. At the same time, in a live performance, I like to be really struck by a performer’s abilities. Live is very immediate, you want that gratification right there. On something that is recorded, I wanted to give the record some room to grow on people. For me, it was a real . . . boy, I can talk, huh? I drank a lot of coffee this morning . . . for me it was a real exercise in learning how to employ nuance and subtlety.

Instrumentally, there aren’t as many keyboards when I play live. The lineup that we have for the live show is, we have a guitarist, we have a keyboard player who does some of the programming, we have a drummer, a bass player, and a backup singer. More of the keyboard stuff has been moved to the guitar. We only really use loops and sequencing on maybe 2 or 3 songs, otherwise it’s all happening live and the drummer is carrying the bulk of it.

When you take out the groove factor, which is so obvious on the record, and you’re just dealing with the progression, it’s a totally different song. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well the songs themselves standup in that context. I was afraid that if we took out the production elements and we don’t have all the loops and all the cool textures, are these things even going to be able to stand up. I was afraid that as a songwriter, maybe I wasn’t a strong enough writer to be able to do that with these things. They’ve actually translated pretty well which is a compliment to the players in my band.

Do you think the writing process will take as long for the next album?

I don’t think it will. “September” was the very last thing I wrote. I think that is where I really first started to hit my stride and it was at the very end of the record. I remember at the time, Jonathan was like “Keep writing! Keep writing!” He didn’t want us to go and finish the record. He was like “You just came out with this great song and maybe something else will come out that we can add to the record.” I was like “No! Fuck you. I need this thing to be done with. I’m done writing for this record. I’m done.” I think I understand, in a way, his desire to do that. I think that I had finally formed a voice. I’m pretty diverse. I’m not any one kind of musician. And sometimes I feel that that is a weakness of mine, because I look at these other people who are total purists, like the Stereolabs of the world, and I’m like “Oh, I wish I could just be into one form and that’s all I do and I do it perfectly like they do.” But that’s not my nature. Maybe I have ADD.

Before you started recording this album, weren’t you in another band?

I had a band called Clementine where I played guitar and sang. I was the primary songwriter. I played with . . . have you heard of Maktub?

I haven’t heard their music, though I e-mailed them to ask them about their association with you.

Did they say I was obnoxious and a pain in the ass? They didn’t say ¨Do the interview by e-mail because she talks too much’?

Clementine was very confused as well. It was moving towards a different direction towards the end of it. It wasn’t for a lack of love that we quit playing together. I was real frustrated with guitar and didn’t want to play anymore. It was from a storytelling stance lyrically. It was real melodic, very pretty. Reggie (from Maktub) played bass on the keyboards, so there were some ethereal elements because we brought that in a little bit. I didn’t get into my pedals as much as I could have. I got frustrated with guitar and quit playing before I spent $600 on a phazer and a Big Muff, but I think that’s where it was headed sonically. It was probably going to get more and more effected and out there. Spiritualized does amazing things with all their delays and effects and I think that’s where we were headed sonically. It started out being folk, songwriting centered.

After reading about Maktub (pronounced Mock Tube) and hearing your music, I had a hard time envisioning what Clementine might sound like.

Oh totally, it’s so different. Maktub plays total straight-up, R&B;, soul, slow, studio music . . . it’s extremely cerebral musically, but it’s got some really, really deep soul, really, really slow stuff. They are all incredible musicians. They all have serious, serious chops. Reggie’s an incredible vocalist, he’s an amazing singer. It’s totally different from Clementine.

Did Brad Smith (Blind Melon/Luma) work on their record?

Yeah, Brad did a great job. The couple songs that Brad produced for them are so glossy. They are so tight. They sound like, and I don’t know how to say this, but they sound like they could have been mixed and produced in L.A. They don’t sound like anything that comes out of Seattle. You know how R&B; can get really glossy, there are a couple of tracks on that record on the top of the record that are really fucking good.

How did you hook up with SubPop? You seem like an unlikely candidate for the label.

(Laughter) Really? Jonathan heard a tape of Clementine and really recognized my singing. He was impressed by it and he approached me about doing a record with Steve, which is very much the same way that Pigeonhed came into being. Jonathan paired up Steve and Shawn Smith. Shawn’s got a great voice. He’s a very interesting guy. He’s very much an artist’s artist.

So are you on the SubPop softball team?

(Laughter) Nope. I’d be like the lone cheerleader. Everyone that works at the label is great but I don’t know many of my labelmates. I don’t really know many of the people that are on the roster besides myself. I don’t really go in for the indie rock scene, it drives me crazy, especially in Seattle. It’s a trip. I’m a little too gregarious, a little too straight up to deal with a lot of the stuff that goes on in the indie rock scene. I love a lot of independent music, but the whole social/political element of it is not something I can really partake in very much.

I understand that you bus tables for a living.

I bust my ass bussing tables.

And it probably pays better than having a record out.


Do people think that’s weird?

Yep. And I think it’s weird. It’s a hideous occupation. I hate it. I don’t wait tables because if I waited tables, I’d make even more money and I would be comfortable enough that I wouldn’t care if my music ever arrived anywhere. That’s part of why I haven’t done that. I know that if I started making $150 or $200 a night, I wouldn’t be quite so hungry for this album to do well. You have to give yourself reasons to want to do better.

I have to say that the place that I work, they have been so incredibly good to me. They know that I’m getting busier and they are totally supportive and they are totally flexible with my schedule. The owner is a good role model, she realized her own dream and she’s always been encouraging and helpful with me. She threw my CD release party for me, she catered the whole thing, all this amazing food and a full bar. She threw my party for me, which was totally incredible. It was so funny because I didn’t think about who I was inviting, I’d see people and be like “We’re going to have my party next week, you should come.” I was totally blowing it off. So I get there and I was like “There’s going to be 20 people here tonight.” And the room was so packed I couldn’t get through it! I was pleasantly surprised.

Are you going out on tour?

I’ve never actually played a show outside of Seattle. We’re going to play in Vancouver, and we’re going to play in Portland, my hometown. That will be weird. I’ll look out and see all these freaks from high school. I’ll be terrified. I’ll put a bag over my head. I totally split. I graduated high school with people that I had known since first grade and I talk to one person. I speak to one person from all those years growing up there. It didn’t really suit me.

We’re doing a SubPop showcase for the Gavin Radio Convention. We’re playing with Nebula (laughs) (FYI – Nebula is a stoner-rock band formed by ex-members of Fu Manchu.) I guess they are going to split it up into two sets. We’ll play early and then they’ll be a cocktail hour so that everybody can get those nice pretty songs out of their ears before the rock comes on.

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