The Duke's Greg and Shanka Finds the Personality and Voice of the Band

French artistic rockers The Dukes were formed back in 2010, having released 2 releases 2010’s “Resilient Lovers” EP and 2011’s “Victory” LP. Now they have released their first American full-length album "Smoke Against The Beat". Thus, with a handful of material resting comfortably under their belts, nothing else left to do but head out playing shows as they have been quite the success as a touring act across Europe, both as headliners and openers for various bands. The duo got together to discuss this American release, and further plans.

1. How did your band form?

Greg: We used to play together in a band called No One Is Innocent in 2004/2005.  Our career went sideways at the end of 2005, he remained in NOII and I left to join a band called Superbus. We were both having great careers when years later I decided to reach out to Shanka because I wanted to make music with him again.  I missed playing with him.  Funny thing  he wrote me back right away and said: "I was going through my songs on my computers and I was thinking of you"… We decided to meet at his studio to go through the songs and three months later we were in Sweden recording an album with producer Magnus Lindberg who also happens to be  the drummer/producer for Swedish band Cult of Luna.  Shanka had met Magnus a few years back while he was supporting Cult Of Luna with one of his side projects called Destruction Inc.   Magnus and Shanka hit it off really well,  and we were done with the pre-production of the “Victory” album,  Shanka suggested Magnus produce the album.  We flew to Umea, a town that's located 250 miles away from the polar circle and cut the album in a barn covered by 5ft of snow, and at legendary TonTeknik Studios where some of our favorite bands had recorded - bands such as Refused, Meshuggah, etc.   Long story short The Dukes v1.0 were born!

2. What accomplishments are you most and least proud of as a band?

Greg: Most proud of – to still be a band today!!! I’m very proud of that.  It’s hard to be an independent band and fight against all those big label war machines… But we always find ways to move forward,  grow,  develop,  dare,  be creative,  despite all the roadblocks that we come across since we do everything.    Today we can also be proud of working with #1 rock producer Kato Khandwala,  being part of the Vans Warped tour family,  entering the Billboard Rock indicator charts with our first US single "Black Hole Love" and to be able to look at ourselves in the mire with a clean conscience.  Don’t forget that it’s rare to have French guys playing Rock N' Roll, we’re not known for that.   Least proud: I don't see anything… Yet.  ;o)

Shanka : It might sound silly, but I’m very proud of the music we make! We really try to do something personal and different, we put a lot of soul in it. I love recording albums with talented people, it’s like a very expensive playground. I’m also proud of our live show, it’s a real challenge to make it happen every night, especially because of the video, but so far, we haven't failed! On the other hand, I’m not very proud that it took us so long to start playing in the U.S., but hey, better late than never. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a true international love story!

3. How has being in a band impacted your life?

Greg: It’s like having a second family.  It’s a second marriage, in a way.  That's the kind of impact it can have on your life…

Shanka : Exactly, it is very much like a family. When you get to share so many good and bad moments, it’s more than being friends, it creates a bond that’s very hard to break after a few years of touring the world. I’ve known Greg since 2004, so I guess the bond is quite strong! Being in a band also forces you to deal with a lot of travelling, which is not always easy for our wives and families. It makes you feel kind of rootless sometimes, that’s why it’s so important to get along well with your band mates, or else you just enter a world of pain every time you get in the van. If you haven’t already, you should watch the "Refused are fucking dead" documentary, it’s exactly what I’m talking about. Finally, being in a band helped me a lot improving my social skills. Because tour life does not give you a choice, you need to talk to a LOT of people, and be nice to them. Sometimes, that’s quite a challenge.

4. How do you describe your sound to people who ask you what The Dukes sounds like?

Greg: We really try to sound like nobody else and in that regard Kato (Khandwala) really helped us define what our sound is. He coined it as “future rock” but you can also call “Sleaze Rock”!

Shanka : Usually, I tell them that what we do is soulful, gritty, psychedelic punk rock.

5. Do you have any major goals for The Dukes?

Greg: Yes, indeed!! To play more shows in the US is my major goal by the end of the year.   Considering the strong, positive feedback on the album from the media, the fans, rock radio and so on… The only missing piece of the puzzle is being out on tour to support "Smoke Against The Beat".  We need to score a major support slot for this fall, and that’s my goal!! I know our agent and managers are working on it.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Shanka : My goals are like Pinky and the Brain's : Try to take over the world, fail, try again, fail again, and so on until we do it!

6. Who are some of your biggest influences music wise?

Greg: I listen to everything but I’m a huge fans of bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Oasis, Future of the Left, Arctic Monkeys, early Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Refused, Pantera, etc.  But I also listen to old R N’ B, James Brown,  Sam and Dave, Stevie Wonder.

Shanka : Sometimes I ask myself: "What’s wrong with you"? because I can listen to The Chariot and then a minute later switch to Jordi Savall, then to Son House or Leadbelly, then back to hardcore music with Refused or The Gallows, then a full Ennio Morricone soundtrack. I think I love music so much, I can’t limit myself to one particular style – I have wide ranging and eclectic musical tastes.  I pick elements everywhere to build our style, even if I have a strong punk-rock and blues tendency.
"Blues is the teacher, punk is the preacher"!

7. How about when it comes to the song writing, what are your songs about and how is the song writing process laid out?

Greg: Shanka starts working on a song, he sends it to me to ask me what I think of it.  We generally talk about it on the phone a few times, make a few adjustments if necessary and finish building it together across the Atlantic.  Then we hit the studio when we get together.  We generally get there, we run the songs 2 or 3 times to have a feel for it, we make a few tweaks (or not), and finally we record it quickly after the pre-producton.

Shanka : Usually when I want to compose something, I start by sitting on my chair without any instrument, close my eyes and ask myself : "What do I hear"? Best case scenario, the riffs and ideas start pouring into my brain. Then I start humming the ideas, I grab my guitar and try to reproduce what I’m humming. Then I fire up the ProTools and start recording a rough demo, and I keep building the song until I’m (sort of) satisfied. The lyrics are mostly introspective but I’m trying to offer several levels of interpretation. In other words, I can show you the door and give you the key, but you’ll have to open it yourself!

8. "Smoke Against The Beat" is your first full-length American album, what does that mean? Wasn't your "Victory" album a full-length release as well?

Greg: “Victory” was a full album but it was only released in Europe, not in the U.S.  And with the type of music we’re playing we always felt that the U.S. would understand us, so it was our goal to release "Smoke Against The Beat" here.

Shanka : Everyone agrees that "Smoke Against The Beat" is our first real album. Simply because it took us a first attempt to finally find our own personality and voice as a band. I mean, let’s be honest, "Victory" was a "Frankenstein" album made of leftover demos I found on my hard drives… But we wanted to play together again so badly, I just couldn’t wait. Don’t get me wrong, I like "Victory", but it was just a test shot and there was no real artistic direction, at first we didn’t even want to release it. But people were so excited about the band that we finally did, and I’m glad we did. But I took the composition of SATB way more seriously, and you can tell the difference.

9. Why go with a title like "Smoke Against The Beat"? What does it actually mean for the album's sake?

Greg : "Smoke Against The Beat" means going against the flow, the trend…  If you think about it, it’s what we do with our music.  We’re not consensual, we're not a "me too" band.

Shanka : I thought it was a nice metaphor to praise originality and all the artists who have the guts to go against the grain. If you think about it, to "Smoke Against The Beat" would actually be something very uncomfortable and complicated to do… I have those Pantera lyrics in mind :  "The trend is on sale at the dollar store". But complaining is not enough, it’s better to take a chance and try to offer something new and different. That’s what we tried to do with this album.

10. Can you describe to me the story behind the artwork for "Smoke Against The Beat"?

Greg: Shanka will describe it better than me.

Shanka : It’s a pretty simple story : Since we didn’t have enough money to pay someone to do all the visuals, I did them myself. I thought that the result might be bad, but at least it would mean something and be personal. I’m very fond of the concept of the Idea : To have skills is great, but having a proper idea, something to say, is even more important. The short animation movie "L’Idée" shot in 1932 by Berthold Bartosch, based on Franz Masereel’s work, was a revelation to me (you can watch it on Youtube). It gave me the courage to start drawing and doing animation. My concept was to use only white paper and black Sharpie markers, as a tribute to the 80’s and 90’s US punk-rock scene and its "Xerox" visual culture. Then, it’s just like a Pandora’s box : The drawings became animations (I shot all the music videos with an iphone), which was a lot of work. I had to do 800+ drawings for the "Grey people" music video.  I had this idea of projecting my animations on the gear while we play, in sync with the music, using video mapping. It looks quite expensive, even if it’s not! Fun fact : I turned every animation puppet from our videos into action figures.  I was looking for a way to protect them from the dust and also from my cats! You can see pics on our website, and they will be for sale on our PledgeMusic campaign page that will be launched on July 28th.

11. How would you say that "Smoke Against The Beat", compares, differs, and is equal to your previous releases?

Greg: It’s almost two completely different bands for me.  "Smoke Against The Beat" is more mature to me.  The sound is more defined, more impressive. SATB is also different because we started using more synths from the 70’s, it’s more psychedelic…  We definitely explored new horizons on "Smoke Against The Beat".

Shanka : "Smoke Against The Beat" is our "real" first album. We found our own personality with this record, both in the music itself, but also in the visuals and in the way we perform live.

12. What's your take on "Smoke Against The Beat" as a whole?

Greg: It’s a trip, a whole adventure, we tried not to be repetitive and to get people to go on a journey with us.

Shanka : I usually make music because I like to bring songs to life that do not exist yet, but that I would enjoy listening to. I’m always trying to fill some kind of gap, in a very selfish way, for my own pleasure. It’s very egotistic, but I like this record because I don’t know any other band who plays this kind of stuff! I’m very proud of this album because it sounds very solid and powerful. A pure shot of the sincere Rock N’ Roll.

13. What would be the cinematic equivalent of "Smoke Against The Beat"?

Greg: "A Clockwork Orange" by Stanley Kubrick.

Shanka : "La Grande Vadrouille" by Gérard Oury.

14. Is it important for you to paint visual pictures with the songs off this album?

Greg: Shanka is great at that. We don’t only deliver music, but we add the visual elements - it’s a trip. What better than images to take you on a trip - it’s a great way to travel!  When you look at the art Shanka makes, it really transports you.  It’s so personal, so true to the band.  It’s a huge plus for the fans, I think.

Shanka : It’s a real challenge because it forces you to think hard about what you want to say, what’s your message. But I will never go back, it made me realize that all art forms are correlated, which is absolutely amazing! So many possibilities, it’s literally insane. I love it and I want to dive into this even deeper in the future.

15. Do you feel any aspects of the album were overlooked?

Greg: Nope!  I only wish we had more time in the studio together.

Shanka : I agree with Greg, 10 days was a bit short to track this record, I’d love to spend more time on the next album, if we have the resources to do so! But you know, if you’re gonna be broke, you’ve gotta be tough. What’s cool about it is that it makes you focus like hell on your task. That focus makes the recording process even more intense.

16. Describe your relationship with your fans in one word?

Greg : Respectful.

Shanka : Family.

17. What’s in the future for The Dukes?

Greg: Going back on the road and in the studio to cut more tracks with Kato.

Shanka : Exactly! I’m also working on new animation stuff. I’m trying to bring my skills to a new level… That means many failed attempts and countless hours of watching YouTube tutorials!

18. Is there anything else you’d like to add that you haven't mentioned elsewhere?

Greg: Our Pledge Music campaign starts on July 28th and it will be a real treat for the fans and the people that will discover The Dukes.  We have so many different things to offer: artwork, original drawings, sequences of animations we used in our videos, unique action figures of The Dukes, skateboards, etc. It’s going to be  awesome – please come check it out!

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