We Can Break Our Own Hearts: A Conversation with Andrew Duhon

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Hunter Holder

You have heard break-up songs – and even break-up albums – before, but you haven’t heard them through Andrew Duhon’s musical filter. That will change on May 25 when the New Orleans-based singer/songwriter releases False River, the follow-up to his GRAMMY-nominated [Best Engineered category] album The Moorings. Produced by Eric Masse [Miranda Lambert], False River is a collection of personal songs that finds Duhon reflecting on love and relationships in a style that has found him described as “A soulmate of Van Morrison, lyrically and vocally” [No Depression]. On Thursday, May 31, Duhon will perform at Moonlight On The Mountain. On the eve of his album’s release, he discussed False River, recording with his touring band for the first time and the influence of his musically-driven hometown.

Birmingham Stages: Andrew, thanks for your time. If you will, catch us up as you’ve been preparing for your tour and the release of False River.

Andrew Duhon: New Orleans Jazz Fest is a time for all the locals to exhaust the market with too many shows and – if you have a new record out – it’s a great time to let everybody know that you’ve got new music. We did something special for the CD release party – we did a listening party in the woods. I set up a turntable in a forest and had a chandelier hanging from an oak tree – it was kind of surreal. Only the people really anticipating the release found out about it through the newsletter and social media. I had no complaints about it – it went really well.

Birmingham Stages: In addition to enlisting Rayland Baxter for background vocals, you recorded False River with Myles Weeks, G. Maxwell Zemanovic and Jano Rix. If you will, talk about the chemistry and familiarity in recording with them.

AD: They came along as hired guns for the last record four to five years ago. We enjoyed making that record and we enjoyed each other’s company and musicianship, so we decided to hit the road together. A year into that, we found out that record was nominated for a GRAMMY and that was a nice boost. We just kept touring and, in the back our minds, we all knew that we were making music together in a way that, personally as a songwriter, I hadn’t made music that way. I hadn’t let other pieces inform how I was writing songs so it was a new venture for me to write songs with the trio inĀ  mind. We got into the studio about a year ago and for the first time I made a record not as a songwriter with hired guns, but with a band that was well familiar with the tunes and had pushed the tunes themselves towards what they would ultimately become. That’s a nice feeling, to have a record that I think represents the miles that we put into it.

Birmingham Stages: Even though you were touring together and collaborating, did you and the band road-test the songs onstage prior to recording them?

AD: For sure. I think some of our more familiar fans would be only be unfamiliar with about three songs on the record that we didn’t play regularly. The rest of them were part of the set.

Birmingham Stages: There is a saying that an album is a snapshot of your life at that moment. I won’t ask that you bear your soul in this interview, but there seem to be a lot of personally-relevant songs on the new album.

AD: I’ve been bearing my soul for months trying to promote this thing. The Moorings – the record before – I think the title track was the sentiment I was feeling and that snapshot was, “I’m leaving but I hope to return. I hope the winds will push me back your way.” I think this one is more resigned to the fact that love was going to be imperfect. The fairy tale isn’t what we’re shooting for – sometimes you just miss no matter how bad you want it to work. Sometimes it just misses for reasons you can’t explain and some of these songs are the last letters that I’ll write her trying to explain that.

Birmingham Stages: In writing and recording these songs, have you found any healing and have you come out on the other side, so to speak?

AD: Sure. I was doing an email interview and I remember thinking, “Do I want to tell this story in prose or do I just want to let the songs be the songs?” In the end, I do want to tell that story even away from the songs. It’s my version of dealing with the way that love can just miss and be a lot different than the fairy tale might make it out to be. I think that’s important for all of us – we can let ourselves down and we can break our own hearts by expecting too much from companionship and relationships and we have to let each other be human. The best that I can do is be honest about those things and, artistically, it’s about figuring out what I have to say and what do I have to say that connects to the human condition in a way that other people might find useful.

Birmingham Stages: Given the time span since your last release and the collaborative nature you mentioned, does False River feel like a debut album of sorts?

AD: I feel like I’m growing every time I put out a record or anytime I write a song. It feels like fresh fuel in a tank and I haven’t felt that for four years. To tour, like you said, is a snapshot and to have a snapshot that is so fresh and so vivid to where I feel right now about songwriting – that’s invigorating. I can’t wait to share that with people.

Birmingham Stages: Even though you aren’t playing the style of New Orleans music that is associated with Dr. John and The Neville Brothers, you can hear a New Orleans imprint on your sound. If you will, talk about the city’s influence on you as an artist.

AD: I think you can hear a more overt intention in some music that we recognize as New Orleanian music, and for others it’s an involuntary osmosis of a place that’s so special. It breathes – you can feel New Orleans breathe and I like to think that there are cracks in the roads and the sidewalks because it moves and it moves you. When I hear people say that the music sounds like New Orleans, that works for me but I can tell that you I’m not trying to make it sound like New Orleans – I have no intention of mentioning red beans and rice or gumbo or a parade necessarily. But there’s an involuntary bleeding in from the city to the artist, no matter what kind of art you make. Artists in New Orleans are going to have that city painted on them somehow.

Andrew Duhon will perform at Moonlight On The Mountain on Thursday, May 31. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. and showtime is 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at www.musiconthemtn.com.