Duke Chevalier is not new to dukedom. He has crowned himself a Duke of various stripes since puberty, usually to be funny. It started out as a name to put on a restaurant waitlist. Now, with the recent addition of an inspiration from the Knights Templar, his flirtation with dukedom has turned into a stage name. “Frank Andrick, a Sacramento area poet…gave me a book on the Knights Templar. All the Templar organizations were called ‘Chevalier De…’ Templar involvement in the Crusades was an interesting juxtaposition of what was basically an esoteric spiritual fraternity tied up with very profane interests like colonialism, war, and economic supremacy,” says Chevalier. Plus, he continues, “I just like how the name sounds. It reminds me of the kind of names West African highlife musicians adopt like King Sunny Ade or Prince Nico Mbarga.” He believes in the power of names, calling them “powerful forces in human culture.” He finds the use of language and meaning fascinating. “Adopting new names can help to actualize something or to transcend (or transgress) in ways that would feel uncomfortable in your own skin.”
Duke Chevalier is really more than the man himself, though the other members are fluid. Basically, he says, it is whoever else he can rope in. “I’m very lucky to have a lot of really talented, amazing friends that are extremely supportive of stuff I do, so there is definitely a community behind everything that is going on.” In his upcoming debut show, he managed to secure the backing of his favorite Sacramento band, whose name he refuses to share for business reasons. But, “it’s mainly an experiment to see how this stuff works live,” he says. Though he enjoys performing, he does not have any more shows planned unless interest is shown in his work. If that happens, he has plenty of ideas about more elaborate shows and possibly, touring.
The same goes for his studio work, he has an album’s worth of songs with movie and multimedia to accompany them, but he will not release it without incentive or demand. “Music (or any art really) in the 21st century is extremely undervalued. People will pay $4 for a cup of coffee yet refuse to pay $5 for a show or a record. But it’s not just consumer trends that devalue art, but also artists devaluing themselves,” says Chevalier, pointing out being involved in art raises one’s cultural capital and elevates a person in society. “[P]eople tend to treat you differently, like you’re somehow automatically special. You can get hammered, do drugs, think you’re cool, and bang 19 year olds WAY beyond the cutoff point for most adults.” Not that he thinks this is entirely bad; it is just an image he would like to avoid. Many musicians, he says, are content to be in the ‘scene’ and reap the benefits rather than become better artists. If a fan wants to hear more of his music, they would have to like him on Facebook or follow him on Soundcloud to goad him into producing more music. He is currently holding out for five hundred more likes on Facebook to release another song. Though, he adds, he could be swayed.
Another way he is willing to produce records is if someone invests. He pulls out the numbers: it costs $2000 to press five hundred vinyls or $700 for the same amount of CDs. “Or, even better,” Chevalier says, “for some undisclosed amount of money they could get me to press ONE record…maybe carved out of Mastodon ivory or jade…and have me destroy all the master recordings so they would be the sole owner of a piece of work that would last them a lifetime and be completely individual and singular. I’m open to just about anything as long as it’s worthwhile and not stale or flaccid.”
Despite his reticence to give away his work, he does have one song out. ‘Hanging on a Vision’ is what he calls “a weird vague doom ridden love song”. Which is indeed what it sounds like. He has a video up for it too, which is clips from a 1940s Maya Daren film of Haitian Voodoo ceremonies. He admits to being quite the Daren fan, and to a fascination with Voodoo as a religious tradition. “A lot of deep subconscious stuff appears to get aired out in a very communal unhinged yet complex layered way. Between the frenzied dancing and the animal sacrifices I see a lot of joy and life energy being acknowledged alongside these grim displays of mortality, and I thought it would be an appropriate backdrop to a love song…emotions like love illuminate as many dark forces…within a person as it do light ones.”
So how does Duke Chevalier come up with his music? “Songs tend to just reveal themselves to me like packages of IKEA furniture or something, where all of a sudden I have these pieces and a general idea, then there is a lot of cursing and staring at it trying to figure out how it all works together,” he says. He is very adamant making music and writing songs is not hard. To back this up, he tells the story of visiting a kindergarten afterschool music program taught by a friend in Seattle. There, he watched a room of five year olds write and perform songs. “Some of the songs were pretty dumb and uninspired, and some were oddly poignant and compelling, especially coming from people who have only been alive for a total of 1500 days.” The difficult part is being genuine instead of retreading the ideas of others. He urges artists to “abandon the comfort of the campfire, the flabby dead weight of history, and electric slide into an uncertain and exciting future.”
To this end, he is inspired by anything and everything, from his grandma’s organ playing to Mac Dre, The Smiths or Mor Lam music. He classifies his sound as Post-Colonial New American Music. By which he means, he is “a child of the Internet, first world privilege, globalism, and…a citizen in a country that’s declining. At any moment I could get on the internet and probably read or listen to ANYTHING made in the last 6000 years of human history from anywhere in the world. At the same time, I could also possibly be under surveillance from the government and anything I say or do could be monitored or recorded…Not to mention how technology mediates human interaction…it’s a weird time to be alive and I want my music to reflect that.”
Have a listen.
Duke Chevalier is playing at Luna’s on March 8th. We will see you there.
Photo compliments of Eleanor Petry