With their blend of bluegrass and world music, the Duhks can get you moving — but they want you to think, too. On the title track of their new album, Fast Paced World, they list a bunch of things that society has forgotten to keep sacred, like nature, culture, family, love, etc. Beyond that, they want us to set aside our “freaky differences.”
Fair enough. But first, it’s important to note that the Duhks have migrated toward a new lineup since their previous release in 2006, replacing their lead singer and percussionist. Today the band includes Christian Dugas on percussion, his sister Sarah Dugas on vocals, Tania Elizabeth on fiddle, Jordan McConnell on guitar and Leonard Podolak on banjo. They recorded the new album in producer Jay Joyce’s basement studio in Nashville.
Despite the personnel switch, the band’s onstage exuberance remains intact, as they continue to win over audiences at festivals across the U.S. and their native Canada. (Incidentally, they’re showcasing at the Americana Music Festival and Conference taking place in Nashville this week.) Not surprisingly, the band is also interested in conservation and launched an environmental sustainability project at GreenDuhks.com, to counteract their relentless touring. Here, they talk about life on the road, keeping an eye on the audience and why it’s important to share their point of view through music.
CMT: What is the best part of playing festivals?
Sarah Dugas: Just the fact that you are with so many musicians you befriend over the years. You get to jam, you get to hang out. It’s a beautiful setting in general. Most of the time, these festivals try to pick the nicest area in the proximity.
McConnell: I think it’s really cool to run into all our friends. We tend to travel around all summer, and here and there, we’ll run into people that you make pretty cool connections with.
Podolak: And also bands that we don’t know yet. There is a wonderful sense of discovery that exists in this scene, and it’s sort of like we get to be festivarians as well to check out new bands and new music.
How important is the live show to capturing your audience?
Sarah Dugas: I think there are just two approaches. Obviously, there’s listening to albums, but there is definitely something to be said about live shows and getting the feel of the artists, because between songs, they get to speak, and you also see what they look like when they’re presenting this music. To me, it’s a rush to see a band that I’ve always been a fan of actually perform and to witness what kind of energy that projects. I love live music. For me, it’s super important.
Elizabeth: For us, too, we like being able to look out into the audience and see the audience reacting and people dancing and the way that they look and smiling and singing along and enjoying themselves. There’s no substitute.
Sarah Dugas: That being said, we wanted to make an album and take time with every song and try to make it cohesive. We wanted to make a record that people want to listen to from the beginning to the end and not give up on that format either. To me, that’s my favorite kind of album — when you have to listen to it from the beginning to the end because if not, you’re missing out on so much of the experience of the music itself.
After listening to the song “Fast Paced World,” I wanted to ask, why is it appealing for you to have a message in your music?
Christian Dugas: I think music to us is a vehicle that we can share our opinions and try to get across a message without preaching. I love playing music for the sake of playing music, but I also believe in influencing and standing up for what you believe.
McConnell: Getting people to think about things they wouldn’t normally think about is a cool thing for us to be able to do.
Podolak: In the context of the live show, when you’re talking about the music, it’s a more pleasing way to send these messages across, as opposed to standing up there on your soapbox, telling people your opinion. We can tell people our opinion, but it’s in a way that’s musically pleasing as well. … In that song especially, it sort of hooks you in. … The lyric that gets me is, “With God as our leader, we’ll feed you all kinds of lies.” It’s like, for a second you might think, ’Oh, are these guys like really religious?’ and ’Oh, they really are not.’ There’s so much propaganda and BS in the world, especially in the mainstream media, our vehicle is a good outlet to reach people.
Sarah Dugas: I think that as a band, we all got into it for the music, but as a performer, you have the advantage to reach a lot of people. I don’t find it necessary to always be spreading a message. Sometimes it’s truly just about the music, and I love that. Sometimes it’s about really easygoing lyrics, where it’s everyday stuff. That’s awesome, too. But every once in a while, it’s good to have stuff that is hard-hitting. They all have their place.