There are certain songs that transport you back to the time and place when you first heard them. It’s an auditory memory that lingers, sometimes for a lifetime. For me, the first time I heard Antje Duvekot’s song “Judas,” I was driving to work. I admit it. I am radio flitter and it’s gotten worse now that I have satellite radio. In this instance, I was listening to the old WERS Coffeehouse program and it came on the air. There was something magical about the song—the wistful voice, the amazing lyrics and the way the gentle guitar picking riveted its way into my heart and soul. I had to find out who was singing this song and sat in the T parking lot until I heard the DJ announce her name. I became a fan that day. It wasn’t long before I got in touch with her agent and asked if she could make a special appearance opening for Ellis Paul at the me&thee… it was February 2006. So that came to pass. The audience went wild and it’s been a thrill to watch Antje mature into the artist she is today. It only took one song for me. Here’s an interview that I did with Antje which will give you some insight into this amazing singer-songwriter.
Noise: You’ve often expressed how you write songs as a kind of therapy to get through times of difficulty. Does the actual writing of the songs help elevate your mood and take you out of yourself or does the songwriting keep you in that sad territory?
Antje: Yes, it really does help to elevate your mood. I would compare offloading your troubles onto a song to sharing those troubles with a friend. The writing brings with it a feeling of release very similar to talking with a friend. Only with the song you are also aware that you are creating something permanent and so, while you’re getting whatever it is off your chest, you’re simultaneously experiencing the uplifting rush of chasing beauty and poetry, of making something. It’s kind of a constructive use of sadness because you’re basically turning it around. It’s like saying, “Oh yeah, sadness, you’re here. Fine. I will make you beautiful and into a statement about the human condition and I will share you with people. Take that, sadness!”
Noise: What would you say is the saddest song you’ve ever written?
Antje: “Phoenix.” It’s about my mother who abandoned me for inexplicable reasons when I was young. Most of my songs feel like they apply to the human condition as a whole. That one feels like I wrote it exclusively for myself. It was hard to feel like there was anything constructive to be gleaned from that situation. And so, unlike, my other songs which tend to encapsulate struggle and always hope, this one is just plain dark. It’s been called self-indulgent, but I really don’t care. Writing this song to her is something I had to do. I even entertain the fantasy that she could hear it somehow and know how angry I still am and that I could not just let it go.
Noise: And let’s go for the reverse—do you have any happy songs in your repertoire?
Antje: A lot of my songs are celebratory actually. Just in a more realistic subtle way than your average happy song. Like my song “Merry Go Round.” It talks about how there would be no love and light if there wasn’t the contrast of darkness and struggle. To me that is happy! I hope this doesn’t come across wrong—because I actually consider myself American at this point—but I grew up in Germany and I feel like, culturally, Germans embrace the wholeness of the human experience with all its light and darkness a lot better than they do in the States. There is such an emphasis here on happy happy happy and on an almost sterile expression of positivity at all costs that it is hard to bring up the heavy stuff without being considered a downer. I think this pressure for constant positivity is making our culture sick, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Noise: New Siberia is your latest recording. How does it compare with your earlier works?
Antje: It’s similar. My vocals sound a bit different on New Siberia than on the other records because I had sinus surgery in between and so the singing is a little less nasally on New Siberia than it was before. But the topics and the musical production are in the same vein as the previous albums.
Noise: This is your second album produced by Richard Shindell. How would you describe him as a producer? Does he have a special flair that he brings to the studio?
Antje: Richard just has an amazing ear for music. He is a great singer, great guitar player, and great producer. We had a lot of fun making these records.
Noise: Since you first came onto our radar, we’ve seen you start playing more and more instruments. You’ve added harmonica and piano to your live performances. Are you a self-taught musician?
Antje: Yes. My perfect day consists of having nothing on my schedule and of exploring instruments and sounds. One neat thing about experimenting with new instruments is that the different timbres and moods of different instruments seem to bring forth different types of melodic ideas. To me creativity is like being a kid again and just playing without a specific goal in mind. Just letting yourself wander in any which direction you may want to go. Sadly there never seems to be enough time for creativity. This is, in part, because creativity is pretty much infinite. I’ve never met a creative person who has hit the limits of exploration.
Noise: Do you have the discipline to regularly practice to keep up your chops?
Antje: Um, no. I prefer the distracted unfocused exploration mentioned above. Any musical chops I have built up in the process are purely incidental.
Noise: Likewise, do you set aside time daily or weekly to write?
Antje: I would like to but I find it really hard to make this time in between touring and the demands of running my own business. Often writing takes the back-burner. The summers are slower for me as far as touring goes and so I tend to dive into creativity during the summer months. But during the year there can be several months on end when I don’t do a creative thing. Maybe cause it feels frustrating to submerge yourself into a creative flow just to have to leave it shortly thereafter for lack of time.
Noise: Have you done much co-writing?
Antje: A little bit. Melody comes harder to me. Lyrics easier. And so I mostly love to work with musicians who let me write the lyrics and bring great melodic ideas. But I’ve collaborated on lyrics as well—okay, not very often. I find it hard to co-think lyrical ideas because they are so personal for everyone, whereas collaborating on melody and music is more neutral territory and super fun to do together.
Noise: Are you a musician who looks forward to the next tour as soon as the current one ends? Or do you prefer shorter mini-tours so you can go back home and recharge your batteries?
Antje: The latter. I am actually a creature of routine and habit and I enjoy quiet walks in the woods and spending time with a small group of close friends. Some people enjoy high levels of stimulation and novelty. I am not like that at all and so the touring lifestyle really doesn’t suit me when you get right down to it. However, I love creatively connecting with people and creating a space for people to access their emotions. I love performing and singing… but I don’t love all the driving and the constantly changing environment. But the traveling comes with the territory.
Noise: I’ve seen some of your artwork and have to say that I’m quite impressed. Did you study art? What’s your favorite medium? Oil paint, pastels, colored pencils?
Antje: Oh wow, thanks. I just dabble. I like all those mediums. I just like creating.
Noise: Didn’t you paint a guitar before? Do you still have it? Also love the table you painted to honor Brother Blue at Club Passim.
Antje: Oh yeah, if you go to Club Passim you can sit at the table I decorated as a memorial to Brother Blue, long time Passim patron. The guitar went to my sweet friends Dave and Hillary Kohler in my last Kickstarter campaign.
Noise: Your bio states that your biggest influences are Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, and Leonard Cohen. Have you ever had the occasion to meet any of them?
Antje: Nope, but I am currently on tour with John Gorka, another one of my all-time folk heroes. On this last tour out west we kept running into a road named Tehama and started singing Pete Seeger’s song, “If I had tehama, I’d tehama in the morning, I’d tehama in the evening.” We got an inordinate amount of joy from this as is only possible when you’ve been in the car too long and are giddy out of your mind
Noise: How do most people discover your music? Has streaming music helped or hindered your career?
Antje: I don’t always know how people find me. I do get a lot of people saying they discovered me on Pandora. I really love Pandora because they allow people to sample new artists without just giving the artist’s entire catalogue away for free. Streaming services trouble me because they allow people to listen to your entire album catalogue but pay the artists basically nothing, and so if everyone used these services, which they are increasingly doing, it makes it hard for us artists to keep making records. Making a studio album costs around $20,000-30,000, so if people are increasingly obtaining the music for free it doesn’t work out anymore. That is why models like Kickstarter have sprung up that help artists fund the record making process. Fan funding is becoming a bit of a necessity because of the change to the industry.
Noise: What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a singer-songwriter?
Antje: Someone recently sent me a picture of a tattoo they had gotten of a lyric from one of my songs. They said the song got them through an incredibly difficult time in their life. It was a beautiful tattoo and it made me stop in my tracks to realize that my words matter to others in such a real way. So that’s pretty much it right there.
Noise: Are you planning your next recording project? If so, what can you tell us about it?
Antje: Yes! I will be launching a Kickstarter campaign for my next studio album soon, speaking of. The album will come out in September. I’ll keep people posted on my Facebook page and website.
Kathy Sands-Boehmer is a life-long music fan and currently books the me&thee coffeehouse in Marblehead (www.meandthee.org) and writes a music blog (http://everythingsundry.wordpress.com/).
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