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Duane Andrews – Interview

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Duane Andrews’s music is the product of a great ear, an adventurous spirit and a love of music that is beyond category.  Uniting what would seem to be impossible — traditional Newfoundland music with the Gypsy Jazz of the legendary Django Reinhardt, Andrews makes it not just work — he makes it soar.  The award winning guitarist, composer, producer and international performer’s new album, Raindrops, is the best evidence yet of his truly unique musical vision and is the sound of him, literally, bringing it all back home.

A native of Newfoundland, Duane grew up exposed to the island’s mélange of cultural influences — a mix of English, French, Irish, Spanish and Portuguese – and his development as a guitarist reflects that. After graduating from the Jazz Studies program at St. FXU with honours, Duane spent several years studying contemporary music composition at the Conservatoire International de Paris and at the Conservatoire National de Region in Marseille, France.

THE SCENE had the opportunity to interview Duane last week.


1. Gypsy Jazz from the Rock!   Jazz is not a musical style that Newfoundlanders are used to.   Did you find it difficult getting noticed in your formative years?

I really do feel it was the encouragement that I was getting from the local scene in my formative years that really helped me to go as far with this style as I have.

In the early days I’d do shows at Bianca’s and the Ship and people were just loving the music and we were getting great crowds even though they mostly had no idea what it was they were hearing.

I think part of the charm of Django’s music (Django is the king of Gypsy Jazz) is that there’s an immediate connection that most people feel because in many ways it’s very simple but there’s something deeper in there too that pulls you in. So there was some good momentum from the get go here.


2.  In 2004 you won your first Music NL award and you’ve since gone on to win dozens more.   What was your reaction when you won that first award?

Again that was a really inspiring moment as for me as I didn’t have a lot of ambition in the industry in my early days and I simply made that first album because it was music that I was really enjoying, so I was rather surprised to win an award.

Through the encouragement of Denis Parker and MusicNL I got more involved with the industry and realized it can actually be a big help to an independent musician like myself. There certainly can be pitfalls and cause for caution in the music business but if you’ve got a good sense about you, you can find your way through it.


3.   St.FX has always been known for its Jazz program.    Would you say it was a good move for you to start your musical training there?

Looking back I definitely had some great teachers though at the time I would have to say I wasn’t the best student in terms of being involved with the school. I did well but didn’t feel overly comfortable in the academic environment and I think the thing I enjoyed most out of that period was having the luxury of being able to devote 100% of my energies to the study of music by being in the academic bubble.

The program did push me beyond my limits and overall I really learned how to teach myself a lot of things so I would definitely say it was a good move.


4.  France has a way of treating artists and musicians with the upmost respect.    Do you miss that community?   Any plans to visit Europe again?

France is quite an amazing place culturally especially in the way they value the arts. They put Claude Debussy on the 20 Franc bill! Initially when I went to France it was to study classical music and there’s certainly something nice about being in Europe when it comes to the classical tradition, though there is a world class classical music scene right here in this province too.


5.  You and Dwayne Côté have been collaborating for the last few years, what has Côté brought to the music?

It’s pretty cool how we complement each other musically as I come from more of a jazz background but I love the traditional music from this province too, whereas Dwayne is a master fiddle player but he’s also always loved playing jazz on the side. So we learn a lot from each other and get to play more of styles that we don’t normally do in our individual shows.


6.  Your last album was released in 2010.   When can we expect the next one? 

Dwayne Côté and I are working on our follow up album to the one released in 2010. We had such a great response to that one so we’re developing more ideas that were introduced on that album.

Essentially the sound is Gypsy Jazz meets Traditional music from NL and NS and we should have the new album ready to come out of the oven this May.


7.  You’ve composed dozens of film scores, what’s your approach to composition?   Do you always compose on guitar or do you like to bounce the ideas off other musicians using other instruments?

I find the idea of limits pretty important when it comes to composition. One thing I really like about doing film scores is that often it’s an extremely limited situation that you are writing music in, as many of the musical elements are predetermined by the director’s vision, so you have to figure out how to create something that fits that vision.

When you’re writing music for yourself you still need to set your own limits otherwise you can become overwhelmed by the infinity of choice.


8.  What’s your favourite watering hole in St. John’s?

The quick answer is the Ship for sure. Though I do enjoy that whole stretch of pubs from the the Ship down to the Rose. I do venture up to George Street from time to time and usually hit the Fat Cat, and I’ve found myself in the Trinity Pub on occasion.

I used to really love the 5th Element though that’s become something else now but I hope they still have the hieroglyphics on the wall. CBTGs of course too and the home brew at the Yellowbelly is quite tasty but over all the Ship is my main spot.


9.  Just for fun!  If you had to travel on a space mission and could only take one album with you, what would it be?

That would be Atmospheres by Gyorgy Ligeti. It’ s a fascinating piece of orchestral music that plays with texture and colour more so than melody and harmony and I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t heard it to check it out at least once. It was actually used as part of the score for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.


10.  You’ve been all over the world, how would you compare musicians from Newfoundland to the rest of the world?

I’ve always been struck by the quality of musicians in this province but also the diversity. We made a movie a few years ago and the idea was to show what it would be like to walk from the Ship up to George Street and pop your head into the different venues on a Friday night.

We ended up filming groups playing reggae, celtic, blues, metal, country and sounds that went beyond genres and it was all great quality too and that’s just in that little strip of downtown St. John’s.

You can easily take that for granted if you are from here but once you travel around a bit you really start to realize this really is an exceptional place for music.

Duane Andrew and Dwayne Cote play The Ship this Thursday February 23, 2012 and are THE SCENE’s PICK OF THE WEEK!

By: Darrell Shelley



The Scene