Lightning Interview: Union Duke

Having experienced the electrifying musical stylings of the Toronto-based folk quintet Union Duke during their visit to Edmonton’s Northern Lights Folk Club last year, we thought we’d better catch up with the band for a lightning interview before their stop at the New Moon Folk Club this Friday. Of the five member group—Ethan Smith, Jim McDonald, Matt Warry-Smith, Will Staunton, and Rob McLaren—we spoke with Matt who plays ukulele and sings.
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How did you get started in music? Are you self-taught or otherwise?

We all sort of came at music from different angles. Rob is the only one with an actual music degree I think. I took private trumpet lessons as a kid and then performed in lots of musicals growing up. We’ve all been playing in bands in one way or another since we were young teens so while we all had at least a little bit of musical education we’ve also done plenty of learning with each other.

How did Union Duke form?

Ethan, Jim and I met in high school. We played in a bunch of rock bands together and pulled a reverse Bob Dylan by going acoustic. Met Will and Rob through mutual musical friends a few years in and things just clicked.

You spend a lot of time on tour—do you have a favourite part of touring? A favourite place to tour to?dsc_0455

I mean, it’s all pretty good, except the crazy long hours in the car. I would say the top things are meeting interesting people and hearing their stories, staying in cool places we otherwise wouldn’t have found ourselves in, and obviously playing shows. We like to have fun wherever we can find it so we always keep an eye out.

Most places we’ve been have been great for different reasons. It’s tough to settle on just one. We like to say “different landscapes for different band mates”. A few great spots off the top of my head: hidden cliff jumping spot near Moncton, NB, mountain hot springs in BC, BEEF in Alberta and back home for bed.

In previous interviews you have said that your writing process involves workshopping ideas from individual band members—what happens to the songs that don’t make the cut for Union Duke?dsc_0542

Sometimes they hang around and become part of the live show. Sometimes they even end up becoming a recorded song on a later album or on a digital release. A few of them end up going to other projects we might be working on but most never see the light of day. We write A LOT of songs so we don’t really end up missing the ones we don’t love.

You have said that you have eclectic musical influences—what was the last concert you attended as a fan?dsc_0411

I just saw Future Islands at Massey Hall, talk about a far cry from folk. But we’ve seen plenty in the last little bit: Micah Erenberg at Burdock, Matt Mays at the Hayloft, Jayhawks at The Opera House.

Anything else you would like to mention?

We have a couple videos we just released that can be found on our website and our Facebook page. And we’re out on tour through late October and all of November so check us out on the road!

Union Duke plays the New Moon Folk Club in Edmonton on Friday the 27th of October 2017.

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