Six Questions for ... Grand Duchy


Frank Black has been in the news a lot lately because that old band of his, the Pixies, will be hitting the road this fall on a "Doolittle" tour. But that band still hasn't released an album since the first Bush was president and Black has been keeping very, very busy in the nearly two decades since then. His latest project is a collaboration with his wife, Violet Clark; it's called Grand Duchy and it features more synthesizers than you probably thought you'd ever hear on a Frank Black release. But don't be afraid. His iconic howl is still present, even if it is balanced by some vocoder here and there. And the band's debut, "Petit Fours," also serves as a nice reminder of how well that howl works in tandem with a female vocal foil. Grand Duchy's brief summer tour kicks off tonight at the Black Cat. Clark and Black -- or Black Francis or Charles Thompson, whatever he's going by answered some questions.

So how did Grand Duchy come together and why now?
Clark: It started off as small, little contributions on my part to things that Charles was doing and it just kind of grew. I sang on several songs on the "Bluefinger" record and I played bass on the "Svn Fngrs" EP that came out last year and both of those collaborations worked out really well and it was fun to be in the studio together so it sort of grew into this.

Does being married make it easier or harder to offer criticism or say you think something should be changed in a song?
Black: Violet has no problem expressing herself to me and I don't think that has anything to do with the fact that we're married. And I have communication problems. So she tends to kind of pull the responses out of me. And my communication problems don't really have anything to do with the fact that I'm married. [The band] doesn't really feel husband and wifey. We're making music. We're musicians. We like making music and making records. Yeah, we're married. But, you know, I think that getting to make a record and getting to play a show is adding variety to our experience so when we're having that variety we aren't going, "Oh, isn't this neat?! We're having this experience together ... and we're married.

(More after the jump.)

How did you land on the sound of the record?
Black: Certainly there wouldn't be anything visionary in it coming from me. I think Violet maybe had some ideas. She's really into synthesizers so we used a lot of synthesizers. And I suppose at some point we decided to play everything ourselves. So when it comes to something, especially like the drums, we tend to play the drums very simply and then we tend to digitally edit them to be more in the pocket because we're not really drummers. Obviously. It tends to be very open sounding. There aren't a lot of drum fills and cymbal crashes so it doesn't have the impression of being a drum-machine oriented record.

And keyboards ... the dynamic range of a synthesizer is basically full-on. It's sort of like the tone is either on or off. So that fills a lot of the space and makes it not necessary to have all sorts of guitar noodling, as well. So it's very big, open, big power chords, big acoustic guitars. Simple open drums without a lot of fills. With a yin and yang sort of vocal thing.

You don't have the longest history of collaboration. Does this make you think it can be a more regular aspect of your career?
Black: Um ... I don't know. I don't know that I'm that smart that suddenly I can have all kinds of epiphanies. I just kind of live in the moment. Right now my main collaborator when I collaborate is Violet. I do collaborate occasionally with a guy called Reid Paley. I don't seek it out, you know? I can do it. I can definitely do it now. I feel more confident. If I got a phone call from, I don't know, Elvis Costello and he said, Hey, Charles, you want to write some songs together? That could be a thang. I probably would feel more comfortable doing that now that I've done that thing with Reid and with Violet. I don't analyze all that stuff so much.

You've been screaming for 25 years and there it is, one of the first sounds on the record. Ever feel like your voice will give out?
Black: No, not really. (Laughs.) I think that some people are physiologically better suited for that kind of vocal duty than other people.
Clark: I really do think it's genetic because you should hear our three-year-old scream. It'll just blow your ear drums out. But not everybody ended up with that gene.

Well that's good. You've had no dormant periods. Is it just a constant flow of songs?
Black: From my point of view, it isn't that hard. You know? (Laughs.) You book a recording studio and you hang out there for a while and you compose a bunch of music. And maybe lighting strikes and you do something really magical and maybe at the very least you do something that's hopefully interesting. But I don't really find it a burden or anything like that. I'm a musician. That's what I do. I'm not a renaissance man so it's not like I suddenly feel the need to stop playing music for a while so I can work on my math theorems or something.

By David Malitz |  July 16, 2009; 10:05 AM ET Interviews
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Elvis Costello does get a good scream at the begining of the song "Man Out of Time." They could have a nice scream duet.

Posted by: M__N | July 16, 2009 2:12 PM

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