Duffy plays only one guitar, a Fender Lone Star Stratocaster, but lately has been eyeing Jaguars and Mustangs, so she could get “those pointy sounds” by plucking strings behind the bridge. Photo by Chantal Anderson
The guitars sound very lush. Are you using anything for reverb?
Yes. I have a reverb pedal, the DigiTech Polara, that came out not that long ago. I feel like DigiTech gets a bad rap, except for the older stuff, but I really love it, especially the Hall and Halo settings.
What is your musical background?
I started playing guitar and listening to mostly classic rock and blues, because I had an uncle who was playing guitar in a cover band, doing Led Zeppelin and Stevie Ray Vaughan and stuff like that. I was into Stevie Ray Vaughan when I first started playing guitar. I’d listen to his version of “Little Wing” and think, “Wow, I wish I could do that with a guitar.” It just sounded so physical.
I was in a lot of cover bands playing that kind of music in high school, jamming with friends, but I was also in the jazz band, even though I couldn’t read music yet. I would go home after I got the music and spend hours trying to turn it into tab. After I graduated high school, I went to Schenectady County Community College for guitar performance. I was the only female in my guitar program.
What was that like?
It just made me feel that I wanted to be better than the boys at everything I did, always. I had a really good teacher, who was mostly a bluegrass player. I was in a pick-style program. We learned a lot of chordal melodies and we would have to read through Paganini pieces, too. But then, for my recitals, I would always play jazz chordal melodies. I think the last piece I performed was “Misty” or something like that. There was a lot of improv going on, and I always played a lot with people in the program.
How did you get into songwriting?
Once I was out of college, I taught guitar for a little while, and I started writing songs about that time. I didn’t really share them with anyone. I think I was still writing, at that point, in a theory brain, because of all the part writing and voice leading I’d studied and become obsessed with. I would write all these weird guitar parts that I would now put on and be, like, “This is lame.” I wasn’t accessing this part of the rest of the creativity that I’m learning how to access now. It took me a little while to bridge the gap between having all this knowledge and being able to apply it with a creative mind.
What do you think helped you bridge that gap?
Just not being afraid of simple chord changes. Not being afraid of a I–IV–V progression, or staying in the key of G major, or just playing what comes to me, rather than “How can I make this interesting first?”
These days, do you ever feel tempted to use more advanced harmonic concepts, or is it something that you’ve moved beyond?
I think that there’s a lot of it in my playing, even when I’m not aware of it. I was in a session a couple months ago, and I wasn’t thinking I was playing anything theoretically advanced, but the guy who hired me said, “Wow, you’re in that mode up there. What is that?” To me, it’s just that I’m using the major scale in a different way. It’s not something that most contemporary pop, folk-rock people think about when they’re writing.
Would you say your training has given you a wider range of options when it comes to diatonic harmony?
For sure. And I always go back to the sentiment that when someone’s really well read, and they have studied philosophy or language, they’re usually able to express a very intricate thought without overwhelming someone with language.
Where did you record the album?
I recorded two of the songs, “All the While” and “In Between,” in Saugerties, New York, with the help
of my friend Kevin Laureau. We co-engineered, and he helped me with a little arranging on one song.
The rest of it I recorded in my bedroom in a house in Highland Park [a historic Los Angeles neighborhood]. I’d just moved there, and Jeremy [Earl] from [the record label] Woodsist had heard some of my older songs and was really into them. He said, “We should do a record,” and at first I thought, “Okay, cool, but I don’t know when I’ll have enough songs,” because I wasn’t really writing that much. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, I was surprised at how much I started writing.
But in terms of recording, I was creating all these roadblocks for myself, and venting to friends: “I don’t know how I’m going to do this record. I think I’m going to have to work a lot first, and I want to go into a studio.” Then I thought, “These are all problems that I’m creating for myself. I have an Mbox and Pro Tools on my computer. I can borrow microphones and I can just do this on my own.”