Amidst the many decorative blocks serving mouth-watering heaps of Cajun and Creole cuisine, the displays of haunted voodoo mansions, and the Sazerac-slinging watering holes resides a badass funk and soul band keeping a rich tradition alive and well in The Big Easy.
The Duane Bartels Band boasts a group of sonic purveyors that can reach as many as 10 members at a given time. Such is the case on the band’s newest single, “Messin'”. The band also released a music video to coincide with their long awaited release, which will likely precede an upcoming LP.
Taking inspiration and influence from New Orleans legends like Dr. John, The Meters, Allen Touissant, and others, TDBB offers a modern twist on a regional sound that tantalizes, delights, and can get you lost in the groove in no time. “Messin'” immediately reels you in with the funky soulful horn section that oozes NOLA charm, and takes you on an epic sonic journey from there.
Singer/songwriter Matthew Duane Bartels got the wheels rolling for the band when he moved ‘cross the country from California to New Orleans, where he met drummer Matthieu. The two of them would go on to record their debut record The Ballad of Johnny Loveless, which emulated a more campy, Americana sound that incorporated elements of blues, country and jazz. From that point on, the two would bring in more and more musicians, and begin playing all over The French Quarter and beyond, and further establish themselves in the city.
We had the chance to discuss the inception of the band more in depth, the new single, the best spots to grub in the city, and much more with Bartels.
So where did you grow up, and what got you into playing and writing music?
I grew up in California with short stints in some other places, and the family moving all around. California is home for me though. Spent 8 years in San Francisco. However, today I consider a tiny town called Somis home. That’s where my dad’s family grew up.
Well I suppose it started with my Grandpa. He is a master banjo luthier and player. We’re talking 4-string, the type you find in traditional New Orleans style jazz. Although he lived on the West Coast that music made a strong impression on him as a child. I have a couple of the banjos he made that I’ll pick up from time to time. You can hear some of that on our old record The Ballad of Johnny Loveless in the “The Death of Johnny Loveless.” I grew up watching him with his band around Ventura County and I don’t think I’d be here today without him.
When I was 9, I played trumpet in school, and then picked up a guitar and Enema of the State when I was about 11, and that was that. I spent a lot of time by myself as a kid, moving around from town to town every couple years wasn’t totally easy for me. It gave me plenty of time to play.
I started playing in bands around the age of 14. Now in terms of my songwriting, I’ve been sketching tunes and lyrics since about the same age. Been in all kinds of bands; Punk, Indie, Hardcore, Pop Punk, Alt-Rock and whatever else falls in between those categories. I didn’t bring any of my songs to the table until I was about 21/22. When I moved to New Orleans, my life and style started changing.
Can you talk about what made you choose New Orleans to pursue music and how you got acquainted with the scene down there?
Long story short, it was all coincidence. I was about 26. I had just left San Francisco and was making my way to New York to try and get my feet wet there. My mom’s side of the family is from there and had a couple friends there. Packed up my car and went cross-country, eventually stumbling into New Orleans, with the idea that I’d only be staying for a day. 4+ years later and I’m still here. New Orleans is a city full of serendipity. She was calling me man.
I found my way in the city through a mix of luck, and met our drummer Mattheiu one day. We were both working at this hostel. I lived at that place for about a year and a half. That’s a whole tale in itself man. He was and still is in Kuwaisiana, whom we have shared many members with.
[We] played various open mics around the city, where I met one of our singers Jillian K. Goods (who leads a fantastic band herself.) Then about a year in I started working on the famous Frenchmen Street as a barback. Thats’ where I met a lot of the musicians around town and heard the music that opened up my mind to what I could do. Jazz, Blues, Country-Americana, New Orleans RnB, and Funk. And it was all there within about 3 blocks. I met Sean Deskin there, our harmonica player, and the band started to slowly form. Other than that, it’s like any other city. You just start meeting people and playing and it all comes along at some point.
It’s no secret New Orleans is a historical music hub, but what’s it like there these days? Still as diverse and bustling as ever?
If we’re talking pre-Covid, yes. Absolutely. Just go walk down Frenchmen Street for a night or stroll through Royal Street and see the buskers. Or take yourself to Gasa, One Eyed Jacks, Santos, or the four corner areas on St. Claude and you’ll see all kinds of great contemporary Indie/Punk bands. Show up on a Sunday and hit a second line and you’ll dance to the best brass bands in the nation. It is tangible to make a living here just playing music and I think that makes it all that more special and real.
Post-Covid, yes but in a different setting. A lot of great musicians doing the live stream thing. We’ll do those from time to time. The Mint has been doing streams from their balcony which have been great. WWOZ, our local radio station, has been doing this various features of special performances which keep people entertained. There are still a few street musicians out there doing their thing, but it has dwindled. The economy runs off our music here so it has hit the city pretty hard unfortunately.
So y’all have a new single, “Messin’” set for release September 4th. Can you talk about how this song came to fruition and the inspirations and influences?
Yes, love too. We are very excited for this release. It documents the evolution of the band from our first record and showcases the fluidity of the group. Some of us have been playing together for 3 years or so at this point. We’ve grown a lot and you can hear it. Lyrically it started as a tripe against being fooled around on in relationships. Being tired of being second rate and feeling used. Looking back now, I believe it’s a message to my ego. That’s the part of us that usually causes these issues you know, and I just got to a point where I was sick of it. Self induced or otherwise. Just stop Messing Me Around, you know?
I remember I was writing the intro horn line on my front porch one night and it slowly started to develop from there. The whole process probably took two years. That’s how it goes with me. A lot of the songs you find on my releases take me months if not years to get to a place that I feel happy with. Recording isn’t cheap either, otherwise they might be out in the public a little bit quicker.
I’d say we dig pretty deep into Dr. John and The Meters on this track. Along with Allan Toussaint, three of the most influential groups to Funk/Rock music. I’m a big fan of the French synth-pop band La Femme, some of that shows a bit. When I first wrote it, it was more of a trad/gypsy jazz kinda tune, so that’s buried down there somewhere too.
Can fans expect to see it on an EP or LP, or is it a standalone single for now?
Yes, so that’s been a question of contention with myself and the band for quite some time now. It will be on a whole release. It’s a matter of money, time and personal preferences other than that. I have about 15 songs written, and we gotta narrow that down, which can be tough. At this rate we are looking at an LP. But if I run out of money it might be an EP. Either way, we are titling this bad boy Electric Baby Carriage, which we’re all pretty stoked about.
How did y’all get hooked up with producer Justin Armstrong and Marigny Studios?
Similar to the way we got in touch with y’all, our good buddy Dusty Diets turned us onto them. He played with us for a couple gigs and is just a real solid dude. Of course though, the studio is a name around here. Trombone Shorty, Pres Hall band, and many, many more. They’ve all recorded there. Rick Nelson is a very experienced and well-known producer in the city. We contacted him and he passed us onto Justin who works there as well. He is a real great dude to work with. Very knowledgeable and focused. And you just get a relaxed vibe from him and his process. It’s a very natural thing, and he seems generally interested in what we are doing. We’re heading into his home studio up in Slidell to finish the record. It’s going to be rad.
And how many people are in The Duane Bartels Band?
All together, 10. We’ve only played with that size line up only once though. That’s what you are hearing on this recording, with our bass player playing keys as well. If money was better we’d be doing that more often. But if you come to New Orleans to see us or when we come to your town, we’re going to be a 4-6 piece.
We’re down to 7 members currently. Covid has hit everyone hard and we all react differently because of it. I treat this band as a family- everyone has different needs and reactions. We’ve gone through at least 3 different formations with a few members sticking around through it all. That’s just the game.
How does the songwriting process work within the band?
This record has been a little different than our last. The Ballad we did almost haphazardly, starting backwards. I had this collection of songs written from my travels and time at the hostel. We had this little dingy practice room in some warehouse by Bayou St. John. It was practically falling apart. We tracked guitar/drums first then from there pieced it together as we found other people. I think that last record has 11 musicians on it? I tracked the tuba in my buddy’s little apartment in Copenhagen.
This time we have a band. I’ll write skeletons on my own and bring them to the rhythm section (John Marcey, Colin Provensal, Mattheiu and myself). Once we have that part formed, I’ll do two things: smoke a lot of weed, hole up in my room, and start spitting out demos. Matthieu will send me programmed drums and I’ll track guitar, vocals, harmonies and sometimes horn/lead guitar lines.
While I’m doing this, I’ll meet with our horn guys (David Ginger, Nick Ferreiae, Jonathan Rizner) and we’ll spit ball ideas. Colin and I do the harmony writing. I’ll track ideas and we’ll figure out what works. He’s got a knack for it.
What are/were some of your favorite places to play in New Orleans?
Well we did a regular stint at House of Blues for about a year. Every Saturday 4:00-7:00pm! It was a great time. I was working there as a server before we got hired on as the entertainment. They are like family to me. Still in close contact with a lot of those people. 21st Amendment was always a great gig too. Right below Bourbon Street in between all the fancy hotels and oyster houses. We had a lot of fun there.
We were doing twice a week at BMC before Covid. Culley and the people over at BMC are like another little family to us. Culley truly believes in us and the band. Claudia over at Checkpoint Charlies too. It’s the sketchiest place on the street but that’s what makes it great.
Obviously The Big Easy is also a huge culinary destination. What are some of Duane Bartels’ favorite places to grab a bite in the city?
Solid question my friend. Full disclosure, I’m a New Orleans Tour Guide on top of being a musician, so I get this question a lot. I frequent the Quarter mostly- [I] don’t venture Uptown to eat too often, so I can tell you what I know. Actually let’s start with Uptown. Jacques-Imo’s is badass. Alligator/Crawfish cheesecake. Just think about that for a second… Palm and Pine and Cane and Table are both favorites of mine in the Quarter. For the atmosphere and quality of food you are getting it is fairly cheap. The Quarter can be expensive, but both these places treat you with the utmost service. Get the sous-vide burger at Palm and Pine. It’ll blow your mind. Also they were one of the spots around that were giving out free meals to service folks over the last few months, so props to them.
If you’re out late and need some drunchies, Verti Marte right by the LaLaurie Mansion has some of the best sandwiches in town, New Orleans style and otherwise. If you want vegetarian, hit up the Sneaky Pickle on St. Claude. But if you don’t give a damn about any of that and are strapped for cash, go hit up Hanks and get yourself 2 pieces of dark meat for $2. Best fried chicken in town. 24 hours baby. The corn dogs are quality too.
And in all honesty, hit The Other Bar any night Colin is cooking. He bartends there and will cook up some mean food once or twice a week. We shot a music video there, so obligatory shout out. The song is called “You’re Gone” go check it out!
What might fans expect from The Duane Bartels Band to close out the year?
Hopefully a whole lot, depending on how things around the world go. We are for sure finishing this record. There will be a second single called “Wildfires” dropping in October, which will include another music video. Hopefully a third single/video down the tube a little further with the album being dropped next spring. We’d love to hit the road again and see all our friends across the Gulf sometime. And if we can have any say in equality for all minorities and peoples of this nation, well we’d like that as well.