PREMIERE: NOLA Psych-Soul Sextet The Duane Bartels Band Talks New Single ‘Wildfires,’ Upcoming Album

Beloved Big Easy sextet, The Duane Bartels Band, have put in the work to make a name for themselves in their adopted city.

The hard grinding band – led by lead singer and songwriter Matthew Duane Bartels – serves up platters of some of the most eclectic psych-soul rock the city has to offer, but they don’t stop there.

Today, March 24th, the band released their new single, “Wildfires,” which leans toward the breezier, catchier Americana side of the spectrum, showcasing their range of sound.

But the upbeat countrified groove somewhat overshadows the serious yet hopeful sentiment behind it. Being a California native with family and friends still out there, Bartels is no stranger to experiencing the first-hand fears of the wildfires that seem to emerge more frequently with each passing year. However, recently there’s been an abundance of rainfall with reservoirs filling back up, with most counties coming out of droughts.

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“Wildfires” is the second single release from the band’s forthcoming album, Electric Baby Carriage, which is set for an April 11th release.

Playing the big stage at the famed Tipitina’s in 2019 and holding down regular gigs at House of Blues and various Frenchman locations on top of the French Quarter, DBB has built up their local and regional resume. The band will be playing French Quarter Fest in April, with summer dates to be announced in California and the southwest.

We got to chat with Bartels to learn more about the band, the NOLA scene, “Wildfires”, their upcoming album, and much more.

So when did you move to New Orleans from California, and why did you move to New Orleans specifically?

I left San Francisco in a flurry of a quarter life crisis. Things didn’t pan out the way I had hoped there, mostly due to mistakes made on my own volition. That was early 2016. My first initial destination was New York, but I ended up choosing New Orleans on a whim. It wasn’t initially for the music, but it was more like it drew me in. I ended up working at a hostel, The India House Hostel, for about a year and a half. I spent a lot of time partying and just trying to figure things out in my mid 20’s. But I met the drummer for my band, Matthieu, there. I had a collection of songs I made on the road and at the hostel, and the band just grew from there. Been seven years now.

What are your favorite things about the city?

You know, there are the obvious things: the music, the food, the beautiful architecture and greenery. But it’s the people that really cement it as a wonderful place to live. Most everyone here is genuinely friendly, and willing to help others and interested in what the other has to say. Race barriers are broken down a little more here. It is far from perfect, we still are a part of America, but things are more copacetic here. That sounds funny in regards to the high crime rate here. So we’re not perfect. Far from it, but we are living it together. 

“Wildfires”

What makes the music scene special there?

It’s almost the same idea as everyday living here. It is a shared experience. People invite others to come sit in. Judgment is withheld. It is about sharing the experience and that includes the crowd. Music is tradition here. This is the birthplace of American music. Those ideas, sounds and rhythms have been passed down for generations. Even if you aren’t a part of that direct lineage, you still get some of it. 

What can you tell us about your new single “Wildfires?” What was the inspiration and backstory?

“Wildfires” is a deeply personal song for me. Even though I left California, I still miss it everyday.

One of the greatest feelings of just pure joy that I’ve experienced recently is hearing that it has been raining consistently there. That the reservoirs are filling up and most counties are out of the drought. It hurt me greatly to hear about the fires over the past few years. While I did not directly experience them, I felt the pain and terror others felt. My parents had a fairly close brush with one of them. One of my best friends works for Cal Fire, and he is constantly out there putting his life in danger in order to keep others safe.

This song is not only a love letter to them but to California in general. It’s a beautiful place. The song is an invitation to come see. 

And this single is going to be on your upcoming album, Electric Baby Carriage. So the obvious first question here- how did you land on the title?

Haha, yes it is a bit odd isn’t it? It’s a bit of a riddle.

So we used to be called Baby Boy Bartels and The Boys up until about 2020. As fun as that sounded, many people had troubles remembering it. So anyhow, our first van, a 2000 Ford E350, was dubbed the Baby Carriage by our old harmonica player because it carried all us Baby Boys around. The “electric” part came to be because our old record, The Ballad of Johnny Loveless, was written and recorded on an acoustic guitar. When I started writing this record, I wanted it to be an electric guitar-based record. And voila: Electric Baby Carriage was born. 

Where was it recorded and who helped produce it?

We originally started with two tracks, Wildfires being one of them and a previous single, Messin being the other. We tracked those at Marigny Studios. Rick Nelson runs that place and it is an awesome place to record. He had passed us on to Justin Armstrong. He’s worked with Dave Matthews Band, Death Cab For Cutie, Something Corporate, The Deftones, Peter Frampton- the list goes on for a while.

He told us he had a home studio at his place in Slidell, about 30 minutes outside of New Orleans. When I say home studio, I don’t mean just a DAW and Pro Tools. He was and still is planning on turning it into a rentable studio with apartments for bands and engineers. We were his guinea pigs so to speak, and we went over there to finish off the other 8 tracks. And boy did that take a long time. 

“Wildfires”

How long has this album been in the works?

Alright- so 2020, there we were mid-pandemic, freaking out.

We had been going to Justin maybe once every month or two. We felt safe enough about it since we were all in our own little “safety” bubbles so to speak. Things were going great and we were having a blast. Let’s flash forward to August 29th, 2021- most of the record was finished, then Hurricane Ida hit.

Justin’s house got badly damaged. A tree fell on his roof and his car. His first floor was completely flooded. Luckily most of his equipment was upstairs and what wasn’t he had rushed upstairs just in time. But that put a pause on things. In early 2022, we tried to get back to it but that just turned into me getting drunk at his house for two weeks while he rebuilt his house. I’ve been sober for a little over a year since then, March 2022, but boy was that a good time. He barely had running water, didn’t have a kitchen other than a hot plate. But there was about five of us living there at that time.

We eventually managed to get the mixing room set up in the former recording room. That taught me a lot about what it takes to properly set up a studio. Well, come May he had a daughter, that was another delay, although it was a happy one. By the end of  2022, around November/December maybe, we had finally finished it. Mixed, mastered and ready for release. Here we are in March and we got a month more to go. 

Is there a song on the album that was the most difficult to write/record for one reason or another?

“Waiting,” the single we put out back in December, for sure.

We had actually recorded a different version of it in early 2019 with our friend Michael Stalios. I didn’t like it much and the song kept growing. It took a long time just to track. It’s a very dense song with two guitars with various licks punched in, bass, keys, clavinet, percussion, drums, lots of harmonies, a couple little other surprises and of course the awesome string section Rick Nelson tracked for us.

After that was all done, after all the delays, it took almost longer to mix. He spent seven days getting it right. He was using it as a guinea pig to tune his studio and speakers to just the right setting. It’s funny because I really feel like the song just became about itself. “Waiting for you, is the hardest thing for me to do.” It was originally about unrequited love, but it just became an anthem about the recording process we were going through. 

What has been your favorite/the most rewarding part of making this album?

Finishing it, haha. It strengthened us as a band. Justin has become the unseen 8th member of the band and a great friend. It’s something I won’t ever forget.

What does a dream gig look like for DBB?

Well, right now we are a working class, French Quarter band. We play 4-5 times a week and that doesn’t include the other bands we all play with. That is a great experience and a blessing, but it would be great to be able to tour successfully and come home with money enough to live our lives. We do a lot of covers, we take requests. It makes us better musicians and can be really fun but to just be able to play our tunes, with a few covers thrown in here and there, would be a dream come true for me. 

If you could tour and open for any present-day artist, who would it be and why?

We would love to hit the road with some of our friends here in New Orleans. We got some great local acts within and outside of the jazz and funk area; Shark Attack, Whisper Party, Juno Dunes, The Budz, Beach Angel, The Painted Hands, Sunday Circus, just to name a few. I love the French Synth Psych-Pop band La Femme. While we are a little more tame than them, I hear similarities in some of our funkier tunes. I speak French decently, and so does another member of the band. We could get by haha.

The Revivalists would be another one. We get compared to them a lot. We are a little grittier than them I think. I’ve met David Shaw through a friend of mine a few times, so hopefully he knows we are out there! He saw us back in the day, and really enjoyed what he saw. We’ve only gotten better, David! 

After the record drops, what’s next? Tour? Local gigs lined up?

Yeah, so the usual local gigs we play around the Quarter. It is funny being a working musician and preparing for a release like this cause your day to day just stays the same. That’s the case with anyone releasing a record, no matter the profession. But since our job is music, it feels different. We are planning a tour in July. My cousin is getting married in Big Sur out in California, and we will be driving west. I’m still hashing out the details but it is likely we will be in Dallas, Santa Fe, maybe Reno/Tahoe area, Ventura, LA and Austin. Some combination of those. 

We got French Quarter Fest on April 14th at the House of Blues stage, 7-9 PM. Right before that, we are holding a record release on April 8th at this great venue called The Rabbit Hole! 

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