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Interview with Sammy Duke
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I grew up in an extremely musical family, so it was somewhat inevitable I would probably take up the craft eventually. At age 13, my father expressed that I should consider learning bass guitar given my stature - and probably more poignantly, the fact that my brother was a drummer and he a guitarist, and didn't have a bassist for church at the time. I got hooked very early on, and the rest is history!
If I hadn't gotten into music, I likely would have tried pursuing something in the visual/design end of things. I had a large interest in architectural design, so I may have tried to pursue that world.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I enjoy riding bikes. All types really, but especially motorcycles. I find riding to be a fantastic way to clear the head, and it provides an unmatched sense of focus and a feeling of freedom. Giving the brain this 'wash' is a fantastic way to provide a clean slate when coming up with ideas, and also reflecting on previous works.
How long have you been making music?
Going on 21 years altogether!
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I live in Waterloo, Ontario and I also grew up in this region. Although the arts scene is relatively small in this area, the level of talent is absoutely extraordinary, and I find being tightly knit with others in this music scene is a fantastic way to always be challenging myself to always push my craft to the next level.
Additionally, this area is heavily focused in the tech and academic sectors. This does lead to some interesting opportunities to come across people outside of the music scene who can be very inspiring to chat with, or learn other non-musical skillsets from that are still necessary to know as a professional artist.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
I play at least 150 live engagements a year - ranging from corporate events, to pub gigs, to festival slots, theatre shows, and some private gigs too. I even played at an IKEA once. I also do a lot of sideman work - and the largest shows I've performed to date have all been in these capacities, with the largest audience I've played in front of being probably around 3000 people.
For my own music, my most memorable performance to date was at Summerfolk 44 in Owen Sound, Ontario. I gained a festival slot via an Artist Director Showcase, and I am extremely thankful fortunate to the festival for this opportunity. In addition to a variety of workshop stages, my main show was an intimate stage with seating, and it was wonderful to be able to play my music to this enthusiastic audience of listeners. This had led to some other opportunities as well, and I am hopeful to keep that momentum going into the future.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
This is a tough one, as there's lots of great venues across many cities I've played. I really enjoy the vibe at The Dream Cafe in Penticton. I also am a big fan of Free Times Cafe in the now defunct Hugh's Room in Toronto (hopefully the latter is able to secure a new space, eventually!). Closer to home, The Jazz Room in Waterloo is a great venue, as well as The Registry Theatre in Kitchener.
One stage I would absolutely love to play one day would be the Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Colorado. As a bit of a lover of all things mountains/rock formations, I am absolutely stunned by every photo I see from this venue. Hopefully one day!
In the more immediate future however, my goal is to play at Mariposa Folk Festival.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Bruce Cockburn, Allison Russell, Loreena McKennitt and Gungor - with the Afro-Cuban All-Stars doing an after-party performance. This will almost certainly *never* happen. But if it did...ohhh man.
I would also love to open for Finnish symphonic metal band, Nightwish. Not sure how that would be advertised on the bill, granted, but hey...a man can dream.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
For a younger musician: Keep practicing, and learn to enjoy the art of practicing. Find what specifically drives you to want to keep playing, and keep focusing on that. Additionally, open your ears to as many different sounds and styles of music that you can, because you will absolutely find musical inspiration in everything you hear.
To my teenage self especially: start singing. Don't wait until your mid-20s to start singing. And don't be too caught up in innocuous detais, thinking your music will never be 'good enough'. Instead, focus on how the music makes *you* feel, and play it with passion.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
The title track of my recently released album, 'Speed Of Life', without a doubt. The song was written as a song about overcoming the challenging hills of life that are present, and how to choose to respond in these moments. It was entirely inspired on a motorcycle ride I went on, and really was written as a bit of a 'letter to myself' as a reminder to remain conscience of how to approach life as the world moves on.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Also Speed Of Life for sure. I also get requests to play 'Billie Jean' by Michael Jackson a lot, for some reason. Works for me.
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
I don't have one set criteria, however, my common practice in writing music is to zero in on either a guitar lick I've written, or a vocal part, and improvise around these sections until something comes to mind. I typically spend at least a few days - if not, several weeks - crafting a song. There are a few exceptions to this, however. For instance, my song 'Calling You Home' I wrote in 20 minutes on a night where the creative vibes were running high.
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
I tend to write music about personal and societal reflection, and often from a place of contemplation. Nothing makes me feel more humbled than reading a message from one of my listeners about how a song reminded them of a significant moment in their life and that they could deeply relate the lyrics this way. My hope is that someone who listens to my music will walk away from it thinking about how the core message of the song resonates with them.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I'm presently working on filming a series of live-off-the-floor videos featuring my music with my one-man-band live show. I will also be doing a couple of videos with my new trio format, which includes a Juno-nominated djembe player, and a fiddle player from the East Coast. I hope to have these out by the late Fall or early Winter. In the meantime, check out my new album 'Speed Of Life' on all streaming platforms!
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
You can follow me @sammydukemusic on Instagram, Twitter, Sammy Duke on Facebook, as well as my website www.sammyduke.com. Also check out my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/sammydukemusic, and look up my music on all streaming pages, as well!