Matt Duke
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Matt Duke


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"Local musician dives into a career with the release of his debut CD"

Burlington County Times

Matt Duke took the plunge, both figuratively and literally.

A year and a half ago, the 21-year-old Mount Laurel resident began what he calls a “very, very indefinite sabbatical” from college to concentrate full time on his fledgling musical career.

Last week he went skydiving with his manager, Jamie Silvers.

“We've joked about it as a met-aphor for jumping into the music business,” Duke said, with a laugh. “And she seriously took me. It's absolutely terrifying, and it's great.”

By terrifying and great, Duke was referring to the whole jumping-out-of-a-plane thing, but he could just as easily have been talking about the official start of his musical journey. The singer-songwriter released his debut album, “Winter Child,” on Tuesday, and he has no idea how many copies he'll sell. A hundred? A thousand? A hundred thousand? A million?

If it's 100, he'll probably be headed back to Drexel University. If it's 1,000,000, he'll probably be headed to a major record label. If it's somewhere between, who knows?

“The hope is that I'll be on the road in the fall and stay on the road, and by the end of the run, I'll feel so jazzed to make a second record,” Duke said.

That hope isn't so farfetched for a guy who played his first non-open-mike gig just two years ago. Even without a full-length album, Duke spent the last 18 months playing at bars, clubs and festivals along the East Coast. Plus, his music has been making the rounds on FM radio stations such as 88.5 WXPN and a host of satellite radio stations. He even open-ed a WXPN-sponsored show for Pete Yorn.

“I think I remember saying when I was 16 that it would be great to open for Pete Yorn,” Duke said. “He was so nice and so sweet. He put me at ease before I went out there.”

At that show, Duke played “Oysters” and “Tidal Waves,” two

songs he included on “Winter Child.” The former, a relatively straightforward pop song using the pearl and oyster metaphor, is the album's first single. The latter is a folkish-sounding tune that tackles religious, philosophical, existential and meaning-of-life themes — common topics for Duke.

Duke originally planned for his debut to be a concept album based loosely on Albert Camus' existential and absurdist novel, “The Stranger.” While recording, he abandoned the concept idea, although some “Winter Child” songs are inspired by “The Stranger,” and another is bas-ed on the Ernest Hemingway short story “Hills Like White Elephants.”

“I think doing the concept would have been maybe a little too ambitious for a debut record,” Duke said.

The philosophical bend of many of Duke's lyrics, however, fits well with his emotional and sometimes-wispy voicing style, which is at times reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, Damien Rice or Elliot Smith.

Duke's musical style has elements of folk, classic and alternative rock, and like Ani DiFranco and Keller Williams, he rarely uses a pick when playing guitar.

“I'd always forget to bring a pick to shows,” Duke said. “And I play pretty hard, so my hand is often bleeding. But that's great. When you're bleeding, you feel so much a part of what you're doing.

“Wow, that sounds so self-involved.”

Duke may occasionally head into the philosophical deep end, but he is quick to tell you he can't really swim so well. For example, although he loves books now, Duke points out he hated reading until about two years ago.

He picked up a guitar eight years ago, working from simple songs such as “Puff the Magic Dragon,” to composing original tunes. Duke recorded four of his originals for a 2004 collaboration album, “XYX,” by Drexel-based MAD Dragon Records, and within a year of that record's release, he took the plunge.

“A lot of people around me were very encouraging and said, "You should do this,' ” Duke said. “I know I will always get lost in playing music, but to make a living at it is a different beast.”

For now, that beast is just awakening. Duke has 20 shows scheduled through the end of November, including an opening gig for Freedy Johnston Sunday at the Bridge-town Pub in Mount Holly.

- Burlington County Times

"Philly Local, Matt Duke's Song "Split Milk" Featured on Lifetime's Army Wives This Sunday August 17th at 10:00PM/EST!"

Philadelphia, PA – Critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter Matt Duke will have his song “Spilt Milk�, from his sophomore album, Kingdom Underground (Rykodisc/MAD Dragon Records), featured on Lifetime’s award-winning series “Army Wives’� this Sunday August 17th at 10:00PM/EST. Kingdom Underground is set to be released in late September 2008.

Kingdom Underground is an impressive collection of ten pop songs that exude a playful quality while the youthful songwriter tackles serious issues. While the subject matter on some of these songs carries a lot of weight, Kingdom Underground is an undeniable pop record by a young (he’s 23), self-taught, modern day troubadour from South Jersey who has successfully mixed his philosophical observations and experiences with his intuitive pop/folk sensibilities. Duke, an avid reader and what some may call an old-soul, crafted an album that touches upon themes of spiritual unrest (“The Father, the Son, and the Harlot’s Ghost�, “A Happy Hooligan�), addiction (“I’ve Got Atrophy on the Brain�), and failed relationships (“Walk It Off�). Other tracks like “Rabbit�, recently featured on, and “Opossum� showcase Duke’s amazing songwriting ability, as he uses animal imagery to address his own fears.

Each song brings its own unique sound that keeps the listener tuned in. Duke comments, “I think the vibe on the song ‘Sex and Reruns’ really sums up the experience of making this record as a whole for me. It was the last song I wrote on the record and as deep as I got into some of those heavier ideas, I couldn’t help but throw a wrench in the spokes by giving each song some sort of giddy musical twist.�

These twists are evident not only in the song writing, but in the production as well. The album was produced by Marshall Altman (Matt Nathanson, Kate Voegele, Marc Broussard) and recorded at Altman’s Galt Line Studios in Los Angeles.

In 2006 Duke released his debut album Winter Child on Drexel University’s student-run record label MAD Dragon Records. The album received warm support from XPN Radio with Duke performing frequently at World Café Live and at several XPN sponsored events throughout the area. Duke was brought to the attention of Rykodisc through an growing relationship between Drexel University and Ryko Distribution, which distributes MAD Dragon Records. Under a new agreement made between Ryko and Drexel University, Rykodisc now has an exclusive, first-look opportunity to sign artists from the MAD Dragon roster. Matt Duke marks the first signing under this agreement.

In the interests of developing and promoting new talent, Rykodisc has launched a new initiative called Ryko Greenhouse. Matt Duke is the first artist to participate in this program. Ryko Greenhouse gives music fans a sneak preview of our up-and-coming releases by offering two songs available for purchase at iTunes and other digital music providers at a specially reduced price. Two of Matt Duke’s songs, “Rabbit� and “30 Some Days� are available for digital purchase now.

Visit Matt’s official website and MySpace page for additional information, tour dates, videos and special messages from Matt at or Please let me know if you’d like a copy for review. - Philly Feature

"Signing Stories"

New Jersey native Matt Duke spent 20 minutes as a freshman at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University before taking what he refers to as “an indefinite sabbatical” from higher education. Ironically, his first demo found its way into a music industry program classroom at Drexel University a few miles away, and into the hands of MAD Dragon Records A&R Rep Marcy Wagman.

Duke’s friend was taking the A&R course, and brought in his first demo as show-and-tell of an artist who would be worthy of a record deal. Making the grade gave Duke a place on XYX, a promotional compilation record with two other artists. “We were the guinea pigs for this label,” says Duke, explaining that the experience is as much for the students who run the label as it is for the artists they produce. They do everything from production to mixing, to creating the electronic press kits for the artists.

Because XYX was well-received — the artists performed on XM radio stations throughout the East Coast and their live shows were often sold out –– MAD Dragon Records gave Duke the opportunity to make a full-length record. Duke explains that the contract is short and not nearly as binding as that of other record labels. “They want to be a stepping stone for artists, to have artists who can connect with the students — fresh artists who don’t have much to lose initially,” he says. “Their goal isn’t necessarily to keep you for a long time, but more to do artist development and have these students get in on something.”

Duke collaborated with veteran producers Steuart Smith and Stewart Lerman to mold his debut album Winter Child.

“It wasn’t right for me to go to college right after high school. I am young, but now is the time I want to do this,” says Duke. “I left and started doing music.”

MAD Dragon Records released Winter Child on September 12th.

––Jenny Kiljian
- Music Connection

"Duke of Pearl"

After one semester at St. Joseph’s University, Matt Duke quit school to play music. Ironically it was a school— Drexel University—that launched his career. The student-run label MAD Dragon Records included four of Duke’s songs on XYX, a compilation with Trisha O’Keefe and Julia Othmer. “The compilation went to a distribution deal and MAD Dragon approached me to do a full-length record,” says Duke, whose debut, Winter Child, was released in 2006. Citing Pearl Jam, The Band and Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate) as influences, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter says, “I learned to play guitar thanks to Pearl Jam songs. They were the band I idolized and still do. It’s not that you can hear it in the music anymore necessarily, it’s just that I’ve been inspired by them my entire life. You start by playing songs that really mean something to you and ultimately that integrates into your style and your being.” - Relix Magazine

"Music Review: Matt Duke - Kingdom Underground"

Written by Tan The Man
Published October 26, 2008

Matt Duke arrived on the music scene a couple years too late. The debut album for this New Jersey boy hadn't yet been released when Zach Braff made Garden State, an ode to his home state. But had Winter Child been out, you might have heard at least one track from Duke
on that film's soundtrack, given Braff's preference for the indie genre and Duke's female swooning voice.
The latter is an asset in the music world, having heard plenty of girls talk endlessly about John Mayer and having seen an unhealthy number of his pictures tacked up on the dormitory walls of one too many girls. I haven't decided if I am envious or jealous (perhaps both) of Mayer's ability to attract the opposite sex, but it's unquestionable that he has influenced his fair share of pop's singer-songwriters.

To Duke's credit, he doesn't lay on the come-here-to-me songs as much as other male vocalists do. While there is the obvious upbeat danceable sex track "Sex And
Reruns," I'm surprised there aren't more sensitive tearjerker ballads like "30 Some Days" and "Opossum." I mean seriously, these songs get you laid. Surprisingly, the somewhat cheesy ballad "Rabbit" works well, especially highlighting the album's halfway mark. The song, however, does hit a weird tone during the last
stanza ("Try to break away from yourself / Throw your broken bones in a heap / All the blood and guts are exposed / Your spirit has been begging to leave"). It's a little
much. Unfortunately, the latter tracks don't help with Kingdom Underground tailing off near
the end. Experimentation should be applauded, but "A Happy Hooligan" meanders through so many style and tempo changes that it feels like a drunken holiday medley. The angst-filled "Rose" might have worked better with deeper vocals, but Duke maintains his sympathetic 'it's my fault' demeanor. The electric guitar solo doesn't help either.

Duke's sophomore album shows a lot of potential, displaying a versatile style and a promising ability to hit the right notes in a ballad and in more up-tempo fare. He just
needs to get more focused and keep those off-the-wall ideas to himself. "I've Got Atrophy On The Brain" is a good song but the title could use a second opinion.

- BC Music

"Pussycast Dolls ... Enigma ...Matt Duke"

Scripps Howard News Service
2008-10-05 00:00:00

"KINGDOM UNDERGROUND," Matt Duke (Rykodisc/MAD Dragon)

Poets have grim prospects at making a living with their craft, even those who manage to convert their skills
into songwriting. Matt Duke takes it a step further by pushing into the realm of singer-songwriters, which at
least gives him a chance.

But like so many of his kind, Duke, 23, isn't developing fast enough as a performer to keep up with his lyrical
skills. He demonstrates abundant promise on his new "Kingdom Underground," a follow-up to his 2006 debut, "Winter Child," yet it's telling that the highlight of the all-important opening track is its title -- "The Father, the Son and the Harlot's Ghost."

Produced and arranged by Marshall Altman, "Kingdom Underground" drops Duke into several musical
contexts, and the self-taught performer from New Jersey struggles to lead in the blustery rock constructions of murky cuts such as "A Happy Hooligan" and "Walk It Off," though he pulls off the histrionic grandstanding demanded of "I've Got Atrophy on the Brain."
Duke's middle-of-the-road persona and ordinary voice is better suited for the acoustic framework of "Rabbit" and the innocent retro-electro of "Sex and Reruns," where he sings, "When you suck at life, but you're much too scared to die/Embrace the sweet indifference with your brothers, and we'll march in time."

Best of all, he does gloomy very well, and closing track "Spilt Milk" is sure to break hearts as he painfully
works through the mantra, "I just want to start over, start over."
Duke doesn't need to start over, but he still has work to do. - SHNS

"Matt Duke - Kingdom Underground in stores now!"

Matt Duke is an ambitious songwriter, fashioning dramatic sagas about troubled souls who struggle with romance, life, death and, perhaps most of all, with themselves. “Sex and Reruns” takes a sardonic look, with a surprisingly easy-going pop feel, at the self-medicating properties of the internet and TV, whether you
happen to be bored, lonely or having difficulties composing your next song.

Matt Duke's Rykodisc debut Kingdom Underground in-stores now!

- Altsounds

"Matt Duke | Kingdom Underground (Ryko)"

Written by Lauren Beckerle
Friday, 12 September 2008

Matt Duke's sophomore release is another testament to his top-shel
vocal abilities, but other elements fail to enhance and compliment said abilities.

Imagine receiving a different feeling (or several) almost every time an album is heard: irritation, fascination, apathy, indecision, fatigue, admiration. Keep in
mind, the base mood is pretty balanced and laidback. Now, picture trying to concoct a review with prior reactions swirling amid an accumulation of new ones. Matt Duke's sophomore release is another testament to his top-shelf vocal
abilities, but other elements fail to enhance and compliment said abilities. For instance, a corny phrase, a particularly redundant refrain, or excessively estrogen-friendly percussion stylings easily sour a good listening experience.
Oddly enough, some of these features work well in a few tracks.

"Father, the Son and the Harlot's Ghost" isn't an ideal introduction. It's
moderately enjoyable and could be considered highbrow chick-flick music; however, little stingers poke at certain points, eliciting a cringe and/or knotted eyebrow. For instance, a falsetto-steered, slightly whiny sound ushers in lyrics
such as, "Oh sweet thing/ bombs away and I'll say..." and "...kiss me honey sweetly with our eyes closed." These little pin stabs manage to fulfill the minimum requirement of sappiness for the day.

A little damage control follows with "Sex and Reruns." Duke's higher octaves combine with synthesized sounds, yielding a light-hearted, playful effect. The lines "Dark out all your demons with white noise, pills and Jesus" produce a quirky contrast in this memorable and clever piece. An urge to press "skip" occurs with mid-album animal-morphic tracks "Opposum" and "Rabbit." The former opens with "Summer colds never really made much sense at all"; the latter's annoyingly cyclic refrain "Run little rabbit, run" exudes a whimpering sensitivity that's more compatible with an extremely mellow mood.
Minus a few phrases, both sound like an audio interpretation of children's stories.

The album ends with "Spilt Milk," a soft, simple piece that successfully thrives on the repetition of "I just wanna start over, start over." It builds into an emotional crescendo, closing with the most ardent and heartfelt spot in the album. Duke
seems to have a very close connection with this track. The fact that it played in an episode of Lifetime's Army Wives may weaken some expectations, but don't
let it. Music coordination is its own art form.

Matt Duke has the potential to be a Top 40 climber. It's foreseeable that his emotional, straightforward delivery and range-versatile voice will appease the tastes of anti-mainstream and pop music lovers alike. - Playback:stl

"Music veteran in a novel duet"

A year ago, alt-pop singer-songwriter Jules Shear had finished his ninth solo album, but had no label to release it.

At that point, many of the students working at Drexel University's MAD Dragon Records had never heard of Shear. "If you'd told me 'Jules Shear,' I'd say, who?" Drexel junior Chris Rupp said with a laugh.

"But if you'd told me, have you ever heard 'All Through the Night' by Cyndi Lauper, or 'If She Knew What She Wants' by the Bangles, I'd say, yeah, but what's that got to do with Jules Shear? Then when you hear a little more background, it's more like, oh, that guy."

This month, that guy has put out his new album, Dreams Don't Count, on MAD Dragon, and Rupp is the project manager in charge of the release. It's a match of artist and label that came about through a blend of coincidence, coercion and blind faith.

Dreams Don't Count matches Shear's typically well-crafted songs and less-than-pretty, Dylanesque voice with elegant arrangements for cello, violin, accordion and his own acoustic guitar.

Over the course of his critically acclaimed career, Shear has been on more record labels than he can remember: "Five or six" by his count, but actually 10 before MAD Dragon, going back to the '70s, when he released albums with the Funky Kings, and then Jules and the Polar Bears.

In addition to the hits he wrote for Lauper and the Bangles, Shear's songs have been recorded by the Band, 10,000 Maniacs, Curtis Stigers and Alison Moyet. Born in Pittsburgh, Shear, 54, was also the first host of MTV Unplugged.

How'd he wind up at MAD Dragon?

The label, founded in 2003, is an outgrowth of the Recording Industry Operations courses in Drexel's music business program, which will graduate its first full class of 43 students this spring. Previously, MAD Dragon had released two albums: a compilation of Drexel student artists and one of local singer-songwriters such as Matt Duke.

Though it's not the only student-run label - Columbia University and the University of Connecticut have them, for instance - MAD Dragon has an unusual distinction: It signed the first national retail distribution deal for a student-run label with Ryko, the respected independent distributor.

"As a result of that [distribution deal], we realized we had the opportunity to attract even more established artists," says Marcy Rauer Wagman, who is Drexel's music industry program director.

Last summer some professors and students "were batting about different names of who could be a nice linchpin artist for us," Wagman says. "Who is a great singer-songwriter - because that's the genre right now we are dealing in - who has not had the recognition that we think he or she deserves and who we just love?

"And everyone said, Jules Shear, he would be great; wonder what he's doing?"

Oddly enough, she says, a Drexel professor was friendly with a musician who was doing the string arrangements on Shear's latest album.

Wagman had her own Shear coincidental connection: With Tommy Conwell, she had written "I'm Not Your Man," the hit from Conwell's 1988 debut album Rumble; Conwell recorded one of Shear's songs on that album, too.

Shear happened to be in Conshohocken working with the Hooters' Rob Hyman on a different project, and Wagman arranged to meet with him to explore the possibility of working with MAD Dragon. "He was absolutely intrigued by the whole thing," Wagman says.

Shear admits he was skeptical at first, but he was quickly persuaded to license the album to MAD Dragon. It seemed like "a good idea," he says, by phone from California, "because the enthusiasm was there... . At this point in my career and the way the music business is, if you expect enthusiasm to come from anywhere, you're going to be probably mistaken. Real enthusiasm, that is. And these guys, everyone who I met there, seemed genuinely enthusiastic to do it this way. And I thought, geez, that's something you can't buy."

"We were all very excited, because obviously Jules Shear is a big name in the industry," said Drexel senior Kate Sherlock, who heads the MAD Dragon music publishing department. "To have a chance to work with someone like himself is just a huge deal for college students... . We're all very excited and working very hard because we want to see it do well as much as he does."

Shear met with the Recording Industry Operations class a few times. Wagman says as many as 50 students have been involved with the release, from radio promotion to tour booking and graphic design to videography.

"I've been involved with just about everything," says Rupp, who hopes to continue with Drexel's fifth-year M.B.A. program. "Choosing a graphic designer, helping to facilitate what the graphics should look like for advance copies and for the real album; helping to set up where to go with radio, what markets to target; doing press releases - writing his bio is one of the first things that I had to do, helping to decide how to pre-digest the music for everybody, how to promote it... ."

Sherlock's goal is to place one of Shear's songs in a television show or movie. While the work is an outgrowth of a college course that the students take for credit, it has greater implications.

"We work for free 24 hours a day because it's very exciting for us and we're learning every day," Sherlock says. "Courses do end: This recording class that I'm in right now, RIO we call it, will end in three weeks, but obviously my role as the head of the publishing company won't end. I consider this a job for me, although I'm not getting paid. This is a real artist with a real career, and I can't just stop, and I don't want to because I want to see it through to the end."

Wagman says modest sales of 5,000 to 10,000 CDs "would be a success" for the independent label and Shear. Since MAD Dragon is a nonprofit label, Shear earns a higher percentage than typical on each $11.98 album sold. The school's proceeds go toward the music industry program.

Shear, who will play World Cafe Live on April 14, backed by Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian of the Hooters, says he's being "enthusiastically naive" about working with the student label.

"I've turned over my work to real record labels and that didn't... work out too well. I'd rather turn it over to these kids because hopefully they're learning something, and that's an extra added attraction for me. I'd rather be doing that than having a bunch of old guys: They're not going to be learning anything." - The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Duke's musical set uses improvised lyrics and displays abundance of original work"

By Lauren Mazur
Staff Writer

Last Saturday night, a fresh new voice electrified the air in the Undergrounds Coffeehouse. Matt Duke, a solo acoustic guitarist/vocalist hailing from Philadelphia, played a varied and interesting set to an enthusiastic audience.

Duke, a college freshman who began performing during his sophomore year of high school, began his set with an original, "Strange," which immediately made both his extraordinary vocal control and enjoyment of performing apparent. As Duke played, his body became infused with the energy and emotion of the music, transforming him from a rather soft-spoken, modest individual into a fervent conveyer of passion. One of the highlights of the evening was an original piece entitled "Listen to Your Window." This unique song, written about a stalker, sent chills and intrigue through the audience with its vividly creepy musical imagery and emotional vocals.

Duke's casual and candid style fit perfectly into the Undergrounds atmosphere, with its soft purple and blue lights and relaxed ambience. He has been playing coffeehouses for a while (his favorite being the Daily Grind in New Jersey), working on his own unique sound. His musical favorites and influences include Jeff Buckley, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, and Silverchair.

Duke impressively covered Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" and Bright Eyes' "Lover I Don't Have to Love." Duke later performed beautiful covers of Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" and Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl."

The most enjoyable part of the show occurred when Duke allowed the audience to pick topics for him to use in improvisational songs. The subject of the first improv song was Duke's mother eating a Popsicle and watching Monday Night Football, the second concerned eating ice cream on the ski slopes, and the third commented on the smell in the hallway outside Undergrounds. With lines such as, "One time I tried to eat a Popsicle with my dad/This experience was very bad/He said, 'Screw this I want a beer'," it is apparent why the audience had contracted the giggles. Said Duke of his improv, "It's just cool to see them get your mind working, see how many words you can spit out and make rhyme...If there's one thing that I always want to do it would be organic rap, but I can't do that because I'm not black, so I guess the closest thing I have to it is improv." The set concluded with "On the Seaside," an emotional and expressive ending to a highly impressive performance.

Duke's modesty shows offstage when he says of music, "This is the only thing that I can do quasi-well in life, so I want to kind of stick with it, I guess." The folks who had the chance to see Matt Duke perform last Saturday would likely agree that indeed, he should stick with it.

- Pipe Dream


'Floating Mass' EP- 2003
Mad Dragon Records 'XYX' Compilation- 2005
'Winter Child' LP- 2006
'Kingdom Underground'- 2008
'Acoustic Kingdom Underground EP'- June 2009
'TFFI' November 2009


XM Radio the Loft Channel 50




Anyone who caught singer-songwriter Matt Duke at his early shows in the Philadelphia area or on Manhattan’s Lower East Side a few years back would have discovered an artist whose musical vocabulary was nothing short of astonishing. His tee-shirt/jeans/baseball cap attire may have seemed reassuringly familiar, but Duke’s performances immediately took listeners into uncharted territory. A self-taught guitarist, Duke’s acoustic playing was often full of abrupt stops and starts, unexpected changes of direction, complex rhythms that came off more like jazz than folk or rock, challenging the limits of his acoustic instrument. His voice could be quietly confessional at first, then escalate to an impassioned wail, as startlingly intense by the end of a song as it was gently intimate at the start. In a world of heart-on-their-sleeve singer-songwriters, Duke pushed past the conventions of the genre, combining elements of jazz, folk and pop, even grunge and progressive rock, with unbridled emotion to create a sound very much his own.

Kingdom Underground, Duke’s Rykodisc debut, is just as daring as those buzz-generating gigs. Duke is an ambitious songwriter, fashioning dramatic sagas about troubled souls who struggle with romance, life, death and, perhaps most of all, with themselves. His words can be intriguingly ambiguous: the house-bound couple on “Opossum,” for example, might be dealing with agoraphobia or maybe even the end of the world. He can also be exhilaratingly forthright, as on “Walk It Off,” a no-minced-words rocker about a bruising lover’s spat. The unlisted title track, hidden on the disc, lends a cinematically foreboding tone to the proceedings, with a dark, electronic feel to it that recalls Trent Reznor at his most brooding. Not all of Duke’s material is of a life-or-death nature, however. “Rabbit” is a tender, spare ballad at the heart of the album. “Sex and Reruns” takes a sardonic look, with a surprisingly easy-going pop feel, at the self-medicating properties of the internet and TV, whether you happen to be bored, lonely or having difficulties composing your next song.

Addressing the complicated, philosophical/spiritual subject matter he gravitated towards on Kingdom Underground, Duke jokingly decides it must be his Irish Catholic background. But then he says, “Love songs – I put those aside. I hear them on the radio so often. Writing about love and breakups is almost tired. The whole idea of your spiritual unrest, what you believe in and what you don’t, what you’re struggling with now and what you will struggle with for the rest of your life, were, for some reason, the things that were the easiest to write about. It’s very rare that I’d write about relationships; it’s mostly how everyday, trivial, petty problems could be associated with a greater issue. That’s what I get the most inspiration from. And I don’t think I’ll ever get tired writing about that stuff.”

Duke enlisted Los Angeles-based producer Marshall Altman (Matt Nathanson, Virginia Coalition, Zebrahead) to collaborate with him on Kingdom Underground. The singer spent a few months toiling every night at a desk in his parents’ basement, working on material. Then he joined Altman for four weeks in a California studio. Duke, who was raised in southern New Jersey just across the bridge from Philly, had never recorded outside of the Philadelphia area, and he was galvanized by his new surroundings: “All I could do in L.A. was focus on my work. It was a breath of fresh air to be in a place where I wasn’t so comfortable that I would be falling back into the familiar songwriting habits I had at home.” For the most part, Duke and Altman did the sessions on their own, with engineer Eric Robinson, but Altman did bring in a backing band for two long, action-packed days to add rhythm tracks, electric guitar and keyboards. As Duke recalls, “Marshall and I had done the rough stuff, the skeletal structure of the songs, with the acoustic guitar and the guys listened to it. Over two days they cut twelve tracks. They weren’t cut to click or anything like that. All the musicians could hear was the guitar and they just went and played it live. It was heavy. It was so cool. There was such an energy that Marshall was capturing.”

Altman, who immediately liked the “quixotic” aspects of Duke’s songwriting style, was able to help shape Duke’s musical and thematic gear-shifting into a cohesive, artfully sequenced album. Duke admits, “When I first started out, I didn’t know what style I was --I still don’t and I probably never will. That’s why it was so important to find a producer who could cater to the dramatic raw energy but, at the same time, hone whatever musical style it was and not make it sound all over the place.”

Duke has always been drawn to music as a means of self-discovery. As a teenager, Duke initially picked up the guitar for a time-honored reason: “solely for the purpose of getting girls,” figuring out how to play the instrum