JESSE LORTZ AND KIMBERLY MORRISON AREN’T ROYALTY, but as the Dutchess and the Duke they may well be the Next Big Thing to come out of the Seattle music scene. They’re the first to admit that nothing they’ve done before would have prepared anyone for that news. Just ask Morrison how the two managed to summon the pitch-perfect tone of their debut CD She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke—a collection of Lortz’s hard-bitten compositions that could be plopped untouched into the folk-rock soundtrack of some aching 1960s independent film. “I think it was just a natural progression,” she explains, then bursts out laughing, “from all the other terrible music we’ve made.”
Let’s just say they’re two talents who’ve been trying to find their sound for a while. Now almost 30, the two met in the 1990s as teenagers in Maple Valley. Morrison dated Lortz’s pal and befriended Lortz. They both started surf bands and paid their dues in a variety of unique musical configurations. Lortz confesses to a stint in the Amazing Spidermen, which required all members to wear red turtlenecks; Morrison, too, dealt with matching group outfits. The two friends were always somehow on each other’s radar.
“We went to different high schools, but where we grew up the high schools were pretty close,” says Lortz. “So my band would play with her band all the time. Then that got old, so we would kind of mash it up and form new bands. Then that got old and…”
And then, they reconnected, recording a single in 2007 called “Reservoir Park,” which got the attention of Sub Pop, who passed it on to their Hardly Art imprint—who, knowing when to grab a good thing, signed the duo. “We had just made the seven-inch,” Morrison recalls. “We thought it was going to be a one-off thing.”
“I had kind of a psychological breakdown and I thought, well, maybe I’ll write some of this stuff down,” Lortz says. “And then we got the record deal, so I had to write it down because we didn’t have any songs.”
The resulting CD, released in July, features Lortz’s guitar and impudent, Mick Jagger wail caressed by Morrison’s sympathetic harmonies, hand claps, tambourine, even whistling. Each song on She’s the Dutchess professes sentiments so ardently jaded they’re almost romantic—call it starry-eyed cynicism (“Mary” finds Lortz claiming “You taught me how to love wrong / and I learned it so long ago / now I can’t change”).
Such an irresistible album quickly found airplay on tastemaker station KEXP. And Lortz and Morrison even toured this summer with rising Sub Pop stars Fleet Foxes—no strangers to Next Big Thing territory—after a gig with them at the Sunset Tavern. It must be exciting to finally feel things clicking.
“It’s hard to know because we’ve been so detached, traveling the country,” says Morrison. “We’d get text messages from people saying, ‘They’re playing your song on the radio!’”
“It’d be nice,” Lortz admits, “to get paid to sit around and make up songs.”
“Oh,” Morrison agrees, “I’m all for that.”