'I'm still at the beginning of what I'm doing'
Duffy launches her first North American headlining tour at Humphrey's tonight
Success is not always what it seems.
Just ask Duffy, the young singer who has been thrust into the international spotlight as both a solo star and a key figure in a growing retro pop-soul movement that also includes fellow United Kingdom vocal sensations Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone and the lone-named Adele and Estelle.
“People talk to me about success as if I know what it is,” said Duffy, 24, whose Web site describes her as “your favorite Welsh soul diva.”
“But I think success is what you feel when you are in your late 50s, with your feet up and a glass of whiskey in your hand. I'm not sure of the process. I'm still at the beginning of what I'm doing.”
That, she is.
But Aimee Anne Duffy is quickly discovering that budding stardom can be an exciting adventure that is also intensely demanding, no matter whether you feel successful or not. A quick look at her schedule demonstrates just how demanding.
Duffy's late-September trip to New York saw her do a photo shoot for InStyle magazine. It was sandwiched between rehearsals for the Sept. 28 telecast of “Saturday Night Live,” on which she performed two songs – “Mercy” and “Stepping Stone” – from her hit debut album, “Rockferry.”
On Sept. 29, she jetted off for her first visit to Japan for a concert and a week of interviews and promotional appearances, before returning to the United States to film her debut on PBS' “Austin City Limits.”
Tonight, Duffy kicks off her first North American headlining tour with a San Diego show at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay. After 10 dates on her own, she opens five East Coast arena shows for Coldplay, before launching a European tour that runs through the second week of December.
“Well, first of all, you're frightening me, because you know more about me and my schedule than I do,” the blonde singer-songwriter said from New York, the day before her “Saturday Night Live” guest spot.
“I just follow the music, whether it takes me to Japan, San Diego or 'Saturday Night Live.' It seems to be a different thing every day, and I just keep doing it. I enjoy it very much. I spent a few years making this record, so it's great to get out and see the world.”
Duffy's debut album is steeped in the music of the 1960s in general, with specific nods to various Motown Records greats (think The Supremes and Smokey Robinson), Dionne Warwick, Phil Spector's fabled “Wall of Sound” records with Darlene Love, and such vintage Duffy favorites as The Walker Brothers and Ann Peebles.
Yet, it is the late Dusty Springfield to whom Duffy is most often compared by music critics, even though only one song on “Rockferry” – the album-closing “Distant Dreamer” – is especially reminiscent of Springfield. The comparisons suggest lazy journalism, since Duffy's eye makeup and big blonde hair are far more suggestive of Springfield than her voice.
“In the beginning, I didn't understand all the comparisons, because I never even met this woman,” said Duffy, whose singing style evokes that of 1960s “It” girl Lulu a lot more than Springfield. “I knew Dusty's songs and some of her records. But I was so heavily linked, it was like people thought I was a new version of her, which annoys me because nobody is replaceable. I find it quite amusing, really.”
Released early this year, “Rockferry's” sleek blue-eyed soul songs and retro-chic tone led Duffy to be hailed (and dismissed) as a “new Amy Winehouse.”
She responded by pointing out that she began work on her album in 2004, nearly two years before Winehouse's international breakthrough album, “Back in Black,” came out. Duffy also takes exception with those who place her in the same retro-soul school as Winehouse, Joss Stone, et al.
“I think it's a gimmick,” she said. “Right now, I feel on my own and I don't feel anybody is really lumped together. I think that, maybe at the beginning, people thought I was one thing – and I wasn't. It's quite exciting to keep people surprised and I look forward to doing that. I'm writing all the time and I have a new song, which will come out in a few weeks, that's a big, disco-y dance song.”
Like Winehouse and Stone, Duffy's voice and phrasing sound considerably older and darker-hued than one typically hears from such a young singer, let alone one from the tiny Welsh town of Nefyn (pronounced Nevy).
She may be 24, not 64, but Duffy sounds like she came of musical age in the 1960s, not the 1990s, and on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean from Wales, a small country of barely 2 million.
“It's more exciting to look back at stuff from 40 or 50 years ago, than 20 years ago,” she said. “Every time I'm in America, I feel there's some atmosphere – I can't put my finger on it – but there's some excitement that exists nowhere else. And I think it's because soul music, black music, is basically what started pop music.
“The most important thing in music is honesty, because that basically accomplishes everything. You might not be the best singer, or show your emotions the way you wish you could, but if you're honest, you ultimately do what you can.”
Duffy's album is accomplished and inviting, if rarely startling or innovative. Her performance at Coachella this year, like Winehouse's at the same festival in Indio a year ago, showed that she remains a musical work-in-progress, becoming more seasoned with each new show.
That Duffy is still a student, albeit an increasingly famous one, was reinforced by her response to the observation that the opening guitar licks on “Warwick Avenue,” a standout song from her album, evokes “My Girl” by The Temptations.
“The truth, which proves quite ironic for me, is I'm learning about music – not only soul music, but all kinds,” Duffy said. “And the truth is that I didn't know all these (older) songs as I was writing the record four years ago. It was quite instinctual, because I was so naive and I felt I could go anywhere. The more you know, the more you want to know, and I didn't know anything! I didn't even know what Tamla Motown was when I first started this record. I thought Tamla was one thing, and Motown another. Now, I can laugh about it.“If you come from an isolated place, like me, how is anyone supposed to know about Scott Walker or Dinah Washington? Or that Michael Jackson was one of the Jackson 5? Or about (Motown Records' founder) Berry Gordy? You don't know these things; it takes years of passion and education to find out about them, and that's what I'm doing now.”
Thursday, October 9, 2008
9 Oct: Article ~'I'm still at the beginning of what I'm doing'
The below article appeared in the San Diego Tribune today.