Oh my darling my dear, I have reason to fear that you know not the man you’re adoring, from the dark salty sea, I found refuge in thee, but I’m soon to be loosening my moorings… A convicted fool I am, chained to the pen in my hand, and my darling I must serve this sentence. Andrew Duhon, “The Moorings”
These are a few of the lines from the title track of Andrew Duhon’s new album, The Moorings. Inspired by his travels and the infatuation with both love and loneliness, Duhon calls this song his thesis for the past five years.
“Every songwriter has a niche or one thing that they do well,” says Duhon. “I think mine is traveling, picking up the pieces along the way, and turning them into songs. I am sure one day I’ll find the notion of settling down more appealing, but right now it is as if I crave loneliness as much as companionship. A home life doesn’t inspire me as much as being alone and walking the streets of an unfamiliar town at 5 AM. For me, it’s about eliminating the familiar and going somewhere I have never been or seeking help from someone I have never met and discovering the humanity in that process. Traveling alone seems to take me to where the story begins. I love going from small town to small town and telling what I just saw back there, playing a song about a place just back that way.”
Duhon records his travel stories in journals and shares them as a personal travelogue with pictures on his website. “These journals have been a good friend in keeping those memories around,” says Duhon. “Not every experience fits into a song, or sometimes the song just hasn’t come along yet.”
The Moorings will be released nationally on April 30. It is the third album for the 27-year-old songwriter from New Orleans. Duhon describes The Moorings as an honest snapshot of his life and travels during the three years since his last release, Dreaming When You Leave. “I have the same muses that I had on past albums, but picked up new ones along the way. England is one of those new muses,” says Duhon. “I thought there might be a good sharing experience in taking my music, which is rooted in the place where I come from, to another shore with rich folk traditions of its own. For once in my life, I was exactly right.”
Duhon defines his music as folk music because it follows the tradition of capturing the life and times as he experiences them. He grew up in Metairie, Louisiana reading poetry and listening to Texas and Mississippi Delta blues and Greenwich Village folk music. “A blues song can be as simple as a handclap and a voice, but it can encapsulate so much. It showed me how simple and effective art can be. Simplicity is my favorite style, but it is also a necessity for me because I am more of a writer than a musician.”
When Duhon first started playing guitar and singing at home, he remembers hear his sister giggling at him as he practiced 90s pop songs, but that was before he learned how to fill his voice with his emotions. “Back then my voice was terrible, but I kept singing and playing and eventually what came out in my voice was pretty close to what I was feeling in my soul.”
After high school, Duhon discovered the music of New Orleans while working as a custodian in exchange for a room at an old convent in the city. He mopped the floors during the day and wandered around New Orleans at night, playing his guitar at open mic nights. People began to tell him with conviction that they were feeling what he was singing, and he began to feel comfortable with songwriting and communicating through his music.
Writing songs is now what he does best as he tells stories from his imagination or his own life in simple, poetic lines. He starts with a guitar, with or without an idea for what comes next. “I usually just start playing chords that make sense,” says Duhon. “If there is no lyrical idea, I’ll just sing words simply to fit the melody, which can be surprisingly effective in coming up with lyrics.
Singing words that fit the melody created Duhon’s song “Evelyn” (The Moorings). “I realized that after having written so many songs, I’d never written one in a minor key,” says Duhon. “There was no particular reason why I hadn’t, so I started playing a simple minor progression, and the first words that came out were ‘Come on baby, why you wanna wait?’ That phrase became the chorus. The line ‘Find a more original sin’ came to me when I was driving across Mobile Bay.”
“Evelyn is a kind of allusion unbounded by time,” explains Duhon. “It became a world where the first woman, Eve, and I were in a relationship. Could I steal Eve from Adam and start this whole thing over again?”
“Just Another Beautiful Girl” was inspired by a friend’s mother. “My friend’s mother was a religious person and always tried to impart her religious wisdom,” says Duhon. “She called me once and asked why I don’t write more songs about Jesus. That day I wrote ‘Just Another Beautiful Girl’ about why I don’t write more songs about Jesus. It was really just a love story.”
The title song, “The Moorings,” begins in a slow English and Scottish cadence that is built on the theme of many old English folk songs about the sea–I love you and you have been good to me, but I am pulled by the ocean and I don’t know if I will come back again. “There is a beautiful English sense of being a seafaring man and the mooring is the physical place where you tie off,” says Duhon. “For me, it is also about untying that line and leaving your lover because you are pulled somewhere else and don’t know if you will ever return.”
Duhon went in to the recording studio in September 2012, with 20 songs and narrowed them down to twelve. “Time in the studio can be nerve-wracking,” says Duhon. “It is the immortalization of my songs and I have to surrender to it. When the red light goes on, I never sing it the same way as I do in my bedroom. There are so many possibilities in production and I am just trying to create what is the most genuine thing.”
Duhon is touring with his band in March and April, performing at release parties in some of the towns that have been good to him including New Orleans, Ocean Springs, Fairhope, and Mobile. “I love playing along the Gulf Coast because there is an acceptance here that gives you room to live and breathe and perform,” says Duhon. “Maybe it is the bay breeze or the Jimmy Buffett effect, but people down here seem to like a guy with a guitar and a story.”
Duhon will consider the The Moorings a success if it simplifies his life and gives him more time for songwriting instead of spending most of his time on bookings, promotions and social media. “Getting songs on the radio isn’t the stepping stone or the trophy anymore,” says Duhon. “I want this record to do well enough to give me more time to pick up a guitar and write songs. I spend so much time on the business of being a musician that I don’t have enough time to write, which is unacceptable to me. Having time to write better songs is all that matters.”
Time for travel and change also helps Duhon write better songs. When he does the same thing over and over, it is harder to listen to himself or to hear if his music is good or truthful.
“I can get to a point that I am over the music because I have heard it all over and over before,” says Duhon. “But if I try an instrument that I can’t play, I can write a song in five minutes because change shakes you up and everything starts to make sense again. Change an instrument, change a chord, change a town, and the music starts to become truthful again even though it is as simple as it was before.”