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Jesse of The Duhks

A Conversation with Leonard Podolak (continued)

PM: How did the Duhks actually come together--in what, around 2000 or so?

LP: It was 2002. I mean, I'm not sure if you know too much about the story of my previous band, Scruj MacDuhk.

PM: I was aware peripherally of them, but I don't know the story.

LP: Okay. Well, basically, when I was 19, I went to British Columbia. I took a job after I graduated, cooking. After high school I was cooking in a few restaurants. And my foster brother, Max Preston, who is a couple years older than me, said, "I'm going to B.C. for a couple months." And I replied, "Oh, yeah. Well, I'm going to come with you."


LP: It was one of those things where I was trying to find myself and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life, knowing that I didn't want to be a cook in a restaurant, knowing that I wanted to take my banjo playing somewhere, and that's what I wanted to do. And after about a month and a half on the road with my brother, I said, "Okay, Max. I'm going to go back to Winnipeg, and I think I'm going to try to start a band." And I was really lucky, I got introduced to a couple of really wonderful players, this guy named Jeff Butler, who was a Newfoundland button according player who moved to Winnipeg to go to medical school. And he was in a band called Figgy Duff. And they were sort of a popular Celtic rock band from the '70s and '80s. They were really big on the Canadian scene. And then also I met this other young man named Daniel Paisley, who is one of the most eclectic and diverse musicians I've still ever met and played with. He was introduced to me as a Highland Bagpiper, but when I started jamming with him I soon discovered that he could rock out on the accordion, the tin whistle and the piano.

PM: Damn.

LP: But then he said, "You know, Leonard, I was in the Steel Drum Orchestra with"--

PM: [laughs]

LP: "I went to the church so I could be in this Steel Orchestra." And he was playing jigs and reels in Scottish and Irish music on the steel drums. And so he brought this over to my house, and I had this jam with him and Jeff on the accordion. And it was banjo, button accordion and steel drums. And I just said, "No"--immediately, I said, "We have to be a band." We had this great jam, we were playing great music right off the top. And so Jeff was like, "Well, I have this St. Patrick's Day gig at the pub. That could be our first gig." So we recruited a guitar player who knew nothing about the tradition, and a fiddle player who knew nothing about the tradition. And we tossed them the music as quickly as we could, and we did this gig. And it was a lot of fun. And we had this stupid conversation about what the band was going to be called. And my dad was like, "Something with ducks."


LP: And so we started brainstorming, and Scruj MacDuhk was the name we came up with. And so that band--fifteen or twenty people went in and out of that band from 1995 to 2001. In 1998, it sort of developed a core of people who were serious and wanted to stick with it, and saw where it could go. And we made a record called Road to Canso. And we started to do very well in Canada. But just as we were making inroads into the States, it hit the wall and we broke up.

PM: Just hit the wall kind of interpersonally?

LP: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I think really what it was began with the fiddle player. I'd been playing with him since that very first gig that I was telling you about. He was sixteen at the time. So the by the time he was twenty-one, I think he needed to have some different experiences in his life then. And we had disagreements about management direction, and la la la and--

PM: Sure, the usual stuff.

LP: Yeah, the usual stuff. So it hit the wall. And I mean it was really very hard for me, and I was really heartbroken. But not wanting to be kicked down, as soon as I saw that was happening, I called up Jessica Havey who--her uncle Marshall Dana is a longtime volunteer at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and a good friend of my dad's. And he was living in my parents' basement. He said, "You know, Leonard, you want a singer? You got to call Jessica." And I was a little hesitant, because she was really young, and I'd never really heard her sing before.

PM: Wow.

LP: But she was someone who I knew that wanted it, because she was going to go to Vancouver to get into the whole acting business.

PM: Right. She was ready to rock.

LP: And I called her up, and I said, "Jess, I'm starting a new band, and why don't we do some singing together and just see what happens?" So she came over to my house, and we had an immediate musical connection. We started singing together, and it took like a minute to realize, "Oh, my God, this is not bullshit, here. This is"--I mean, obviously she was really young, and I was still much younger then--I mean, even though it was only four years ago.

PM: It's a long four years, though, yeah.

LP: It was a long four years, and we've certainly come a long way, and I've certainly come a long way. But we had this immediate connection.   continue

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