If there’s one blessing from 2020, it’s that The Kooks’ frontman Luke Pritchard and singer/songwriter Ellie Pritchard found the time to create a stunning body of work under the moniker DUO.
Although the couple didn’t know it then, a trip to the Isle of Wight to visit Luke’s Granny Norah would be the musical catalyst for what was to come for the pair. After writing a few songs on that fateful trip a few years ago and penning tracks in-between then and now, it took the great lockdown of 2020 to encourage the pair to think about making a body of work together. Luckily for us, they kept at it and DUO was born. Blending pop singer/songwriter Ellie’s sultry vocals and evocative lyricism with Luke’s background as the frontman to indie rock band The Kooks, DUO represents a much-needed dose of timelessness in music today. Their first single ‘Don’t Judge’ targets naysayers and serves as a perfect insight into the pair, from their tongue-in-cheek lyrics, 60s French cinema, and timeless melodies. DUO‘s releases feel like a nice escape to another world where love, murder ballads, and a Miami car drive all exist in the same place.
While speaking with the real-life lovers and being warmly invited into their home via Zoom, you’re instantly reminded of the powerful duos that have shaped music — from Serge and Jane to Marianne and Mick to Patti and Robert. They finish each other’s sentences, champion one another’s instincts, and, most importantly, know the importance of creating music that is both timeless and intimate; a level of intimacy that could only be seen, heard and felt by listeners when the pair is creating art with the person they love most.
To celebrate the second act of their 3-act EP release, 1883 caught up with Ellie and Luke to discuss all things DUO, from their aesthetic choices to their reasonings for only recording a handful of takes for each song.
First things first: I need to know more about the story of Granny Norah and her unique role in DUO. Can you tell me a bit about how she became the catalyst for the creation of DUO?
Luke: Oh, Granny Norah! My Gran never liked any of my previous girlfriends, but when Ellie came over to stay they got along really well. She just kept saying “This is you, this is it, you’re done, you need to stop!” [Laughs] We went to the Isle of Wight and was able to spend a lot of time with her just before she died. We were on this farm that she lived on in the countryside and it was the beginning of our relationship; it felt good to get out of London and get out of the scene. We would go to the studio and write songs and come back and play them to Granny Nora and she would give us her honest opinion, like “this is good, this is terrible.” [Laughs]
She would give her seal of approval!
Luke: Exactly. She was a big supporter. We spent a lot of time with her at the beginning of our relationship and that’ll always be special to me.
I know you first wrote some of the songs a few years ago and some more recently but did the shutdown from the pandemic allow you both to take the time to make this new album?
Luke: I think that would be fair to say. It was quite a big gap because I was doing The Kooks’ album in-between and there was no plan to do an album; we just had the songs that we made on the Isle of Wight that we did for ourselves. We didn’t have these big plans to make anything but then lockdown happened. We just love making music together so we just started doing it and it got serious and suddenly we had ten tracks. I think if lockdown didn’t happen, I think it would’ve taken us two years or more to get to where we are today with the record. It was the catalyst for sure.
Ellie: It was the gift of time!
Luke: It was good to focus on it and take it more seriously because we do work really well together and making music together has never felt forced.
Ellie: Yeah, it kept us busy which was important.
It kept you busy during those 8 months of nothing!
Luke: Exactly! The songwriting changed throughout, too. We started getting more imaginative and writing escapism lyrics, like being in a car in Miami in the 70s.
Ellie: We went full nocturnal as well. We would sleep all day and work all night, writing these trippy lyrics. We didn’t bother the neighbours too much.
Luke: We have very nice neighbours — they’ll knock on the wall if they like something.
I’ve listened to both of your work outside of DUO and there’s Ellie’s solo work and The Kooks classic hooks are woven throughout the album. What do you think one another brings to the music, besides your romantic partnership?
Ellie: Oooh! Good question. It’s funny because before we worked together, we always would have debates on songs. I have my way of writing, like having a concept and the lyrics first, whereas you’re a melody first type of person.
Luke: That’s true. I would say you freshen me up. I think as well it’s been great to have a female perspective. Ellie brought a lot of modern female artists into the mix, like Claire Laffut and Lennon Stella. That feminine energy is powerful. With The Kooks, I gathered a lot of experience production-wise so I did a lot of the music. It was the first album I’ve made without having an experienced producer around, we did everything ourselves. It was the two of us, which was intimate, without anyone telling us what to do. It brought a kind of intimacy that wouldn’t have been discovered otherwise.
Ellie: We would encourage each other a lot, too. We’d tell the other to follow their instincts. Everything you hear is the first idea we had.
Luke: Yeah, we had rules. Do you know the Ramones’ rule of only strumming down? We had this thing where we could, at most, do two vocal takes and that’s it. No more. Don’t overthink it, don’t try to change things. It sounds a lot more raw that way.
I find that amazing because I feel like a lot of music now is over-produced, taking a million takes of something. The way you both have recorded this album sounds authentic.
Ellie: That’s what I learned from Luke. A lot of The Kooks’ recordings would be done as a band in a room whereas I was from a pop world of doing 25 vocal takes, chopping it up, tuning all the vocals. Luke said yeah I’m not going to do that! [Laughs] It has to be right the first time!
That must’ve been quite fulfilling and freeing — knowing that if it sounds rough, that’s good because that’s how it sounded in the moment.
Ellie: It’s very human. There are a few songs where I sound tired and I know I was moody and it’s so fun listening back and remembering that vibe.
I think that’s lovely because you can’t remember the 25 takes you took of one song, but you can remember exactly what it was like to record the first or second take. Those are nice memories for you both.
Ellie: Yes! It was so fun.
Luke: Very nice memories.
Something I love about your music is that you’ve dressed up amazing themes and gorgeous melodies, but have thoughtful and poignant lyrics — like in Don’t Judge, which aims at what we will call naysayers thinking they have a place to make comments about your relationship. When writing a song like that, do you find it somewhat of a therapeutic process to get it out and make what you’re experiencing more tangible?
Ellie: Yeah, especially that song.
Luke: I’d say we have fun with it. We’re not thinking about it too seriously but then, in hindsight, it was pretty serious. We were having some problems with naysayers, I’ll steal your term for that. Since we were doing all of this for ourselves, which is different for both of us in regards to our own spheres of music, we were able to say what we needed through our songs. That one, to be honest, is all Ellie; I just wrote the ‘don’t judge our love’ bit but the rest was all her. It’s your story really, El.
With your new album, would you say there is a common thread or theme that connects all of the songs?
Ellie: It’s quite hopeful.
Luke: Love is a theme, too. It’s meant to be quite transporting. We got into wanting it to feel like you’ve fallen into an old movie. It’s a bit corny but it is an album about us getting together and how we feel. It’s timeless and has that feeling of an old movie or a record that you’d put on from start to finish.
Ellie: With a few sassy moments in-between. The weird thing about doing the album together, normally you don’t live with the people you’re working with. You don’t spend every minute with them. Luke and I were watching all the same films, listening to all of the same records, reading all of the same articles. We had an identical experience so all of the stuff we were watching influenced what we were making.
I know you mentioned it sounding like driving in Miami in the 70s, but ‘Pontiac GTO’ sounds like it could be in a French spy film, and the entire album sounds like you could place any song in a Jean-Luc Godard film and it would fit beautifully. I know on Twitter you mentioned albums that inspired the album, but were there any films, books, or other media that influenced it?
Ellie: One funny inspiration is that video game we were playing! That’s why I always think about the Pontiac and a Paris fashion show. We watched a lot of old romantic French films, every Audrey Hepburn film.
Luke: Charade we watched at the start of lockdown. Lots of Serge & Jane, too, and Françoise Hardy. We were quite intoxicated by that entire era and aesthetic. The album still has a modern feel but it pulls from the energy of the past.
Ellie: We tried to incorporate a bit of humour, too.
Luke: A lot of the music that we love has a bit of a wink to it. That’s something I’d say we are quite good at doing together. It’s so nice that you picked up on Pontiac, that’s one of our favourites.
I was listening to it again this morning and all I could think was this is a fun song. I’d like to listen to this forever.
Ellie: There’s definitely a beret in there somewhere!
Luke: Yeah, there’s some jazz and Latin in there. Producing that felt natural. We went into that world and just wrote about it, which is cool.
Ellie: I was reading Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ at the time, too, and all of those actual love stories and everyone is partying, there’s just so much storytelling going on. We’re very sad we missed that 60s and 70s period in life.
‘Darling’ is such a dreamy track with really beautiful lyrics about your relationship, like ‘Darling, you got me hiding. I don’t know what my life would be without your love’ — can you tell me a bit about the song?
Luke: I’d say it’s probably the best vocal take Elle does on the record. It’s so incredible. When she sang that, I was melting. It’s so haunting. It was one of the first sessions we did while we were in the Isle of Wight with Granny Norah, she loved that one. She listened to it over and over on those 90s headphones you’d get with a walkman?
Yes! I know what you mean.
Luke: I asked if she wanted to use new ones but she insisted on using those, bless her. But the song, for me, is about a ghost haunting you in some way. It’s a metaphorical lyric that I’m not great at explaining! [Laughs] Do you want to give it a go, Ellie?
Ellie: Nope, you’re doing great! [Laughs]
Luke: We were talking about a lifeless doll and it’s essentially a metaphor for some past trauma kinda following around us, together, trying to figure things out and leave it in the past.
Ellie: Which is funny because it came out like a love song which it is, but it’s funny when you go in with one idea and come out with that. We recorded it in the snow and I puked up a lot of red wine that night.
See, something you probably didn’t remember if you took 25 vocal takes!
Ellie: Yes!! [Laughs]
Luke: It was like a romcom — I held back her hair while she puked and the snow was falling.
In The Sidewinder you sing “We are disasters together we’ll fall/you are the reason I jump through these hoops” which is a gorgeous lyric, but the song itself is a murder ballad. Can you tell me a bit about that song and the story behind writing it?
Luke: That was the last song we wrote and we were challenged by our manager to write a murder ballad. We were just talking and shooting the shit and he said I really think you guys can write a murder ballad! So we did. Nick Cave did that record and it was amazing and Bob Dylan does these quite romantic dark songs, too. It was a challenge for sure.
Ellie: It was the first person from the outside giving input, too.
Luke: I love these duet songs that are about being the outcasts and the outsiders, criminal or not. We thought about a serial killer type of couple — completely fictional [laughs]. We don’t have any bodies back here.
Ellie: Neither of us could lift a body! I’m weak and you have a terrible back.
Luke: Right? But it was really fun, it was escapism in a way. There is reality there to an extent—being an outsider and putting up the barriers a bit—but it’s cool to feel like Bonnie and Clyde sometimes. We put the whistles in as a little nod and homage to those songs over the years.
Ellie: That lyric you mentioned, I think it’s how a lot of people feel that way. You feel like some of the crazies, but you accept each other for that. The weirdos in the corner.
I find everything you’ve released — from the music to the visuals to how you’re releasing your music in ‘three acts’ like a film — incredible and seamless. Was your aesthetic, both separately and as a couple within this project, something you both always had or something you worked to create?
Ellie: It’s my chance to do my dream 60s fashion shoots. It’s always been a secret dream of mine. We watched so many of the old French TV shows that Jane and Serge would be on, we’re gutted they don’t exist anymore. When the opportunity came to do a video like that, we ran for it. The clothes are all our own which is funny; we got into a habit of buying each other clothes off eBay and Etsy. Luke’s great at buying me cool vintage pieces.
Luke: It’s cool though because in the video you mix a lot of pieces. You’re wearing some vintage with Zara pieces, lots of mix and match. We did go into that era but with a modern feel. Ellie pulled all of the looks together. It’s the beauty of doing this thing together; we can just have fun and do whatever we want. I come from a time where there was Top of the Pops on tv, which I did with The Kooks a couple of times, and there isn’t anything like that anymore, so I’m glad we could do something like that. Those shows let you take the piss a bit.
You’re releasing the record through your own imprint — LITA Records or Love in the Afternoon records. Why was it important to make your imprint for DUO?
Ellie: I think so we could have control over the image and everything. The whole idea of our project is that it’s going to be the two of us, it’s going to be fun, and it doesn’t need to do ‘well’ whatever that is. It doesn’t need to pay the bills or put a roof over our heads. We could just not compromise and have fun.
Luke: We want to be creative and experimental with this; we’ve collaborated on a perfume together and we’ve created tennis balls with our logos on them, just trying to see what cool things we can do and lean into it and build over the years. I’m sure we’ll do many records, but it’s nice to have a place with AWAL where we can do our own thing with a team that’s helping us with it. It’s nice to start on our own platform.
Ellie: Mark, our manager, has been a guru in all of this too.
After we’re no longer in a global pandemic, would you both go on tour together? I feel like your aesthetics and personal style would make for an incredible live show.
Ellie: Aw, that’s so nice.
Luke: We’d love to. We thought we’d wait for that anyway, we just want things to build in our own way and we would want the live show to be the best it could be and done well. Let’s see if people want us to play first! [Laughs]
The big final question: what else should people know about DUO?
Luke: Wow, that has stumped me. We are a band? [Laughs]
Ellie: We can do better than that!
Luke: We’re not very hidden, we are quite open.
Ellie: I can’t think of anything.
Luke: We do not have good answers for direct questions? [Laughs] In all seriousness, we’re very appreciative of everyone’s support so far because it has been really good. We will one day play a gig and please come along!
Ellie: And our EP is out today! And our album is out next month!
Luke: We’re happy and having a great time.
Check out DUO’s EP2 below & EP3 out in December.
words by Kelsey Barnes