I recently chatted with Mark Miller of Spuyten Duyvil and Kathy Harden of The Diva & The Dude. They’re playing as a part of Krannert’s OUTSIDE at the Research Park Series tonight. These two know what’s important to them, creatively and personally, and they’re both keen to share.
PART 1: SPUTEN DUYVIL
Spuyten Duyvil means “in spite of the devil” or “spitting devil,” which is an undeniably awesome name for a band. I gave their music a listen, and it’s definitely worth your time. If you enjoy local bands like The Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra or Beat Kitchen, you’ll tap your toes plenty to Spuyten Duyvil.
I talked to Mark Miller about his band’s visit to Champaign, and I learned a few things about Greek instruments and prioritizing.
Smile Politely: First of all, Mark, what is your official job in Spuyten Duyvil?
Mark Miller: OK, so my official jobs are: songwriter, tenor guitar and bouzouki player, quartermaster, and master of the movement of men, women, and machines. All of the above (with the exception of the guitars) are shared with my wife and our lead singer, Beth Jamie Kaufman.
SP: What, oh what, is a bouzouki?
Miller: The Bouzouki is a primary instrument in Greek music. It came to Greece from Asia Minor in the early 1900s and later made its way to Ireland. I play the Irish style, which is flat-backed like a large Mandolin. I use a guitar tuning made popular in the 1950s.
SP: How did you all meet and decide to start making music together?
Miller: And the creation myth … Well, it started on our front porch here in Yonkers, N.Y. with the aforementioned bouzouki and a copy of Rise Up Singing.
After many years of producing music for video games in San Francisco, I had gotten out of the music business completely (too much “making sausage,” not enough “making art”) and we had moved back east. I missed making music and Beth knew it. So, one day, after being fascinated by David Lindley playing one at the House of Blues, Beth bought me a bouzouki. I learned how to play and we learned how to sign together by stumbling our way through simple Olde Timey tunes from Rise Up Singing on our front porch.
Along with a number of other creative types, we live in a cool neighborhood of old houses called Park Hill, just north of NYC. When we played, folks would just drop by for beer, barbecue, and some jamming. Pretty soon, I started writing songs and it turned into a band, which, at that time, lived mostly on the same block.
After the release of New Amsterdam, the gigs got more serious, more frequent, and farther away. We met through personal connections, local gigs, and, in a couple of cases, through online matchmaking sites. And, yes, this can lead to results as weird and uncomfortable as any form of online dating…
SP: Any creative collective can produce some of the best (and, sometimes tragically, the most dramatic) connections. Do you ever feel like you’re mixing business with pleasure — or art with your personal life — and is that good?
Miller: In truth, our goal is to fully integrate our music and our lives. We try to keep the commitment liveable by not overbooking or playing gigs that we know will not be enjoyable, regardless of the money involved. And we plan and communicate, somewhat obsessively, to make sure that everything goes smoothly when we hit the road or go into the studio.
Being in a band is a big commitment on both sides and one that should not be made lightly. Over time, we’ve been able to narrow it down to one basic principle: “People can become better players, but players rarely become better people.” We’re all pretty close friends as a result, and I think that comes through in our sound and our shows.
Recording projects tend to be the most stressful because, unlike a show that is ephemeral and disappears when it is over, CDs have a long life cycle. You have to live with what you play for a long time. We definately had some “moments” working on Temptation (to be released in October, but available pre-release at our show tonight). But, we’re all still together and with a better, more durable understanding as a result.
SP: Any funny or unusual stories from the road?
Miller: So, one of the first gigs we played … was in a bar fairly far upstate in N.Y. When we were done playing … some old dude with faded tats and a few thousand miles on his face rolls up to me at the bar and says, “So … you play the Bouzouki, huh? When I was in Turkey, I used to love that music, but you know, all the REAL Bouzouki players cut off their pinky because it gets in the way…”
Needless to say, when the crowd starts talking about dismembering the Bouzouki player, ending the night drinking out of paper cups at a cheap motel seems very attractive.
PART 2: DIVA AND THE DUDE
Kathy Harden is somewhat of a local legend. She played the titular role in Always…Patsy Cline at The Station Theatre a few year ago, and she blew the roof off of a full house night after night. She’ll be at the Research Park concert this Friday as well. I caught Kathy between gigs to ask about what music means to her.
Smile Politely: How did you get started singing?
Kathy Harden: My first real memory of singing was at age four, sitting next to my mom on the piano bench while she played “Jesus Loves Me.” I was singing and she added a harmony, and I was over the moon with joy about how it sounded. Both of my parents were very good singers and harmonizers, as were the generations before them.
I sang all the way through school in chorus and ensembles and musicals. I was always very nervous about solos, but it was worth it because of how much joy it brought me. I flat out love to sing!
I used to sing a little with my big brother, Keith Harden, when we were teenagers, but Keith was in boy bands, and I was not invited to join. Around 1980, I was invited to be a backup singer for Dody Cosmedy’s long running band, No Secret, and the rest is history. A year later, I auditioned for a band call Night Flight, and I got the gig. I have been singing in bands ever since, including bands such as H2O, Kid Sister, Great Dames, Obsession, Kathy Harden & The King Bees, and Keith & Kathy Harden (a duo that lasted for eight years until my bro moved to New York).
SP: Do you have any other hidden talents?
Harden: I play a little guitar, but I’m not very skilled. I play a mean tambourine and a number of percussion instruments (I love to bang on things and have a secret desire to play drums). I have a mean stomp and an even meaner high kick.
I am a bit of an actress and did four shows in four years at the Station Theatre from 2006–2010. I hadn’t done any theater since high school, so I was thrilled when I was cast in Woody Guthrie’s American Song in 2006.
I was so thrilled and so honored when Rick Orr invited me … to play Patsy Cline at the Station Theatre in Always…Patsy Cline! Playing Patsy lit a fire inside of me … learning about her life, soaking up 27 beautiful Patsy songs, embodying her grace and her spirit, wearing the costumes and the wigs, and playing opposite Joi Hoffsommer. Let me say, this was a dream come true for me! Four weeks of sold out shows … and a month later in June 2010 is when I got the call from Tammey Kitka at Krannert. [She invited] me to perform for Krannert’s Outside Concert series in July 2010. I picked up the phone and called Andy Baylor and said, “Would you like to form a duo with me and perform for Krannert next month?” It was then that The Diva & The Dude was born, and the rest is history!
And, yes, we played Patsy for Krannert, and we continue to play Patsy for our fans. Thank you, Rick Orr and the Station Theatre.
SP: What a wonderful opportunity, to play a real life person! I hope to have the same chance someday. It seems like your family is central to your love of music, and I’d love to hear some more about that.
Harden: Both sides of my family were musical so, as a kid, I was always exposed to music. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like we all walked around singing, but music was a part of our lives. Mom sang in the Sweet Adelines, and she and Dad both sang in the church choir. My dad’s tenor voice could have rivaled Pavarotti in my book! And my mom … well she had a gift on the piano. [She] could play any song she heard by ear! My favorite was listening to her play the “Bumble Boogie.” Wow.
My dad’s side of the family was musically educated, and my mom’s side was developed naturally, so I feel I got the best of both worlds. Music is in my blood … music is in my heart … music is in my soul … music is my passion. My brother Keith wrote a song called “And the Song Goes On” … and I’ve got four musical grandchildren to prove it!
SP: I know what you mean about music passing through the generations. My family and I would listen to music and sing all the time. We went to a lot of live outdoor concerts, too.
Are you excited to play the Krannert OUTSIDE Series again?
Harden: The Diva & The Dude played our very first gig at Research Park for the Krannert OUTSIDE Series three years ago on July 16, 2010. Can you believe it? We have come full circle, and boy oh boy, are we excited about it! The stage was huge and the crowd was beautiful. [I’m] looking forward to July 12, 2013 with much excitement and a little bit of nerves …
SP: Any favorites locations to perform?
Harden: The Clark Bar in Champaign is our home away from home — a comfy place that helped us gain our following. We love the owner and her staff, and we’ve never have a bad evening there! Route 45 Wayside in Pesotum is also one of our faves. Again, the owners and staff are warm and friendly. We always have a ball there! We have played some beautiful shows at Silvercreek Restaurant. Our last two New Year’s Eves have been there, and we have a special show coming up there on July 19. Great owner and staff!
I’m beginning to see a pattern. A good owner with a good staff are crucial to a good gig and a good time.
SP: I agree, absoutely.
Harden: We enjoy playing for a good cause a couple of times a year. A benefit for The Humane Society or for a musician who needs financial help in a time of crisis. The Diva & The Dude are very community minded, and, for what it’s worth, Andy and I are both very patriotic! We also love playing private parties! Each one is so different and so much fun. Helping people celebrate special events is definitely on the top of the list!
As a duo, we have also developed a musical language that comes from relying solely on each other on the stage. We trust each other, and that makes performing together a fun and very fulfilling experience.
How lucky are we to be making a living playing music for people? Pretty darned lucky, I say…
SP: You really have an obvious love for what you do. It’s contagious!
Harden: To me, each song is a story to be told, and one of my greatest joys is telling those stories. I love embodying a song, and then delivering it to my audience. I sing with my whole heart.
Music is like medicine for me, and there was a point in time when I listened to that song over and over and over again, until it healed my aching heart. Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black has been one of my healers, and there is a tune called “I’ll Take Care of You,” recorded by Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa … flat-out takes away all of my pain. The passion inside of that song is palpable!
SP: I know what you mean!
Harden: There is so much more I could say about music and its affect on us all. Music is truly our connector, our heartbeat, and it tells our stories. Music brings us to tears and then dries them all up. Music is the salve we slather on our hurts, and then it raises us to our feet to dance the night away. Music takes us back to our past, and then leads us to our future. Music takes us on a journey, and then brings us back home. Honestly, what does music NOT do?
After talking to Kathy Harden, I believe there’s nothing music can’t do! If you want to see her and Mark Miller in Spuyten Duyvil (and I think you do) get to Research Park tonight. The Krannert Center knows how to put on an amazing show, and this should be no exception.