Duncan Eagles Interview
Saxophonist Duncan Eagles is normally the frontman of four-piece Partikel, who have already released four albums and toured worldwide. Charlie Anderson spoke to him to discuss the release of his debut album, Citizen, and the start of his UK tour, which ends on 29th March at The Verdict in Brighton.
Let’s start by talking about your new album. Did you come up with the compositions first or did you have a theme you wanted to explore?
It’s something that I’ve been thinking of doing for quite a long time. For the past 7 or 8 years or so my main outlet has been Partikel, which is very much a collaborative thing. It’s a set band and we did a few projects over the past few years but that was very much me writing very open compositions, which I would bring to the band, everyone would have their input and the music would be formed like that. Over the past few years I guess I have a clearer idea of how I want things to sound, and compositionally what I want. So I felt it was the right time to do something a bit different and do something under my own name, so that led to this album. I suppose the main difference is that things are a bit more set and there’s more writing, with more specific parts for the musicians to play, rather than being as open as Partikel.
You’ve also expanded the instruments at your disposal, with guitar and piano.
My main idea behind having those two harmony instruments was that I really liked the piano as a comping instrument, so I wrote the tunes as a piano quartet and then used the guitar as more of a lead instrument, or a second frontline instrument, doubling melodies or having its own line alongside the melody that I’m playing. That’s how I saw those two roles, so the guitar is more of a lead and the piano is more of a comping instrument.
There are a few older tunes on there. There’s a couple of Partikel tunes that have been re-done, with harmony put in and changed around a bit to fit the quintet situation. Other than that they’re new tunes and definitely in a direction that I’ve been thinking about for the past two years. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. I’m glad that I’ve finally managed to get it out into the world.
How do you normally compose?
I started playing piano when I was eight years old. I started on that before I got to the saxophone, so it’s come in really useful as far as composing. Most of what I’m writing is at the piano. It’s slightly different sometimes, there’s a chord progression that will come to me that I like, so I’ll develop that and put the melody in afterwards, and vice versa. Usually it’s just sitting down at the piano, trying things out, listening, figuring out what’s going on. Sometimes when I’m practicing on the sax, writing some new stuff, things will come through which I’ll record. So now I’ll have a bunch of sound files on my phone, which I’ll eventually bring to the piano and see where that leads. So there’s a little bit of both but the piano is quite essential to me as far as writing tunes, that’s for sure.
What else are you working on for the rest of the year, other than touring the album?
This is quite full on until about mid-March and then there are a few other projects that I do. What I’m hoping will be quite big this year is a modular electronics project that I’m involved in, with Max Luthert. He’s been getting into modular synths for the past year or so, and getting used to how they work, so this duo project is a mixture of that and acoustic instruments. He plays the bass and I play the saxophone. I’ve got my own pedals set up to manipulate the sound, but I also have a microphone going through his modular set up too, so he has a lot of control over what’s going on. We did one EP last year but we’ve just got a development grant from the Arts Council, which is great because this equipment costs quite a bit of money. We’ve managed to block out a lot of rehearsal time, and rehearsal studios, because we need proper PAs to figure out how to do all this and get a bit more gear. It gives us some time to really look into the possibilities which will lead to doing a second EP in the summer. The grant will really help kick that project off so we’re hoping to get some great stuff for that this year.
There’s also a drummer that I’ve been playing with for a long time: Ollie Howell. At the end of last year he was talking about continuing his originals project, so I think he’s got some plans for this year too, which I think I’ll be involved with.
Also, my brother [Sam Eagles] is writing for a new album, which he’s planning to record at the end of this year. So I’m looking forward to the rest of the year, and hoping that releasing this album will lead to new things and whatever comes up.
Is there anything that you enjoy doing outside of music?
I’ve been doing a lot of travelling over the last couple of months. I really like travelling. Most recently I went to Vietnam for a few weeks at the beginning of the year and was in Iceland at Christmas. I went to Jordan just before that, and I’m about to go to Marrakech. So whenever I find a little bit of a window I try and find cheap flights.
I’m getting into photography as well, learning how to use Lightroom and editing photos. I’m hoping to get a proper camera, some good lenses and get more into it. That will be the next non-musical purchase. I’m really into cooking as well, and just hanging out with friends, drinking, going to the cinema.
How are things shaping up for the gig at The Verdict on 29th March?
The gig is going to be with the full quintet and it’s actually the last gig of the tour, so it should be a really fun one, and hopefully we’ll all be completely on top of all the music after playing it for the past month or so in the run up to that gig. I’m really looking forward to finishing off the tour there. I’ve played at that club quite a few times and it’s always a good vibe so I’m really looking forward to it.
New Generation Jazz at The Verdict, Brighton
Friday 29th March, 2019
The album Citizen is out now on Ropeadope.
Photo: Rob Blackham