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Leonard Podolak

A Conversation with Leonard Podolak of The Duhks

Puremusic: Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Leonard Podolak: No problem. I'm sorry you had to chase me around like that.

PM: That's okay. It's the life of the gypsy musician, what are you going to do?

LP: What are you going to do, yeah. We really are gypsies. If it's not a van, it's a plane, and if it's not a plane, it's a boat. If it's not a boat, it's a train, if it's not a train, it's a bus.


PM: How are you and where are you today?

LP: We're in Victoria, British Columbia. Yesterday was a whirlwind day. We got up in the morning in Kodiak, Alaska, flew to Anchorage, then flew to Seattle, then got out of our plane in Seattle, rented the van, and we made the ferry out of Vancouver to Victoria by the skin of our teeth.

PM: Damn--

LP: And now we're in Victoria. We're doing a show here tonight. And the reason why we rented a van in Seattle and didn't fly to Vancouver is we're driving back that way, and that's where we're going to drop off the vehicle when we're done. It's crazy, but it's fun. There's certainly nothing I'd rather be doing.

PM: Well, having enjoyed the band so much at the recent Americana Conference in Nashville, it was really super to see The Duhks again at Folk Alliance, this time blowing the doors off a hotel room.

LP: Yeah, the Folk Alliance is always such a great place to be. It's one of the few opportunities of the year that you really get to see people--even more so in a way than at a Folk Festival, because at a festival you run into a couple of your friends. But at the Folk Alliance it seems like there's just so many people there, so much fun, such a great event.

PM: It must have been a very different experience for the band this time. [This year they won Best Emerging Artist and Band of the Year.]

LP: It really was. I mean, traditionally I've gone to the Folk Alliance with my pockets stuffed with CDs, giving them to anyone who would give me the time of day, and hustling--you know, doing as many showcases as we possibly could. I remember when I was arranging four and five showcases a day with different people. It was certainly a different experience to go back there and be really confident that everybody pretty much knew who we were, and not really worrying about how many people are showing up at our showcases.

PM: It's amazing how in one year it could be that different.

LP: It really is amazing. I really credit a lot of what has happened with the band in the last year to the Folk Alliance, just because it's such a great networking place. And you never know when you're going to be at the right place at the right time, meeting people who can really help you out. A couple Folk Alliances ago, actually, in Nashville, is where we met this guy, Randy Judy, who runs the Suwannee Springfest, and the Magnolia Festival down in Florida. I mean, he did something that was completely unheard of. We met in the elevator, and we went up to his room for some beers and stuff. And the next thing you know, he hired us to his festival that was three weeks later.

PM: Wow.

LP: I mean, when does that happen?

PM: Three weeks later.

LP: Three weeks. He said, "You know, Leonard, I was hoping I'd run into you at this thing, because I got your record from somewhere, and I just know you would fit into our festival so well. And I don't have any money left, and I don't even think I have really time on the schedule, but I'm going to try and make something work. And sure enough, a couple days later he called me back and said, "We'll fly you down here, and you can close Friday night on the main stage."

PM: Holy jeez.

LP: Which is--"Okay, we'll come do that." And then from there, that's when we ran into Sugar Hill, and the dominos just started falling from there. And then I guess by the time we actually signed the deal and we made the plans for the new record, it was a year later, at the following Suwannee Springfest where we met Bela Fleck, and we made a great record together. I guess since I talked to you, since I saw you down in Austin there, we found out that that record was nominated for a Juno Award.

PM: In what category?

LP: Folk/Roots.

PM: And I know you stand a great chance of winning in that category.

LP: I think so. It's still pretty tight competition. Great Big Sea is nominated, Ron Sexsmith is nominated.

PM: Oh, yikes.

LP: So we're not really counting on anything. And certainly with those things, it's nice to get a nod from your peers. And not only that, the Canadian music scene isn't really something we've been all that in touch with in the last year.

PM: Really?

LP: Well, no, because I mean, we really spent the better part of the year in the United States. I think I can count on one hand the amount of Canadian dates we did in 2005.

PM: Amazing.

LP: Yeah. Maybe on two hands. I know it was under ten shows, for sure. We really focused our efforts on the United States.

PM: Which you cracked in a hard way.

LP: Yeah, it isn't even like it was a conscious thing as much as we were getting great offers, and our agent was putting together great tours. And in the blink of an eye, the year was gone. But to get that kind of nod from our peers in Canada certainly feels great. But getting back to the whole Folk Alliance thing, that's sort of where it all started. So to come to the Folk Alliance and to be chill like that, to just enjoy it, and to see it as a social thing as much as it was a business thing, was a pleasure and yeah, it's great.

PM: And you find out how many friends in this business you really have, again.

LP: It's amazing, yeah. There's so many people who support the band, and who were really cheering for us, who see us sort of as a bright spot of an example of a band that's playing traditional and folkloric music, but also in a contemporary way that's actually breaking through to people, and getting that kind of push and pump, who's getting folk music to a bigger audience.

PM: Right. Because it's great how much old-timey music, for instance, just taking it from that point of view, is getting out there. But somebody has got to do the version of it that you guys are doing, which is like could be a stadium version, it's super high energy. It's kind of irrepressible. Someone has got to do that version.

LP: I think that the thing about it is that we don't see ourselves as really creating anything new--what's new and original about our band are the individuals in the band and the music that each brings, and what happens when we come together and play our music together. The groundwork has been laid for us in many ways. The tradition is so rich. And the many traditions that we're tapping into, the old-timey traditions, the Irish tradition, the Scottish, French Canadian, even the Afro-Cuban--they really have influenced us, and we have learned from these traditions. And so, to be able to take it to a new place without really changing it that much is great. It's really cool. I've been going to festivals and watching shows for my whole life. And it's really important to be entertaining. We're not trying to give people an education.

PM: [laughs]

LP: We're trying to make fun for people, and let people forget about the stresses and the woes of their lives while they're at our show. And it's really great that people are hearing it.

PM: And along with the point that you made about, "Hey, we're not reinventing the wheel here, our music comes from time-honored traditions; what's different, what we bring to the table that's new is what each individual member brings as a member to the group and to the music." And that really is the crux of the matter with The Duhks. I mean, everybody in the band is such a strong personality in their own way, and a strong musician, that that's really what's going on with the Duhks. Yeah, sure, they're an incredible band, but they're made up of a handful of really incredible individuals.

LP: Any one of us could be the leader of any band.

PM: Right.

LP: Any one of us could start a completely different project and be the front person--even Scott. He's one of the most unique and creative percussion players.

PM: That cat's right off the chart.

LP: It's crazy. I can't believe that we're all in one band. [laughs] continue

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