Diggs Duke interview for Civil Circus liner notes
By Danny Masao Winston
I was commissioned to write the liner notes to the Japanese CD edition of Civil Circus, and in order to try to understand what this project represents in your discography, I would like to ask you a few questions regarding the album and other things. I hope you don’t mind talking about a project you made a while ago.
1 Could you talk a bit about how Civil Circus came about and the concept of the record? You had released Because You're So Wonderful, We Grieve While You're Still Livin' and The Eye of Discovery a few months prior in 2015. Do you see these/ three albums as pieces of a larger concept, or are they totally independent of each other?
The albums you mention represent the consciousness I was coming into at that point in time. I recorded and compiled them earlier that year and released them as part of a series. It is difficult for me to clearly remember what I was thinking or feeling when I created and released this album. But, I think it can be heard very clearly in the music.
2 Can you shed light on what Following Is Leading is, why you started it, and what it has morphed into since? I was curious to know why Following Is Leading’s Bandcamp page doesn’t exist anymore.
Following Is Leading is the name of an informal imprint under which I release some of my creative ideas. Sometimes they take the form of musical albums or books, while at other times, they take the form of me just yelling in the air or typing on the internet. I also release the work of some of my associates. The name “Following Is Leading” is an abbreviation of the phrase, “FOLLOWING a set of creative principles IS LEADING yourself creatively.” The Bandcamp page still exists. I just don't have any music on it, so it says there is nothing there. I still post music on that site sometimes. But, since I prefer the informal, my music roams the marketplace very informally.
3 You mentioned on DJ Rahdu’s interview show that you wanted to put out music through Following Is Leading that you thought may not exactly be appropriate to the audience you got through Brownswood. Did you feel like there was a certain sound that people at Brownswood, or fans of Offering For Anxious and The Upper Hand & Other Grand Illusions expected from you? Did you feel like you were being pigeonholed in any way?
The music market structures itself based on categories that have nothing to do with the source of the music. They only reference the final sound, so that it can be sold. But, if I have indulged these categories, it would be dishonest for me to complain of pigeonholing. I would not place responsibility for my categorization on any record label or set of listeners, as I am inevitably responsible for allowing it. I do indeed direct my music toward specific ears at times. For the longest time now, 'Babylon' (a.k.a. The U.S.A.) has expressed great contempt toward the lost tribes. The extraction and transplantation of our true music is an attempt to manipulate and eradicate our way of living. Therefore, I sometimes must become more direct in my speech, behavior and the nature of my music, which sings of the emancipation of our souls. Under the current system of categorization, this idea is simply categorized as 'Soul Music.' But, I trust that the true listener can hear far beyond this categorization.
4 Civil Circus feels more subtle, raw, and spacious. Most of the comments and reviews about the album mentioned how you leaned towards jazz more than Offering For Anxious and The Upper Hand…. I know that jazz has played a huge role in your music since the beginning, but would you say jazz was a major reference point for you during the creative process for this album, more so than previously?
I would say that on this album, I more deliberately referenced my experiences and the consciousness that I've gained from them. My usage of the term 'jazz' or any categorization of music is only to try and communicate my intentions in words that will be familiar to the common listener. I have always attempted to speak directly with the listener, rather than projecting my voice into the abyss of the market. As I grow older, I find it easier to decipher the many voices within me. They never ever express themselves as part of any idea of genre. But, I understand that categorization makes music a little easier to sell. So, I sometimes accommodate the market by allowing these terms to be used. I much prefer to speak in terms of the essence and intention of the music.
5 Who are some of the songwriters you look up to that have impacted the way you write songs? Was there anybody in particular you drew inspiration from during the creative process of Civil Circus?
I don't look up to any songwriters. I may look over at them or try to pull them up. But, if I look up, all I see is the clear sky. I would say that songwriters who have inspired me usually share some experience in this world with me, in life and death. I can't name them individually because we share a part of each other.
6 When you look back on Civil Circus now, what are your thoughts about this record and how do you think it fits into your overall discography?
Although I do listen to my previous albums sometimes, I don't think about them that much. I am more concerned with how the listener sees my discography.
7 You live in San Francisco now, right? How has being on the West Coast influenced your making or playing music?
They have a lot of delicious food in San Francisco and I became a much better cook in my time there. I enjoy a healthier diet after living there. Nonetheless, moving back near my friends here in Baltimore and Washington DC has brought me comfort. The west coast had no influence at all on my music. I did not really interact with any musicians there, although I spent moments with a few. While I was there, for about 18 months, I lived in nearly complete isolation. I prefer to be in solitude most of the time. But, I spoke on the phone for hours each day with musicians on the east coast. Although I gained a few friends in San Francisco, I moved back east in November last year. I currently live in Baltimore. I don't know how long I will be here. But I do like it.
8 You play multiple instruments and I’m sure you could easily craft a whole album without anybody else in the studio. But there are a few musicians you like collaborating with and on Civil Circus you have frequent collaborators like Jelani Brooks, Warren G. Crudup III, Herb Scott playing. How do you think your music benefits by having these musicians play alongside you and what do you look for in a collaborator?
All of the men you mention are legitimate masters of music. They bring with them their own ideas. They dedicate their entire creative energy to their respective instruments, in the same way that I dedicate myself to my writing and composition. Having the chance to work with instrumentalists like that gives me a sense of security in my writing. I feel as if I can present any idea to them and they will interpret it masterfully. I look for complete honesty of spirit when I collaborate with others. I've made mistakes in choosing collaborators at times. But, I have become a very good judge of spirit now, as can be heard in the music.
9 You’ve described yourself as someone that makes “soul music from the perspective of a jazz musician” in an interview in 2013 (http://www.stimulateyoursoul.com/interviews/2013/1/21/channelling-diggsdukes-musical-genius.html). Would you still describe yourself as that now?
I tried my best to describe my understanding of that particular music to the interviewer in terms that would be easily understood by the readers. These days, I have less interest in the acceptance of what I am saying and I just tell it how it is. As I have been able to release more music, I have gained more faith in the readers and listeners that receive my writing and music. This means that I would probably not describe myself in such a way today.
10 Please feel free to add if there is anything else you would like your fans in Japan to know about you or your music because I believe this would be a rare opportunity for your fans to read what you have to say in Japanese.
Let it be known that I am extremely flattered to have so many gracious listeners in Japan. In listening to my music, particularly this album, one has the privilege of experiencing a very evolved representation of my essence. The listener is the most important part of the music. In my opinion, listening to music and accepting its message is far more important than composing or writing it. The only reason I write, record or perform music is simply to have a better capacity for listening to everything around me.