Dukes of the Orient released their sophomore album, Freakshow, this past August via Frontiers (order here). We caught up with keyboardist Erik Norlander to discuss the record, explaining their formation, and what’s kept him busy during quarantine.
Can you talk more about how Dukes of The Orient formed following John Wetton’s death in 2017?
Dukes of the Orient was borne of a band called ASIA Featuring John Payne, which was a spinoff of the original supergroup, ASIA, formed in 1982. John Payne replaced John Wetton as the vocalist and bassist in ASIA 1992 and fronted the band for around 15 years. The final version of that band was John Payne, Geoff Downes (k), Guthrie Govan (g) and Jay Schellen (d). Geoff left the band to reunite with the original 1982 lineup, and everyone agreed that the two versions of ASIA would co-exist, with John Payne’s version called “ASIA Featuring John Payne.” I was invited to join ASIA Featuring John Payne in 2007 to replace Geoff in that band. We toured extensively and recorded for about 7 years. By the time we had our first album of original music ready, John Wetton had become gravely ill, and he passed away just as we were mixing the album. John Payne and I both thought that it would be most appropriate to rename the band as something other than “ASIA” out of respect for the great John Wetton. That’s how Dukes of the Orient was officially born. The band actually existed for around 10 years before the first album, but the name changed in 2018.
How much material from Asia was left over and used on the self-titled debut?
That is a bit of a complicated question because of the above story. 🙂 But if you mean, was there any music written in the period when Geoff Downes was in the band, then the answer is no. John Payne and I wrote everything on the first album starting with the oldest song, “Strange Days,” written in 2018. So if you look at the formation of “ASIA Featuring John Payne” as the beginning of Dukes of the Orient, everything was written by and for this band.
Is Freakshow a continuation or did you go through a different process?
John and I co-wrote every song on the first album. For Freakshow, circumstance led us to writing everything separately. John wrote half of the songs himself, and I wrote half of the songs myself. We live about 1000 miles apart with me in Northern California and John in Las Vegas, Nevada. So it wasn’t as easy to get together to co-write in person as it was with the first album. It sort of happened by accident. We just kept passing more and more complete ideas back and forth until they were really complete songs. We both loved what the other had written, so we just decided to produce the album based on that material.
How has the response been so far for the new album?
We have received such a warm and enthusiastic response, it’s been great. The fans had to wait so long for the first album, many were surprised that the second album was completed so fast. Well, it wasn’t really THAT fast! I think we just made the second album in a normal time frame vs. the first one that took 10 years from start to finish! There have been a few people that were shocked by the saxophone on the album, some listeners just seem to hate sax. So those few people aren’t happy with that aspect. But as I’ve said before, we can’t just make the same album again and again, and we always have to try something new. I appreciate that the fans have dug into the details of what is different about Freakshow vs. the first album. That’s so awesome to read about and hear.
What’s the experience been like for you to release new music during a pandemic?
We happily finished the album in 2019 before the pandemic hit. But the one thing that it did really affect was the video production. We had this vision of creating several big videos, shot on a big stage with lights and cranes and all that stuff. But by the time we got to shooting our first video, everything was in lockdown, and we had to shoot our footage on our own with our awesome record label stitching it together in edit. But hey, we’re musicians and not actors, so if that’s the worst thing that affected the album, then that’s not so bad. We of course had big touring plans for this year, but that all went out the window with the virus!
What kept you busy during quarantine?
Well, I’m a studio rat. I spent most of my time in a dark, cool place surrounded by lots of blinky lights. So aside from touring, my work life has not changed too much. I miss going to restaurants and hanging out with friends, but I do have a pretty nice property out in the country, so I spend a lot of time on my back deck with a nice glass or wine or whiskey instead of going out. My wife is an amazing chef, so we’ve been enjoying eating at home during this year. I’ve even learned a few things myself.
Is there anything else you want to say or add about Freakshow?
We are so proud of this album, and we loved recording it. We hope everyone enjoys listening to it as much as we did making it. Some artists make albums because they have to, because they have a contract, or desperately need to pay the bills, or maybe both. We made this album because we really wanted to make an album, and we had something to say with it. I hope that comes through to the listener!