A Q&A with Jesse Lortz, half of Seattle band The Dutchess and The Duke (with Kimberly Morrison).

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When Seattle band the Dutchess and the Duke set out on an 18-date summer tour with the Fleet Foxes, there was little cause to think twice about the opening act.

All that changed while the band was on the road, and the pair landed a one-two punch with a stellar review from the taste-making pitchforkmedia.com, followed by heavy airplay on KEXP-FM.

The duo of Kimberly Morrison (she’s the Dutchess) and Jesse Lortz (he’s the Duke) is joined by percussionist Donnie Hilsdat for live shows. Morrison and Lortz, now 29 years old, grew up together in the blue-collar suburbs of South Seattle (he in Renton/Maple Valley; she in Fairwood). They’ve been in and out of bands together for most of their adult lives, including the Flying Dutchmen and the Sultanas, a short-lived tribute to ’60s-era girl groups like the Ronnettes, but with more fuzzed-out guitars.

Their music is audibly gritty, raw and cathartic — fleshed out by dueling male and female vocal harmonies. It is profoundly sad, but with just a hint of exhilarating relief.

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Their debut album, “She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke,” was released on the Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art on July 8 and has already managed to land in the top 10 of KEXP’s Northwest chart for July 2008.

“They write great songs, and then the sound just blew me away,” KEXP Morning Show host and producer John Richards said. “I’ve been into the new folk, and the old, as well as Rolling Stones, and this has all of that and more.”

Lortz spoke last weekend by phone about the sudden attention his band is getting and the evolution of his musical tastes.

Q: How did you manage to snag the opening slot for the Fleet Foxes tour?

A: Basically, we got on this AIMS [Alliance of Independent Media Stores] party with those dudes and Mudhoney. Afterwards, me and Kimberly were like man … we need to start practicing. We just sounded awful. And then the next morning we got a message from Christian in the Fleet Foxes asking if we would go on tour with them.

Q: How hard was it to connect with the larger audiences?

A: I figured I would be really nervous playing in front of a bunch of people, but we weren’t really all that much.

Q: Not many people had heard of your band when you left for tour, then all of a sudden KEXP picked up your album and put it in heavy rotation. How bizarre was that?

A: Probably the weirdest part was that we weren’t home or able to access the Internet, so it was pretty separate from us. It’ll be nice to go back out [on tour] because our name’s been out there a little more.

Q: Your previous bands were focused on a more raw punk-rock and garage-rock sound. Was there a conscious decision to switch gears to a quieter and more mature sound?

A: It was mostly subconscious because that was where my head was. It just made sense.

Q: You and Kimberly grew up together and come across as musical stepchildren. Is that a fair assessment?

A: Probably, yeah. She’s always been ahead of me in terms of music and what she likes. She is a lot more open than I’ve been in the past.

Q: Can you give me an example?

A: Love. The Beach Boys. I would always just kind of turn my nose up at that kind of stuff.

Q: Does it bother you to read reviews and be compared to early Rolling Stones or early Bob Dylan?

A: No, not at all. I like a lot of that stuff. I can’t really get into the reviews, ’cause if you take the good reviews at face value then you have to take the bad reviews at face value. It’s better to just level everything out and ignore all of them.

Jeff Albertson: 206-464-2304

or jalbertson@seattletimes.com

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