When I met up with Florentine desert-rock trio Dust & the Dukes, they had just won the coveted national Rock Contest Controradio, an event held yearly in Florence seeing bands from all over Italy compete for the chance to receive funding for musical projects.
Frontman Gabriel Stanza, guitar tamer Enrico Giannini and drummer Alessio Giusti were sitting in the dimly lit belly of one of Florence’s most recently launched rock lairs, The Black Lodge. “We’re still recovering from the shock and excitement of the win,” Stanza smiled humbly. “We have received so much feedback and encouragement over the past few days. Our messaging apps couldn’t handle it and crashed. We still can’t believe it.” Hard rock tunes ricochet around the room as recherché craft beer flows into our glasses. The recorder’s audio spectrum fluctuates ever so slightly while our words travel over and under a background of Foo Fighters and ‘90s guitar twangs.
There is something intangible about Dust & the Dukes’ sound. Its free-spirited melancholy brings to mind the sand of a broken hourglass as it hurls itself into the wind in newfound hope of rejoining the desert. There is a deeply rooted desire to break through geographical and genre-based bias, to mesh together reality and evocation. This promising new addition to the Florentine soundscape was actually established in 2016 as a side project to Giannini and Giusti’s other musical venture, alt-rock power outfit God of the Basement, when the two joined forces with filmmaker, trumpet player and singer Gabriel, who also happens to be the founding member of trip-hop band Hovering Stanza. They met through mutual friend Uberto Rapisardi, pianist of indie sensation The Veils.
Giusti explains the backstory of the band’s peculiar name. “We thrive on the power of contrast, both in sound and imagery. We wanted our name to stage the contamination between opposites, between primordial filth and immaculate elegance. That’s why we came up with two antipodal words, Dust and Dukes, which you wouldn’t normally envisage together. I mean, have you ever seen a dirty duke?” We laugh picturing the scene: the aristocrat running through the desert, his once prim clothes shrouded in dust as he starts up the engine of his vintage rust-kissed Camaro, aplomb unscathed. Giannini chimes in. “Our music also engages different styles, tainting the noble, almost spiritual root of American folk with grafts of bastardized blues, stoner and desert rock. Details aside, we believe that a clean-cut melody and purity of sound are what really gives listeners that deep gut-feeling.”
Just a few months after their inception, Dust & the Dukes decided to take part in the Rock Contest competition on a last-minute whim, in the hope of leaving the rehearsal studio and finding their feet in the spotlight. The band admits that try-out time was reduced to a minimum prior to their landing in the finals and that improv is one of their best allies even when it comes to performing live.
“I love improvisation,” Stanza sips his brew pensively. “I love the sound of words more than their meaning. In Italy we are so tied up when it comes to lyrics. I personally find that writing in Italian hinders my creativity and distracts me from my purpose, which is freedom of interpretation and expression. This way I think you actually reach deeper into yourself. We are living in a time of universal dialogue, where new non-verbal languages change the way we perceive and communicate. We’re an Italian band, but we take inspiration from American heritage. That’s a clear example of how flexible everything has become. In my case, my father is from Chile and my mother, while Italian, studied in California so I’ve always felt more connected to that side of the ocean, at least musically. I recently travelled from Wisconsin to Los Angeles, driving through the Mojave Desert. Here, surrounded by this unbelievable landscape, I experienced a life-changing moment: I realized that I was all alone and burst into song. No microphones, no audience, no expectations: I was completely enveloped by this dark, silent entity and it totally transformed the way I perform.
I just love colliding with the same rapture with Enrico and Alessio’s wall of sound.”
We briefly recall the acclaimed and awe-inspiring story of the Mojave phone booth, slowly careening into a discussion on the band’s future plans. Giannini enthusiastically throws in his view. “We’re living things by the minute. Even participating in the Rock Contest Controradio selections was a bit of a crazy move, but look what happened! We’re gonna try to strike while the iron’s hot and record a few tracks properly. We can’t wait for our debut to be all done… and dusted!”
Free full EP Download here.