Before I really get into this interview with Lauren Duski, I need to first tell everyone how I first heard of her. I was at City Winery in Nashville. Duski was one of the women chosen as CMT’s Next Women of Country in the Class of 2018, and that was where CMT was holding the induction event. I think I had heard her name before a few times, but I honestly didn’t know anything else about her going in.
Image courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country
Each of the women up on that stage deserved to be there. They were all fantastic. I was taking snippets of video of each artist as they played their songs, to post to Think Country’s socials, trying to conserve my battery. I was doing quite well with that plan until Lauren Duski was introduced. She told a story about her song before she sang it. The song was called, “Costume Party”, and she talked about how she was growing tired of having to pretend to be someone she wasn’t, just to impress different people. She then proceeded to sing her song. I was expecting to take about a minute and a half of video. I shot the whole thing.
Video courtesy of Patti McClintic, Think Country and YouTube
The song itself is brilliant. If it could be, it should be required listening for school kids, particularly those of middle school age. Its message is clear. What if all of us just let out who we actually are, rather than the person we show to the world? What if we removed the makeup and the hair products? What if we did away with fake smiles when we weren’t feeling that way? It might be better. At least we’d be on a more level playing field.
As if the message in the song and the melody weren’t enough to just about paralyze me into keeping my phone camera rolling, it was the way Duski delivered the song that really brought it all home for me. The control and the way she owned the performance was unbelievable. It was her song. Others may cover it, but it will never belong to anyone quite the way it belongs to her. The way she sang it made me know it was coming from some very deep place inside her. I wanted to know more about her. Not just as a songwriter, but as person. She had something special.
I did have the opportunity to speak with her briefly after the show and I found her to be extremely grounded. Her feet could not have been more firmly planted to the earth. She was humble beyond description and I hoped one day I would have the chance to really talk with her. That day came sooner than I thought it ever would. I received an email from her publicist just a few months later asking if I was interested in interviewing her. I was very interested, of course. The first attempt to schedule it fell through, but thankfully, I was contacted again, and here we are.
Photo of Lauren Duski and Payton Taylor courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country
On interview day, I called Lauren Duski just as she was driving back to Nashville, through the Great Smoky Mountains from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, after doing some shows at Blake Shelton’s new Ole Red location there. She said it was a great time and that they did “a wonderful job” with the new restaurant. We were both hoping we didn’t lose our connection, as traveling through the mountains often creates pockets of dead signals. We were lucky. We made it all the way through the interview with no interruptions.
It seemed right to start our conversation off with Duski being a part of the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2018. That’s where I became acquainted with her and her music after all. I complimented her on her control and wondered if she even realized how solid she looks on stage. She was grateful I mentioned that and responded by saying, “For years, I’ve dealt with stage fright and I’m finally starting to shed a little bit of that insecurity, but it still takes a lot of effort.”
Duski continued, “I really hadn’t performed in Nashville. That was the first live performance, even though I’ve lived there for years. Going into that day, I was super nervous, but getting up there with women that I have loved dearly and respected over the years, and how they just get up there and do their thing so effortlessly, they know who they are, it really helps. It helped me shake those nerves because I knew I wasn’t alone.”
There are so many female country artists and only a handful are chosen each year to be a part of the CMT Next Women of Country’s new class. It’s an exclusive group and Duski is well aware of that. The gratitude she expressed for being included was overwhelming. “It’s one of the greatest honors and what I really love about CMT is they’re giving women a voice. For them to even think of me, or consider me for that class, was a crazy honor. To be with a group of women this year that I’m a part of, a lot of these women I’ve looked up to in this genre, I’m overwhelmed when I think about it. It’s given me the confidence to go, ‘Okay, you’re doing this.’ It’s really, really special and it’s help push me out of my comfort zone which is a gift.”
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country
Lauren Duski’s new EP is Midwestern Girl and I know this isn’t a review, but I’ll just quickly say, it’s five songs and every one of them is excellent. The EP was recorded almost completely at Sound Emporium Studios and produced by Brad Hill. Sound Emporium is steeped in music history, and if you’ve ever been there, you just know. If you haven’t, it has the coolest vibe the minute you walk through the door. The single, “Costume Party” (Justin Morgan, Lauren Duski) was recorded at Blackbird Studios.
Photo courtesy of soundemporiumstudios.com
In a rare move for a country record, Duski opens her EP with an instrumental track called, “Journey of a Midwestern Girl” (Emmitt Fenn). This just about blew my mind and there was no way I was going to miss the chance to get her thoughts on that. “It was a collective decision. I wanted to give people a palate cleanser before diving into the songs. The reason I titled the EP Midwestern Girl is because I do feel like I owe what I’m saying, to where I’m from, and that’s a really small town in Northern Michigan. I spent years in the Midwest. I want people to feel what I feel, when I think about the Midwest, and for me, it’s my childhood and that nostalgic feeling. Building tree forts and being super carefree as a kid. I wanted people to feel that before they dove into the lyrics. It was definitely a scary choice for me. I was talking with my team about it, and they really pushed it. They pushed me in ways with this EP that I’m so thankful for, because without them, I don’t know if I would have had the guts to say, ‘Yes, let’s do this.’ I have these ideas and I love them, but sometimes they scare me.”
The EP’s cover shows Duski by herself against a plain red background, dressed in a blue hooded sweatshirt, with very little makeup. It’s very plain, and that was intentional. Duski explained, “The cover art, that was scary for me, because I’m not super ‘glammed’, but that is me. I wear hoodies and sweatpants, like, on a daily basis. I just wanted people to know the real me, and not this other version of me, which is why I wrote ‘Costume Party’. I have tried to be somebody I’m not. I’ve struggled with ‘Who am I?’ my whole freaking life, and as an artist in this genre, it’s like, this is me for sure. What you see and what you hear is 100 percent Lauren Duski. Although it was scary just releasing that song with that cover and the instrumental, every time I’ve ever done something like that, I just feel so much clarity. I just kind of trust in it after that.”
Photo courtesy of Lauren Duski
The single “Costume Party” is the one Duski performed at the CMT Next Women of Country event and the one that drew me in to begin with. It has such an important message, but more importantly, it’s autobiographical for sure. There’s a video for the song that may be one of the greatest country music videos ever made. The concept is totally unique. It’s a montage of real people on video (many of them young girls) talking about what it takes to be beautiful. Their answers were enough to give me hope for our future.
Video courtesy of Lauren Duski and YouTube
Duski described how the video came about. “I wanted to be sure I included my fans. I asked them to be my pen pals and I expected a couple of letters, but hundreds of letters came to my PO box. I was reading through them and most of them were complete strangers. For them to be that vulnerable about their lives and things they were going through, gave me the confidence to open up. The song wasn’t about me. It’s about my life, but I feel like it’s about all of us together, just owning the fact that we’re a work in progress. I wanted to include some form of social media. For me, the video kind of dictated how I felt about myself. I’m really excited for the way it came through. It was really special for me to have them be a part of the video.”
The other song on the EP that really grabbed me and shook me to the core was “The Weather (Grandpa’s Song)” and I had to learn more about it. It was co-written by Brandon Hood, Lauren Duski and Liz Rose. I first heard it in the middle of the night, lying in bed with my earbuds in. It brought me to tears. This was no ordinary song. When I brought it up to Duski, she seemed a little surprised and happy at the same time. I don’t know if it’s just that people don’t often ask about it, or if I was simply more interested than others, but we did get into it quite a bit.
I sensed this one meant a lot to her, as Duski began, “We lost my Grandma two Christmases ago. We knew she was sick. I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for, was watching my Grandfather pick up the pieces and move on. You think after 65 years together, and honestly, they were the greatest love story I’ve ever witnessed, like, what do you do? Every time I call him, every time I talk to him, he could only talk about the weather.”
She went on, “I had never written with Liz Rose (“Girl Crush”, “Cry Pretty”, many Taylor Swift hits) before, and I wasn’t planning on writing a song about them that day. She asked me how my Christmas went and I just started bawling, and I went, ‘Well, pretty rough.’ I told her everything and it was like, ‘Okay, well, let’s write about that’, and we had the song done in an hour. It was one of those songs that needed to be written, and it was such a gift to have her there that day.”
I asked Duski how her Grandpa feels about the song. “He says as hard as it was at first to listen to, he’s thankful. I was just with him two weeks ago in Michigan to film the video for the song, and he told me he loved that she (his wife) lived on through the song. I’m so thankful for that because he’s still with me.” I told her it was an amazing legacy that she left for them and she told me how much she appreciated hearing that. When Lauren Duski says she’s grateful for something, you hear it from her heart. “It’s definitely my favorite. It’ll probably always be my favorite song”, she added.
Video courtesy of Lauren Duski and YouTube
As of now, Duski is an independent artist and she’s content to stay that way for a while. “I’m still a pretty young artist. I’ve released one EP. I’m really excited to just put out music that I believe in and hope that someday I find the right moment, but if that doesn’t happen, I’m just so thankful that I get to do this at this level. Being an independent artist does have its trials, the biggest one being financial, but I would never give up creative freedom for a paycheck. I would rather stay as true to myself as possible, rather than have some financial freedom.”
What’s next for Lauren Duski? “We’re focused on the second EP which will be releasing sometime this summer. Three EP’s this year is the goal. I took about a year and a half after the show (The Voice, which she appeared on in season 12 as a member of Team Blake and finished in second place) to release anything. The fans have been so patient with me. I’m looking to play some shows pretty soon, and hopefully, do a Nashville showcase soon.”
Last, but never least, when Lauren Duski “Thinks Country”, what does she think? “When I think about country music, I think about that vulnerability and the stories that I grew up listening to. I think about storytelling in the most vulnerable, honest way. I don’t know if we get that in all genres, but I know we get it in country music and its roots.”
To wrap this up, I have to say that talking with this artist was everything I could ever ask for in the perfect interview. She was engaging, interesting and humble. To say it was a pleasure would be a gross understatement. I encourage you to go listen to her music, because it truly is incredible, and keep in mind that the person you are listening to is as real as the lyrics you are hearing, and that’s about as country as you can get.
Photo courtesy of Lauren Duski
Lauren Duski can be found: