SONG PREMIERE/INTERVIEW: Melody Duncan Balances Enchanting Vocals and Whistling with Charming Folk Tune “Cardinal”

Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Melody Duncan cut her teeth on music at a very early age. Listening to bluegrass, rock ’n’ roll, church songs, Celtic music, and classical compositions, Duncan enjoyed a wide variety of inspirations from early on. Her parents and big brother, all musicians themselves, helped to foster an appreciation for playing and performing. “I’m really grateful I had the opportunity to learn so much from my parents and big brother,” Duncan says. “Many of my earliest memories involve music in some way.”

With her mom teaching her, Duncan started playing piano at the age of 5 and slowly picked up different instruments along the way. However, she found an extra level of musical passion when she started playing the violin in her teens. With determination to share music and make it her career, she began touring and freelancing with rock bands, jazz players, folk artists, local record studios, and chamber groups. Duncan also worked through college and hustled several side jobs along the way: waitressing, dog grooming, serving coffee, and often taking music gigs for free. “At one point I had two jobs, full-time classes at the university, and I was playing rock ’n’ roll shows several nights a week,” she recalls. “The shows were a blast. I didn’t get much sleep, that’s for sure.” Duncan enjoyed making music with several different projects. Her favorites include duo shows with her brother, Christopher Duncan, The Swivelettes, Caravel, and the Mobile Phoenix Strings Quartet.

Without slowing down, Duncan joined the international touring group known as The Mulligan Brothers. She brought violin/fiddle/keyboards and vocals to the band. Together they hit the top 50 on the Americana charts in the U.S, and played the Cayamo Cruise with wonderful artists such as Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, Shawn Mullins, and John Paul White. “We had so much fun touring,” Duncan says. “We played shows from New York to California and back. We even went across the pond, playing in Amsterdam, Sweden, Norway, and Ireland.”

Once The Mulligan Brothers disbanded, Duncan found herself excited for a new chapter in her musical journey. This time, instead of playing songs that others had written, she finally set out to share her own original music with the world. “I’ve been writing and performing my own music for years, but I’ve never released a solo album,” she says. “I have released a couple of EPs, one with my brother and one with my good friend, Katy Herndon, but this is my first full-length solo record, and I’m really happy about it.”

True to Duncan’s upbringing, her original music is a mix of genres, a taste all its own. Duncan’s first solo album Wolf Song, due out March 12th (PRE-ORDER), is entirely written, performed, recorded, and produced by Duncan. “Recording in a home studio is both fun and challenging,” she says. “For one thing, my apartment isn’t soundproofed, so there were a lot of times I couldn’t record because there were noisy things happening, like a rainstorm or my neighbors mowing their lawn. However, that’s also one of the reasons I was able to capture some of the cool nature sounds on the record.”

With her music, Duncan has set out to create what she calls her “Wolf Pack,” a community of people and music fans who gather together in person, in spirit, or both. “I think wolves are amazing creatures,” she says. “They run strongest in packs, and they need community to be their best. They are mysterious and wild, expressing themselves and connecting through song, howling together in harmony despite any distance between them. I like to think of us like that, drawn together through song and community, finding light in dark spaces.”

Today Glide is excited to offer an exclusive premiere of “Cardinal,” one of the standout tracks on the new album. From the moment the song begins with the chirping of birds and acoustically picked guitar, it’s clear this will be a more softer, intimate affair. Duncan uses the imagery of birds as a form of symbolism for relationships. The sparse folk arrangement lends itself to letting her vocals shine, and there is a lonesomeness to the song that is amplified by whistling and a subtle but effective echo on the vocals. You can hear Duncan’s love for folk as well as classical music in the song, and the result is a truly unique folk composition.

Listen to the tune and read our chat with Duncan below…

What inspired you to write this song? What is it about?

The inspiration for this song came from a combination of two different relationships. I use a lot of symbolism throughout the whole song. I mention the cardinal and the blue jay, both of them representing two very different people in my life at the time.

How was it writing this song — did it all come out at once or did you really have to work at it for the song to come together?

I wrote the song “Cardinal” in one afternoon. It was one of those songs that had content stirring inside my head for several months, but it all spilled out in one sitting — lyrics, melody, the whole thing. I like thinking about that afternoon, because I was staying the weekend at the house of my good friend, Katy Herndon. I had brought my guitar and felt like I needed to play for a while. I sat alone on the carpet in one of her upstairs rooms and composed the whole song. She must’ve known I had disappeared into my own song-writing-land because she didn’t ask any questions. Instead, she just brought me glasses of water, and homemade kale chips. That’s the most solid memory I have of creating the song — even though it has nothing to do with the lyrics. It was a moment in time that I felt so supported and blessed to have a friend like that: someone who knew I needed a creative space, and helped me create it.

Because of COVID, did you have to change how you recorded this song? If so, how?

I recorded the whole album, including this song, in my home studio at my apartment. I actually really enjoy recording in my own studio. It gives me a chance to learn new recording techniques, and I can take my time recording different ideas without a typical studio time restraint.

Do you have any favorite parts of the song — lyrically or musically or vocally?

I really enjoyed whistling on this song. I’m told that my great-grandfather whistled the same way I do; I suppose I inherited it.

You have some nature sounds on this album — including the birdsong on this track. Can you tell us more about that? How and where were you able to record those?

Because I recorded the album in my home studio, I was able to capture nature sounds for several of the tracks on purpose. However, the bird chirp at the beginning of “Cardinal” was a total surprise. I didn’t hear the bird at the beginning until after I hit the playback button when I had already finished recording that take. I was shocked and happily excited about it!

Photo credit: Katy Herndon

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