How They Got Here: Zeke Duhon

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Videos by American Songwriter


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Most artists who achieve meaningful careers have stories that unfold at their own pace through small wins and letdowns. While there’s no single path in the business, many artists have people and circumstances that give insight into how they got there.

The Artist

Local rumor has it that over 100 people move to Nashville every day. That’s around 3,000 a month or over 36,000 each year. Starting new isn’t easy, and sometimes it takes leaving to appreciate what you’ve left behind. On his soon-to-be-released EP, recent transplant Zeke Duhon reflects on how good he had it when he was “half out the door.”

But a mere 6 months after arriving in Music City, the nineteen year old Tulsa native was in the studio working with venerated Civil Wars producer Charlie Peacock and co-writing with industry veterans Brett Dennen and Kevin Griffin. He quickly signed a publishing deal with big-time indie Big Deal Music. Now he’s prepping to release that EP, and there’s an album in the works. The move was clearly for the best.

That’s not to say any of it has gone to his head. Zeke was just finishing up a shift on his friend’s ice cream truck when we spoke. Thoughtful and grounded, his music reflects a coming-of-age perspective of hope and idealism with a clarity that’s exclusive to youth.

The Music

Like many young writers, Zeke’s father, a pharmacist and hobbyist musician, was his first supporter. “My Dad always wanted me to find something I loved to do,” says Zeke. “He hated his job, and he really emphasized how important it was for me to finding something meaningful to do with my life.”

After learning only a few chords, Zeke wrote his first song at age fourteen. “I recorded it on my Dad’s laptop, and didn’t show it to him at first because I wasn’t sure if it was any good,” he explains. “When he finally found the song, he thought it was a cover, or that I copied it from somewhere, because he didn’t think I was old enough or far along as a guitarist to actually write.”

Once his father realized the music was, in fact Zeke’s own work, and that his son had a natural inclination for writing, he wholeheartedly got behind it. He had a customer at his pharmacy who owned a small recording studio in town. Zeke started recording with this producer, Jacob Song, and spent most of his high school years working on an album he was putting the finishing touches on the Spring of 2013.

The City

By the time his peers were applying to colleges, Zeke’s talent as a writer and performer had been recognized, and people were encouraging him to follow the dream. “My theater teacher pulled me aside and said, while he’d never told a student this before, he didn’t think I should go to college,” explains Zeke. “He told me I needed to go to where it’s happening and give it my best shot.” His family had frequented Nashville on summer family vacations, and figuring LA or NYC was too expensive, he decided to take the leap.

The People

With Zeke headed to Music City after graduation, Tulsa supporters started coming out of the woodwork. “I was working at Guitar Center over the summer, and one of my co-workers shared my music with his mom. There was an old high school friend whom she knew did something in music in Nashville, so she sent him my songs.”

That friend was Shawn Carnes, who had just moved back to Nashville after a stint as an artist relations rep at Island Records in New York. Shawn did some online research and was floored by what he heard in Zeke. “You could tell he was younger and growing as an artist,” he explains. “But the recordings were simply amazing. The songwriting was way beyond his years.”

With Zeke parents’ blessing, Carnes and his business partner Matt Williams took him on as their first management client. He arrived a few weeks later, alone in an unfamiliar city. As Zeke describes it, “Shawn was the only person I knew in Nashville when I moved here.”

Carnes wasted no time getting Zeke in the middle of things. “I told him to buckle up,” he says. Within 3 weeks Zeke was local radio station Lightning 100’s ‘Artist of the Week.’ After a chance run-in with Carnes’ old friend Pete Robinson at a Warner Music Nashville’s ‘Pickin’ on the Patio’ event, Zeke was showcasing for a major indie publisher.

Robinson is Senior VP of A&R at Big Deal Music, an LA/Nashville-based publisher home to artists like My Morning Jacket, Ray Lamontagne, and St. Vincent, among others. After their initial encounter, he was intrigued. “Zeke just seemed like a really cool kid,” he explains. “After I heard him play a few songs live and I heard the recordings, I was completely sold.”

“What everyone doesn’t always realize about people who work in the music business is that we actually are huge music fans,” Pete continues. “I look for artists who make music I genuinely love. With Zeke, I loved his music. It wasn’t that complicated.”

In yet another moment of incredible fortune for the team, Shawn had also impulsively sent Zeke’s demos to one of music’s most esteemed producers, Charlie Peacock, known for his work with The Lone Bellow and The Civil Wars. Within a few hours, Peacock was on the phone and Zeke was in the studio the next day.

“Seeing Zeke perform is what sealed it for me,” Peacock explains. “It’s never been easier to make a competitive recording and never harder to find competitive performers to record. Zeke is great live and equally great in the studio. This is as it should be and why I jumped at the chance to produce.”

Zeke says he was adamant about having Charlie produce his music, but also wanted to work with Pete and Big Deal. With everyone so enthusiastic about the project, they were able to gracefully work out co-publishing agreements with both.

By January of 2014, the deals were in place, and Zeke began the process of writing and completing his first professionally produced EP. Tracked at Blackbird and Peacock’s studio, the result is an introspective group of songs that are at once insightful but also true to Zeke as a teenager struggling on his own for the first time.

“Now I know I don’t know everything anymore, and I’ve got a long way to go,” he sings on ‘Everything,’ a standout track from the project. He’s smart to recognize the years of work ahead, but if the past 12 months are any indication, Zeke is going to be just fine.

Click the ‘Song Profile’ button below to read the lyrics and story behind Zeke’s song ‘Faith and Hope.’

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