Stephen Duncan is a Dallas/Fort Worth-born, New York-based singer/songwriter and musician. The region informed much of his musical sensibilities at a very early age: Duncan was exposed to an eclectic mix of music genres and styles from rock and indie rock played on the radio, live music at underground music clubs, classical music lessons — and the country music that was always surrounding him. Stephen Duncan explains that although his work never sounds like it but the thing it’s finished, a number of his songs started out as country songs. “I like that it’s a kind of hidden undercurrent; maybe it helps give the songs a bit of soul, despite the electronic production,” Stephen Duncan says.
Meredith Duncan is a New Jersey-born, New York-based singer/songwriter and musician. Duncan grew up in a strict Roman Catholic home, where she was sheltered from the “evils” of pop culture and most of the things her peers were interested in. She was a trained as a classical pianist and has a deep knowledge of musical theory. When she was young, her older brother introduced to underground rock. alternative and indie rock, industrial music, New Wave and psychedelic music. “Anything sad, dark, depressing, or rebellious felt like home to me,” Meredith Duncan explains. “That had a big influence on my songwriting and musical style. Having lived in Texas, I’m sure some country rubbed off on me too.”
After meeting at a party, Meredith and Stephen started their first band The Chemistry Set. The band which included members of The Polyphonic Spree and Calhoun saw some commercial success when “Into the Light” was featured on One Tree Hill. They also made national tours with Yo La Tengo, The M’s and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.
Their latest project Sub Lights is a new start for Meredith and Stephen Duncan. The challenge of creating music as a duo inspired them to put together a small studio in their new home here in NYC. That effort went into overdrive during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdowns. In October 2020, the duo challenged themselves to write at least one song a week for a year. Last year, they released their Sub Lights debut, Medicine EP — and they played their first Sub Lights shows in Manhattan.
Their recently released sophomore EP Half-Life features songs from that writing experiment and will reportedly be the first of a three-part recording project from the 50+ songs they wrote during pandemic lockdowns. “The idea was to transform traditionally-written songs mostly played on piano or acoustic guitar into our indie electronic style,” Stephen Duncan explains. “Lyrically, we wanted to try to capture the kind of social melancholy coming out of the pandemic and the Trump years, but then express that in a hopeful way. Like, life is tough and can be really sad, but even then people are amazing and able to find joy by connecting with each other. We also wanted to take our music seriously without taking ourselves too seriously—it’s a fine line, but I admire artists who can pull that off. But also I’m a college history professor and fairly politically active, so there’s always an element of the big picture mixed in there too, grand themes of what it means to be human and all that.”
“Music should be fun, it’s entertainment after all,” Sub Lights’ Stephen Duncan adds. “But it’s also art and part of the purpose of art is to allow listeners to explore different ways of being. That’s our goal: to offer the chance to explore a bit of social consciousness along with the fun.”
“I think some of our songs conceptually resemble protest music,” Meredith Duncan adds. “Common themes are anti-religion, anti-patriarchy, anti-unfettered capitalism, anti-fascism. Think for yourself, question things, wake up, and be kind.”
“’Half-Life’ has multiple meanings as it relates to the album,”Sub Lights’ Meredith Duncan says. “It is one of the key lines in ‘Strange New Breed,’ and it is a way to describe how if you only live in the past or for the future, you miss the present, so essentially it feels like you are only experiencing half of your life at any given moment… It’s also my word for what deep depression feels like. All these missed opportunities, just watching life go by from your bed.
Half-Life EP‘s latest single “Hell’s Kitchen Sink” is a crafted yet breezy bit of pop centered around fluttering synths, skittering beats, a motorik groove, boy-girl harmonies and the duo’s remarkable knack for catchy hooks. While the song sonically seems to draw from Phil Spector-era pop, Death Cab for Cutie and shoegaze, “Hell’s Kitchen Sink” is rooted in a much-needed message to the listener.
“Hell’s Kitchen Sink,” Meredith Duncan explains is about living in the moment and being fully present, which “is the only time we can experience the full interconnectedness of life, that we are all the same,” she says. “Like Meredith said, [‘Hell’s Kitchen Sink’] is about living in the present, about valuing the only life we’ve got–and the people we share it with–instead of dreaming about some imagined future afterlife,” Stephen Duncan continues. “That has serious social implications, that we have a responsibility to make the world as good as we can both for ourselves and for other people. But we also wanted to say that this includes having fun, enjoying yourself while you can. So the video was our DIY version of that, just us playing, and playing around, shooting it with the help of a couple of our creative friends and having a good time with it.”