Luke Von Duke talks about the road he’s traveled from Somehow Still Alive to Fr3qu3nc3
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
I talked to Luke Valenzuela at Alvas Showroom during a Frank Unzueta’s One World concert in November of 2013.
I was there on assignment covering Frank Unzueta. I knew he was Luke’s uncle and thought at the time it would be great to interview both musicians together. Luke caught my attention in 2009 as Luke von Duke with his band, Somehow Still Alive. He was different. At the time, he was the only local artist I saw who embraced hip hop and rock music the way he did.
When I greeted Luke at Alvas recently he didn’t immediately recognize me. I was just the guy that did the photoshoot of him and his band for the feature. B. Noel Barr wrote the story. His eyes lit with recognition when I said I was from Random Lengths.
“Hey man, how you doing?” he said. “Man, I got a new band called Fr3qu3nc3 (pronounced “frequency”), but I’m not ready to talk about it just yet.”
“That’s OK—get in touch with me when you are,” I told him.
A year-and-a-half later, Luke messaged me on Facebook with links to his music and a query about running a story about him.
I told him I’d get in touch the week after next, when Random Lengths wasn’t publishing. He tagged me first.
Luke has three songs: “Laugh at Myself,” “Don’t Hold Your Breath” and “I’m Nothing.” They struck me as being strangely familiar. It reminded me of the industrial-sounding, British, pop music from the 1980s.
It turned out, I wasn’t far off.
When Luke and I finally met up at Averill Park, he explained that Fr3qu3nc3 emerged out of a low point, when Somehow Still Alive disbanded. I remembered back in 2009, there was a great deal of excitement that that band was on the verge of making it big and breaking out beyond the confines of San Pedro.
“The music I was doing in 2008 and 2009 seemed like it was starting to break through but it was pushed back to the underground,” Luke said. “We were opening for headliners and we were being looked at by labels and that was in ’09. Back then, the music business was a little bit better.”
Fr3qu3nc3’s music was inspired by Depeche Mode, an English electronic band that formed in 1980. The band’s original lineup included Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Vince Clarke. Clarke was replaced by Alan Wilder in 1982.
Gahan fronted the band as lead vocalist, while Gore played guitar and keyboards and was main songwriter for much of their first 13 years together.
Luke attempted to make a cover of Depeche Mode’s 1990 song, “Enjoy the Silence” using FL Studio, a music production program. He wasn’t satisfied with the result, explaining that his software didn’t have the right patches to correct some of the bugs in the system, making his effort sound amateurish.
“It was as if I used a Playschool beatmaker,” he said.
But it was during this process that he found the Asian Strings patch and created what became the first line of Fr3qu3nc3’s debut song, “Laugh at Myself.”
“I’ve always loved Depeche Mode and The Smiths’ Morrissey and The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary,’” Luke said.
After completing “Laugh at Myself,” Luke gained momentum. Working with a guitar and the melodies inside his head, he started cranking out original music. That’s also when he hooked up with lifelong friend “Tommy Gunn” Pintaric.
“That’s my boy; I loved that guy,” Luke said. “I’ve known him for 27 years. I’d take a bullet for him… Well, I’ll take a punch for him, not a bullet.”
Charismatic and funny, Luke’s “taking a punch” slaps me as an inside joke that is both funny and real. Luke said he had produced five more songs before he approached Tommy. He had previously reached out to another drummer who ultimately flaked. Luke and Tommy believed Fr3qu3nc3’s sound needed some funk. That’s where Uncle Frank comes in.
“Chances are, nine times out of 10, the kids that shred around here were taught by Uncle Frank,” Luke explained. “His guitar playing…to me, he’s one of the most amazing guitar players around. He’s not Frank Unzueta. He’s Uncle Frank around here.”
As Luke puts it, Fr3qu3nc3 got real sexy after Frank’s inclusion. His guitar playing reminds Luke of Johnny Mar from The Smiths, one of his all-time favorite guitarists.
Sean Herrera from Sifa joined the group, but he parted ways from the band due to scheduling conflicts. Luke and Sean remain close enough that Luke said for Sean, he would also take a slap in the face.
Chey Espejo next joined Fr3qu3nc3. Chey was a member of Knucklebuster, who we’ve also featured in these pages, as well as Luke’s late 1990s band, Beer Drinking Weather.
“I keep my eye on both of them [Herrera and Espejo] because they are so good,” Luke said.
After explaining how he put this current band together, Luke got to the real reason why we was ready for a write-up.
He had found some muscle in the industry with 12-time Grammy winning producer and musician, Rafa Sardina.
“His playing is just clear and he’s worked with everybody,” Luke said excitedly. “He’s worked with Lady Gaga, He’s worked with Beyonce.”
Luke said his production sounds like Jesus recorded them.
Indeed, Rafa’s client list reads like a Who’s Who in all the major music magazines from Rolling Stone to The Source with artists such as Stevie Wonder, The Roots, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Harry Connick Jr, Mariah Carey, Shakira, Dr. Dre, Dru Hill…. the list goes on.
Luke sent Rafa an email and amazingly got a response. More importantly, he got an audience with Rafa at which time he listened to Fr3qu3nc3’s music.
“I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I almost pinched my own ass to see if I was dreaming,” said Luke jokingly. But he was serious.
Rafa apparently liked Luke’s music enough to shop it around to some of his industry contacts—a pretty freaking huge deal.
At 34, Luke has been chasing his dreams for more than 20 years. In that time, he’s suffered many disappointments.
“It’s a rat race; I feel like everybody is fighting over the same piece of moldy cheese,” he said, reflecting on his years in the game. “When you get a taste of what the music industry is all about, it’s kind of scary.”
“They’re not about development anymore,” he said. “You could have great music, but if you don’t have massive social media support, they won’t talk to you.”
Pantomiming the typical conversation artists have with music executives before they make it to the big time—if they make it—Luke begins:
“Hey, you got the best music in the world. I listen to it every night with my wife. How’s your following? How many Facebook likes do you have? 200. How many YouTube views? 500. Get out of here.”
“They don’t want to mess with you,” he said.
Luke and his Beer Drinking Weather bandmates thought they had it made when Interscope Records was looking at them. It ultimately didn’t work out. He blames oversaturation of artists as the biggest hurdle, noting that there’s a Fr3qu3nc3 at every corner, a Luke rapping on every stage, and somebody making beats everywhere else.
This time, Luke is hiring a public relations agent to help him get his recognition up in social media and beyond. Right now, the stars seems to be coming into alignment and his dreams of financially supporting himself and his parents seems a little bit closer. He intends to stay on his grind, making use of any opportunity, ‘til the wheels fall off.Read More