Music

The Duke of Norfolk Explores Grief Through "Shema" (premiere)

Photo courtesy of Public Display PR

This jangly indie folk tune is a deeply personal one for the Duke of Norfolk's Adam Howard as he details his journey through exploring levels of grief on both individual and grand levels.

Oklahoma's Adam Howard has a knack for writing songs that are both broadly indicative of the human condition and profoundly personal and introspective. Such is the groundwork for the tracks that he writes and performs under his artistic moniker, the Duke of Norfolk. Billing it as a "folktronic" act, Howard's Duke of Norfolk rides the line somewhere between the reflective constructs of Belle & Sebastian and the much more innovative spins on the indie folk movement that faces like Justin Vernon provide. In between the sonic wonder, though, are the real meat and potatoes of the Duke of Norfolk's inner workings—a beating heart and a conscious mind.

One such song that is exemplary of all of the above is Howard's newest single, "Shema". A jangly indie folk number, it belays an infectious, rootsy arrangement about its listeners as it pulls them further into a story that hinges itself on Howard's own reflections on grief. It's framed from multiple angles, taking us on a three-month journey into these observations as the Duke of Norfolk ruminates on both personal and widespread losses.

Howard tells PopMatters, "'Shema' is the first song on the album that I finished and the one that I most distinctly remember writing. I wrote the melody sitting in the back of the Blue Blazer (on Spittal Street, in Edinburgh where I was living at the time). I had just finished playing a low-key show at the weekly listening room the bar have and was sat with several friends drinking and playing music. It was nearly two months after my father passed away and a month or so since I had returned to Scotland from Oklahoma (where I grew up / where the funeral was). I worked on the lyrics on the bus home and finished the song that night."

"The song is, like the whole album, a collage of ideas and influences converging on the theme of grief but it's a bit of a hot take on the subject. I don't think I really intended it to be so, but it ended as a linear story of the first three months of grief with, sort of, dreamlike transitions—flitting from thought to thought."

"I wrote it at the beginning of November and the weary rain seemed to embody my own weariness. In September I had been back in Oklahoma and had grieved with my family—we looked through old photos, laughed, and cried—and when I returned to Scotland, with a little knowledge of what death felt like, I looked up and death was everywhere. I saw the refugee crisis in Syria anew and began to actually understand what death on such a scale means; the number of mourners it produced & what it meant to be a mourner. So I raged. And I raged until I was exhausted. The song is, more or less, an attempt at some exposition of those three months. The pain, the anger, and the exhaustion—the sleeplessness, insanity, and doubt."

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