Taking a More Outward Approach, Ducks Ltd. Showcase Their Sonic Proficiency on Second LP ‘Harm’s Way’

Ducks Ltd. © Dylan Taylor
Ducks Ltd. © Dylan Taylor
Circumnavigating the globe on endless tours, Toronto-based duo Ducks Ltd. mastered their unique, vivacious sound on new album ‘Harm’s Way’ while crafting stories of unease, apprehension, and societal woe.
Stream: ‘Harm’s Way’ – Ducks Ltd.

All we ever do is need, eat, f***, and sleep and then repeat forever,” sings Ducks Ltd.’s Tom McGreevy on their new album’s opening track, “Hollowed Out.” The sensation of an eye roll can be felt as he sings gracefully over a dancy drum beat accompanying the iconic jangly pop guitar riffs. Right out of the gate, this message clearly indicates the theme this record conveys. Will this monotonous cycle ever end? Is there anything exciting about this dull existence anymore?

Hollowed out from the inside. All hollowed out from the inside. All of it getting harder and harder to explain.

These questions are often asked when the world is in economic struggle, political turmoil, and environmental collapse. Anxiety and frustration become the front and center focus, like a spotlight only shining on complex areas of the brain. The repetitive nature of daily routines can exacerbate these emotions, and it becomes more than essential to find a way to pump the brakes and breathe.

Harm’s Way - Ducks Ltd
Harm’s Way – Ducks Ltd

Ducks Ltd. are connoisseurs of creating lighthearted, catchy, good ole’ indie rock, but they continue to stick with their underlying messages throughout their lyricism. When asked about the inspiration surrounding these themes, Tom McGreevy answers, “Haha, I mean I guess by the specific personal experience of living in the world as it presently appears. I don’t think that is an uncommon feeling at the moment. It feels like we’re in a uniquely hopeless moment (at least within my lifetime).” Though their writing may be viewed in a depressing manner, they transmit it through bright, magical, and comforting melodies. Tracks like “Cathedral City” and “On Our Way To The Rave” are standouts that showcase the lighthearted aura they manifest but with undoubtedly precision.

Days lived, all ways in the shade. Lights dimmed to dull disarray. Disguising all fear and all doubt. We step out. Now I know we’re on our way and I am certain to make memories I’ll barely retain. We’re on our way to the rave.

After their debut album, Modern Fiction, released in 2021 by Carpark Records, singer and guitarist Tom McGreevy and lead guitarist Evan Lewis found themselves touring all over the place. While on the road, they supported bands like Nation of Language and Archers of Loaf and had a realization that most of the musicians they cherished and wanted to work with were in the windy city of Chicago. Thanks to producer Dave Vettraino (Dehd, Deeper), they recruited a plethora of local Chicago musicians to assist with string arrangements and backing vocals, resulting in a completely new atmosphere for the duo, who usually produces their albums independently.

“Backing vocal day was a highlight!” McGreevy says.

It helped them push the boundaries of their sound, and it is clearly reflected throughout the twenty-eight minutes of Harm’s Way.

Ducks Ltd. have surpassed their previous works with Harm’s Way. The duo have skillfully evolved with their intricate instrumentals, catchy choruses that are stuck in your head all day, and an overall mesmerizing indie rock experience that takes the listener on a thought-provoking journey.

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:: stream/purchase Harm’s Way here ::
:: connect with Ducks Ltd. here ::
Ducks Ltd. © Colin Medley
Ducks Ltd. © Colin Medley


Harm’s Way - Ducks Ltd

Atwood Magazine: It has been a few years since the release of your debut LP, Modern Fiction. What have been some of the highlights or achievements that stand out during that time period?

Ducks Ltd.: I think all the touring we got to do was definitely the highlight. Playing in Portugal and Spain with our friends in Hause Plants. Doing the west coast with Archers of Loaf. We played a festival on Oost Vlieland in the Netherlands that was a wildly cool experience! Playing music in different places and making new friends! It’s definitely an amazing part of this that we’re immensely grateful for.

Looking back on Modern Fiction, I’m curious to know if your relationship to the album changed in any way compared to your new record. Did your perspectives change on how you wanted to evolve with your sound?

Ducks Ltd.: I’m not sure to be honest. I really haven’t listened to it since it came out, but I think we learned some things about how our songs work from playing them live a lot and that had an impact on how we wrote the new record. We were maybe a little more confident in our own decision-making process. 

A lot of your discography focuses on the dread we endure through life. Was this informed or inspired by any specific personal experiences?

Ducks Ltd.: Haha, I mean I guess by the specific personal experience of living in the world as it presently appears. I don’t think that is an uncommon feeling at the moment. It feels like we’re in a uniquely hopeless moment (at least within my lifetime).

Ducks Ltd. © Dylan Taylor
Ducks Ltd. © Dylan Taylor

Since we’re discussing themes, I love, and almost crave unique album art. I have always been curious about the structurally sound images on the album covers. Who came up with the idea and what are the inspirations behind them? They’re absolutely fantastic.

Ducks Ltd.: Evan does all the artwork stuff! The first two are pictures he took himself and the new record is one we commissioned from a photographer in Barcelona. We really like the idea of keeping them themed. He always says that the idea is to provide a visual that feels like it suits the music without distracting from it. If the album cover was a picture of us then you’d be thinking about us when you listened to it. We’d prefer you didn’t!

Could you tell me a little bit about the story behind your new LP, Harm’s Way?

Ducks Ltd.: We mostly made it in Chicago in the summer of 2023 and we wrote it largely on and between tours in 2022 and early 2023. To some extent the songs are reflective of those experiences, though maybe more in vibe than in specific content. We had a lot of fun making it! Chicago is a great city full of wonderful people that I’m very happy to know. 

How, for you, does this album differentiate itself from your debut?

Ducks Ltd.: I think we’ve maybe refined our approach a little bit and found the center of what we do. I also think Modern Fiction was maybe more insular from a writing perspective, where Harm’s Way is a little more outward looking.

All we ever do is need, eat, f**k, and sleep and then repeat forever,” you sing at the album opener “Hollowed Out.” Tell me about this entrance, and what inspired you to begin the record this way?

Ducks Ltd.: Initially I think it was a genuine expression of despair that in retrospect I thought was at least a little bit funny, so I stuck with the idea. I’m not sure there’s a great deal of thought about that went into that being the opening “statement” on the record though. It was more just the way the songs fit together. 

Following the first track is “Cathedral City,” which I feel is your most organic sound yet. I especially enjoyed how it felt sonically new with the introduction involving synths that drop into this loose carefree atmosphere. Can you tell me a little bit about the concept behind this?

Ducks Ltd.: We’ve actually used synths quite a bit in the past, but they’re normally mixed a little lower. It felt like it fit in tonally with this one, in a way that let them live a little more prominently, and Dave Vettraino (who produced the record) encouraged us to use those kinds of textures more prominently, to give each song a more distinct sonic character. In terms of the songwriting it’s about recognizing someone else’s suffering and being uncertain how to help them. There’s a line in there that I kind of interpolate from a Gabby’s World song too.

You released “The Main Thing” last year as the album’s lead single. Why did you choose this track to introduce the audience to your new work?

Ducks Ltd.: Haha, at the risk of demystifying the process entirely, it is the one that the people at our record label thought should be the first single. They are very smart and nice so we did what they said!

I understand that a good amount of writing for this new release was done on the road. As someone who prefers to write in an outdoor setting when possible, do you have any go-to habits or preferred settings when writing/recording?

Ducks Ltd.: I wish I did, but I’m honestly a pretty undisciplined writer. It’s something I’m working on. I’d say two thirds of them were written in my bedroom and the rest in various airbnbs and hotels when we were on tour. I think I wrote more in the UK and Europe mostly because the drives are generally shorter, so you have more down time where you can play a guitar. 

On the road, you ended up in Chicago and collaborating with some of your favorite artists/producers while recording, including a member of one of my favorite groups, Dehd’s Jason Balla. What were the highlights during that time? Also, favorite Dehd song(s)?

Ducks Ltd.: Backing vocal day was probably the highlight! We had everyone together in Dave’s studio in Bridgeport just throwing ideas out and trying things. Margaret McCarthy and Julia Steiner were doing a lot of harmony stuff that was amazing to hear in person. They’re such good musicians. Jason had a lot of really cool ideas too. A bunch of melodic stuff that would never have occurred to us otherwise. I think my favorite Dehd song is probably “Desire.” There are a bunch of good ones though!

Ducks Ltd. © Colin Medley
Ducks Ltd. © Colin Medley

Is there anyone you would love to collaborate with in the future that you already haven’t had the opportunity to?

Ducks Ltd.: Sooooo many people! We’ve often talked about how we’d like to find a way to do something with Robert Forster. We had a conversation once with Van Dyke Parks’ management about working on some arrangements once, which ultimately didn’t go anywhere, but that would be a dream. Dr. Graeme Downes from the Verlaines very politely considered working on some arrangements for us on our debut LP, and I’d love to pick up that thread one day. I thought that Babelsong LP that Gruff Rhys made with an orchestra was really cool, and I’d definitely be intrigued to work with him on something. I’ve always loved The Courtneys, so finding a way to do something with them one day would be cool. There are too many people!

One of my favorite songs on the entire album is “On Our Way To The Rave.” What a powerhouse! This has to be incredibly entertaining to play live, and I assume it was just as lively in the studio when it was recorded. Can you share a little bit about this song? Do you have to pump yourselves up when trying to capture that kind of energy in a recording?

Ducks Ltd.: Ah so that one is kind of funny in that the guitar part is an up and down strumming pattern, so it’s actually really easy to play. “Harm’s Way” is way more intense for me, even though the BPM is lower, as it’s all down stroking. When we do Rave live though our poor drummer is always dyyyyying. The last time we played it live I apologized to him afterward for starting it slightly too fast. Jonathan is very brave though and he got through it. That’s the thing with writing stuff with a drum machine though. Sometimes it results in eventually having to ask a real drummer to do something slightly beyond the realm of physical possibility down the line!

What are some of your favorites off the new record and are there any that you are hoping the listeners really connect with?

Ducks Ltd.:Hollowed Out” was a big one for me, so it’s exciting to see people seemingly connecting with it. I kind of felt like I managed to capture what I meant quite clearly with that one. Same with “Train Full of Gasoline.” 

Closing out Harm’s Way is “Heavy Bag” which, just like the title, is a very heavy song with lyrics like “to seek a different sea for drowning in, I guess I’m sad cause I won’t be the one dragging you down.” I thoroughly enjoyed hearing this folkish side to your sound and as the closer to this fantastic album. Why did you choose to have this as the last song?

Ducks Ltd.: I think we realized pretty early that there wasn’t really another place for that one to go. It’s a bit of a tone shift, and I think getting back to our more mainline sound after it would be difficult to do without it being kind of jarring. 

Ducks Ltd. © Dylan Taylor
Ducks Ltd. © Dylan Taylor

Lastly, since we just entered a new year and you are now weathered artists when it comes to performing live, what cities are you hoping to explore while performing Harm’s Way?

Ducks Ltd.: I think we’re really hoping to go to Australia on this record. Evan’s obviously from there but I’ve never been. I’m excited to see Melbourne. It seems really cool!  

Do you have any aspirations you are aiming to fulfill in this dreaded election year of 2024?

Ducks Ltd.: Aaaaaa I think just get out there and play shows. The generally dread overhanging everything in a year like this definitely heightens your appreciation of getting to do this stuff. 

In the spirit of paying it forward, who are you listening to currently that you would recommend to our readers?

Ducks Ltd.: Literally as I’ve been doing this interview I’ve been listening to a great German band that I’ve been a fan of for a few years called Dusseldorf Dusterboys. Their record Nenn mich Musik from a few years ago is one that I really love, and they have a new EP that’s great. The single from that “Sommer” is fantastic.

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:: stream/purchase Harm’s Way here ::
:: connect with Ducks Ltd. here ::
Stream: “Heavy Bag” – Ducks Ltd.

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Harm’s Way - Ducks Ltd

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