"Damn straight I'm making up for lost time," Duarte says from his home in Austin, Texas. "Between the first two albums, I got backlogged with material because I wasn't recording. I still have a backlog of stuff, but it's, like, other fields of music, delving into pop or folk. Stuff that maybe when I have my own studio or I'm in an indulgent phase of my life, I'll get into."
Duarte knows about indulgence, and he's moved away from it. His sobriety, sitting at 1,074 days as you read this, also renewed his playing, writing and singing. "I take a simpler approach now," Duarte says. "I'd been wanting to do that for a long time. Mainly, it makes me accessible to a mass audience. But I do feel I have a distinct sound, so it's not a compromise or loss of integrity."
He takes this stripped-down ethic to the road. Duarte says the trio takes turns driving a Ford van. No road manager. No trailer full of amps and extra guitars. "We're a bare-bones machine on tour," he explains. "I have four amps, and Robert (Kearns, Duarte's new bass player) has this huge MVT, just a huge head and a cabinet, big and bulky.
Kearns replaces John Jordan, Duarte's foil of almost fourteen years, who is now focusing on his home life. Duarte is enthusiastic about the change to his lineup. "Robert is an accomplished vocalist with a nice voice. He can sing just about anything, so I can say, 'Put vocals on this,' and we get harmonies. It gives us more musical possibilities."
If you talk to Duarte for more than a few minutes, his enthusiasm for music's harmonic potential becomes evident. For all the simplicity suggested by Love > Me's sepia-toned cover shot and the unvarnished sound on the disc, the guitarist is motivated by music's "dimensions."
"I think Hendrix was doing what John Coltrane was into," Duarte says, "which is emotion -- the free spirit Hendrix played with. That's what it's about. I still get knocked out by Hendrix's backward playing on some songs. I mean, I've listened to many live recordings of Hendrix, and he's got the tone, but he also has great melodic and harmonic ideas and knew how to get them in the studio. And he used the amps as a separate instrument, which is what puts me in awe. He thought about things more than anyone else. Using the amps in different environments and situations, not just turning up. I'll be chasing that as long as I use multi-amp setups."
What Duarte is no longer chasing is heroin. He admits his addiction stemmed from a romantic curiosity about his jazz heroes, especially Coltrane. When he found out what the drug felt like, Duarte wanted to discover how it might augment his talent. "It quickly takes on a whole other dimension," Duarte says. "First I wanted to try it, then I thought, 'Wow, I really sound better and I can practice scales for hours on end.' Then I needed it just to get by. Some nights it took the mic stand to hold me up." Duarte made a routine of kicking the habit before a tour, making his performances a daredevil ride through withdrawal. "When I hear those shows, I think I'm a much better player now," Duarte says. Coming off the road, Duarte's willpower would flag when he was with his wife. They've divorced, and Duarte has remarried. He credits his second wife, Patricia, with his artistic and emotional renewal.
"She has so much love for me that she wasn't willing to play the codependency role," Duarte says. "She saw the potential in me." And she was right. Duarte may be the only working guitarist willing to talk casually about codependency whose music has become harder and more driven since rehab.
"If I sat there, I could work out what Hendrix does," Duarte says, "but I'm not the type of player that's going to try to get something exact. I would have done that when I was younger." However, Duarte's chief advice to younger players (including his 13-year-old daughter, who recently abandoned the piano for the clarinet) is not to mimic something until it's perfect but to get a metronome. "You have to get down and do your scales and get the meter right," he says. "It just drives me crazy, musicians or drummers that drag. The metronome has always helped me out. You have to have that solid foundation. Then you can start throwing things ahead or behind the beat. You start playing with the time." Do that, and the next thing you know, you're talking destiny and getting ahead of the beat for the first time.