Checking in with Jesse Dukes

Checking in with Jesse Dukes

What were you doing before we called?
I was trying to learn the guitar part for “Surf Rider” by The Lively Ones.

Tell us about your day job.
I work three days a week, part-time, for the radio program “With Good Reason,” which is produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.


In addition to traveling to Maine for a story on lobstermen, Jesse Dukes joined poet and Virginia Quarterly Review editor Ted Genoways on a trip to Eagle, Alaska, for a story for the radio show “Studio 360.” You can download The Raquellos’ new album at for free.

What are you working on right now?
I am working on an audio documentary in vérité form about chicken processing and slaughter. I’m also working on an audio piece for the UVA alumni magazine’s website about local professor, sound designer and playwright Michael Rasbury. He’s written a play inspired by his life with his autistic son, called Max Understood. I went to Michael’s house and recorded him putting together some of the music he composed for the play. He had done things like recording his washing machine, recording the air conditioning unit outside of his office, and used those to make music.

What is your favorite tool of the trade?
It’s got to be the Pro Tools software suite… It used to be that you had to have razors and specialized equipment to cut audiotape from the field. I can’t even imagine doing it that way.

Locally, who would you like to collaborate with?
I would love to collaborate with the people who do letter press and block printing at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center. It would be really neat to do some kind of audio multimedia project that would either use typography or block printing in order to create a kind of unprecedented multimedia form, featuring audio, print and illustration. But done in that really careful, bibliophile way.

Have you done any recent travel?
I was in Maine and New England for about 10 days, researching what I hope will someday be a radio story about lobsters and lobstermen on an island called Isle au Haut.

What is inspiring about Charlottesville right now?
That it’s an urban space in an agricultural, rural place. It’s so easy to get out to so many places here, to the mountains… Also, that so many people our age, in their 20s, seem to be discovering agriculture within urban settings. Like Rick Easton and Sub Rosa Bread, these guys who are taking it upon themselves to bake bread according to their own standards, then distribute it outside the usual channels. People who are keeping chickens, raising and killing chickens. There’s this fascinating rediscovery of traditional values, but with people’s contemporary values overlaid on top of them.

Tell us about an idea that you’re carrying around with you.
I want to do a project or series of interview-driven audio about the first time individual people—slaughterhouse employees, animal control officials, veterinarians, policemen—had to kill an animal. I’m interested in this human-animal intersection and relationship. We have these very significant industrial relationships with animals, but they tend to be hidden, out of sight. Hence the chicken-killing story.

When you’re working on something, what’s your favorite snack food?
I really like chips and green salsa. It’s got to be something salty.

What music are you listening to lately?
These hip-hop artists called J. Period and K’naan, and one of them or both of them are from somewhere in the Muslim part of Africa, and first got into hip-hop, and then got into Bob Dylan. So it’s basically hip-hop that samples nothing but early Bob Dylan. It’s not very representative of what I normally listen to, but I’m enjoying it.

What single article of clothing would you take on a long trip?

Probably my favorite pair of jeans. They’re Wranglers. They’re old, and they sit really well… I’ve also got a canvas belt with a Boy Scout-style clasp in the front.

What do you carry with you at all times?

A Moleskine notebook and a pen.

Guilty pleasure?
I really like to go out to the Carmike or Seminole movie theaters, get a lot of candy and buttered popcorn, and watch a really violent movie. I’m trying to think about the last one that I liked. Probably Will Smith’s superhero movie, Hancock.