Ever since he and his brother anchored the Seattle alt-combo Forgive Durden, keyboardist Thomas Dutton was familiar with most showbiz adages and catchphrases. But there's one that he now admits he never fully grasped — the film and theater term "in development." And now — after deciding to transform his former band's lofty concept album Razia's Shadow into an actual Broadway musical — he understands it, all too well.
"I did not realize how long the development process actually is," he says with a sigh. "With music, you write an album, you record an album, you release it, and then you can't change it anymore. But in theater, you write and rewrite and rewrite for years and years, and even when it's opening, you're still making changes."
Razia's Shadow has yet to reach Broadway, but after two years of tinkering and workshopping through New York's Public Theater, the curtain finally went up at its intimate Joe's Pub venue.
For Dutton, the experience was life-changing in more than one way. It introduced him to theater major and vocalist Lonnie Angle, who collaborated on the entire project, followed it from their native Seattle to the Big Apple, and eventually — as a result of Dutton's simple desire for decompression — formed the frothy synth-pop duo Cardiknox with him.
Their Portrait debut album was released in March by Warner Brothers. Highlights include panoramic, vintage-OMD-school soundscapes like "Supermodel," "Wild Child" and "Earthquake," which indeed ripples through your speakers like a minor temblor. It's every bit as visual as some Grand Guignol melodrama.
The unlikely team first met up when Angle was introduced to Dutton at a party. "It was long before we started working together," she says. "I was just told Thomas was in a band, and I think I remarked on his haircut at that point.
"So it wasn't that deep of a moment," she adds with a laugh. "But a year or two after that, we were re-introduced in a context of working together, so we went out for beers to discuss turning Thomas' concept album into a legit musical. And it was pretty clear then that we were definitely going to work together."
Dutton, for his part, felt an immediate creative spark at that summit meeting. He really needed a visionary collaborator to give structure to his nascent ideas. "And we really hit it off in terms of a working relationship," he recalls. "She was extremely smart and had this really lofty confidence and ambition. It really gave me the feeling that we could do anything we set our minds to, and that was the big thing that continued to keep us together, creatively."
There were times when the pair began to believe that they'd bitten off more than they could chew. They had no clue, initially, just how much work and time would go into launching their own stage production.
"You can get really lost in the process," Dutton says. "One day, nothing feels right, and then suddenly everything feels right — it's really hard to remain objective." It wasn't until the Joe's Pub premiere that he got any true sense of satisfaction. But the more he considered the necessary arduous steps required to ascend to the Great White Way, the more disheartened he became. "We were burnt out," he admits, "and that's when we decided to shift gears with Cardiknox."
Taking its moniker from the French family name Cardinaux, Dutton and Angle had one goal in mind. "We were creating songs at that time in a more traditional theatrical form," Angle says. "But we decided to step away from that. And instead of keeping the musical in development, we basically said, 'Umm, we're going to go make some pop songs now!' And that turned into Cardiknox."
And so, for the moment, the rock opera will have to wait. "Eventually, we will get back to that show," says the singer. "We swear, it will actually find its way to Broadway."