The 23-year-old singer/songwriter, who was born Aimee Ann Duffy, hails from almost nowhere, the tiny community of Nefyn (pop. 2,500) on the northwest coast of Wales.
Her journey began at age 13, when she received a karaoke machine that “looked like something that belonged in a factory” as a Christmas present.
“I started this little enterprise of writing and recording songs and sending them off and then I didn’t hear anything back, which I’m not surprised at really,” Duffy told Pollstar.
After a series of promising situations that always seemed to end badly, including an appearance on a Welsh television singing competition that only earned her “a kick up the ass and a really bad aftertaste,” she decided stardom wasn’t in the cards for her.
“I got to the age of 18 – I know this sounds difficult to believe – but I pretty much retired from wanting to be a [solo] artist. That just felt so out of reach in my surroundings,” she said.
“I didn’t know what I wanted. I kept getting myself trapped in weird situations with people who wanted things for me that I just didn’t want to give, or I just didn’t want to do.”
So she put aside most of her ambitions and just sang where she could, which meant on other people’s songs, but even that was troublesome.
“Pretty much every situation I got myself into ended up getting complicated because people were interested again and I just didn’t want it anymore.”
Eventually, Duffy caught the ear of Rough Trade Records co-founder and manager Jeannette Lee.
“There were a lot of moments in my life that felt like starting points, but the real start was four years ago when I met Jeannette,” she said.
Lee told Pollstar, “There were some Welsh musicians that I knew, who told me there was this great singer in Wales and asked me if I would be prepared to pay for some demos, so I did that. Her voice is so amazing that as soon as I got the demos, I just fell in love with it.”
Duffy soon decided those musicians weren’t right for her, so Lee helped her part company with them, introduced her to former Suede guitarist and producer Bernard Butler and encouraged her “to spend a bit of time to discover who I was and what the hell I wanted to do.”
Three years later, with lots of hard work and travel in the interim, Duffy and Butler, along with Jimmy Hogarth and Steve Booker, finished her debut, Rockferry.
As soon as the public heard it and saw the singer performing live, something she’d only done a few times in the past, things really took off.
“It’s strange how my life’s moving so quickly from one day to the next,” Duffy said. “It’s very unusual to be recognized and to have the response of an audience so soon in one’s career.
“I’ve been working with no one knowing me for four years in this little bubble, and the moment it burst, it is overwhelming but I’m kind of getting used to it now. I’m enjoying it more. In the beginning I was scared – and I mean scared. It wasn’t nerves, it was complete fear.”
One thing Duffy wasn’t afraid of was calling the shots when it came to getting her band, which includes Butler, together and spending nine months preparing to hit the road.
“I took my band to Hell and back trying to make them emulate the record. I didn’t want to spend so long on a record and then go out and play it live like a different record, so there was a lot of thought put into it. And I’m not musical in that sense – I don’t know the difference between a D and an F – so it meant the musicians absorbing it over a long, long time.
“Don’t get me wrong – and I kind of hate to admit it – but there were moments when I wasn’t sure if it was going to work. It was such a mammoth job for me. And not to play the feminist card, but me, with six boys in a room, it’s not easy to get them to listen to you, you know? But eventually – excuse the expression – I got them by the balls.”
That determination to excel live has paid off. Both Lee and William Morris’ Sam Kirby said they’ve never had an artist who’s caught on like Duffy.
“I personally have never worked on a project that’s been so well received in so many different territories at the same time,” Lee said.
“I’ve seen it in the past with artists like Amy Winehouse, but I’ve never seen it go as quickly as it has for Duffy,” Kirby told Pollstar. “People are all very excited about her, from promoters on out. Once they hear the music, everyone is a fan.
“The demand is unbelievable; the phones are just ringing off the hook. The offers that are coming in for her far exceed where she’s at considering she hasn’t even released an album here yet.”
The plan for the near future is to expose her to as many people as possible, which means playing lots of festivals in the U.S. and in Europe, and bringing her back in the fall for a full headlining tour.
And when it comes to conquering the States, it seems Duffy finally knows exactly what she wants.
“I’m really pushing to get a Stateside tour going. I’d like a big run in a tour bus, a big, American, old-school tour bus.”