folk: (l-r) Matt Durfee and Mike Poulopoulos.
PHOTO: Leif Zurmuhlen
luck, or a heady concoction of the two has things looking
mighty fine for Albany-based country-blues duo Palatypus
isn’t easy to write an engaging song about being happy
and contented, at least if you’re aiming for something
above the caliber of, say, “I’m a Barbie girl/in a Barbie
world.” One of the most striking things about the work
of Matt Durfee and Mike Poulopoulos, the two guitarist-singers
better known to local-music lovers as Palatypus, is how
refreshingly angst-free most of their tunes are. Yes,
in accordance with the country and blues traditions from
which they draw their inspirations, many of the tunes
deal with an absent lady and the occasional overindulgence
with the bottle. But these things are delivered as a matter
of course rather than a cry of lament—part and parcel
of the working musician’s late nights and lonely roads.
The story of Palatypus is a familiar one: Two bright young
men fall in love with music at an early age and find that
they can best express themselves to the rest of the world
through singing about it, because sometimes words themselves
just get in the way. Take the origin of the duo’s name,
were at the Lark Tavern for an open-mic night,” Poulopoulos
recalls, “and [someone] misheard my name during introduction.
It went something like, ‘Mike Poulopoulos, good to meet
wha . . . ?’
Screaming electric guitar solo.
[Later], during a half-drunk stagger outside of Caffé
Lena, Matt suggested Palatypus and it stuck.”
Their willingness to act on serendipity, or what can be
termed “the happy accident,” is one of the many subtle
and unexpected qualities that make these two musicians
particularly intriguing: Beneath the low-key demeanor
of Durfee and Poulopoulos thrums the sort of ambition
that occurs when taste, talent and a bunch of really good
Durfee’s fingerpicking guitar- playing technique first
germinated when a high-school classmate named Kirk (“an
older, hippie-type of kid that I looked up to”) heard
the young Durfee picking away outside on the school lawn.
had heard me playing and mentioned that he had this mix
tape of an artist that he thought I’d like,” Durfee says.
The artist in question was Leo Kottke, renowned for his
idiosyncratic approach to country-blues fingerpicking.
“Hearing Kottke play really opened my eyes to the fact
that a song doesn’t have to be easy to get, or radio-friendly,
to be incredible. I started to focus my efforts on the
quirks of my playing and voice, and tried to turn them
into elements of style for my music.”
After a couple of years of schooling in Fredonia and some
experience playing bass with “a couple of older guys”
in a band named Spun, Durfee returned to the Albany area
to lick his wounds and tally up his musical strengths
started to play with my acoustic more and more, and decided
to take some lessons,” he says. “I spent about 2 1/2 months
studying with Glenn Weiser, and took away some fingerpicking
exercises that he’d shown me. I started to experiment
with some open tunings, and felt like I’d had some sort
of epiphany: I was able to take all the years of playing
I had under my belt, and all of the years of songwriting
I’d done, and have this whole new technique with which
to create music. I wrote a lot of songs, and tried to
keep them as honest as possible.”
With a newfound sense of purpose and direction, as well
as a fresh batch of songs, Durfee started to make the
open mic rounds in late 2005. Spring of 2006 saw him winning
the Lark Tavern’s Singer-Songwriter Competition, with
the music critics of Metroland crowning him 2006’s
Best Male Singer- Songwriter a couple of months later.
While the accolades were starting to trickle in for Durfee
as a solo act, he surprised some with what occurred next—namely
the formation of the duo known as Palatypus.
Poulopoulos, a recent college grad and blues-guitar aficionado,
had started to visit area open-mic nights more and more
in an effort to hone his singing and performing chops.
While he was enjoying a good survey of some of the area’s
most talented musicians at Artie’s River Street Stage
in Troy, Durfee came in to play the open-mic one night
and proceeded to impress Poulopoulos mightily.
fingerpicking and songwriting style amazed everyone in
the room,” Poulopoulos says. “I recall the drifting smoke
pausing for a listen.”
When Poulopoulos had his turn on the stage, Durfee was
was this incredible, honest vibe to the set, and the lyrics
to his originals were so great, straight-ahead and memorable,”
he recalls. A jam session was soon in the offing.
met up at his previous place on Parkwood Avenue, over
by School 19,” Poulopoulos remembers. “We sat out on his
2nd-floor porch, and he laid down a golden melody on “Again
by Your Window,” spun from alchemy. Too good to let pass,
so fucking good.”
Palatypus have been hard at work ever since, branching
out from local clubs like Red Square, Valentine’s and
Positively 4th Street to a quickly expanding list of venues
in Massachusetts and New York City. And soon the other
shoe will drop, with the release of a five-song EP titled
hope for the EP is that we’ll be using [it] for getting
our [feet] into doors,” Durfee explains. “We’ll be sending
them to college and regional radio stations, well-established
clubs and listening venues, and generally building some
word-of-mouth before we start production on full-length
releases later in the coming year.”
An impressive affair, Lazaretto fleshes out the
duo’s signature catchy folk-blues tunes with a fuller
but never cluttered sound. Percussion and subtle guitar
leads frame the two vocalists, Poulopoulos’ sturdy highway
songs bringing to mind Stephen Stills and, at times, the
group America, while Durfee sets his flexible and soulfully
quirksome voice free on the final track, “Horse to Folly.”
The songs are delivered with a quiet fortitude and faith
in the music they create.
Though Durfee stresses that, even taking the misspelling
into account, “Palatypus has nothing to do with the animal,”
the man whose misheard surname inspired their moniker
has a slightly different take on the matter.
only relation to the animal that I’ve been able to rationalize
is that our approach to our sound, while intricate, is
basic when placed in the spectrum of contemporary music,”
Poulopoulos opines. “I think we’re a bit of an oddity.
Strange and compelling, a cohesive collection of parts—like
Or maybe just one more happy accident.
will celebrate the release of the Lazaretto EP
on Aug. 17 at Red Square. The event will double as a release
party for the debut EP by fellow Indian Ledge Records
artists Alta Mira. Tickets are $8 in advance (contact
Palatypus or Alta Mira) or $10 at the door; both EPs are
free with admission. The all-ages show (there is an additional
$5 charge for those under 21) starts at 8 PM. Palatypus
will appear on WAMC 90.3 FM’s Performance Place program
this Monday at 11:23 AM to discuss the release party and
the label, and to play some songs from the upcoming release.