I wanted to talk briefly about your other band, Six Feet Over. Who are all the members in that band?
Myself (Michael Sorenson – keys/vocals), Matt Hastad (guitar/vocals) and Austin Van Bockern our drummer. And so that’s where some of my requests abilities come from because we do request at those shows… now it’s not quite the variety show that a duel dueling pianos event would be, but, we have a lot of fun. I’ve been kind of honing my skills as far as playing – shooting from the hip and playing songs on the spot that maybe I only know the chorus, or maybe I’ve only heard it a couple of times and times that I’ve had shows with Nick (Nick Burke), we’ve done the same thing where we would take requests from the audience and not just lock ourselves into a set list of prepared songs and just push it to be in that space, that creative space of I’m a little uncomfortable with what I’m playing because of maybe I’ve never done it before, or maybe I’ve never done it with this musician before – and sometimes some real magic happens. Other times we fall flat on our face! Either way it’s a lot of fun and that’s what I love about it. Six feet Over has been a great kind of segue from me being a solo musician, I used to teach lessons, came from my classically trained piano background to actually being in a high energy show with real professional piano shells and sound system and stage and all the elements to just blow a basic performance out of the water and immerse the whole room in just musical fun!
You have been doing this with Six Feet Over for how long?
Two full years. I performed with Matt many times over the years, but we didn’t start Six Feet Over until the beginning of 2019, so we’re coming up on two years, so we’ve done that and that’s just because I played so many shows with Elizabeth Hunstad. One thing about Duel Purpose is, we’ve had a couple false starts, meaning, with Hunstad, we did some Duel Purpose shows in 2018 at places like Pave and Remedy and it had some real great performances and we had brought Nick on as a guitarist for some of those shows. That’s kind of where that dialogue with Nick came, and as time has progressed, Duel Purpose was put on the shelf for a while, and that’s when I started focusing on Six Feet Over until Nick said, you know, Mike, I do play piano. I mean, I don’t know if I’m as good as this person, or that person, but I mean, if you really want to get Duel Purpose back on it’s feet, we should talk about that – and that’s exactly what we did. I set up a meeting with Chris Hintz (Pinnacle Productions) and had been given such great feedback on how to approach lighting, ideas on how approach sound and different stage elements that we want to bring to the table to separate ourselves from the Dueling Piano’s competition in the region and actually beyond, because there’s lots of traveling artists that’ll come to our area because there’s not a whole lot of people that do what we do. You don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel, but at the same time, you want to bring some of our own artistic flare to what we’re doing and separate ourselves from what other shows may be offered so we can provide a unique experience for our audience. That’s a little bit of the progression of how Six Feet Over has fallen into Duel Purpose. They’re very much separate entities. I started a year and a half ago, Michael starts the music LLC. So I have two arms with one – Six Feet Over and one with Duel Purpose.
I have different musicians with Six Feet Over and I play piano with them, and that’s just a band. Whereas Duel Purpose is truly dueling pianos and has a lot more comedy and a lot more audience participation. It’s much bigger, much louder and much more fun.
It’s been a while since I’ve actually been to a duel piano show. Is it just piano? Or do you guys implement anything else with that?
There are different approaches to dueling pianos. From going to The SHOUT! House in Minneapolis, There are a couple of different places, also I spent a lot of time in Las Vegas and there is dueling piano bars that are dedicated just to that, in Las Vegas and just seeing the different ways they do it. I mean, I’ve seen basketball hoops over a tip jar, so you can throw your tip in like a basketball, or just by passing it around.
Andy and Rhino, (Andy Gibson & Ryan Merriam – Dueling Duo) put on a great show and they’ve done some awesome things at The District. I know they’re really involved in fundraising. They do a lot of private events all over the region. I do believe that there’s room in our market around here for another duo. Sioux Falls is a growing community. There’s a lot of great entertainment. I mean, I’m talking to the What’s Going on Sioux Falls guy, so you know how many different artists there are out there. I had to learn how to be a little shameless and proactive and really knowing what we can do as artists and just having that mentality of knowing that we belong to the stage because a lot of working through it and reaching out and doing some of that promotion. A large part of this is the marketing. Whether it comes to our, our name, our logo, the goals that we have as a group, the personalities that we’re bringing to the table – it’s all very deliberate in what our show provides.
To answer your question, is it just pianos? Basically, yes. Having a drummer is something that we…
(Nick Burke jumps in) so yes, it’s technically the pianos, but as far as a show, it’s the furthest from just pianos
(Michael) there aren’t rules really – there’s no book written on this
(Nick) Right, because that’s “the show”, but in that same vein, it’s all request based, we have no pre prepared music – we have a drummer – we have props – a lot of community feedback/engagement with the audience
(Michael) So if a kazoo came out or a guitar came out or a keytar came out – that wouldn’t surprise any of us.
I definitely don’t want it to come off like “JUST Pianos” I didn’t want that, because I understand it’s called Duel Purpose and I have never seen your show personally, but wanted to ask for the people who have never seen your show yet.
(Nick) I would say basically our run through of a show for the most part would be, we usually play music through our equipment for about an hour or a half hour before we start. That is kind of like a pre-recorded pre-show with us and we’re playing music and then we’ve got like jokes and other things then it will announce when we were ready to start. We are then walking around taking requests and everybody throughout the entire show can come up and request music from us. We’re then basically playing songs from that, then in between songs we’ll have props or jokes or toasts – that kind of thing. It’s not just straight song…song…song, but I do feel proud about the amount of songs we fit into that time slot by just being able to just continue the stream of entertainment, whether it’s music or comedy. Everybody gets entertained by seeing somebody else up there getting pulled on from the audience or us being able to just talk to our audience while we’re up there.
(Michael) I mean, it’s not unheard of for you just to step off the stage and go talk directly to somebody at one table or another, or shine a spotlight on somebody, wait, you’re not participating..? (laughs) So it’s a difficult question to answer because we don’t – I mean, we make the show – but the one’s in the driver’s seat are really the audience by what song… what are they celebrating? Are you here for a bachelorette party? Is it a birthday? Is it an anniversary, divorce, whatever you’re celebrating (laughs), we’re there to do that for them. By bringing someone up on stage, maybe to sing or share the microphone or the spotlight, because we decided in the moment that that’s the fun thing to do, or, I mean, my favorite moment at our last show was Nick started doing a song and I had a request that kind of worked with the same chord progression, so we just kind of bounced back and forth – it was kind of – we’re doing two different songs at the same time. Then out of nowhere, Zach (Zach Dresch) who had a microphone – started singing a third song that mix with the other two songs, so all of a sudden we have this medley of three different songs that none of us knew two minutes before that we were even going to play, and it was just this magical moment of music because we’re friends in real life, but we laugh and joke, and we get along and inside jokes and all that – and to bring that element, not just the music… there’s great artists in our area that write original music and that comes from their heart, and that’s a beautiful thing. For us to come from just being friends and bring that onto the stage and let it spill out throughout the audience to where everybody is included, it just creates this unique experience where you’re just not a spectator, you’re part of the show.
Is a typical show three hours?
(Nick) When we schedule stuff, it’s a very close relationship with whoever we schedule, so where we’re extremely flexible, not only on stage, also off stage too. A lot of times when somebody will contact us – it’s basically just – I’m interested in having a show for my private event, for my restaurant or bar for whatever – then we just kind of go over what they are looking for in a frame of time. If there’s going to be a split show where you want to do something earlier for the early crowd and then you want us to wait and come back and play a later show as well – a lot of adjustments are in what they’re interested in by the age group. A lot of times we are very flexible with that kind of stuff. I would say our standard show is probably about three hours, but that’s the beauty of it.
(Michael) It’s nature of the event too. If it’s like a fundraiser, then it might be seven to nine after dinner, but if it’s at more of a bar setting where there’s more of a public coming and going crowd, maybe that’s an eight to midnight, nine to one, which is a completely different crowd. So again, the versatility that we’re able to provide means that we can fit into a lot of different places. From the swankiest fundraiser black tie event to the dive-iest redneck bar in the middle of Nebraska, we could do either of those and have a great time.
Duel Purpose has been around for how long?
(Michael) In 2017 is when it first started. When we first started putting together some shows, it didn’t look anything like this. It was different.
(Nick) The only thing that was the exact same was the name.
(Michael) Yes! A lot of it was because of our false starts. This year was with COVID. We had a couple of different shows scheduled this spring. We had this conversation that we’re having right now going to happen in April and we had to put it on the shelf because we were having our dueling piano shells professionally made – they’re laminate and fancy and nice and custom built for us. We hired a contractor to custom build the shells – we gave them the specifications and stuff. So they were under construction and about to be finished and then COVID hit. So we were like, well, hold off for a second. What’s going to happen? Is this going to affect entertainment for years or is this going to affect entertainment for months? Thankfully, (knocks on wood) for here, it’s been a few months and it’s still dodgy – people aren’t busting down our door quite yet, because everybody’s so cautious and rightfully so – and so are we. We’ve taken this opportunity of downtime – we’ve created some media. Our inaugural show with us as part of Duel Purpose was at Remedy, so we hired a videographer right off the bat to make a promotion video. We’ve been making some investments in what we are doing, regardless of what is happening in the culture, around the entertainment, because this is something – it’s a dream of mine.
I love that Zack and Nick have bought into it so much and we’re just able to have a lot of fun with it and definitely want to keep pushing it, even if there is a pandemic or not. We don’t want things like that to dictate the pursuit of this dream, basically.
(Nick) I would like to clarify some of that too, you know, we’re all extremely aware that what’s going on right now is real thing. It’s very important that we make sure we do everything that we are recommended to do. We’re very excited to be able to play shows in a controlled and safe manner. When the weather hits, and we have to play shows inside, it starts trying to become more like a count – how many people are in here type of thing. Who knows what that’s going to be like for this year, but we are extremely excited to be able to play shows.
(Michael) We’re all fortunate. We all have day jobs that we’re able to sustain this. Even if the demand isn’t the same, but I’m looking forward to the coming year. That’s why you want to be talking to different people in the community. Like you. To let you know what we’re doing, because right now a lot of people are really screaming for entertainment. People want to do this. It’s just, when can you? There’s so many places, I mean, The Premier Center and The District in a lot of these pillars of our community for entertainment are holding their breath, waiting to see when we can even have shows. Some have happened. It’s been great!
That’s why we had the live streams. During the heat of the pandemic, Nick and I, I wouldn’t call it Dueling Piano show, but we had an all requests live stream, not just one, actually six or seven! We weren’t able to go to a venue or anything because everything had gotten canceled because of COVID. We decided, well let’s hook up the camera – lets hook up our sound system and do a live stream. We did a couple two- three hour live stream on Friday nights and had people comment requests and we actually got a substantial amount of tips through Venmo and did live shows from Nick’s living room. We actually had regulars who would watch week after week. It wasn’t us as Duel Purpose, even though we’ve streamed it from Nick’s page because it wasn’t a dueling piano show, but it was a good opportunity for us to work on some of that again, to share a stage as musicians, even if we didn’t have our piano shells, even if we didn’t have the request slips and all the props and our drummer, you know, we didn’t have all those things, but at the core we’re just musicians like making music and having fun and involving our audience. It was just a different way to do what we already do. So now that a few months has passed, we have our new Piano shells ourselves. We are making some investments in some big time sound equipment and some big time light equipment, but at least for where we’ve come from to make this the highest quality show that we’re able to do, because we want to be able to market to really the top tiers of entertainment, ones with fundraiser demands an event in our area, and grow from there.
It might not be an interesting question to some readers, but me personally, how many people does it take to set up your shows and how long?
Remember our setup for Remedy?
(Nick) It was a lot of lights. A lot of it was kind of like trying to think and then it’s like, well, I want to not be facing a certain way or I want something else up there. I want to do this. I think it took more time than we need to ultimately have,
(Zach) but it was wonderful that it was 105 that day to point that out. (Laughs)
(Nick) The whole show was amazing, but I was sweating bullets. The whole show, my hands were just watery.
(Michael) The storage and transportation of equipment we were bringing in from the trailer. I’ve always been able to get all my equipment in my vehicle, but not when it’s a Dueling Piano show. We tend to set up way earlier in the day. We have a private event coming up and it’s not until 7:00 PM or we’re already going to be setting up by noon because of the nature of the event. But also, there’s a lot of circumstances , is it a show where we have a stage? Because sometimes you have to set up the stage before you can even get anything on it. Then the two Pianos, microphone, subwoofer, monitors, powered speakers, lighting trees, we have moving lights and bringing in a drummer. That’s a lot to fit in a small space! So it does take hours to do it. Now over time, we may get to where we’re a little bit more efficient.
Do you have people who help out just to do the setup and tear down?
(Nick) Not right now. We’d like to be able to have that. That seems a little bit far off, especially for kind of cold call, like here and there stuff. Occasionally we’ll only have, for this upcoming show for example, we’re only going to have two hours from when we start to set up until we have to start playing. We want to try to be set up in one hour. That’s a lot of stuff for us in an hour. For this upcoming show, we would definitely have interest in hiring out a couple of guys to come and move some equipment with us.
(Michael) That’s part of our evolution, but also then the nature of the event dictates that as well, because with Pinnacle, the first show we were going to have this year was with Avera on 69th. Chris booked that for us and we never got into too many of the details, but a lot of times the events that Pinnacle’s already at, they already have a lot of sound equipment where we may just be plugging into whatever is at the venue. So it can really vary because sometimes – depending on what the event is – there may already be a crew there, not for us to use, but for us to work with. We aim for versatility and being able to be completely self-sufficient, or able to work with whatever the event is. We’re definitely learning. When I play my shows with Six Feet Over – we can set up in twenty minutes. Duel Purpose? It’s a different animal!
(Nick) I have gotten that thing down to a point where when I’m doing a solo show, I can have everything hauled out of my car and set up and ready to play in about 20 minutes. With this (Duel Purpose) we’ve been able to kind of break up the stage a little bit and kind of split up what we’re specially trained for – what we want to work on – I work a lot on the sound equipment and making sure that that’s all there – I’m very anal about that stuff.
So Zach, what do you do at these shows? Are you kind of like the emcee?
All of us are MC’s. Basically how this came about was Michael had back before COVID hit, asking about some banter styles and stuff, because I’m in an improv group and in stand-up comedy, so I’m used to working with audiences all the time. What do you want to hear? What’s your deal? Why are you weird? (laughs) Then we talked about putting together pre-show stuff. I’ve been friends with Nick for a few years. He was in my band for a little bit. We’ve done shows together with his band, my band. So it’s kind of an all over the place. I played drums for Nick in one of his solo shows and it went so well that Nick recommended it to Michael.
(Michael) He kind of told me like, Oh, Hey, by the way, so Zach’s going to be our drummer.
(Nick) It was just a great match.
(Zach) For this show, actually, this is the first thing where everything I do is put into one show for me personally. It’s like I used to DJ radio. I used to DJ weddings, occasionally for fun for friends, play music in bands for over a decade, improv comedy. It’s all in one thing, which for me is pretty cool! All my assets that I have put together in a three hour show is pretty nice.
(Michael) Yeah. It started with me kind of consulting you saying, Hey dude, we’re doing a piano show and if we need to be funny – I’m more on the music side – so how do you approach that? I just want some thoughts and it’s just kind of evolved into – while we have this pre show where we have Zack saying – 20 minutes till the beginning of the show, grab a drink and go to the bathroom and then he’d maybe make some smart-aleck comment. So during our pre show, we play a lot of different varieties of music to kind of, you know, you want the variety, you don’t want just, you know, especially in the Midwest, we can do country songs, but we don’t want a country dueling piano show, but we don’t want just nineties, we want every decade, we want everybody involved. So we play this kind of a random mixture of different music and kind of weave in and out of it with some commentary. Then when it gets down to – Five minutes, two minutes, one minute, till the show, then the voice-over introduces us all -and it is really funny and it really sets up our show well, and yeah, our drummer, Zach has a microphone. He never came to us saying, hey, I want to be a professional singer – but the dude can sing! We have him jumping in with the banter and the commentary cracking a joke involving our audience, pointing people out or whatever the situation calls for. I just never thought during that first conversation that we had, that you would not just end up having some input into what we do, but you’d actually become a primary driving force behind the whole thing.
(Zach) Ended up being the most organic situation you can really think of.
(Nick) It really was. He’s had somebody out there with your other group to play with the drums and it adds so much for the show. I haven’t been able to play a lot with somebody else out there to drum. I’ve known Zach for a long time and had just kind of floated the idea out there, just going to ask him like, Hey, is that something that you’d be comfortable with? Just knowing how much music that he knows, and it feels comfortable with, works so well with what we’re already doing.
(Michael) You have tracks of albums memorized, like ready to go! That’s how much of a music connoisseur Zach is. He has this random, crazy knowledge, but it’s so appropriate for what it is, because he’s heard of all these B-Side songs by a one hit wonder or whatever, just because he gets a kick out of it.
(Zach) There was this one night where Nick and I played, we were planning on playing Stacy’s Mom and he goes, hey, do you know Radiation Vibe? It’s one of Fountains of Wayne’s earliest tracks – I love that song. Yeah, let’s do it. Great. So such an obscure cut.
(Michael) Just all of that combined with the comedy aspect of him Just being really funny. It was just like, why have we not been doing this for the whole time? If you’ve heard Nick do a solo show, he’ll have a kick drum there while he’s playing guitar. Kind of like that one-man band, I mean, even has a foot tambourine for his left foot, so he’ll have all his appendages going! So he’s all-inclusive as his own musician at his shows. We had talked and said – alright, so are you going to play piano with a kick drum? Nobody does that. I don’t know if you even could, that’d be kind of hard, but we didn’t want to not have percussion. Something just a few weeks ago, you said to me, Mike, I never want to have a dueling piano show without a drummer. I agree because pianos are versatile instruments. They’re actually a percussion instrument, technically, you can only do so much. You can only get so high without some support of another instrument. That could be a guitar!
(Zach) It also gives you guys a bit of a break, like if you’re playing a lot for a song, you need a breather, drums are kind of there to vamp while you guys figure out your next move.
To wrap this interview up – Zach – you have your comedy – Nick – you have your solo shows and Michael – you have Six Feet Over, but you guys are together as Duel Purpose. Do you guys want to move forward doing more of this, or do you still want it to be more 50/50 with your other gigs? What’s your future plans, future goals?
(Nick) Like I can start cause I’m sure we’re going to have three separate answers here. My personal goal is to stop doing my solo shows entirely. If we can get to a point where we’re scheduling with our group here that I don’t have to take the solo work as well, I will probably take that in very small amounts if ever. I just have a lot more fun on stage with other people. I’ve got my friends here and the one show we’ve played so far has been the best show I’ve ever sat in on – played for, sang for, etc. That’s personally what I want to have happened for my future.
(Zach) As many shows we get – I’m there for all of them! I’m very resilient with performing. I perform about three times a week. It’s been less because of COVID, but I was doing three to four nights of stand-up a week, improv troop. Improv is on a hiatus because everyone in the troop has families and they don’t want to get exposed to anything, which is understandable. But for me, I’m kind of like, go, go, go, let’s do this now! I’ll wear a mask, I don’t care! So yea, as many gigs as we can get – I’m there.
(Michael) My dream for Duel Purpose is absolutely for it to become the main platform of music that I have, not to the detriment of Six Feet Over, but for instance, Matt, the guy has a business to run and working on growing that. He’s a great musician, a great friend, but his heart isn’t in it for decades. If I’m doing Duel Purpose shows two, three times a week, five years from now or sooner – I am A-OK with that. If this became a career opportunity for me – that is a hundred percent my goal, to the point where, I’ve already discussed this with Nick. You’re my main piano guy right now, Nick, but as this snowballs, if we get double booked and we have maybe another duo that we play here and you play there and we’ll contract them out to play at a different venue, we’re setting ourselves up to be able to facilitate that type of arrangement with different musicians. So Duel Purpose, isn’t just Nick and I…
(Nick) We are hoping to grow it into its own entity.
(Michael) Absolutely. It’s an entertainment company basically. It could involve different people down the road, so yes, I absolutely plan for Duel Purpose to take up increasingly, sizable percentage of my shows, even if it means a hundred percent.
(Zach) It’s kind of like a Broadway thing where it’s like, Oh, Nick’s got measles. We gotta have this other guy step in. I don’t know why measles? (laughs)
(Nick) I’ve got it like seven or eight times. (laughs)
Your next show is when?
(Michael) Our next show is going to be September 5th at Woodgrain on the patio. It’s at 6:00 PM and we are going until nine. It’s their fifth anniversary celebration.
(Nicki) It’s an event where you can taste a bunch of separate beer from a bunch of separate breweries.
(Michael) That’s going to be all day. That ends at four and then we are hauling it to set up all our stuff. So we can start playing at six. It is a free event for people to come and it’s not going to be often that anybody can hop in there for free for one of these shows. By design, Dueling Pianos, is often private events. Even if it’s not, you have to buy a seat for the event because of the overhead cost and everything.
The following week on the 12th, we have a private event. It’s a backyard event for about 150 people. We’re really looking forward to that. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops as we get into the winter.
The best way people can contact you guys or find your upcoming events is on https://www.duelpurposemusic.com/ – Yup – Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/duelpurposemusic/ and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/duelpurposemusic/ – absolutely!
(Michael) We look forward to every one of our shows that it almost feels unfair that we get to do this!
(Zach) Keep your Sweet Caroline requests to a maximum. (laughs)
(Michael) As much as you can, because we’ll do it every set!