Interview by Sam Metcalf (A Layer Of Chips).
The Spook School are Anna Cory (bass and vocals), Adam Todd (guitar and vocals), Nye Todd (guitar and vocals) and Niall McCamley (drums). Since forming in 2012 they’ve become increasingly involved with the DIY queer punk scene, taking inspiration from the passionate, like-minded people they’ve met along the way, and from bands such as Martha, Joanna Gruesome, Trust Fund and Tuff Love. Their latest album, Try To Be Hopeful, is brim full of noisy, tuneful and triumphant queer pop songs about identity, sexuality and being awesome. Citing influences including Buzzcocks, T-Rex and the noisier end of C86, the new album is louder, bolder, fuller-sounding and captures more of their live sound—aided and abetted by producer MJ of Hookworms.
Tell me what you’ve been up to. You seem to have been in America a lot.
We got invited to SXSW in March this year after we had already planned on doing an American tour in May. Creative Scotland kindly helped us out and we got to annoy BBC Scotland’s Vic Galloway a lot. We played 10 shows in 5 days and generally melted in the Texas sun. It seemed to go well and America seems to have an appetite for our queer silliness. We like them too! In May we got to tour with Bent Shapes and play our 3rd New York Popfest which was an amazing experience. There’s something very exciting about going to a new country and no one understanding the word ‘crisps’.
Do you feel part of a new wave of politicised bands? What sort of tactics do you feel are best to get your message across?
When we were working on Try to be Hopeful we felt like we wanted to be more explicit lyrically with how we were feeling and who we were as people. In a heteronormative society being anything other than a straight, white, cis-gender male in a band feels inevitably politicised. We’re existing outside perceived norms but really for ourselves and our friends it is our norm. It shouldn’t have to be a political act to just exist. Our method of getting our message across is that of a silly lecture. We try to be fun and serious. We try to be honest and exact with our lyrics when we confront things but we also, especially live, want to show that just because you’re political doesn’t mean you’re not fun.
And how does those politics crossover to festivals such as Indietracks?
I think Indietracks has done really well in recent years, they’ve invited a lot of bands that aren’t all straight cis white men, which again, shouldn’t be a political statement at all but inevitably is seen as such. Especially when compared to most of the mainstream indie music festivals. In terms of a festival, what you want is for them to provide the opportunity to see interesting bands, and for them to provide a space where you can feel like you can have fun (for this to be possible, you have to feel both safe and welcome). I feel like the team behind Indietracks tries to provide both of those things, and also seem pretty receptive to listening to people’s concerns and trying to improve – which is the most important thing.
What’s the most important thing in the world to you all at the moment?
Feeling safe in ourselves, feeling safe with our friends and feeling safe occupying space in venues with our music.
To go back a bit; your pledge to only play venues with gender-neutral toilets – do you think this is an issue that venue owners/promoters are becoming more comfortable with, or are you up against the same old prejudices?
I guess we’ll find out as we get venues responses how comfortable they are with providing gender neutral toilets. We’re following the example of the wonderful PWR BTTM with this policy, and venues do seem to have cooperated with them for the most part, but there are instances when they’ve had to let people know that the venue isn’t willing to provide access to gender neutral toilets. Which is rubbish, but at least then you can let people know. I guess it’s about trying to gradually move the default away from what it currently is, making venues call out if they won’t provide safe, accessible spaces, rather then there being no responsibility on them.
I know that we’ve played quite a few shows where there are only gendered toilets, and the gendered toilets aren’t accessible or don’t even have cubicle doors or locks, which certainly as a trans person makes me (Nye) feel pretty unsafe. But it seems to be something that a lot of venues just don’t care about, it’s just not on their radar. If we’re going to ask people to come to a space to see our show, then we want to know that they won’t be made to feel unsafe. We don’t want people having to not drink anything for the duration of the show because they know they can’t use the bathroom until they get home (and really, you would think that venues wouldn’t want that either), or having negative reactions from people who think that they shouldn’t be in a given gendered space. We want people to be free to have fun and not worry about these things and I really don’t think it’s too much to ask of venues to allow this to happen.
Let’s talk music; what’s next from the band?
We are doing a split release with Wildhoney and Mercury Girls from the US and Tigercats called ‘Continental Drift’. It’s coming out in August on Fortuna POP! in the UK and Slumberland Records in America. We’ve got two new songs on it and we’re quietly (and slowly!) working on writing some more for some sort of future faraway release that as yet has no corporeal form.
And what are you looking forward to most at Indietracks?
The campsite discos are always amazing, the hungover football in the morning and watching the steam roller crush lots of cans! Music-wise we can’t wait to see everybody but especially Expert Alterations, Trust Fund, Chrissy Barnacle, Two White Cranes, and DIRTYGIRL.