I feel that this blog should be called ‘Ronan goes in way over his head to interview people much cooler than him.’
Two and a half years ago, the summer of 2015, I was just coming out as trans, and I remember that time as characterised completely by the music I listened to. There were three or four albums that were on repeat at that time and they’re still some of my most listened to albums on Spotify now. Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues was one, Imaginary Life by Worriers and Courting Strong from Martha were a couple more. And then there was Dress Up by The Spook School. There’s something about finding music you can relate to on a scarily direct level that’s both refreshing and, at times, entirely emotionally crushing (but in a good way). That album made me cry, it made me laugh, and it made me think differently about gender and identity.
Fast forward a couple of years, and plucky young me was feeling particularly lucky and asked The Spook School if I could interview them before their Brighton show at the Hope and Ruin on the 26th. This is the transcript of our conversation:
Ronan: How are you doing?
Adam: Very good, quite tired
Ronan: Tonight’s the last night of your tour, isn’t it?
Nye: Yeah, last night we all gave each other stick and pokes of little apples.
Ronan: Awesome, how’s the tour gone?
Adam: Very good, very nice, no major disasters. I had fun eating a lot of bread.
Ronan: You did Europe as well, right? Cos I was in Berlin and I missed you all by like three days.
Nye: That was a fun gig. I remember that show as we were driving in there were big weather warnings. And I thought ‘Oh my God, no one’s going to get here. All the trains are stopped and everything.’ Then people turned up, and they were very hardy.
Ronan: So yeah, this is my second interview, so it’s quite a new blog. So I just wanted to see where things went. If you could maybe go through your creative process on the new stuff, cos you’ve got a new record coming out in January, February?
Nye: January, yeah.
Adam: Creative process varies for each song, but we tend to work very collaboratively. Usually one of us will bring some semblance of an idea whether it’s musical or lyrics, or sometimes both, and we’ll all work on it together, add different bits.
Niall: Lots of iPhone recordings of demos and stuff like that. And we just keep adding and adding to it, like version 2.7 and so on.
Adam: Sometimes they come together very quickly, other times it’s more frustrating.
Nye: I’m not sure about the difference between our earlier records. I think we’re all more confident than we were before. I don’t think we’ve set out to write any differently, but maybe we have without knowing it.
Anna: I think I’m maybe just less scared to come to you with half finished ideas, like I’m maybe like ‘ah maybe this isn’t that great’ but you could probably do something with it.
Nye: I think we’re more comfortable with each other in terms of sharing ideas of stuff.
Ronan: Yeah, the first couple of records were more LGBT focussed, is the next one going to be the same?
Nye: Yes, and no. It is, but I think like, especially the last songs were more like ‘big picture’ songs, I don’t know if that makes any sense.
Ronan: Yeah, like Binary was about like the gender binary.
Nye: Yeah, and I feel like the songs on this next album are about the same things but on a more personal level, like ‘how does being queer and trans influence this part of my actual life?’ And like more kinda little stories. So I think our new songs are a bit more emotionally vulnerable possibly, also maybe not, I don’t know.
Adam: It’s generally more focussed in on personal relationships within the context of queerness in the current time.
Ronan: I’m excited to hear it! I liked your new single, that was great. Cool music video.
Niall: That was my flat. I got treacle all over the floor.
Ronan: That must be horrible to clear up?
Niall: I don’t think I’d ever seen or handled treacle before so I was all cool with it, and then I was like, this is quite sticky!
Adam: Niall had never had treacle before.
Anna: He tasted it for the first time when filming that video
Ronan: Were you a fan?
Anna: He said, ‘it’s alright, I couldn’t eat a whole tin.’
Niall: I didn’t know whether it’s something you just scoop out of the whole tin. It’s very sweet. If I had to give it a review, I’d say it’s very sweet. Very sweet.
Ronan: The second record was quite political, and the new stuff seems to be leaning that way too. Is that something you’re trying to lean towards, or does it come naturally?
Nye: It’s also yes and no. I suppose quite a lot of the time, if you’re queer or have had experiences that are not what people would expect, I guess just by writing about those experiences, it ends up being political. I’m not sure I’ve ever sat down with a song and been like ‘I’m going to write a political song’, oh, maybe I have, I don’t know. It’s weird. I think quite often with the songs I write, I’m like ‘this is quite personal to me, no one else will ever get it,’ and quite often those are the ones most people relate to. And you only realise afterwards that there’s like a bigger point to it that maybe you didn’t get at first.
Ronan: Would you say there’s a pressure in the scene to be political, just because you’re a band with LGBT members?
Niall: I don’t think it’s a pressure, I just think it’s something that’s impossible to ignore. I think you can’t escape your context and the world in which you live in, and I think when you’re singing about things that are so personal, you don’t exist in isolation with that. That’s why there are so many fantastic, like-minded people around us, that we can exist in a bubble, you need other people and if you have to engage with society and, you know, if society looks crap, you’ve got to try to work on it and try to address it.
Adam: Personally, I wouldn’t say I find there to be any outside pressure to be political or to make any kind of points lyrically, but I do find there to be quite a bit of personal pressure to do that. If I’m ever writing lyrics, I’m like ‘what does this mean? What does this say?’ And in some ways I’m trying to get over that. You can have a song that’s about something completely inconsequential and that can be good as well.
Anna: And I think as long as you’re an artist or a band of some kind that’s openly queer or trans or anything like that, that’s kind of in itself a thing because you’re visible, and people are like ‘aah, people like this do exist and write pop music or whatever.’
Adam: I would hate to think that every queer band, or band with queer members in it would feel like they have to always write about queer issues, when they could write a fun song about like eating crisps or whatever.
Anna: That’s Adam’s new one.
Nye: I suppose with anything you write, you do sort of take your identity and your experiences with you. And I think often you can set out not trying to do anything, but then come up with something.
Ronan: Does that come across in your influences, or favourite artists too?
Niall: For me, I was informed by like Greenday, Blink-182 and The Offspring and stuff. I really like Charlie Bush right now, Martha are always a big influence.
Nye: I really like Jesus and his Judgmental Father. DasKinsey4, they’re always really fun and nice. I don’t know, kinda everyone, all the music.
Adam: With that question, the first bands that always come into my head are always like friend’s bands or like other bands that we play with a lot. I don’t know what that means or says, but they tend to be the bands that are more influential.
Ronan: That’s cool. I don’t really know what else to ask. A question that I usually ask is like what advice would you give to a small queer band just starting out?
Niall: Have fun. Make sure you’re enjoying yourself
Nye: That’s a good thing. I guess like, make sure you’re surrounded by nice people.
Anna: Yeah, playing nice, friendly shows, where everyone’s going to take care of each other. You don’t have to play any scary shows if you don’t want to.
Nye: I feel like especially starting out, you’ve got to play these shows where you’ve got to sell loads of tickets, and yeah, you don’t.
Anna: There are people putting on shows that have similar ideals to you, and they will put on a good show that feels nice.
Niall: Email your favourite bands and ask to get on their bills.
Ronan: Cool, is there anything else you want to talk about?
Niall: I think our minds are all like a bit fried.
Adam: I feel like I’m shutting down, we’ve been on tour for just over a month.
Anna: It’s always easy to put loads of energy into your last show though.
Ronan: I really appreciate you all taking the time out, I literally started the blog two weeks ago and I wrote a review and I was like ‘I’m feeling extroverted today so I’ll ask and if nothing happens then nothing happens’, but I really really appreciate it.
Niall: That’s cool, thanks for reaching out, see you at the show.
Ronan: Thanks, have a great show!
The show was amazing. They played Saturday Night by Whigfield. I hope they’re all resting well now in preparation for their album release.
Photo by @BLACKRAIN