THE Duke Spirit
By alexander laurence
The Duke Spirit. I met them in New York City almost two years ago. I was sitting at the downstairs bar at the Bowery Ballroom. I think that we were all waiting for The Concretes to play upstairs. I found myself sitting next to Olly Betts and Liela Moss. They seemed like a colorful group. I looked around at them: “What band are you in?” Olly said “We are The Duke Spirit.” While everyone was hyped to see bands like The Arcade Fire that year at CMJ, I headed over to the Delancey at 4am. The Duke Spirit was playing very late. The show was awesome.
It’s two years later. We had to wait for a long time for The Duke Spirit to release their record here. We also had to wait for a while to see them live. One tour with Snow Patrol was canceled due to bad health. The bass player broke his arm at another time. Finally I caught them at a show in Spaceland in June 2006. I talked to Liela Moss for a little bit. Her voice was shot. She gave me a CD single. She was really nice. The show ended up being packed and alive with emotion. These songs were finally played on American shores after a long wait. I finally sat down with leader Luke Ford about all the madness surrounding the band. Their first record Cut Across The Land (2006) is out now. Go get it please.
Toby Butler: bass guitar
Luke Ford: guitars
Dan Higgins: guitars
Liela Moss: vocals
Olly Betts: drums
AL: The tour with Snow Patrol never really happened?
Luke: No. It was a tour of twenty or more dates. It was going to be the biggest tour we have ever done over here. We have done some big tours in the UK. We ended up doing four shows, in Denver, and Austin. It was great going back to Austin because we had done SXSW before. It was great going back to Stubbs. That is a great venue. Then the guy from Snow Patrol lost his voice after four shows. It was really annoying.
AL: It seems like a lot of British bands have been afflicted with throat problems. Snow Patrol, Razorlight, Subways, and others have all canceled shows. I think it might be better just to carry on, and say: “We have this problem, and just bear with us.” And the singer just does as much as he can, and the others pick up the slack, or the audience joins in?
Luke: It’s true. We did a tour with Ted Leo. He is from New York. Halfway the tour his voice was shot. He canceled one show. We played by ourselves. Then the next night he had fans getting up there and singing the songs. Maybe some of the British bands take things too serious. Maybe they have hardcore managers saying “You can’t go on, because you are going to miss all these TV shows.” British bands are more business-like. And American bands might have this work ethic that makes them want to go on. They like to keep the wagon rolling.
AL: Then it took a lot time for The Duke Spirit to come over here and play some shows that weren’t CMJ or SXSW shows?
Luke: Yeah. The record came out a year before in the UK than it did in America. It came out in March here. There was a lot of delays. We were signed to Universal Music in Britain. We were tied to them. When you are dealing with these big corporations, they dick around, and you never get a straight answers out of them. We weren’t help that much when we wanted to come to America. It was a bit of a joke really. But the record finally came out on Vagrant Records. It worked in the end.
AL: Some of these songs may be two or three years old now. Do you have a whole new set of songs ready? Are you ready to go into the next record?
Luke: It’s been weird. We are playing stuff from this album on this tour. But we have been playing some early songs too. We had a mini-album out before that. We like to break things up a bit. We like to throw in some new songs too. We have written about thirty new songs. We are ready to record the new album. We realize that the album is new here. People want to hear songs that they have been listening to at home. We have a big pool of songs now. So we can change the set every night.
AL: Is it like Déjà vu coming over here, and playing the old songs and trying to build it up again?
Luke: Not really. We touring all last year. We didn’t go to the rest of Europe until last November 2005. We were still playing the same sort of sets back then. We went home around Christmas. We started writing new shows around then, and at the beginning of the year we started demoing the new songs. We came back here in March. Even though we are playing those same songs, it hasn’t been THAT weird. It feels like we continuing were we left off last year.
AL: You were filming some things here at Spaceland. Was that a video?
Luke: I can’t remember what the TV show is called. We have been doing a lot of TV shows and radio. We did a cool thing in New York called Fearless Music. We did Carson Daly yesterday. We don’t get that show in Britain at all. They had some good bands on that show.
AL: Are you all from London?
Luke: None of us are from London. Liela was actually born in London, but she moved away as a child. We all live in London now. That sort of happened. I was studying English and Photography in Cheltenham, where Liela was growing up. She was doing an art course there. We met there. Cheltenham is near Bristol. It’s the West Country. Toby was going to college there too. We all moved to London with the idea of forming a band. We messed around for a few years with other people. We did a seven-inch. It was an acoustic thing. We were a band called Solomon.
AL: Where did the other members come from?
Luke: We reformed the band. The name “The Duke Spirit” came then. And the two other guys joined around then. Olly is from Ipswich, which is East of London. He is from the other side. We were friends with a band called the Beatings. The singer left that band and is in a new band called The Creepy Morons. The Beatings was a great band. They were friends of mine. They went in to record with Kevin Shields. His music is great, but he is a control freak. He ruined them, because he took two years to make their record. Bands that play rock and roll, like they do, and we do, you feed off of the live shows. And if you stay that long in the studio, it’s going to be a problem. We met Olly through the singer of that band, The Beatings.
AL: How do you write the songs in the band?
Luke: Early on, quite often it was me who came up with the music and Liela who came up with vocals to chord progressions I had worked out. Toby began to write quite a lot. Now it is quite even. The first album it is even, with Toby and me writing all the music, and Liela writing all the words. We are a band who jams it out in a rehearsal room. We write in a very traditional way. One of us will be at home. We will write on our own. We have distinct chorus/verse, melodies, middle eights, and so on.
AL: What is up with “Lion RIP?” Liela said that is an in-joke?
Luke: “Lion RIP” as a title? I don’t know where that came from. There are a few points in our first record where we are celebrating music. It is lyrically very simple. It’s a simple statement. The song is like “Roadrunner” by Modern Lovers. It’s a celebration of pop music.
AL: Songs like “Darling, You’re Mean” have a sense of humor. Is that’s Leila playing around with words?
Luke: Yeah, totally. They try to pigeonhole us as this dark band. I hate po-faced dark bands. Bands like The Pixies and The Cramps are fantastic. They have that fantastic sonic sound and drive. There is always a sense of humor. Bands that take themselves too seriously are lame. We don’t want to come from that direction. It’s not about how mysterious we are.
AL: Are you into the Blues?
Luke: We grew up listening to stuff from the Sixties. We like the Rolling Stones, but we like stuff like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds too. Nick Cave draws from that Blues sound and the folklore. That sound is great. That guitar sound on Howling Wolf records is just great. We touch on that now and again, but we don’t want to be a Blues band. There is a lot of that going on in England.
AL: How did you go about recording the album?
Luke: We met Simon Raymonde, who produced a majority of the album. We signed to a small label called City Rockers. We were listening to the Lift To Experience record. We were all into that. We realized that Simon did that record. He put that out on his label. So we got in touch with him. He only actually mixed that album. We got on with him so well. We found out he was in the Cocteau Twins. I am not a fan of the Cocteau Twin, but when you meet Simon he is so impressive as a human being. The way he talks about music. It was obvious that we had to work with him. We did most of the record with him. We also did a track with Giles Hall. And we had a few more tracks, so we also did some stuff with Flood, who mixed most of the record too. We wanted to try to work with a different producer. We liked the stuff that Flood did with Nick Cave and The Birthday Party.
AL: What other bands have you played with?
Luke: Early on we played with The Rapture. We did a tour with British Sea Power. We played with Mark Lanegan. We also did things like playing with Kasabian. It wasn’t like we want to tour with that band, we love their music. They were big shows. We realized that we would be playing to a lot of people. Maybe we would be playing to people who haven’t heard a band like us. They could go away thinking “Wow, that was something else.”
AL: The Duke Spirit is different in the sense that you have a female front person. Some people might be used to seeing a male vocalist or something.
Luke: It’s great. It’s great to have Liela there for you. There is a real lack of great female fronted bands. There is in Britain far more than here. It has to do with the British press. We always get this PJ Harvey comparison. PJ Harvey is great. I don’t think we sound anything like her.
AL: When you get a female in the band, they are always compared to other previous bands. Whereas if it a bunch of guys, they don’t really compare you so much.
Luke: I find that crazy because I see bands like Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand. The guy in Kaiser Chiefs has the same haircut as Damon Albarn. He went to the same place. There are constant references to Blur.
AL: They listened to Parklife too many times?
AL: When are you going to do your next record?
Luke: We are going to do the next record out here in Los Angeles. We have been talking to some people. The producers that we have spoken with all seem to be based out here. We have written nearly thirty songs. We are going back to London now. After a break we are going to finish it up. We have to choose the songs. It was be hard. We are playing a festival in London. It’s an anti-racism thing. And then we are doing a little festival with British Sea Power. That is it really.