Interview: The Duke Spirit
The Duke Spirit, a five-piece rock band based in London, are touring in support of their recent release, "Neptune."
SoundSpike contributor Mark Wallet sat down with three of the five members--frontwoman Liela Moss and guitarists Dan Higgins and Toby Butler--to discuss the new album, their touring schedule and the differences between American and European audiences.
SoundSpike: Duke Spirit, welcome to the Sessions. Thanks for coming down.
Toby Butler: Hi. Thanks for having us.
Your album, "Neptune," is currently out. I wanted to get you to talk a little bit about that. Maybe start with how it was recorded in Joshua Tree, CA. How did that come about?
TB: About two years ago in 2006 we were touring here in the States and we got asked to do a song with UNKLE, the DJ collaborative guys. They asked us to go to the studio, which turned out to be Rancho De La Luna, so we went there and worked for a day. It was just after we played Coachella that year and we just dropped by the studio the next day and spent the day there in that studio with Chris Goss, tracking a song for their album. We just fell in love with the place right away. It's an amazing studio and an amazing collection of people that just hang out there and work, so it was at the top of our list to go back there and cut the album there which we did pretty much a year to the day that we did that song with UNKLE. It was just something about the lure of that studio that we just had to record our album there.
Were you already familiar with Chris Goss and his past work and past productions?
TB: Yeah, I can definitely say I was a fan of his. I love the way the Queens of the Stone Age albums sound and there's a British band called The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster that he did their second album which I don't think many people know about but it's a great album. We're definitely fans of the kind of sound and approach he takes to records.
Liela Moss: It's not that we particularly wanted to go there and inflate the Americana element of sound or do some kind of desert stoner rock thing at all. In fact, what we wanted was to glean some of the masterful ways Chris Goss has with crafting harmony and things like that--things that you hear that he injects into a rock band that actually make them much more graceful and freaky and weird and majestic--the things you hear on Queens of the Stone Age records that makes them so wonderful. Of course they're great songs and everything but you just know that he approaches things uniquely.
Dan Higgins: I think he was very interested in bringing out the Englishness of us as much as us bringing the more American approach or sound to it. I think he's an Anglophile at heart.
LM: Yeah, and that worked really well because we're in a desert environment where we could have just spiraled into a clique but didn't at all because he loved the very stark English moments of our music so I think it was a really good pairing of personalities.
I was wondering when you went into the studio, obviously you brought the sound of Duke Spirit, the soulful sound. What were you guys listening to or what were your influences going into this new record?
TB: I always find that hard to answer actually. Me personally, I almost try not to listen to too much when we're in that scenario because I just end up wanting to copy things and rip things off, especially when we're writing and recording. You refer to songs and albums and bands just for influence and sounds. In the tour bus, we were into soul music and all kinds of '60s garage stuff.
LM: A little bit of country.
TB: We've got eclectic music tastes as far as five people go.
It's just something in the background that you listen to for inspiration?
DH: Yeah. It's appreciating what they do. You like that side of music and they might do something that you know you can't do or go somewhere with their music that you don't really want to go but you're pleased that they did.
Talk a little bit about touring. Do you like it? Do you like playing other countries?
LM: Definitely like it. Towards the end of it, we're all broken and ragged but soon as we get home, after about two days, I'm bored and itching to get back out again.
DH: In America, there are so many great venues. There are just better spaces and a lot of them. It's always fun touring England too because you have a frame of reference since we're English. There are things they're always going to get that maybe don't translate.
How's the reception been in other countries other than the UK or England? How about in America?
LM: They rank pretty highly in extraordinarily welcoming. We feel quite a lot of love off American audiences. You see people becoming unself-conscious which is actually the main agenda behind what I like to think my role in the band and what I think about lyrically and what I think about on stage. We should be set free by music. You see people punching the air and not giving two hoots about whether they're perceived to be cool or not. I've been noticing that more and more over here. It does happen in England and Europe but perhaps over here, by virtue of us being British and a slight novelty perhaps, it's happening more and more.
When you're on tour, do you start working on new songs?
DH: No, we don't really write songs just sitting around on acoustic guitar. We like to experiment with guitar sounds and things like that. We like to tinker with pedals and effects when we're writing. That's as much of an importance as the actual chords or whatever you're playing so we like to be in our home environment where we can tinker around in our studio and come up with ideas like that.
I wanted to ask a little about NME magazine. I read an interview where I think it was Toby said that the reviews in the UK affect the fans in the UK and that's something that the US doesn't have so you find that it's a lot easier to gather fans and find a following in other countries. Can you talk a little bit about that?
TB: The NME in England is the biggest music magazine in the country and it sets a lot of trends as well as picking up on exciting new bands so it's important and it's influence is pretty vast in the music scene. The Scene controls the UK music scene as a whole anyway and that magazine has a large effect on what the music and what the kids are creating in the UK. So when you come over to somewhere like the States or even Europe, it does feel really different because you don't have that at all.
LM: It seems more limitless. We're a smaller country and the NME picks up on something that's going on and quite rightly celebrates it but celebrates one thing for a long time. If that's not your clique or whatever, then there are things that get missed. Over here, it's irrelevant at times.
Back in England, do you think that you're part of a scene or a sound?
TB: Our sound isn't hugely unique in the sense that no one else is doing what we're doing so there are some bands around that you can see have the same influences as us but we're definitely not part of a scene at the moment. The UK still seems to be producing a huge amount of bands that sound the same, the sort of post-Libertines kind of sound. And to be honest, we always wanted to walk our own path. We always wanted to prove ourselves by doing our own thing. It seems harder to do it when you're not part of a scene but I think we prefer it like that.