Interview: The Duke Spirit
Tue, 04 Mar 2008 17:34:56
The Duke Spirit Videos
Let’s face it: the female musicians that are in the limelight right now are only there because they are doing something bad... Britney, Amy, who knows who will be next. It’s long overdue that we saw a band with some raw talent, who is fronted by a female who is as feisty and driven as she is talented. Ladies and gentleman, meet Liela Moss, front woman of the UK-based rock band, The Duke Spirit. These Cheltenham natives have just released their sophomore album titled, Neptune and are about to hit up the notorious SXSW Festival in Austin. TX.
Liela was kind enough to chat with ARTISTdirect for a few minutes about the band, the album, the touring plans and being a female musician.
May I just start out by asking for you to give us a bit of a background history lesson on The Duke Spirit and how it came together over the years?
It’s been about four years now and definitely the band was born out of good friends. Three of us, including myself, Luke and Toby were flatmates many years ago. So we lived together and we used to play in a few bars and do kind of a more acoustic thing. I guess looking back it’s slightly embarrassing, but that’s when we’d sort of come to write songs together, and as that developed it became clear that the three of us actually fielded an intent to take it as far as our potential could. We wanted to realize something we had kind of forgotten. Other people were doing it as more of a lazy hobby. So, in a way, having that little first taste of being in a crappy little band was really good.
We had this strive to pick it up and start a whole new thing, and that whole new thing, which was The Duke Spirit, had a much more urgent energy about it. We thought, “alright, if you’re going to work with new people it’s got to be people you really, seriously want to do this with”. So we asked Dan to work with us and he was a friend of a good girlfriend of ours, and it started from that really. The Duke Spirit was kind of born, I suppose. We had to search a bit for a drummer, and just as we had done that Olly sort of walked straight into our lives; it was a sweet coincidence because he showed up right when we needed to find a drummer. He had talked to a friend of ours who told him, “Oh you need to meet these guys!”
That’s lucky. And, I understand that drummers are hard to find?
Exactly, exactly… Which is why we were all secretly thinking, “This has got to be it”. It’s so tough finding a drummer; we were thinking, “This is too weird. It’s got to be right because drummers are so hard to come across."
Speaking of things that are difficult to come across, it’s been hard to find Duke Spirit albums in the US, particularly the releases prior to Neptune. You had the EP that came out back in October, Ex-Voto; was that released in the US?
No, everything is going to start over here hopefully in April. We’re now on a label here called Shangri-La, who are close friends with our UK label and we know them from our previous experience. So, things are about to get started because the communication between the two is great. Before, we were on Universal and they sort of pawned us out to a small label over here in the US about a year and a half ago. There was very little marketing money and we kind of felt like the underdog, you know? We had to record on little money, and we would go visit record shops in the city that we’d be playing that night and our record wouldn’t be there. Those sort of things get you down and it’s very disheartening.
So this album will be your first big push to gain a more broad audience in the United States, then?
Well, I don’t know if “big push” are really the words to use. It evokes imagery of humongous stardom. But I do think that all of the people at the label are doing a great job and have good intentions. So, we’ll see the album being released properly and be touring extensively.
Does working with people whom you consider to be your friends make the all around business relationship better?
Actually, yes. We’re here right now and we’re all staying together. Our manager is staying in the same place with us here in New York. One of the boys in the band just bought me some moisturizer—now how sweet is that? It’s been cold and snowing, and my skin is just going crazy.
You’ll enjoy getting back out to California again, then. You were here not too long ago recording in the Mojave Desert right?
Yes, we were in Joshua Tree last April, May and June. We were essentially in this bungalow house thing, on the side of a hill, and there’s a little town there, but it’s very sparsely populated and it’s got a good isolated feeling about it.
Do you think that your location had an effect on how the record came out?
Yes, I do. We feel that our songs had a particularly Northern European feel to them, because that’s where we wrote them and that’s our culture and background and our perspective. Some of the energy behind the songs comes from a colder climate. It’s a good change in location and atmosphere. When we actually laid it down, there was a probably a moment when we were all starting out at a peach colored sunset, on a desert hillside with stars coming up and it just made for a good change in climate.
I have seen some of the promotional pictures taken of you guys. Was that location near the studio?
Yes, actually it was right outside of the yard.
I’m assuming that this is much different scenery than you are used to seeing day in and day out?
I mean, when you record in studios in places like London, you’re probably going to be in a studio that doesn’t have many windows and doesn’t have much light. To get there you get on the bus or the tube and you get into this kind of airless space… and you can make amazing records there, but the actual life experience is pretty dull. For this album we cherished that we got to travel thousands of miles away from what were used to. We did all kind of freak out that all of the animals were going to bite us or kill us, or sting us though. We also got to work with some punk rock people that are also some of the most gentle, funny, creative people ever. It meant a lot to us because it’s just so incredibly different than where we’ve grown up. It’s so different from what we know, and we had to slightly adapt. And, it’s that sort of adaptation that you get in the music, and it’s cool. You’ve got five people slightly freaking out and loving it—that’s definitely what was going on in our lives at the time.
Over the past couple of years, from Cuts Across the Land to Neptune, do you think you have evolved already?
Yeah, totally. We play much better together, absolutely. We’ve got a slightly different sound, and we’ve kind of enriched our sound. We’ve certainly relaxed a little bit more, and I think that we have some beautiful, more embellished songs and we really enjoy floating in more melody and harmony. We put in more brass, bells and God knows what else… and enjoying the soft moments and not being embarrassed about it. We’re working out what we are you know: we’re a rock and roll band, were a punk band, but really, you know, you can be quite graceful. I think it’s a really good contrast. What I like about our music is the contrast; learning to relax and write something that’s more of a pop song, or more of a ballad. I think that’s good and I think that’s what happened on this record.
Can we talk a little bit about your collaboration song, "Mayday," with UNKLE on their last album, War Stories? How did that come about?
It was always quite difficult to coordinate it, but they found us and said, “We’re on tour in America," and we said, “We’re on tour in America too and we’re sort of free." It was an invitation that we were eager to pick up. We’re so glad that we worked with them because it’s through them that we met Chris [Goss], because that’s where they were. We went to the desert, we looked at the studio and we said, “When we make the next record, we want to come here!”
What you think the pros and cons are to being the female front woman in a band. Do you ever feel that The Duke Spirit gets pigeon holed as a “girl band”? What are the advantages and disadvantages for you?
Well, certainly from our perspective here in Britain, there aren’t many female-fronted bands. I see it as a slight advantage, because when you are a minority, you tend to get slightly more attention. Also, at the same time, there’s the general assumption that it's male whiney voices that are going to sell. So, there’s a slight disregard to us because we have a female vocalist. Well, certainly in Britain and Europe, but over here [the U.S.] I think we get a bit more respect and more excitement about it. I don’t know what to say… I think there isn’t enough of it.
Anything else you’d like to add? Final last words?
Final last words, eh? I think it’s good for the journalist to have the final words. I’m saying words all the time… my final words are in the album.