The Spook School
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The Spook School

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | INDIE

Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2012
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This band has not uploaded any videos

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"See Laura Jane Grace and Transgender-Fronted Band Spook School Meet"

When Scottish indie rockers the Spook School stopped through New York City recently, Rolling Stone set up an earnest sit-down to introduce them to the singer of punk rockers Against Me. Both groups have transgender frontpersons – Nye Todd and Laura Jane Grace respectively – and immediately found common ground to discuss.

Todd opened things up by telling Grace how Against Me!'s most recent album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues – which contains several references to her transition, after she came out in the pages of Rolling Stone in 2012 – and how it prompted him to reassess the punk group's back catalogue, before Grace's transition. "It seemed very strange that you hadn't come out before, that there was trans stuff in the songs," Todd said. "Were you aware of that when you were writing them?"

"At first it was more like your subconscious pushing you towards it," Grace replied. "And then feeling, 'Oh, I'm saying too much.' I've got to mask this. And then it gets to the point where you're like, 'What do I have to do to get your attention and make you realize what I'm actually saying here?'"

Todd said he discovered what "transgender" meant from a YouTube video and the realization that all the guys he had dated, prior to his transition, turned out to be gay. After coming out, he intuitively started treating his own music the way Grace did hers. As he wrote songs, he began presenting them to audiences and explicitly telling them that they were about being transgender.

One of the most poignant parts of the two artists' meeting was when Todd asked whether fans had treated Grace differently since she came out. "Looking out at the audience and seeing a bunch of people sing along to 'True Trans Soul Rebel,' you have those moments wondering who the people are who are singing it," she said. "We had this one show in particular that was shortly after I'd come out and we were playing in Texas and I'm looking out in the crowd and there's this total dude and they jump up onstage and fucking lift their shirt and have their mastectomy scars. And I'm like, 'Whoa, I'm totally judging wrong. . . . I thought you were some college dude.'"

The Spook School currently have a number of dates lined up in the U.K. this summer and fall and recently put out a new song called "Burn Masculinity," which will appear on upcoming record titled Try to Be Hopeful, out in September. - Rolling Stone


"The Spook School- I'll Be Honest"

Indie pop has always been a place where contemporary notions of gender has be discussed, discarded.

Even a casual glance at an indie pop crowd will suggest a casual revolution going on, with masculine / feminine identities breaking down. It's an open environment, one where new ideas are welcomed, encouraged.

So it's natural, then, to find a group such as The Spook School. Completing debut album 'Dress Up' the band use 13 indie pop nuggets to assess the ways in which identities are handed down to us by the watching world.

As the band explain: "We want to liberate the listener by lubricating their ears with noisy pop songs about coming to terms with gender identity and realising how silly the world is. We like to have fun, but we also really care about the things we sing and write music about. I think if anyone was to ever listen to one of our songs and think “hey, I’ve felt like that!” then that would make us very happy indeed."

Out on October 7th, the album is preceded by new video 'I'll Be Honest'. A joyous, colourful, comedic visual rant, you can watch it first on Clash. - Clash Magazine


"The Spook School: Dress Up"

Edinburgh four-piece The Spook School take their name from a group of Scottish artists whose work was ridiculed for being too dark and gothic. Fortunately, anyone who checks the reference and expects gloom will be sorely disappointed—Dress Up is more Buzzcocks than Bauhaus, 13 tracks of infectious indie pop.

From the opening guitar stabs of "Are You Who You Think You Are?," the pace is unrelenting, with the sheer fun of the music underpinned with the fairly serious issue of gender and identity—the title Dress Up is partly inspired by vocalist/guitarist Nye Todd, who identifies as transgender.

But that doesn't mean that there is all that much soul-gazing going on here. "I'll Be Honest"—which is about pouring your insecurities out to someone who has had too many drinks to remember it—is straight up noisy, shouty pop rock. Likewise "I Don't Know," with its refrain, "I just don't know how to talk to you," has punk guitars, under-polished vocals, and a climax that begs for sweaty bodies to jump around to it.

There are tender moments, too. Bassist Anna Corey sings on both "Devil of Mine" and "Something," which have acoustic guitars and are startlingly intimate compared to the other tracks on show here.

Dress Up is something rare in a rock record—it has virtually no pretense, just a nervous young energy and bags of infectious riffs to go with it. - Under the Radar


"Winter Sprinter @ Lexington, London"

It’s been a golden few years for indiepop, a genre that didn’t so much vanish with the bands that appeared on the NME’s infamous C86 tape, but rather plodded along, appealing to a small but devoted, cultish following. But the likes of Allo Darlin’, Veronica Falls, Crystal Stilts and Wave Pictures have cast indiepop’s net a little wider, reeling in wider audiences.

Fortuna POP! is the label leading the way – pumping time and money into bands at a rate rarely seen elsewhere. The Fortuna POP! label is a like a hallmark – a stamp of quality almost guaranteed, which might explain why much of their annual showcase, Winter Sprinter, is sold out. Over four nights, some of their biggest signings and brightest hopes for 2013 called into the Lexington, from current kings and queens of twee, Allo Darlin’ and old favourites Milky Wimpshake to brand new bands promoting their first 7”.

It’s these fresh faced bands who stole the show(s). The recently announced demise of favourites Standard Fare and Shrag (who both released albums that were greedily and gleefully gobbled up by indiepop fans last year) sent shockwaves through the community. As two of the biggest bands of the scene, and they’ll leave a gaping hole. Or will they…

The Spook School, who kick off the first show, alone have enough energy and enthusiasm to fill that hole. Swaying towards The Vaselines‘ end of the spectrum, the Edinburgh band are cheap n cheerful, spinning lo-fi fuzz around bouncey, upbeat pop. The post-Standard Fare/Shrag world seems more bearable already. Likewise, the brilliantly named Joanna Gruesome, a noise pop five-piece who thrive on girl-boy melodies while spitting out punk retorts, prove there’s life in the scene yet.

Thursday’s opening band, Haiku Salut, are another prospect entirely. The Derbyshire trio are due to release their debut album on the recently resurrected How Does It Feel To Be Loved in March, and woo the crowd with their high concept instrumental set, which manages to merge woozing folk, dubstep and classical sensibilities. It’s what Gold Panda, Devotchka and Yann Tiersen would sound like if they were all thrown together. Elsewhere, Evans The Death are slightly better known than those they share the opening slot with, having released their acclaimed debut album last year. Their last appearance at the Lexington, supporting Let’s Wrestle, was somewhat dry and lacking in any pizzazz, but tonight they’re back on form, singer Katherine Whitaker growling her way through the grungey, post-britpop of Telling Lies, Wet Blanket and Threads.

The youngsters shone so brightly they cast a shadow over the bands they loitered around to see play afterwards. Tender Trap sounded flat and safe; Darren Hayman, while clearly adored by the sell-out crowd, has long played a safe game; and the magnificent, 20-year-old Comet Gain, again a band held dearly by fans, relied largely on nostalgia, with old favourite Fists in the Pocket causing something verging on a moshpit. It’s Shrag’s penultimate gig and they seem to be winding down already – the wild, riot grrrl-ish anger and yelps toned down, the electric, fizzing gigs of yore already a distant memory. Herman Dune play a warm set, the highlight of which is a remarkably French sounding cover of the Velvet Underground’s Pale Blue Eyes.

But it’s not all bad news for the older bands. Nearly 20 years after they released their first tape, Milky Wimpshake are about to unveil their fifth album. A few oldies are thrown in, but the Geordies are determined to prove they’ve not lost their knack for carving nuggets of simple, kitchen sink silliness. The new tracks shine – an enticing glimpse of what to expect from Heart And Soul In The Milky Way. Withered Hand – aka Dan Willson – is also a master of the silly song, with lyrics that send chuckles rippling through the room. His blend of DIY thrash-folk could be easily dismissed if it weren’t for his spine tingling voice. Playing a solo set, with just him and his guitar, much of his most recent album was off limits, and he visibly relaxed when joined on vocals duties by Pam Berry of Black Tambourine who, he tells us, he befriended over Twitter.

But Winter Sprinter is Allo Darlin’s turf. It was a slow start, with singer Elizabeth Morris explaining that she’s just got back from Australia. “It’s been a pretty shitty month,” she admits. She seems sad, as she throws herself into a set comprising two albums worth of sentimental songs – part upbeat, part reflective. From their self titled debut, we get Polaroid Song, Dreaming, Silver Dollars and Kiss Your Lips, and Morris paints pictures of old friends sitting around campfires, trekking through the city in the frost and nights that go on forever.

But it’s last year’s Europe that really packs a punch tonight. A more reflective record, it was less about dancing and more about pondering the bigger questions in life. Whatever it is that’s upset Morris, she bravely channels it into the set, looking visibly teary throughout. It shows the breadth indiepop can reach; it’s not all about dance-floor fillers. A lesson the whippersnappers biting at their ankles would be wise to take on board. - Music OMH


"The Spook School - History (The Indietracks EP)"

I was prepared for a quiet afternoon on the final day of this year’s Indietracks, but upon walking into the arena I was assaulted (in a good way) by some serious aural pleasure. And I began dancing. And it wasn’t until the end of the set that I stopped. This is not entirely like me. But then, I had just encountered Spook School.

At the end of their set, their…unusual drummer Niall handed what seemed to be around 50- odd CD EPs into the crowd. As I’m sure some things reviewed on here don’t even sell 50 copies, I think it’s only fair to treat this as a ‘real’ release, for not only is its lead track available for free download, but it’s also a bloody good record.

Seeing Spook School live, it was the music that really made the most impression. Bass, lead guitar and drums all provided the usual indiepop fare, but there was a real driving, insistent, slightly grinding rhythm guitar part behind all of that which made gave them an edge over the rest of their field. The vocals were also a joy, being both hugely tuneful and with a delightful Scottish lilt to them. Y’know, the sort of thing that you always want Belle & Sebastian to sound like, but they never really do. I didn’t manage to catch many of the lyrics, but those I did hear were, again, way above par for the course.

Another highlight was when they stopped playing noisy indiepop and singer Naomi took out her ukulele. Often with indiepop bands, they find a sound and stick with it. Not so Spook School.

And finally there was Niall The Drummer, looking like Howard Moon dressed as Vince Noir. “It’s Disco O’Clock!” he yelled at one point. “Is it, Niall? Is it really Disco O’Clock, or have you just taken your top off again?” queried Naomi, the aforementioned singer. Niall did have his top off. She hadn’t needed to look. He’d also gone to the trouble of handwriting (and then scanning and posting) a quite troubling love letter to Allo Darlin. All of them. And posting it on
the Indietracks blog He took the time to tell us of this, too. I apologise if I’m making him sound irritating, but throughout the gig he managed to stay just the right side of ‘amusing’ rather than ‘shut up, drummer’.

But that was the gig. This is the EP.

Track One: History

We begin with ‘History’ which is, I suppose, the closest thing that the band have to an actual single right now, as it’s freely available on Youtube.

“I was a boy or so it’s told / I was a girl or so it’s told / Don’t believe a word you’re told”

Like a lot of Spook School songs, this is an enigmatic number. It has a gorgeous indiepop riff, driven along by almost military-style drumming in places, and accompanied by the same grinding guitar that they were able to utilise live to such insistent effect. The vocals are just as charming as their live performance. Naomi’s Scottish accent is one that you tend not to hear much in pop. Think of Bobby Gillespie, Belle & Sebastian, the Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub etc. They’re all Scottish acts, yet they always tend to sound English, if not mid-Atlantic. It’s a pleasure to hear something genuinely different and it really helps to add the edge to the band’s rather odd lyrics.

“Gather up the stories that I’ve sold / I hope we find a true one / before the two of us get too old.”

The band claim that “they try to write fun, catchy pop songs like T-Rex and the Buzzcocks” although if that was the case, I doubt I’d be too interested. To me there are a lot of elements of the Blue Orchids in there. I’m not trying to be too wilfully obscure here; if you don’t know them, they’re the band Martin Bramah – the first Fall guitarist – formed after leaving the band. Like Spook School I suppose technically they’re producing ‘normal tunes’ – normal instruments, normal verse/chorus/verse structures, but there’s something jarring about them.

Something that makes them stand out. Something that makes them better.

“I’m sitting here just eating Jaffa Cakes / while your sense of humour sinks into the sea”

Another comparison could be drawn with the late 70s/early 80s Sheffield scene; bands like the joyfully slightly off-kiler Scarborough Antelopes or even really, really early Pulp from the time before the debut album. Like Jarvis and co, they’re faithfully reproducing a variation of the music in their record collections, but it’s reflected through such a queerly distorted viewpoint that it never does sound entirely like anything that has occurred before.

“You’re always in the bedroom singing ‘Please, Please, Please / While I am in the service station sniffing magic trees / Sometimes I wish you’d get on a train to Belize / but you’d probably take with you my signed photo of John Cleese”

And then those lyrics. Sometimes comedic, but always deadpan. You’re not even sure they know which bits are laugh out loud funny and which bits seem just honest and true.

And they end it with lots of la la las. It’s a very finely polished pop record. It’s a 4/5.

Track Two: Hallam

If we’re still playing the ‘early Pulp‘ game, and ‘History’ was musically ‘Sickly Grin’ with lyrics that Jarvis wouldn’t be capable of ’til six years later, then this is musically an elongated ‘Boats and Trains’. Or ‘Blue Girls’. It’s creepy and atmospheric like both of those songs, although its lyrics aren’t anything that Jarvis would have been capable of ’til ten years after those tracks.

“I walked along the coastline / along the path of the sea / my love he waited for me / he wore a pearl-green dress that went down to his knees / I wore a shirt and tie only / he spoke to me about the decline of masculinity / whilst I set about polishing his shoes”

When did you last hear a pop band writing and singing stuff like that? Jesus, it sounds like medieval folk poetry or something from the Wicker Man. It’s just odd. But not ‘odd’ in a ‘look at me’ sort of way, but ‘odd’ as in we’re listening to someone who thinks differently and processes things in a unique way. And when she writes, this comes out.

I’ve spent most of the last fifteen years in bands myself and learnt, and was told, a long time ago that lyrics were my forte. I think I’m a good lyricist, which is why so many bands disappoint me. Some people make amazing sounds and then sing trite and dull and meaningless words over the top. Take Interpol – cracking music, but here you are with your stage and your listeners who are willing to listen…and what have you got? Sod all.

This, however, is brilliant stuff. Weird stuff. But you will listen. The words demand it.

“We waded out into the salty, stinging water / I said the sun or me you can only have one to choose and come and live in candlelight, no-one can see us laugh and cry.”

Lyrics aside, it’s a well produced record, this. It has seagulls on it, but it’s also ukulele led, which is something Spook School are far better at on record than they were live. Not that they were bad at it live, but it’s easier to capture an eerie atmosphere on record than in the sunshine at a festival.

Again there’s a lot of la la las backing, and it draws you in. Right in. The song creeps gently from start to finish, being well produced without being over produced. It’s a suitable vehicle for the lyrics and vocals.

“My love he stays there by the sea / Shaving his legs on a piece of sharpened shell / My foot slips in the black night / I tumble deep into the sea / I will sleep there as he awaits the kiss of dawn.”

And that’s all it needs to be. Anything else would be less than perfect.

Track Three: Are You Who You Think You Are?

“There’s too much of me and it’s getting me down / Too little of me to be spreading ’round this town”

This track is much less produced than the previous numbers, but what it lacks in tightness it makes up for in enthusiasm and warmth. The musicianship is generally looser, yet the drums – for example – still power the song along giving it a different dynamic to the previous tracks.

“I know who I am and I know what I feel / so I have a few problems accepting what is real.”

And again, of course, there are some pretty odd lyrics, but the chorus is still pretty infectious, and the last part of each verse also cries out for a stadium-sized shoutalong.

“I felt like a victory walking in here / everyone looked up as if I was so weird”.

It’s all in the phrasing. Naomi sings a little on the offbeat on this song, and when coupled with the loose drums and the grinding guitar it means that the song gets right under your skin.

“I need to go anywhere / so long as it’s not home”.

Again if we’re playing the ‘early Pulp’ card then it’s going to be ‘What Do You Say?’, but perhaps more lyrically than musically this time. Of course, once again Spook School are still writing lyrics well above the standard of the foetal Cocker, and way, way above the standard of almost all of their contemporaries.

I love this song. 5/5


Track Four: And That’s Why I Ran Away

This track is led by the bass with, again, some lovely slow drum fills which add some depth to the music. The musicianship and musical direction is, as ever, pretty flawless on this. At times the song breaks down to featuring just the unaccompanied riff before the drums slowly fill back in and the song is powered back into the melodic chorus.

“I bought a cut price happy meal / I wanted to show how I feel.”

There’s another gorgeous rhythm guitar part too which once again brings back the feel of the Blue Orchids although, sadly, the lyrics are a lot more muffled on this one than the other tracks. It sounds like it’s been cut in a rehearsal room, but I’d love to hear a Stephen Street-esque producer work his magic on this.

Another band that Spook School remind me of are the very rough around the edges Tiger (who Street did produce). Again, that buzzsaw rhythm guitar, the odd lyrics and the general air of joy.

Track Five: History (alternative Summer night-time version)

For some reason, Spook School decided to end this record with a slower, overproduced and heavily phasey/swaying version of the first track, with Adam singing instead of Naomi. It finishes the collection in a very low key way and it really zaps all the energy from the original.

This is a shame as live, Adam was a good singer, but is underrepresented on this EP. And this track just does nothing for me. Maybe it might have had I not heard the ‘normal’ version? But either way, this is a very anticlimactic way to finish the record.

Overall Record: 4/5

I love Spook School. They have a record coming out on Cloudberry Records soon. I bet it’ll be ace. - God Is in the TV Zine


Discography

Try to Be Hopeful (LP/CD Fortuna POP! 2015)

Dress Up (LP/CD on Fortuna POP! 2013)

Here We Go/Cameraman (7" on Cloudberry Records, October 2012) 

http://thespookschool.bandcamp.com/album/here-we-go-cameraman

I Don't Know, You Don't Know, We All Don't Know The Spook School (Cassette EP on Soft Power Records, December 2012)
http://thespookschool.bandcamp.com/album/i-dont-know-you-dont-know-we-all-dont-know-the-spook-school

Photos

Bio


The Spook
School
return in October with
their brand new album, Try To Be Hopeful. Fun and empowering, Try To Be Hopeful is brimming with full
of noisy, tuneful and triumphant queer pop songs about identity, sexuality and
being awesome.


 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. 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.


 


Try To Be
Hopeful
follows The
Spook School
’s critically acclaimed debut album Dress Up (2013),
which received plaudits from the Guardian (which featured them as a New Band of
the Day), Uncut which called it “a rewarding, multi-layered debut” and
Loud and Quiet which said, “this is music for the young and disillusioned,
but identifiable to anyone who’s ever been frustrated by the grievances of
identity and growing up.”
The
Spook School have since seen their music used on TV, having recorded the theme
tune for BBC Three series “Badults” (Adam, Anna & Niall all have sidelines
in the world of comedy), and have also toured the US, where they became the
subject of a Rolling Stone documentary and met Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!.


 


Lyrically, Try
To Be Hopeful
is more direct than their first album, exploring issues
around gender and identity, the destructive stereotypes that are generally
accepted as the norm, and the difficulties of fighting them and building
alternatives. Nye was undertaking his own personal journey during the making of
the record too, coming to terms with his identity as trans and starting
testosterone therapy, a side effect of which meant that his voice kept changing
throughout the recording process. As he explains: “It was a bit nerve-wracking
and frustrating to not be able to sing things that I’d been able to sing easily
before, but we worked with it and ended up with stuff that sounds pretty
great.”


 


The Spook
School
are a band in the most
communal sense of the word. The songwriting is split between Anna, Adam and
Nye, giving a different perspective and energy to each song. “Richard and Judy” talks about
conservatism and how easy it is to accept that this is what “normal” is and how
schools are (as Adam explains) “such horrible little places of enforced
heteronormativity.”
 The opening
track, “Burn Masculinity” (which also features on a new Plan-It-X
Records compilation), is an empowering anthem for our time that challenges male
privilege. And the first single proper, “I
Want To Kiss You”,
captures the excitement and anticipation of meeting someone,
thinking they’re the most interesting person ever and not wanting to wait to
see them again. “It’s totally about
kissing people,”
concludes Nye.


 


Perhaps the standout
track is “Binary”, a song about
questioning gender norms, something that Nye’s experience of coming out as
being trans has forced him to think about. Nye says, “I could never
understand gender when trying to think about it as a choice between ‘men’ and
‘women’. What was it that separates those two types of people? When I
discovered the idea of gender as something a lot messier and more nuanced than
two categories, something that could be defined according to how people
actually wanted to identify and place themselves, things made a lot more sense.
I’m so proud and fortunate to know quite a few amazing people who openly
identify as non-binary, genderqueer or other non-binary identities - they exist
in the world on their own terms and consistently challenge something that so
many people just take as read, that there are men and women and nothing else.”
Celebrating life beyond the false choice
between “bowties or high heels”, this song has quickly become a live
favourite, prompting massed choruses of the “I am bigger than a hexadecimal”
line.


 


Try To Be
Hopeful
is the sound
of a band growing up, embracing their identities, and taking charge at the
world. But amidst the fight for a place in society for everyone, there’s still
time for love, friendship, and fun. With their bold, fizzy and electrifying
anthems, The Spook School are the shot of
optimism we’ve been hoping for.