Image via video

The Spook School Aren't Scared of the Intimacy of Being Sincere

The Glasgow four-piece's sparkling brand of empowering indie-pop might just save us all.

Jan 17 2018, 7:06pm

Image via video

In a recent exchange with a friend, I typed the following two messages:

sometimes I’m just like

I love music man

I mention it because right now I’m writing about a band who exemplify one quite specific reason why the above is true. In the year 2018, sincerity is rare when you can just put “lol” after every admission of sentiment, and engaging in it sometimes feels like a big emotional risk. Posting a well-chosen meme can seem like an easier gesture than just straight up telling other people how you feel. When you’re a sap like me, that can be suffocating, so it’s a relief and a comfort to know that music, at least, remains a place where people can say what they mean—and turn those feelings into indie-pop rippers. That’s what Glasgow four-piece The Spook School do.

The band have been making music that speaks openly about mental illness, sexuality, gender, relationships and, well, life since 2011, and they’re about to release their third album on January 26. Titled Could It Be Different? (and isn’t there so much hope contained in that question mark?), it’s made up of 11 songs that sparkle with skill, optimism and the type of joy that can only come from making the conscious choice to be yourself. Held up to the light, the tracks are reminiscent of guitar bands as diverse as Belle and Sebastian and Against Me!, though their blend of nod-your-head riffs and warm-your-heart lyrics is all The Spook School’s own.

Ahead of the release of Could It Be Different?, we’re premiering one of its singles, “Body,” on Noisey right now, along with an accompanying—and extremely fun, green-screen heavy—music video (check it above). With a refrain that goes “I still hate my body / But I’m learning to love what it can do,” and a buoyant, jangly guitar line, the track is, like much of the band’s catalogue, a place where tough stuff is laid out and discussed honestly, but brightly too. Vocalist Nye Todd told me about how its lyrics originated: “With 'Body' specifically, I wrote it from a kind of positive place, in that I’d been exercising lots and was proud of what I’d achieved and how much more capable I felt in my own body,” he says. “But I was also aware of how much shame, dysphoria and internalised transphobia that I still felt towards myself. I got to wondering if everyone felt that to a certain extent, and that’s where the song lyrics kind of came from.”

It’s a cathartic listen, and also symptomatic of part of the band’s mission statement for Could It Be Different? “I think in general we wanted to be honest with this album,” Nye says. “A lot of the last album was about feeling confident and empowered in yourself and your identity, and while that’s still true and important, I think it’s also important to be honest with the fact that you’re not always going to feel that you can take on the world.”

That’s something the entire group has been aware of while making Could It Be Different? Often, the culture that surrounds us, particularly online, lacks nuance. It squashes real human people down into weird, digestible dog-food chunks of content, but in music there’s space to unravel, and to be all the things you need to be. The Spook School have tried to embrace that on this album—as drummer Niall McCamley says, “It’s hard seeing people reduced to two-dimensional caricatures. 'You are your mental illness'. 'You are your gender identity.' It’s so limiting and isn’t a true representation. For this album I’ve found myself describing the lyrics as the story that happens after the credits roll in a romantic comedy. You reach a conclusion but there’s still so much life left to live.”

It’s a gently philosophical take, one that The Spook School seem to share with their frequent touring buddies, Diet Cig. Playing together, Niall says, is "so… nice! Our crowds know what to expect from us and seeing that crowd meet Diet Cig’s audience is just so lovely. I have images of people swapping Tumblrs and getting stick and pokes after the show. It feels so safe, which feels strange to say and strange to focus in on, but it’s so noticeable.”

I don’t think it feels strange: we take for granted that we’re moving forward as a culture, but actually, we’ve still got a long road to travel until real respect and safety are achieved for everyone. The rights of trans people to simply exist are still, shamefully, a battleground. So, places and sounds that allow marginalised people to feel seen and to literally just fucking enjoy themselves remain hugely necessary. One of the wonderful things about The Spook School, therefore, is that in asking Could It Be Different?, they also give you a glimpse into a world where ‘It’ – whether that ‘It’ is depression, or dysphoria, or a bad relationship—might be. They’re advocates for sincerity, for doing the hard work of being real about who you are and finding the good in the results. Niall's final words to me read as much like a call to arms as an invitation to experience the solace of the kind, blistering pop that they’ve perfected on songs like “Body,” and on Could It Be Different? as a whole: “Get your glitter on and sing your heart out.”

Could It Be Different? is out on January 26 via Alcopop! and is available now for pre-order.

January 29: Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place # ^
January 30: Toronto, ON @ The Garrison # ^
January 31: Detroit, MI @ Marble Bar # ^
February 1: Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge # &
February 2: Madison, WI @ University of Wisconsin # &
February 3: Minneapolis, MN @ University of Minnesota # &
February 5: Lawrence, KS @ White Schoolhouse #
February 6: Omaha, NE @ Reverb Lounge & #
February 7: Denver, CO @ Lost Lake Lounge #
February 8: Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court #
February 9: Boise, ID @ Neurolux # &
February 10: Vancouver, BC @ The Cobalt # &
February 11: Seattle, WA @ Chop Suey #
February 12: Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theater #
February 14: San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop #
February 15: Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst # &
February 16: Los Angeles, CA @ Lodge Room #
February 17: San Diego, CA @ You Are Going To Hate This Fest 3 #
February 19: Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress # &
February 21: Austin, TX @ Sidewinder # &
February 22: Dallas, TX @ Three Links # &
February 23: New Orleans, LA @ Hi Ho Lounge # &
February 24: Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade # &
February 25: Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight # &
February 26: Charlotte, NC @ Neighborhood Theatre # &
February 27: Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle # &
February 28: Washington, DC @ Rock & Roll Hotel # &
March 1: Brooklyn, NY @ Elsewhere # &
March 2: Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall # &
March 3: Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church # &

# = w/ Diet Cig
^ = w/ Lala Lala
& = w/ Great Grandpa

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