For most bands the prospect of doing an interview straight after a gig is probably right up there with having to use the tour bus toilet. But surprisingly The Duke Spirit, who support The Black Keys tonight, are extremely enthusiastic - especially since today is drummer Olly Bett’s birthday, and it means delaying eagerly anticipated celebrations.
After playing a smouldering set it’s quite clear - excuse the pun - why they are in such high spirits. This evening’s performance irresistably whipped spectators into some serious butt shaking. “We don’t think of ourselves as such an exclusive thing” says guitarist Dan Higgins. “Whenever we do a gig we give out a lot of energy and feed off the energy that comes back to us as well.” “The best thing for me is that I get to sit at the back watching four arses jiggling about all night” adds Olly grinning sheepishly.
Fronted by sultry singer Liela Moss and formed two years ago, The Duke Spirit's sound can be best described as edgy, deep, soulful rock ‘n’ roll - other members include Luke Ford (guitars) and Toby Butler (bass). “There is no cryptic message behind our name but it’s the attitude we have behind what we do that’s important” says Liela. “It kind of runs through the lyrics. Although people often say they are quite dark, underlying it all is using truth to find your own authority. By reaching deep down into yourself even when things get quite bad, you actually find the source and you feel the Duke Spirit. It’s the rise of unity.” Symbolising this is a lone white feather talisman dangling around Liela’s neck, which she describes as “resonating inner flight.”
On stage Liela is one of the most important female indie rock singers to burst on the scene since VV from The Kills. With a seductive raspy voice and a sexually charged presence on stage - as demonstrated by her fast pacing tambourine bashing - she has already been positioned at number 23 in this year’s NME cool list. Although Liela is comfortable with being a sex symbol she is conscientious that people don’t take her as just a token front woman. “Our music makes me feel good and sexy in as much that’s what we’re trying to instil it in everyone. I hope to encourage people to feel confident enough to open up their hearts and shake stuff up. So for that moment when I am singing on stage, it’s all right for people to have that interpretation.But I would hate for it to be gratuitous. Sometimes I find myself being caught in innuendo, it’s like I said something to the NME recently and immediately regretted it. I don’t want to be 'the bird at the front' with people shouting out 'C’mon love get your tits out'. I hate all that shit and sometimes it’s difficult because you get sucked into that world. I would like to be a positive role model for girls and boys by inspiring people. But that also counts for all of us.”
Musically, they have been compared to The Velvet Underground, Mazzy Star, and Patti Smith and have already been marked as hot ones to watch in 2005. Much of this is owed to the talent scouting skills of music journalist James Oldham, who quickly snapped them up for his Loog label after their deal with City Rockers, fell through.
“City Rockers had fired us up and then left us in limbo which was frightening” explains Luke. “James always used to come and see us play and has always been really supportive without any ulterior motives.When he heard we were looking for a deal he signed us. We had shared interest in the same music, so it seemed the obvious way to go.”
“It was great because we had already recorded the album when we were with City Rockers and signing to Loog meant that we didn’t have to wait long for someone to put it out” adds Olly.
The debut album, not as yet titled, is set for release in April next year. Prior to this they will release the third single from the album, 'Lion Rip', in February. The album was recorded in North Wales with the help of Simon Raymonde. They had chosen him after admiring his mixing of a 'Lift To Experience' album, who are signed to his label. However the band confess they weren’t necessarily huge fans of his previous work with the Cocteau Twins but have now adopted him as one of their mentors.
“When we were in the studio, Simon bought up three of his old videos for laughs. We all sat around pissing ourselves as he had really huge hair back in the day” giggles Liela playfully. On a more serious note, she adds: “ In many ways his work didn’t end with the album as he’s become a really good friend. Even when our first label collapsed he was always there at the end of a phone call to give us advice. He’d been there, done that and knew about all the traps we were going to run into".
Having already supported Razorlight, British Sea Power, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Vines, the band have recently come off a tour in Spain with the Detroit Cobras.
“There have been lots of good moments. It’s always great when you find a few personalities in a band who are ace. The thing about touring and meeting new bands is the contrast. It can be quite intimidating but I love that we are able to crack that scary bit and actually realise meeting other musicians is all good,” reflects Liela. “British Sea Power were quiet but very friendly. The first time we met one of them he was asking us for a needle and thread to mend his button. Then 20 minutes later they’re all going fucking nuts, climbing the PA rig.”
Toby continues: “You go from playing with British Sea Power who are English eccentric boys to someone like Mark Lanegan (formerly of the Screaming Trees) who is this hard rocker type. It’s really cool.”
All the hard grafted touring seems to have paid off as it's opened to the door to a lot of exposure. In Ireland they were described as “the best band to come to Cork since Nirvana”, while those in Spain complimented them on “having a groove that’s like watching the Stones.” However, there have also been some less than flattering moments, but they have graciously taken these harsh criticisms on the chin. “Someone described us as a crack whore fronting an Oasis tribute band,” chuckles Olly. "I would like to shake his hand as it’s actually quite funny.”
Refreshingly this lot know better than to take things too seriously, and this is demonstrated by their somewhat roguish behaviour.
“I don’t want to go into details but there was a lot of rude action on the tour bus involving a lot of nudity and pant ripping. Not mine I’d like to add” reveals Liela.
“I’m still chaffed,” whispers Olly.
"It was like Women In Love on wheels,” adds Dan.
This gives way to other misdemeanours including Olly encountering a rather embarrassing incident on stage. “At the ICA I fell over the drums and got stuck with my legs in the air. It was very stereotypically Spinal Tap” The room instantly fills with friendly banter and jolly laughter as he recounts the event. “I ended up in a handstand and looked like a complete knob. I never want that to happen again.”
Poor love, but at least they are able to celebrate their ridicule with an honest fondness for what they do. Of course it all goes back to attitude, and unlike others The Duke Spirit seem content on being truthful to themselves. “We’re the luckiest people because we get to drive round the country and world while watching films, talking shit with mates, playing gigs and getting drunk,” says Luke. “It’s just a fantastic experience.”