THIS autumn has seen a spate of new Scottish alternative bands making inroads with national indie labels, but even amidst the rush, Edinburgh’s the Spook School stand out.
They are, after all, probably the only band in the country populated by sometime comedians, named in honour of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s enclave of the Glasgow School movement and lyrically informed by gender-political issues (guitarist Nye Todd identifies as transsexual).
“Our first ever practice was in the old Forest Café [on Bristo Place in Edinburgh],” says drummer Niall McCamley. “We interrupted a performance poetry night and they told us off, it was all very ramshackle in a beautiful way.” McCamley, Todd and his fellow guitarist brother Adam and bassist Anna Cory were at Edinburgh University together, and would regularly stage shows at the Fringe between 2009 and 2012.
McCamley performed solo stand-up, while Adam and Anna had a sketch show together (Nye is “the non-comedy one”). “The other three haven’t been in bands before,” says McCamley, “but when we came together it gave us the confidence that no band just starting out should have. We have a no-fear attitude when we’re on stage.”
He reels off a list of influences including David Bowie (“Nye would kill me if I didn’t mention him”), the Buzzcocks, the Ramones, and C86 artists from Glasgow such as the Vaselines and the shoegaze movement. “We love a bit of feedbacking guitar,” says McCamley. Yet their debut album Dress Up, out on London indie Fortuna POP! this month, betrays even stronger hints of the hyper-lo-fi Moldy Peaches, married with a raw take on Phil Spector harmonies.
There’s also a clear sense of personality to their music, a sense of forthright but geekish confidence. “People have been surprised that songs which are about fluidity and the lack of a binary in gender aren’t in-your-face or preachy,” says McCamley. “[Transgender artists] are meant to be on the periphery, you’re meant to operate outside the mainstream, so I think it’s quite beneficial to basically play happy pop songs.”
He adds: “As for the name, the original Spook Schools came from critics making fun of them, but they adopted it themselves and turned something that was meant to be mean into something that worked for them. I’m not sure what that says about us.”
• The Spook School support the Flatmates at the Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh, tonight, and play the Glad Café, Glasgow, tomorrow. Dress Up is out now on Fortuna POP! thespookschool.com