On the surface, Edinburgh-formed combo The Spook School might not promise a barrel of laughs – named after Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his art school cohorts, the four members are frequently quoted as being at the forefront of the current crop of bands mixing music with gender politics.
However, listen to their album, and its bouncy, upbeat tunes are enough to bring a grin to anyone’s face. Live, they’re even more fun, partly due to human dynamo / drummer Niall McCamley who – along with bandmates Adam Todd and AC Cory – sidelines in standup comedy. It’s he who explains what makes them smile… and frown.
“We try to cover all the bases,” he says. “We write sad, serious lyrics and then get onstage and let our fun side run wild.”
They certainly don’t come across as glum or serious, despite some hard-hitting lyrics from lead vocalist Nye Todd. The band’s three albums to date span his personal journey as the transgender front-person of the band, as he sings on new single ‘Body’: “I still hate my body but I’m learning to love what it can do”.
And the band are far from alone in the “trans queer pop punk” genre, as guitarist Adam says. “You’ve got the likes of Olly Alexander from Years and Years speaking openly about sexuality and mental health; you’ve also got Laura Jane Grace (who like Adam’s brother Nye IDs as transgender and who featured Spook School in a Rolling Stone TV feature). Anohni (formerly Mercury-winning Antony and the Johnsons), Ezra Furman – there’s so many people doing great stuff,” he enthuses.
The band’s sound has its roots in the pop-punk of the likes of Buzzcocks, although they now take inspiration more from their peers. “Bands like Martha, Shopping, Sacred Paws, and Joanna Gruesome make such amazing music and are such amazing people to be around.”
But for the band as a unit it’s as much about their politics and principles as the noise they make. “Every piece of music is a political act. Even if you say your music isn’t political that itself is a political statement,” Niall contends.
The band have had to deal with their FortunaPOP label – who have also put out releases by Hefner and the Primitives – ‘retiring’ last year. However, the foursome were quickly snapped up by Alcopop in the UK, and the esteemed Slumberland imprint in the US. And with a reputation spreading far beyond these shores they are set to head off on a seven week tour of the US.
Hopefully the Scottish sense of humour will translate as well as their tunes do. Niall laughs. “If anything it makes the grimmer material more palatable!”
This piece originally appeared in the Lanark Gazette