With most bands it’s so depressingly quick and easy to suss out their influences, background, and mission statement they may as well have them scrawled on their bass drum.
Others take longer to compute but an album listen and a few interviews are sufficient to grasp who they are and what they stand for.
All too rarely comes along a band such as The Spook School who are an exhilarating bundle of enigmas wrapped in puzzles and conundrums.
On the surface they’re a quartet of youngsters who met at Edinburgh Uni and got together to make fast-paced twangly pop brilliance.
But then you encounter the themes explored within, that of gender and sexuality and the artificial social structure that confines both, and you realise songs such as ‘Are You Who You Think You Are?’ are trojan horse anthems making your feet dance and then your mind think. These are weighty issues usually reserved for weighty fare yet are played out to ace, fun catchy hooks that get you smiling until the next crap thing that happens to you. It’s a clever trick – not entirely original but what the hell is anymore? – and it’s one entirely in keeping with their obvious distrust and outright hatred for a need to pigeonhole and define.
Then there’s the way they switch singing duties live, siblings Nye and Adam Todd and bassist Anna Corey taking turns to float out their youthful harmonies over a spiky C86-inspired undertone while Niall McCamley bosses proceedings at intervals with silliness and anecdotes.
These are four disparate personalities providing a collective rejoicing of diversity. A band of juxtapositions and contradictions and that’s precisely the point.
Perhaps the biggest enigma is that some of you won’t have heard of The Spook School before reading this. At least that’s one thing solved.
Here we are at Indietracks, a celebration of indiepop. How would you define the genre?
Nye: I think the best thing about the genre is you can’t define it.
Adam: There’s a lot of musical variation. I guess it’s more of an ethos.
Nye: A DIY ethos and an anti-macho ethos for a lot of bands which I really like.
There seems also to be a very distinct sense of community…
Adam: Well things like this is all run by volunteers.
Niall: Everyone is friends. It’s all so lovely.
Nye: It’s people you’ve seen play from around….
Adam: And they all come here for a big party.
Nye: It’s really good that there’s such diversity with Joanna Gruesome, All Darlin, Trust Fund and they’re all so, so different.
Niall: And they all get together under the one umbrella. A love umbrella.
With mainstream music how it is today do you feel compromise and a certain degree of ‘selling out’ is necessary to break onto the next level?
Niall: Well it depends what you mean by ‘selling out’. If it was somebody writing all our songs for us and telling us how to dress that would be a bit rubbish but I love when people help each other out. DIY is great but I think you can be DIY and work with other people and still have people help you out.
Adam: Mainstream music might not be as good generally as it used to be but at the same time there is an ability to do something now and be successful which I don’t think there was in the past.
Is there such a thing as the perfect pop song?
Niall: It’s just what you’re in love with at that moment. I fall in love about a million times a day when I hear a song and that’s perfect for that moment.
Nye: I think if there is David Bowie probably wrote it.
How would you describe your music to the uninitiated?
Nye: Queer DIY pop punk
Niall: Super fun and sassy. Sassy is my new word. I’m throwing it everywhere.
Adam: High energy
Niall: High energy fun but serious
Did you guys start off as a gang or a band?
Nye: A gang?
Adam: We started off as friends. We didn’t go around beating people up
Niall: We were more like West Side Story, clicking our fingers in time to music.
Nye: We’ve got a lot closer by being a band.
Niall: We started off as friends but it’s more like a family situation now. We don’t mind spending some time apart. (The rest of the band laugh)
What excites you about the twelve months ahead?
Nye: Nottingham Queer Fest next month is going to be so good.
Niall: We’re also going to Spain for the first time in September on the same stage as The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. I’m going to embarrass myself in front of them.
Do you have any influences – music or otherwise – that might surprise?
Niall: Well Nye’s got one…
Nye: David Bowie? That wouldn’t surprise anyone…(reconsiders)…well, we don’t sound like him. He’s just my god.
Niall: I like to think that I channel Taylor Swift when I drum. She’s like my spirit animal.
Nye: I think Jedward are an influence. They just have so much fun.
Adam: In a completely non-ironic way. They have so much energy.
Niall: They’ve got good sass.
Can you take us through the songwriting process. Is there a typical method or is it more unpredictable?
Nye: We all kind of write songs (individually) that are usually not quite finished.
Niall: It’s remarkably quick. We bring in a little idea and in an hour it comes together.
Nye: Half of us live in London and half in Edinburgh so we generally only get to practise the night before gigs.
Lastly, we’re surrounded here by steamtrains. Who was your favourite character in Thomas The Tank Engine?
Niall: I’d like to be the helicopter. That was the first one I’d ever seen.
Nye: I liked the construction train. Which one was that? I don’t like the new Thomas though. They’ve ruined it.