The Spook School returned last November with their brand new album, Try To Be Hopeful. Fun and empowering, Try To Be Hopeful is brim full of noisy, tuneful and triumphant queer pop songs about identity, sexuality, and being awesome.
The Spook School are Anna Cory (bass and vocals), Adam Todd (guitar and vocals), Nye Todd (guitar and vocals) and Niall Mccauley (drums). Since forming in 2012 they’ve become increasingly involved with the DIY queer punk scene, taking inspiration from the passionate, like-minded people they’ve met along the way, and from bands such as Martha, Joanna Gruesome, Trust Fund and Tuff Love. Citing influences including Buzzcocks, T-Rex and the noisier end of C86, the new album is louder, bolder, fuller-sounding and captures more of their live sound – aided and abetted by producer MJ of Hookworms.
Try To Be Hopeful follows The Spook School’s critically acclaimed debut album Dress Up (2013), which received plaudits from the Guardian (which featured them as a New Band of the Day), Uncut which called it “a rewarding, multi-layered debut” and Loud and Quiet which said, “this is music for the young and disillusioned, but identifiable to anyone who’s ever been frustrated by the grievances of identity and growing up.” The Spook School have since seen their music used on TV, having recorded the theme tune for BBC Three series “Badults” (Adam, Anna & Niall all have sidelines in the world of comedy), and have also toured the US, where they became the subject of a Rolling Stone documentary and met Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!.
Lyrically, Try To Be Hopeful is more direct than their first album, exploring issues around gender and identity, the destructive stereotypes that are generally accepted as the norm, and the difficulties of fighting them and building alternatives. Nye was undertaking his own personal journey during the making of the record too, beginning to really embrace his trans identity and starting testosterone therapy, a side effect of which meant that his voice kept changing throughout the recording process. As he explains: “It was a bit nerve-wracking and frustrating to not be able to sing things that I’d been able to sing easily before, but we worked with it and ended up with stuff that sounds pretty great.”
The Spook School are a band in the most communal sense of the word. The songwriting is split between all four members, giving a different perspective and energy to each song. “Richard and Judy” talks about conservatism and how easy it is to accept that this is what “normal” is and how schools are (as Adam explains) “such horrible little places of enforced heteronormativity”. The opening track, “Burn Masculinity” (which also features on a new Plan-It-X Records compilation), is an empowering anthem for our time that challenges male privilege. And the first single proper, “I Want To Kiss You”, captures the excitement and anticipation of meeting someone, thinking they’re the most interesting person ever and not wanting to wait to see them again. “It’s totally about kissing people,” concludes Nye.
Perhaps the standout track is “Binary”, a song about questioning gender norms, something that Nye’s experience of coming out as being trans has forced him to think about. Nye says, “I could never understand gender when trying to think about it as a choice between ‘men’ and ‘women’. What was it that separates those two types of people? When I discovered the idea of gender as something a lot messier and more nuanced than two categories, something that could be defined according to how people actually wanted to identify and place themselves, things made a lot more sense. I’m so proud and fortunate to know quite a few amazing people who openly identify as non-binary, genderqueer, or other non-binary identities – they exist in the world on their own terms and consistently challenge something that so many people just take as read, that there are men and women and nothing else.” Celebrating life beyond the false choice between “bowties or high heels”, this song has quickly become a live favourite, prompting massed choruses of the “I am bigger than a hexadecimal” line.
Try To Be Hopeful is the sound of a band growing up, embracing their identities, and taking charge at the world. But amidst the fight for a place in society for everyone, there’s still time for love, friendship, and fun. With their bold, fizzy and electrifying anthems, The Spook School are the shot of optimism we’ve been hoping for.
3/16 – Welcome to the Jangle @ Spider House (2908 Fruth St) – 5:20pm
3/17 – Force Field PR / Dojo Zine Party @ Longbranch Inn (1133 E. 11th St) – 3:30pm
3/17 – Father/Daughter Records and Topshelf Records Showcase @ The Grackle (1700 E 6th St) – 5:05pm
3/19 – BreakThru Radio Presents @ The North Door (501 Brushy St) – 12:00pm
3/19 – SXSWaterloo @ Waterloo Cycles (2815 Fruth St) – 5:15pm
3/19 – Official Showcase The Color Agent Presents @ The Tap Room at The Market (319 Colorado St) – 9:00pm
The Spook School
Try To Be Hopeful
Street Date: November 27, 2015
1. Burn Masculinity
2. Richard and Judy
3. Friday Night
4. Speak When You’re Spoken To
5. August 17th
6. Everybody Needs to Be in Love
7. Vicious Machine
8. I Want To Kiss You
9. Books And Hooks And Movements
11. Try To Be Hopeful