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Interview: The Duke Spirit

Paul Clarke talks to Leila Moss ahead of the September 19 Cockpit date

Written by . Published on August 31st 2011.

Interview: The Duke Spirit

I was listening to your new album 'Bruiser' last night and I think it’s a big change of direction. It’s a much more direct and minimalist.

You think so? I think we wanted to approach this album...how can I describe it...more galvanised. There’s been a lot of songs where there is just two guitars thrashing, which has been brilliant and made a huge statement live.

But now we’ve really sharpened the focus a bit, and it’s gone really dark on this album in places. But what we have done sound-wise and production-wise, is to get to the point where you can be quite grand when people expect the trashy rock thing

We wanted to sharpen this album. So you get bits of space, which is where I am with the album, which is what I mean by minimalism; more empty spaces, real blackness.

"There’s a lot of darkness, more of a soundtrack feel to something like Sweet Bitter Sweet or Bodies, which to me are pretty fucking bleak"

Do you think working with producer Andrew Sheps has helped that process? Obviously he’s worked with the likes of the Chilli Peppers and Metallica and there is a cleaner rock sound…is that what he brought to the party? 

I don’t think any of us has said the word clean. I don’t think any of us were aiming for that at all. I think we were trying to get a real solidity which you want with the drums and you want the bass guitar to fill the low end and piledrive through. That’s perhaps what we’ve done in previous incarnations with guitars, but now it’s more in the lower end. 

You feel very grounded and it's very weighty to me, but at the same time there's this space. We’ve made more of an effort to sculpt this record.

It probably doesn’t make any sense, but trying to talk about sound is one of the hardest things to do.

I know exactly what you mean. When I was listening to the album there was a sort of Butch Vig, Nirvana/early Garbage feel. A very direct sound and real attitude - almost pop in a way? Were you aiming for - I hesitate to say it - a more commercial sound? 

That seems quite funny to me. I suppose in the first couple of songs there are more hooks, but I think we made a decision not to be afraid of hooks. When we started out I think you can definitely say that you could be afraid of hooks, and wonder what it says about you. 

Eventually after several years you start to enjoy hooks and put them in purely for your own entertainment, you want to put them into your songs and riff away in a celebratory way.

But certainly we weren’t aiming for a commercial record, as I don’t think we could do that anyway. I would hope by the end of the journey of the record things have taken quite a grand turn. There’s a lot of darkness, more of a soundtrack feel to something like Sweet Bitter Sweet or Bodies, which to me are pretty fucking bleak.

I suppose in a way we definitely enjoyed finding hooks and finding things that you can listen to over and over again, but at the same time the album as a journey gets pretty fucking dark.

I was going to ask about that, as to an extent you have been involved in the fashion world, and with Alexander McQueen. Did the tragic events around his death have any impact, directly or indirectly, in the work or did that darkness develop naturally?

I think indirectly. I remember hearing about it when we were travelling so there is a sort of melancholic bleakness that punctuates the record. That will definitely come from things like that.

Other things happen along the way, you travel a lot living out of suitcases. You’re away from home for long periods of time while those songs are coming together. Obviously lyrically you start to put things together. You’re travelling and starting to fill up notebooks with lyrics and things.

When you hear of awful tragedies like that, and you’re not really at home living in a bunker on a tour bus, things become more magnified, and you become quite obsessed for long durations about things like that.

I can't say there are any direct references to it lyrically but it certainly gives that melancholic feel. But at the same time there’s huge surges of something that is quite joyful, something quite searching. There’s a big chorus in something like Deluxe, that’s really searching for something outside common experience. I think that is in and out of the album.

You’re playing the Cockpit on the day album is released. This is an album with a huge sound so what can people expect? 

I think the challenge of the night will be how to play in a railway tunnel like that, which lends itself to a sense of feverish excitement. I think it could be quite pulverising against brick walls under the arches, there could be something really menacing about that.

We’ve played Leeds a lot and we’re always celebrating when we come in off the M1, as the city has been really friendly towards us. The audience really seems to understand our music so to launch the album there seems natural. We’ve had some of our best experiences here as a band where if certain moments hadn't happened you wonder if the band would have lasted.

You are a band with a very loyal following but this is an album that is different in a lot of ways.  Are you hopeful the fans will come along with you on this journey and this vision of doing something more epic?

We’ve tested it out this summer. We’ve done a few festivals, both here and in Europe. We did a tour in February and May, gradually introducing more new songs, and they seem to go down with lot of passionate excitement, so I'm presuming people might get on our train and come with us on this trip.

I may be little overconfident, but you gotta fly the flag and get people to come with you and trust you. I've a lot of trust that they will get it.

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