An Interview With…The Spook School

The Spook School are a Glasgow-based four-piece who make candid and earnest music. Their upcoming album, Could It Be Different, is out on 26.01.18.

What inspired the song ‘Still Alive’?

Nye: I wrote the song kind of in response to a guy that sexually assaulted me years ago. It’s one of those situations where at the time, despite being very upset by the experience, I told myself that it couldn’t have been rape or any kind of sexual assault because ‘he was a nice guy’. For a long time I blamed myself for not protesting enough, or for somehow misleading him into
thinking there was consent. It’s only in recent years that I’ve realised that
it was him that I should have been blaming, not myself. So this song is an overdue ‘fuck you’ to that guy, and also an acknowledgement that – however much that experience might have messed me up – I’m still here and that’s something.

It feels quite different to the past stuff on Try To Be Hopeful et al – where do you think that comes from?

Nye: I think Try to Be Hopeful made sense as an album that you would write after quite recently figuring/affirming your identity – there’s a joy in that, and a desire to just kind of yell out ‘yeah, this is who we are’. I think also, especially as a trans person, because that can cause you so much unexplainable sadness/distress before you figure it out, you can fall into thinking that it’s the only part of your life that matters, and that being read as your gender/getting to physically transition and stuff like that will magically cure every problem
you’ve ever had. It definitely helps, but usually all the other life stuff is
waiting for you to pay attention to it again. And in many ways that’s kind of
what this album is about, it’s about living as a queer person – about regrets
and relationships and family and body image and just everything.

How would you describe the upcoming album?

Adam: It’s a lot more introspective that our previous work. More nuanced I think, and more personally honest. There’s a lot of looking backwards and looking forwards, wondering about the past and worrying about the future. At it’s heart though I see it as a celebration of the community we’ve found (in many ways through playing music) and the personal relationships we value in our lives.

Who in music inspires you right now?

Adam: Perfume Genius is making some really wonderful stuff right now. I’m also on a really big Jimmy Somerville kick at the moment. I think he’s one of the most underrated, radically political pop stars ever. Shopping, Sacred Paws, and basically everything Rachel Aggs touches is incredible.

Have you ever seen or been made aware of sexual harassment or assault at any of your shows?

Nye: I’ve never seen or been made aware of sexual harassment at any of our shows. I’d like to think that that was because the people that come to our shows are all wonderful people without exception, but in reality it’s more likely that it’s happened at least once and we’ve just not seen/heard about it.

Is it something you’ve experienced as performers?

Nye: I’ve experienced sexual assault, though not in the context of playing shows. At least part of that is probably due to the fact that we’re an overtly queer band. Some of it will also be down to sexism – as a masculine presenting person playing music I’m less likely to get comments yelled at me than women or more femme non-binary folks.

What would be your response if you saw it happening?

Nye: If one of us saw something when we were onstage I would like to think that we’d stop playing and try to get the assaulter/harasser kicked out of the show. Equally, if someone came to us earlier in the night, we’d listen to them and see what they’d like done to make them comfortable and then work with the promoter/venue to make that happen.

What would you like to say to the people who have that experience at a show?

Adam: This is not your fault, and there will be plenty of people who are willing to support you, including us. We’ll try our best to make sure our shows are as safe for everyone as possible. If there’s anything we can do to help please let us know (if you feel you can). We can be contacted online (emailFacebook, Twitter) or in person at shows. Reaching out to others for support can often be really helpful. This could be people close to you or organisations such as The Survivors Trust.

Girls Against are also here to listen to you and provide support, though please note that we are not trained counsellors.

What would your message be to the perpetrators of that behaviour?

Nye: If you can’t go to shows without harassing people, then don’t go to shows. Seek advice to change your behaviours and don’t put other people at risk of your unwanted advances/aggression. Doubly so if you are a performer/artist – you shouldn’t be putting yourself in a position where you have social capital that you could abuse.

Why do you think sexual harassment is such a big issue in rock/alternative music scenes?

Nye: A whole raft of things really. There’s still quite a lot of people with pretty misogynistic views of music scenes as a place where women/femme people don’t belong – despite all obvious evidence to the contrary (seriously, if you’re only listening to music written/performed by men how are you not bored by now?).

Also the association between gigs and alcohol probably isn’t something that helps, given how many people use being drunk/high as an excuse for acting in ways they wouldn’t allow themselves to sober. Especially for performers,
there’s this kind of archetype of the rockstar that’s always drunk and that
being a ‘rock ‘n roll’ thing. I remember going to gigs as a teenager and seeing
the lead singers of bands that I loved at that time drinking full bottles of
whisky on stage. I remember thinking that was just part of being a rockstar,
rather than something that’s going to have an impact on both you and the people around you.

Then also there’s the whole ‘groupie’ stereotype – the idea that femme people in music scenes can’t possibly be creative or performers or even people that appreciate music, but are instead a kind of object to be claimed by male band members or fans. It seems like an outdated idea but the number of women in bands that still get asked ‘oh are you drummer/guitarist/whatever male band member’s girlfriend’ by people doing sound/other bands/promoters suggests
that it’s very much still a stereotype that exists.

What do you think your responsibility is, as a band in combatting this issue?

Nye: It’s a hard thing to tell someone that you don’t know about sexual assault, so it’s up to us/other bands/promoters/people in general to make it as clear as possible that any kind of harassment or assault won’t be tolerated and that we’ll do everything we can to make sure that people coming to our shows are safe from that. Things like signposted ‘no tolerance’ policies at gigs, statements on stage, and kicking people out when necessary. We should be making sure that we don’t play on bills that are just bro-ey bands, or for promoters/venues that create a hostile environment to any people that might want to come along to one of our shows. Sometimes it can be hard to know that information, especially when you’re travelling to places that you’ve never been before – so we’ve also got to be prepared to listen when someone comes forward to tell us something, and try to act helpfully based on that information.

What do you think crowds should be doing?

Adam: Looking out for each other. Everyone’s come to the show to have a good time, so try to be aware of the people around you as much as you can. Dancing and jumping around is really fun, but it’s not an excuse to touch others without their consent. You wouldn’t do so in the street (I hope), so why would it be acceptable at a show? I’d hope people who come to our shows (or any show for that matter) would try to offer support if they witnessed harassment of any kind, or anyone looking uncomfortable or distressed.

Interview by Sophia Simon-Bashall