Lea: Honestly? Honest to God? We (me and Toby) were in a rush to get the new band going, so we sat at my place, and scribbled some names down. That was the one we liked the best. To be honest, we were more concerned with the fact that we had 4 weeks to get the other band members, write our first set, and (in my case) learn the bloody bass. Our mission was to honour our booking at Reading, so at that point, I'd probably have been okay with 'Lea and the Llamas'.
Your new single is called "Sheila's sister". Who is Sheila?
Lea: Honestly? Honest to God? Sheila is Sheila Chipperfield from the famous circus family, and also previously in the pop band 'Elastica'. One day she turned up at rehearsal with her sister, which seemed to make the whole band go a bit grinny. So, being fickle, I instantly immortalised her in a pop lyric.
Spy51's sound is very upbeat and poppy. Yet the subject matter of the songs seems to be sad, even dark. The track 'Push' being a prime example of this. Who and/or what would you say is the main influence behind the bands' music and lyrics?
Charley: I don't think they're all sad... Although it's true many of them are tragic or tragi-comic. 'Push' sounds more resigned than sad.. a lot of it is, I think, like falling in love i.e. mad rush of drugs and insanity followed by picking yourself up out of the gutter and saying "Oh well, onto the next one then". A bit like surfing.
As far as influences: musically I think it's spans The Beatles/Beach Boys/Phil Spector through to more rock stuff like Manics and Foo Fighters, and then a big Neu/Stereolab krautrock thing, and then the pure POP of Duran Duran and Blondie..
Lyrically? Dunno. Ask Lea. I like lyrical poetry like TS Eliot, like the way people like David Sylvian and Kristen Hersh write songs.. but I've only written one Spy 51 lyric ("Platforms")
Lea: The main influence for me, is rhyming. for example; "All the time you think you're a LOSER, when it's just that you're a bad CHOOSER." Very important, rhyming. I think that I will have to become a better songwriter to fully explore my happier thoughts more thoroughly. It's far easier to be indulgent than objective. Happier lyrics can so often fall into dreadfulness. But then look at all the cranks in the nu-metal bands with their half baked teenage angst. It's a bad egg, whether boiled or fried. I HATE melodrama, and angst. Unbearable. So I try to keep my lyrics a tiny bit dry, and yes, you CAN point out tons of examples where this is NOT the case. So be it. Most of the lyrics do came from things that have happened to me/things I've observed/people I've met. I don't think they are all that good, but they go nicely with the music.
Both Charley and Lea seem to enjoy banter with the audience when playing live. Is this something that comes naturally, or do you want the audience to almost become part of the performance rather than merely observing?
Lea: I hate tossy hecklers to be honest, I wish they'd shut the f**k up, they so rarely say anything clever or interesting. I want them to come in, listen, clap, and go home thinking, "That was really good." but yes, when the audience are clearly involved in a good way, and we're all in one big smile, well, that's lovely. If they don't like what we're doing, then they should go home, why waste an evening? Then of course you get the inevitable email dissecting the performance...ho hum. I'd be the first to admit that I talk too much onstage. It's the tiniest bit of stagefright I guess...manifesting in incessant gabbling about nothing. Sorry!
Charley: Having been the worlds most annoying heckler in my youth (I used to shout "Martha's Harbour" at EVERY band from All About Eve themselves to Lush and Verbal Assault) I can hardly complain. So I won't. I don't care what people do as long as they don't spill their beer over my Rat pedal.
Spy51 have recently played some benefit gigs for homeless charities. Do you find benefit gigs have a different atmosphere to other gigs?
Lea: Sometimes yes. It is brilliant to really be part of an evening that supplies money to places/people that need it, just by singing etc...and I hope that we always get to do that. The actual gig itself isn't always exactly 'Live Aid', but that doesn't matter. I'd like to be able to supply a lot of money to people that need it, and fully intend to exploit my position, should I ever be in a position to make a difference.
Charley: What, you mean the British Legion dinner & dance atmosphere?!
Actually I think that benefits are fun, because like a party people are out for a good time (more than at normal gigs), and just the fact of being there gives everyone that warm feeling of having done a 'Good Deed for the Day', and it's a far better way of raising the cash than getting those annoying t**ts with the
fluorescent bibs and the clipboards to leap out at you on Tottenham Court Road and ask if you've got "Two minutes to save the world"..
Social problems such as homelessness are massive in the UK. Do you think it is important that bands get involved in helping to raise awareness of such issues in arenas where it isn't usually raised, such as at a gig?
Lea: NO. It's my f**king money, and MY fame. okay?
Of course. I know that really rich musicians give a lot of money 'anonymously' to tons of charities, which is great, but perhaps if musicians were a little more visible in their criticism of social injustice etc..it might change peoples behaviour. I don't think that becoming a 'pop star' automatically elevates you to a position where your voice counts more than others, nor do I think all pop stars have something worthwhile to say, but only yesterday, Miss Dynamite made every single front page, by performing and speaking at the memorial concert. Things like that don't happen enough.
Charley: One of my favourite TV shows when I was a kid was 'Monkey' and I loved that pseudo-spiritual bit at the beginning when someone said "With our thoughts we make the world"... I guess these days a lot of our thoughts are subliminally generated and filtered through TV, adverts, branding etc.. If you get a chance to be a part of mass culture, it would be stupid to waste it by just being an advert for yourself. But I can't stand it when people get all Sting-like and preachy,so...
Spy51 were once a four piece band. Was it difficult making the transition to a three piece? Did the songs and music have to be reconfigured?
Lea: No, it wasn't hard. I remember the first rehearsal as a three-piece, and it totally rocked. The music had more space, and the ideas became more focused. If we ever need a keyboard part, or strings etc...we write the part, and play it onto a disc, so we can sound as big or as minimal as we want. It's still us playing, and yet we can still think as a three piece. I like it.
Charley: Well personally as the person who MADE it into a three-piece, who MADE THIS BAND WHAT THEY ARE! I think it was quite easy really.
Watching Spy51 live, the band appear to be having a lot of fun. Is that really the case, or is there really three very serious people behind all the on stage exuberance? And how come Lea always closes her eyes when she sings?
Lea: Without sounding like a diva, obviously the stage personas we all have, are a tiny bit of who we are. I can't speak for Toby or Charley, but I find it cathartic to go on stage and release so much physically and mentally, and to make so much noise. However, to go around in such a demonstrative fashion in daily life, would be really quite vomit inducing. I close my eyes when I'm singing because I'm busy. Don't you close your eyes when you're thinking hard?
Charley: Fun, you call it FUN?! it's my LIFE!!!
What would you say to any of your young fans out there who maybe feeling inspired to form a band? Get your head down and work at it or just enjoy yourselves and see what happens?
Charley: Work at it if you love doing it, cos there's no point in doing a thing you love not-very-well - or to paraphrase the telegram sent to the Swallows in 'Swallows & Amazons': BETTER NOT WORK IF NOT ENJOYING IT STOP IF NOT ENJOYING IT, WON'T WORK.
Lea: Work hard at it, or just enjoy yourselves, but be yourselves at all times. Chrissie Hynde said to me the other day (no honestly, she really did) "Rock and roll should be 'F**k you', not ''F**k me'." Get out there and make an impression on people, and jolly good luck to you.
Fantasy football leagues are all the rage these days. If you could form a fantasy band, who would be in it? (You can only pick yourself and no other members of Spy51)
Lea: I'd be on bass. Bette Midler and Tina Turner and Ronnie Spector would be on backing vocals. Dave Grohl would be on drums. Frank Sinatra and Elvis would share lead vocals. Phil Spectors string section and production. Georgie Fame would be on Hammond. Neil Young would be guitarist....and Pans People would be doing a set dance piece onstage with us.
Charley: Leslie Langston (from the ORIGINAL Throwing Muses) on bass; Dave Grohl on drums; Nick Rhodes on keyboards; Crispin from the Longpigs on vocals (probably, not sure about that, it's hard) and on guitar? not me. Probably Ira from Yo La Tengo.
Or maybe Dave Grohl singing and Steve Jansen (Japan) on drums... I dunno you got me started now..