"Still Alive," the opening track of the Spook School's 2018 album Could It Be Different, is a pop-punk anthem of queer survival, an irresistible sing-along designed to help listeners bushwhack their way through the toughest times: breakups, firings, self-loathing, depression and even life-altering shifts in sexuality and gender identity.
The chorus, "Fuck you, I am still alive," is an utterly satisfying phrase to belt out. It's the stuff of Queen's "We Are the Champions" and the Mountain Goats' "This Year." The song is just one of eleven on the album that make pop punk — that genre that has driven itself into irrelevance — palatable again.
"We really want to play things that are fun and that people can dance to, but also we've got lots of things on our minds," says Nye Todd, one of the band's singers, who often pens cheery songs about his wrestling match with gender identity, sexuality and coming out as trans.
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For a band that relishes singing about awkward interactions, the Spook School manages to avoid the crime of joyless posturing that dead-ends in resignation. That's not to say the band's songs don't face hard issues head on, but they do so with humor and rugged optimism.
Take the song "Body." The opening line raises a question most of us would prefer not to answer: "Do you like the way you look naked? I don't know if any of us do. I still hate my body, but I'm learning to love what it can do." It's a beautiful idea, enjoying ourselves, and it's something the Spook School encourages listeners to embrace: "Other people seem so confident. I don't know how they do it. You've got a lot to be proud of. I've got a lot to be proud of." The song boasts a mix of self-deprecation, universal angst, hope and resolution; its a balm for insecurity and a boost of self-love alike.
Infusing songs like "Body" with humor makes sense for these artists; after all, this is a band that came together after Todd, who was headed for a year abroad, told his brother, singer and guitarist Adam Todd, to find them both a band. Adam met their future bandmates, bassist and singer Anna Cory and drummer Niall McCamley, through the University of Edinburgh's Comedy Society. The Spook School secured early funding from the Scottish government to record songs and has been at it since, building a fan base among the middle-aged men who haunt the U.K.'s indie-pop scene and the young, hip queers who come out in droves in the United States.
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This is the band's first time touring the U.S. beyond big cities on the East Coast, and the group is finding a surprising number of people in the audience who already know and love its music.
"When we play shows, people come up and say they know who we are, which always surprises us," Nye says. "People seem to come along. And it's nice playing with Diet Cig, because there's quite an overlap in sound and ethos. Their fans are probably quite likely to enjoy us, or at least not run out of there screaming when we start playing."