The Duke Spirit: Acceleration | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Duke Spirit

Acceleration

May 18, 2011 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Watching a Duke Spirit show is like being in a wind tunnel. Imagine cheeks hollowing as they are blown back by the sheer force of the performance. The members of the group are positioned at the edge of the stage, forming a tight, unified entity that is impossible to avert your attention from. Wild abandon is their modus operandi, and it works for them.

“Acceleration” is the word frontwoman Liela Moss uses to describe the feeling she gets while performing. She says, “As long as I feel that kind of energy, I’m going to keep going. That’s what it’s about, the live show and feeling that thrust.”

The platinum-haired, tambourine-wielding, hip-swirling Moss doesn’t need flashy adjectives to describe what she is doing with The Duke Spirit on stage, or on their latest album, Bruiser. Bruiser follows the critically acclaimed Neptune (2008), which solidified the group’s footing on U.S. soil after its first forays with 2006’s Cuts Across the Land.

Noticeably more controlled than its predecessors, Bruiser marks the absence of longtime guitarist Dan Higgins, who swapped his plectrum for diapers, choosing fatherhood over rock stardom. With bassist Toby Butler—who wrote a great deal of the guitar lines on The Duke Spirit’s albums—moving into Higgins’ position, this shift isn’t as much of a transformation as otherwise would be expected.

“Our intention was to make this record more defined,” states Moss. “Thrashing about has been really exciting, and that excitement will always be on stage, regardless, so in the studio and in terms of each song, we took a different approach. It’s not a massively eccentric thing to do nor is it an uptight thing to do. The touch that we all had throughout our playing on the album is almost like a slight of hand.”

To give Bruiser added definition, The Duke Spirit decamped to Los Angeles after writing in their native England. Initially, the band members resisted relocating. There was a certain insistence on making sure Bruiser was started in an English context with English weather and general “Englishness,” just to make sure they weren’t being “phony.” The group also felt it had spent an inordinate amount of time stateside and somewhat lost itself in American culture—thanks in no small part to Moss serving as the late Alexander McQueen’s muse and being the model for his high-profile line for Target.

“American people are genuinely flattering,” Moss points out. “We didn’t want to live in a band house accommodation, have no sense of day-to-day real life, being in a band bubble. We wanted to make it a little harder for ourselves, make sure we’re starting on miserable ground, when you’re striving really hard. But it didn’t take us long to say, ‘Fucking hell, it’s really cold. Let’s go to L.A.’”

Once in Los Angeles, producer Andrew Scheps (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Johnny Cash) helped them “articulate” their songs. This articulation and definition led to more space, stronger melodies, and streamlined guitar solos. The tautness of the band’s earlier recordings is alive and well on “Glorious.” It is reined in on “Everybody’s Under Your Spell,” where the tone is one of chin-thrusting taunting. In contrast, “Northbound”’s control is all suggestive come hithers and promises of dreams fulfilled. “Villain” takes this control to another level, keeping such a stranglehold on the pulsing instruments, one is left panting with anticipation.

Bruiser is neat to the point of sonic neuroticism, with no loose musical ends. For Moss, this meant a degree of concentration not previously practiced. Scheps forced her to unveil her usually coded and secretive lyrics, selecting phrases, cutting and changing her consonants, making her infinitely more assertive in her declarations.

“I was really concentrating and that felt good, felt like I was feeding off something,” Moss says. “Before, I was a bit younger and overexcited so perhaps being a bit messy didn’t matter. But this time, I was really focused.”

Bruiser: a controlled experiment.

(www.thedukespirit.com)



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