WASHBOARDS AND GARDEN CENTRES
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE SPOOK SCHOOL
“...people often think that with veganism you join up and sign up to everything…you can do it on a sliding scale”
It’s a wet and dreary Monday night; the cobbles on Renfield Lane are the kind that leaves one susceptible to comical slips, trips and falls. I’m here to meet Niall McCamley and Anna Cory, one half of the “trans queer pop punk band” from Edinburgh, The Spook School. Brothers Nye and Adam Todd make up the other half of this dynamic quartet. We planned to meet at Stereo but it is a bustling hive of activity; we therefore decide to frequent the quieter and more subdued Old Hairdressers across the lane.
Niall tells the story of The Spook Schools early days where the band initially set out to carve a career in comedy. “Adam, Anna and I were in the University of Edinburgh comedy society and we were doing shows, we thought we were so funny we should start a band”. It was a tough experience for the band, Niall explains the reasons behind the transition from comedy to music. “people weren’t laughing and it was really awkward and then we moved away from comedy and became this super serious band you see before you now.” he says with a wry smile.
If you’ve seen any of their videos it’s evident that there’s still a heavily comedic aspect to their work, “when we write we tend to probably write about serious things but when we present stuff we’re really silly at heart”. Niall admits it’s not something that there’s a lot of thought behind, “I think it’s always funny when people say things like ‘oh, it’s really clever what you do – serious message, silly presentation’ but we’re not really thinking about it, we need to throw mash potato at each other” with a nod to the “I want to kiss you” video.
The Spook School have had an unconventional career trajectory, the band first started playing shows in England then America before they had really attempted gigging in Scotland. “…it’s weird now that people in Scotland are beginning to find out about us, but it’s not because we were not wanting it to happen, because I guess when we started as well we were starting from a comedy background so we didn’t know anybody in music, we didn’t know who the promoters were or how to talk to somebody like Vic Galloway, so we were just doing our own thing and people found out about us and they just happened to be in England at the beginning”. Modestly Niall explains “America seems to be a place we get on quite well, we’ve still only really done the east coast, I think it’s been maybe three or four times we’ve been over now including south by south west”. Self-deprecatingly Niall suggests that it’s the bands cuteness that appeals to people “I don’t know, people like our accents and they think we’re cute or they think the other three are cute, I’m just the big dad at the back” however this said, their “cuteness” is certainly backed up by pure, raw talent.
In their travels, the band have been conscious of who they’ve worked with “we only worked with people we like and we end up just playing shows with friends” Niall says. “it’s always nice when you get on well with someone, them showing you something in a city that’s theirs and local and it’s not like just going to like a random tourist attraction, it’s maybe going to that weird swimming pool in the middle of the night in Baltimore, or playing the basement of a garden centre in Pittsburgh.” The basement of a garden centre? “I played a washboard, they gave me some spoons and I cut my hand open, it was really sharp and I didn’t know what I was doing, and I just went boop” mimicking hitting his thumb off the washboard, “blood everywhere, rocking out with my washboard, living the American dream”.
That sense of community is important for the band and it’s something they’re now experiencing closer to home in Glasgow. “I’m definitely finding it really interesting going to see Glasgow bands and people slowly knowing you as someone in a band whereas maybe at the beginning nobody knew who we were at all”. The band are all vegan and certainly find it easy gigging in Glasgow with the citys' growing number of vegan music venues. “Glasgow is amazing for that” “if you go to a show whether it’s like somewhere as small as The Hug and Pint or somewhere as big as Stereo and you’re like ‘we should get some food beforehand’, it’s like ‘oh my god! it’s going to be so easy!’”. “I love that it’s tied in with the music as well, it just feels like more of a community feel you know? And it feels nice to be in that environment.”
The band have transitioned towards veganism over the course of their time together, both Anna and Niall agree that it’s that sense of community that’s important when trying to go vegan. Niall explains, “I think it’s a lot of meeting people on the road and talking things through, there’s a band called Martha from Durham who are the people I look to as my moral compass, I just like talking to them - everything makes sense when they talk. When we started hanging out with them it felt logical.” Anna agrees, “it’s a lot easier when everyone you hang out with is also vegan. I wanted to be vegan for a while but I just felt it was too much of a hassle to be that one guy, but if all your friends are vegan it’s fine, you all want to go to the vegan place!”
We go on to speak about their experience with people around them who are not vegan and the difficulties that can sometimes arise. Niall and Anna have both learned some handy ways of dealing with such situations, Anna says, “I think if people are trying to have that conversation with you they don’t want to really know what you think, they’re not going to change their mind…I tend to avoid going into too much discussion, like really simply if they ask why I’m vegan, I’ll say ‘ah you know, usual kind of thing’”. Niall is also hesitant to get involved in an argument over veganism, “I’ll always try and leave it hanging and if they ask, ‘is it ethical?’ I’ll say ‘that does play a part, yes, as well as everything else’…I try and make it so they can’t say ‘you go on a bit about it, you’re a bit preachy’”
For those who are interested in veganism, Anna has some helpful advice, “if I’m chatting to people about it and they go ‘I’d really like to be vegan but I just really like cheese’ I try and have the conversation and go ‘that’s fine, why don’t you cut out everything else? have a bit of cheese from time to time, that’s alright, it’s better than nothing’ but sometimes people haven’t even thought about it like that, they see it as very black and white”. Niall certainly agrees that turning vegan is very personal and is a transitioning experience, “people often think that with veganism you join up and sign up to everything”…“you can do it on a sliding scale”…“I guess like giving up smoking, you don’t have to go completely cold turkey, maybe just cut down a couple every day, just get to a position where it’s comfortable, rather than trying it and being like ‘I can’t do it’ you know you’re allowed to make your own rules, there’s no one vegan size fitting all thing”. Anna advocates this approach, “that’s the way I’ve done it both for vegetarianism and veganism, I did it pretty slowly, like I started drinking soya milk for a while but everything else was ‘regular’”.
So now they’ve been vegan for a while, the most important question is what vegan food gets their juices flowing? For Anna it’s simple, traditional food, the kind that’ll warm you up on a cold Sunday afternoon, “I’m going to say Linda Mccartney sausages, mash, peas, gravy just like bisto if I can’t be bothered or I’ll make some onion gravy if I’m being fancy, that’s like my favourite thing”. Niall on the other hand has some unique opinions on food, “I love broccoli, anything involving broccoli blows my mind…my three biggest loves in the world are broccoli, peanut butter and mushrooms”. Certainly not together? “I have had them together before” but he explains his unconventional food pairings, “the thing with peanut butter and something green, it tastes amazing, I don’t know if there’s a science behind it”. It could be science or perhaps it’s Niall’s youthful nature…“I think there’s a thing the Canadians do for their children, called ants on a log and it’s a stick of celery covered in peanut butter and they put raisins on it, that’s how I got into it, I’m a big kid”.