Meet: Liela Moss from The Duke Spirit interview

The Duke Spirit are back, with fourth album ‘KIN’, and this time it’s personal.
You could say that The Duke Spirit have been taking some time away from the spotlight except, to my ongoing surprise, they’ve never really been in it. Formed in 2003 in London they’re arguably one of the UK’s most underrated rock bands, flying under the radar despite critical acclaim and a fiercely loyal fan base.

“It feels like you plug back into something that you haven’t done for a while” says frontwoman Liela Moss about their return to the stage for the first time in three years. “We all took responsibility for quite intense personal experiences for a few years. So it wasn’t really a time to try and put anything outside of yourself creatively. It was more about taking stock of what was going on inside.” Moss is quick to clarify that they hadn’t split up, rather they faced a creative blank for a time “and then you start to fit things back together again and it’s all good.”

Moss describes the band having become institutionalised (the norm was for them to be touring in Europe or America) and with the time away before ‘KIN’ was recorded came the realisation that “actually something you’ve been clinging onto really tightly, perhaps whilst it means everything, it’s ok to say it means nothing for a few months whilst someone brings a new life into the world or you say goodbye to somebody that you love”.

With the “emotional adventures” of the past few years accompanying the band into the recording studio, KIN promises to be their most personal and emotionally charged record to date. Their responses to the events of the past few years are naturally brought to the fore on the record and Moss says “It felt like I couldn’t have expressed myself in any other way this time round. It felt like I didn’t have a choice.”

However, it would be wrong to describe the process of writing and recording the new album as cathartic because “It’s not like you’re trying to do something to get rid of pain”, Moss explains. “It’s more like you really want to understand yourself. You articulate and you re-articulate scenes and exchanges and you just keep revising it. Like impressionists keep visiting the same spot but at different times of the day when the light’s changing. I think you do that with your emotions. Not to necessarily feel better, because maybe that won’t come, but just to keep trying to understand.”

“Rather than a cathartic thing, it’s more of an album of very simple observations” she continues. “I have a book of haiku poems and they, to me, are phenomenal and really resonate deeply. They are 13, 15, 17 syllables, ancient poems. In that way, I just feel like sometimes when you reduce stuff to the simplest observations you’re kind of comforted”.

Although the observations are simple the production on songs such as new single ‘Blue And Yellow Light’ is anything but, with vocals being layered to create a chorus that, as Moss puts it, “makes your head swim”. A couple of those vocal layers came from Mark Lanegan, who Moss describes as “just one of the best voices in rock and roll”.

One of a few guest appearances on the album, Lanegan is on two tracks – the other being the minimal but evocative ‘Wounded Wing’ – and Moss describes the process of collaboration as “a kind of cyber duet” with files being emailed back and forward and then blended together.
Other guests to listen out for include Sam Windett (Archie Bronson Outfit), Terry Edwards (PJ Harvey/Gallon Drunk), Hackneys Deep Throat Choir, Mara Caryle, as well as some tender piano courtesy of long time collaborator and Producer Simon Raymonde.

The album is currently available to pre-order on alongside exclusive merchandise, such as hand crafted lyric books [sorry to disappoint but these have already sold out!] and tickets to a very intimate meet and greet gig.
When asked about why they took this route for the album release, Moss responds candidly, saying “well I don’t think any of us have any of the personal strength to sort of tout around and try and look for a record deal”.

Instead they have used this as an opportunity to judge where their fan base is. “The reaction’s been so strong it’s made me realise that actually selling our records, our lyric books, our vinyl or whatever is really viable and that’s made me feel better about where we are” she continues. “So, starting with Pledge as a pre-order system seems like a great way to understand your place in selling music to people, finding out who your fans are, taking the temperature of where you’re at and whether or not you should just walk away and not bother. Then actually finding that people care is going to encourage you to write more songs.”

This also fits well with a DIY philosophy that has always seemed to be part of their approach. “I do know that we’ve got great crew and people and management and we can make stuff happen but everything really in the end comes down to how much you give on your own and that’s in the songs, on the production, even designing merch”.

So after the release of the album in January, what can we expect from The Duke Spirit for the rest of 2016? “I’d really like to be playing festivals in the summer” states Moss. “That would just be really satisfying and it would make all the efforts and all the realisations and unusual feelings and things that we’ve written about all worthwhile to then play out in the open and send it out into the world.”
She’s refreshingly honest about the difficulties of being able to take the band on a full UK tour. “It’s not really as easy as saying I’m going to play Leeds tomorrow because you have to make sure some good souls will come. I’m so proud that we have made a living being this band but we haven’t made a living with much to spare. So, the only reason we wouldn’t travel about immediately is because it’s just a little bit too expensive and we’ve got to sort of get there gradually.”

In the meantime, they are making some of their own videos to accompany the new songs using the photography and visuals that guitarist Luke Ford has been putting together – “he’s already been documenting the band with photography, he’s really good and so he’s sort of experimenting with visual art pieces.”

Moss is getting ready to sound check for their show at Wilton’s Music Hall in London. This sold out in a few days, which demonstrates how eagerly their fans have awaited their homecoming, and another show at Islington Assembly Hall in February was quickly announced. She tells me that the plan is to “traverse the country I hope really soon but something like getting your record out and getting some investment is what’s needed first.”

The Duke Spirit may not be in the spotlight right now but let’s hope that they get their time in the festival sun next year. It’s great to see and hear their reinvigorated return.

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