It’s been a long-time in the making, and almost didn’t see the light of day, but Spies have released their debut LP. They reflect on the winding path to its realisation.
“I’ve been waiting 10 years for this. I’m trying to remember to appreciate it.”
Neil Dexter, Hugh O’Dwyer and Michael Broderick huddle together in an unassuming suburban pub. It’s a school night, but it almost feels like celebrations are in order. On the 14th of December the quintet are set to play their largest Dublin gig ever, not to mention the fact that only last night, the lads gave final sign off on the test pressing of their first LP; Constancy. Frankly, this would be a special moment for any act. But, in the case of Spies, there is a distinct poignancy and catharsis to the release that might read as odd for a debut. In essence, it took nearly a decade to get these 10 tracks pressed to wax and, as recently as last year, the band themselves thought the record may never see the light of day. Following a two-year hiatus from releases or gigging, these Spies are finally ready to come in from the cold.
Neil Dexter, one of the band’s dueling guitarists, makes no bones about what the release of Constancy means; “Getting the test pressing and listening to it the other night just got really emotional…you go about your day and just do your life, and then you go have moments like this were you realise that actually these are the things that matter, I’ve been waiting 10 years for this. I’m trying to remember to appreciate it.”
The story of Spies stands apart from the trajectory we’ve come to expect from many bands on the cusp of releasing their inaugural LP. Vocalist, Michael Broderick, takes a slug of his Guinness and begins to outline some crucial Spies lore: “Conor (Cusack, Spies other guitarist who is touring with Saint Sister at the time of our interview) and Neil were doing their leaving cert and I was in 4th year when everything first began. It’s funny, for years we were being followed around by this press quote from that time. Every piece included the line ‘with an average age of 19…’, Jeff (Courtney, drums) was probably 27 when that was still being printed.” Dexter picks up where Broderick leaves off, “Myself Michael and Jeff were all in boys choir together from the age of about 9, I was already friends with Conor from school. The band kind of kicked off toward the end of school and start of college. Things happened organically from there, we played the Workman’s, released a 7 inch, stuff like that – there wasn’t any plan.”
It seems that no plan was, in Spies case, the best plan. 2013 was the first of many boons in the band’s early years, as Zane Lowe played their track ‘Mint and Lime’ and singled them out for praise on his then radio show. As one might expect, no small amount of buzz followed. Then a recent addition to the line-up, bassist Hugh O’Dwyer looks back on that period with a still palpable incredulity.
“I joined halfway through 2013 and I’d never been in a serious band before. I was completely taken aback by everything and kind of thought this is what a working band or a normal band is like. I think the week I joined was the week Zane Lowe played the track and I remember my ex-girlfriend sent me a message saying – “Here, I just saw you in The Guardian…What’s going on!?” It all came out of nowhere and started at a really high, intense, level. I think we all got scared at that point because we all really wanted to capitalize on the stuff going on but we didn’t really know how.”
“I guess we wanted to follow up with something pretty soon,” continues Dexter. “After the buzz, we got management on board and tried to do all that stuff that you’re meant to do and it didn’t quite work out. When we put out Moosehead a few months later, we still got a good reaction but it was a bit of a disappointment. I think that was a bit of a reality check to a certain extent. We were always putting this pressure on ourselves to be successful.” Broderick doesn’t shy away from putting a finer point on their thinking at the time. “I guess, there was always this underlying belief in the band. We were like ‘We’re going to make it! We’re going to be really famous!’”
Self-imposed pressure paired with even a minor setback can make for a dangerous mix and Spies undoubtedly felt the effect of this combustible combination. Almost offhandedly, one of the three refers to their break from releases as a “break up”. When pressed about if that was the sort of language being used at the time, O’Dwyer diplomatically states: “I guess everyone sort of has a different perception about that…” the pause following his utterance being quickly filled with laughter from all sides. O’Dwyer continues with a candour all too rarely applied to accounts of inter-band decision making. “We had basically finished tracking the album by Summer 2016. Then, at the end of that year, Michael went on a cycling trip to Iran. When Michael was away, we couldn’t really make any decisions about the band and – since writing and recording the album was such a massive project – it felt right to take a bit of a step back.”
During this period, and considering the noticeable pivot in sound that characterizes Constancy, the Spies that remained in situ even considered a total rebrand. “Conor and I were talking about changing the band” says O’Dwyer, “Scrapping the old Spies and starting afresh with all this new material. When Michael got back, we put that to him and he didn’t really want to do.” Broderick expands, “I took the trip because it was something that I felt I needed to do. The album was finished recording and I was really weighing up what the band means to me. Do I want to do music anymore? I was asking those serious questions. So, yeah, I got back and the guys obviously sensed that there was something going on and they put it to me, do you want to be in this band anymore? And at the time I was like, ‘I don’t’”.
With the band’s future uncertain, the fate of the record was very much up in the air, as Dexter explains, “The weird thing about it was that the record was then kind of in limbo for the next six to nine months. Michael, obviously, had stuff going on but I think we all put ourselves under so much pressure to be ‘successful’, whatever that means I think [Michael’s decision] was the natural result of that.” Needless to say, this perspective didn’t arrive easily, as Dexter himself points out, “The rest of us ended up getting angry because why would ya take that from us? But then – when you come full circle – you ask yourself, why was I putting so much weight on this one project? I have other aspects to me as a person and I don’t think that’s healthy. So now, coming back and doing this record, it’s actually such a healing process, knowing that [Spies] doesn’t have to be our be all and end all – it’s something we’re doing because we actually love it.”
Aside from the particulars of what was going behind the scenes, Constancy feels like a fresh start. Boasting an unmistakably professional sheen and sonic palette rich in diverse influences, from sun-dappled Balearic pop to out and out techno grime, the record exudes a confidence that feels born of intent and discussion – a certainty that can only come with maturity. The band themselves are quick to point this out, as Broderick explains, “Taking that break ended up being a really positive thing because we could distance ourselves from the music. When you’re in it, and I think anyone that writes a record probably feels this way, you reach a point where you’re convinced the whole thing is shit. We’ve all been through that. I didn’t listen to the demos for over three months and then when I went back to them I could go “Fuck, this is actually really good”. That made you really feel that longing to play together again.”
With a fresh approach and a renewed zeal, Constancy – fittingly, considering its title – implies the band aren’t done quite yet. They tinkered, they tailored, they soldiered on and we’re all the luckier for it.
Spies play The Button Factory on Friday December 14 with support from Royal Yellow and People Club, €15. Their debut LP Constancy is on release now.
Words: Danny Wilson
Photo: Carlo Zambon