England’s The Duke Spirit has its roots in Cheltenham, an affluent little spa town west of London. Co-songwriters Liela Moss and Luke Ford met there while attending art school, but stayed only long enough to nurture a healthy appreciation for things a bit more sullied—like the blues and grit-bearing, sweat-drenched rock ’n’ roll. The band formed in 2003 and, after significant delays, released its well-received debut, Cuts Across The Land, two years later. The might of that album was backed by a series of continent-crossing tours that confirmed the Duke’s onstage mettle, due in no small part to Moss’ mic-swinging swagger. In 2007, the group sought grubbier climes, recording with Queens Of The Stone Age producer Chris Goss in California’s Palm Desert, and emerging with last year’s Neptune LP. In advance of The Duke Spirit’s sold-out performance tomorrow night at Austin Music Hall with Incubus, Moss talked to The A.V. Club about some of the hurdles her band has overcome, what the next album might sound like, and why one of its songs might be about actress/director/singer Miranda July.
The A.V. Club: There were about three years between the release of Cuts Across The Land and Neptune. Were there delays, or is that the band’s normal rate of release?
Liela Moss: No, no one wants that sort of routine. We were held contractually for ages at the end of our stint with Universal/Polydor. We’d have liked to have moved straight into the arms of a cool label, but they were being cagey about whether they wanted to drop us. It really hindered our progress—for a while I didn’t know if we’d make another record.
LM: For a few months, yeah. If we hadn’t met the right [label] people, that could’ve been it. I would’ve been totally gutted. But we kept ourselves busy—releasing a small run of vinyl, doing a covers EP—long enough not to totally lose faith.
AVC: So are you sitting on third album’s worth of material at this point?
LM: Yeah. I’m with our American record label right now to talk about that. We’ve met with a couple of producers and I imagine it should be out next spring. We’re trying out some of the new songs on this tour.
AVC: Is there anything you can say about the direction the new music is taking?
LM: [Laughs.] When people have asked that, I find it very stressful to answer. It’s like an exam where you have to express yourself poetically in 500 words. We’ve just been doing what we know how to do. Of course, you don’t want to repeat the same moves. Maybe things are a bit starker, a bit sexier… a tiny bit more experimental. Mostly, it’s going to be us writing the best songs we’ve written to date. That’s all you can say, really; it’s not like we’re using a new piece of technology or there’s a theme.
AVC: You spent seven weeks making Neptune with Chris Goss in the Palm Desert. Was that experience a far cry from what you’re used to back home?
LM: It was like being on the fucking moon. It was brilliant. Every day you’d wake up and feel absurd that you were even there. I mean, it’s such a brutal landscape and climate that it seems ridiculous that people live there—but people do, and with real splendor. They hide away from the big city and do their own thing. There’s something enigmatic about that place that I really liked.
AVC: What were some of the more surreal experiences of that trip?
LM: Oh, just constantly obsessing about snakes; coming out in the morning thinking about changing some lyrics and ending up feeding a tortoise that’s passing by; driving up to this little Western bar, Pappy And Harriet’s, and drinking margaritas out of jam jars; and the stars being incredibly bright. Also, arriving on the first night, being met by everyone, and told to come up to the neighbor’s house where they’re all having dinner—sitting around having soup with Josh Homme. It was pretty much constantly like that—a flow of neighbors and randoms coming by, just saying hello, hearing bits of the songs. The whole record was made in the atmosphere of a community of freaks—good freaks.
AVC: Neptune features a lot of aquatic imagery. What attracts you to water, or to the sea, as a source of inspiration?
LM: It’s just such a fucking awesome force and it can represent so much, you know, if you write lyrics or bad poems. [Laughs.] Also, before we made that record, some strange events occurred. The place where I live kept flooding, with washing machines exploding and leaks all over. Water had come to stay, so I decided to use it as another language. I don’t want to rely on it too much, though. I hope I don’t bang on about fucking crying next time. I want the new record to be about fictional characters and conversations.
AVC: You recently tweeted that you might write a song about Miranda July. Do you often get inspired to write about other artists?
LM: Yeah. I haven’t done it enough previously, though maybe because I was immaturely wrapped up in lyrics being a private, coded diary-entry sort of thing. We just had the pleasure of going to Australia for the first time—it takes ages to get there due to red tape—and we saw an amazing exhibition by a Japanese artist called Yayoi Kusama. One of our new songs is about me interpreting her work and life.
AVC: Not long ago you went on the road with Eagles Of Death Metal. You’ve got to have at least one good story from touring with Jesse Hughes.
LM: Jesse’s absolutely fantastic. On our last date with them, we did ourselves up like him and danced onstage for Eagles’ last song. I’d been singing backing vocals on “WannaBe In L.A.,” so I stepped up to the mic and I saw his face go from “What the fuck?” to “Sweet!” Imagine me singing with aviators on and a big ginger mustache. I think he was a bit jealous because I was in a foxy dress and he was just in double denim.