It’s a rare treat to catch an opening act that can hold its own alongside its headliners. Lucky for ticket holders of this Friday’s Incubus concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, The Duke Spirit is one of those bands. Since forming in England in 2003, this four-piece has unleashed two killer albums (2005’s Cuts Across the Land and 2008’s Neptune) and ingratiated themselves to fans around the globe. And their sound, a harmonious mix between ’50s girl group melodies and Pixies-style atmospherics, is pure snarling-meets-sultry rock ‘n’ roll fun. Recently, we caught up with drummer/multi-instrumentalist Olly Betts to talk about the band’s new tour, new album, and new ink.
What are you guys up to currently? We’re just hanging in the basement of our record studio in Santa Monica. We arrived yesterday and we’ve got a couple weeks of demoing new songs at a house in Venice before we hit the tour with Incubus. We’re just acclimatizing. We pretty much all arrived and went straight to get tattoos, you know, as you do.
Really? What did you get? Yeah, we figured we’d spend a jet-lagged day and go get tatted. They’re all different. [Lead singer] Liela [Moss] and I got graphics that kind of align with Duke Spirit artwork. It was good. I felt better for it.
This is kind of an interesting tour for you guys. Incubus is going out in support of a greatest hits album and, from what I hear you’re gearing up to record a third full-length. What brought you guys together? Yeah, it’s slightly weird. Basically, just after Christmas the opportunity was sort of put on the table, and we understand that Brandon from Incubus is a big fan, which is a great, great compliment for us. He asked us to go on the road with them three years ago in Europe, and we did, but unfortunately Mike [Einziger] had Carpal tunnel syndrome on his arm, so we were about four days in and the tour got cancelled. Apparently they’ve asked us a few times since if we’d go on the road and it hasn’t been able to fit in with our schedule. So it just sort of made sense [now], as we’ve just spent two months writing and demoing and we’ve got a bunch of new material.
We feel like it’s a great opportunity for us to get out to a new crowd, because stylistically we’re pretty different to Incubus, but we’re also eager to play to people who’ve never heard of us, so it makes sense on that level. Then we’ll finish the tour and work on some more new material, then go in the studio and record our third album proper before Christmas.
How far into the process are you now? It’s hard to tell [laughs]. We’re continuously chipping away at it, actually. And we’re hoping to continue on the road as well, which is something we’ve never done before. We’ve always kind of tucked ourselves away in Wales or some sort of far corner on the world and worked on material. But we’re happy to break that trend and work on the move. I’d say it’s a third to a half [done].
In addition to drums, you also contribute some key glockenspiel parts to a number of songs off Neptune. How did you come to pick up the glockenspiel? There’s always something waiting in the wings, really. Even from the time we were doing Cuts Across the Land, our first album, I think we loved the tone of the autoharp, which is something Dan [Higgins] brought to the equation, and Liela bought the glockenspiel off a friend of ours a long time ago. We kind of tried it on various songs on Cuts Across the Land, but it didn’t really cut the mustard. It was never forgotten, and for a few songs on Neptune it just really complimented what we were trying to get across. It’s been part of The Duke Spirit a long time, but never really showed its head until Neptune.
Do you think you’ll bring it back on the third album? Definitely, definitely. It’s a robust instrument, and [that’s] something we love about bands we’re in to. Something we try to express is the raw intensity of punk rock, but we love melody and harmony and soul.
To someone that’s never heard The Duke Spirit, what one song would you give them as an introduction and why? Oh, that’s a tough one. I think I’d say “The Step and the Walk” because I think that’s us wearing our influences on our sleeves, but playing like we mean it. That kind of encompasses what The Duke Spirit is about.
Touring as extensively as you guys have for Neptune, how do you keep things fresh for yourselves and the audience? It’s the whole experience. We haven’t grown tired of it because we actually love what we do, for one. And continuously meeting amazing and inspiring people in different parts of the world just sort of feeds that hunger – and not just musicians. We’ve made some amazing friends [who are] artists and teachers and in completely different walks of life, and you realize that through traveling and playing your music to people and connecting with people and seeing the reaction of complete strangers. We recently went to Australia and our album had been out [there] for over a year, and our first EP actually did pretty well in Australia, and yet we’d never been there ’til last month. There were people constantly coming up to us saying, ‘Oh, I’ve known about you for four years. Where the hell have you been? Why the fuck haven’t you been to our country?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, tell us about it. We’ve been waiting to come here for four years.’ To see that reaction and to finally get to a new country and try our songs was just such a great experience.
The Duke Spirit will open for Incubus this Friday, July 10 at the Santa Barbara Bowl. For info, call 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com.