Published on March 10th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Following on from our chat before their barnstorming Christmas 2011 gig at the O2 Academy Liverpool, Rocksucker had the honour of once again getting to fire some questions at Space: this time just before their barnstorming show at the O2 Academy Islington. We hadn’t even had the time to get over the utter aceness of their new song “Frightened Horses” before the equally fantastic “Fortune Teller” dropped just a few days ago, so expectation levels for their forthcoming new album Attack of the Mutant 50 ft Kebab (it’s not even out yet but it feels iconic already) have every right to be high.
The twisted jazz-pop singing/songwriting of Tommy Scott and ingenious electronics of Franny Griffiths have now been joined by the respective talents of former Drellas trio Allan Jones, Phil Hartley and Ryan Clarke, making for an inventively ska-punk sort of twist on Space’s traditional sound, however you could sum that up. We’ll have a go with “best B-movie soundtrack ever”: that is, funky, melodic, bursting with character and really quite peculiar and/or sinister.
We extolled the virtues of their back catalogue quite enough last time, so let’s usher in a new chapter of Space history with this instantly winning number and get to the interviewin’…
Do you have a release date for the album yet?
Tommy: It’s supposed to be October. We’ve only had two mixes back so far.
Are those the two singles?
Tommy: No, not necessarily. “Frightened Horses” and “Fortune Teller” were done by our bass player Phil and our engineer John Withnall. We’ve had two back off the album, which are called “Teardrops from the Moon” and “Crying on the Webcam”.
Is “Boy in the Body Bag” going to be on the album?
“Surface of the Moon”?
Tommy: That’s gone!
“Cash Converters”? “Bad Witness”?
Tommy: Ryan sings “Cash Converters” now. It sounds amazing, he does a great job on it. He just laughs at the way I sing it! There’s a song called “Burned Down the School”…
What’ll happen to the songs that didn’t make the cut?
Tommy: They’ll end up as B-sides and stuff. They just didn’t make it to the album. We’ve got loads of stuff.
Were the new songs written more individually or collaboratively?
Tommy: I write it, with the words, then take it in for the others to put what they want on it. I don’t tell anyone what to do, although I’ve got to like it – if I don’t like it, it doesn’t go on. Got to have some sort of Chuck Berry about me, know what I mean!
Where do all those groovy jazz chords come from?
Tommy: From my dad – well, not from my dad, because he played piano – but from a Sinatra songbook. They’re probably all the wrong chords for it, but I liked all the diminished chords and all of that. Nearly every song’s got one in.
Even going back as far as Tin Planet, it’s deceptively sophisticated stuff.
Tommy: Well, that’s it – I’m a bit of a jazz man on the sly! Some songs are just normal chords, but if I’m playing just normal chords then, it’s hard to get a weird vibe. If you play a diminished chord or something like that…and I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know what any of them are called. I know it’s diminished, but I couldn’t tell you what diminished chord it is, whether it’s C diminished or whatever. I’m not that musical, I just learned these chord shapes off a Sinatra book, hought, “I’ll have them,” and I’ve been writing songs with them ever since.
Lennon and McCartney apparently wrote like that: unschooled, found a shape and moved it about the neck of the guitar.
Tommy: That’s the best way because then you’re not dictated to by anything, there aren’t any rules. It’s not Rock School, know what I mean?
Where does Franny find all his crazy sounds and samples?
Tommy: He’s got a keyboard called The Virus and it’s got loads of sounds on it. For sampling, we’ve got all these old ‘rock and roll horror’ albums, songs that weren’t even big at the time, that sort of thing.
Being as abstract as you like, how would you describe “Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab”?
Tommy: It’s a song about all the small shops that have been pushed to all the backstreets getting their revenge on all the Nexts and the Primarks. Basically a kebab mutates in a kebab shop and starts attacking the high street, doing in Boots and Superdrug, stuff like that. It’s about the revenge of the smaller shop.
The “Attack! Attack! Attack!” refrain: that’s a Liverpool Football Club thing, right?
Tommy: (Laughs) Yeah, I suppose it is! No, it just means that the kebab is attacking everyone. It’s supposed to be a Ramones kind of song: a “Gabba Gabba Hey”, cartoony punk type of thing.
Have you considered having a string of doner meat bursting out of someone’s stomach like in Aliens?
Tommy: No, but if you could do the video then that would be great!
What are you singing when you turn to the camera in the video for “Frightened Horses”? To me it sounds a little bit like something about “Jeff Goldblum in The Fly“, but I can’t really tell…
Tommy: I wish it had been, I love Jeff Goldblum! That line’s about Dr Who going back in time.
Where did you find all the new members originally?
Tommy: Phil the bass player was an old Space roadie from a long time ago. I never used to speak to him because he was below me (laughs), but then I heard him play and thought, “Yes, I’ll have a bit of that.” Ryan got Allan. I got Ryan in because he was a big Space fan when he was a kid – he’s the baby of the band, and he’s been in loads of other bands, like The Fractures and other punk bands and stuff. He’d never played keyboard before in his life, but I said, “Come in and play keyboard,” and he said yeah.
There’s a bit of a ska-punk element that’s crept into the new material. How much would you attribute that to the new members?
Tommy: That’s what we were doing with The Drellas, basically. That’s what I was into as a kid. I love all the Jamaican stuff, know what I mean, but my ska influence comes from The Slits, that album Cut, because they were using ska in an angular, weird, not-quite-right way. Gang of Four as well, those kinds of angular, upstroke chords.
Have you been surprised by the amount of love for Space that still exists?
Tommy: No, I didn’t know about it. That was the main target of this tour: (sings) “Getting to knooow you…”, trying to get people back into us, know what I mean? Our fans are hard to find because a lot of them liked the one single but didn’t buy the next one. We’ve got to find the Spiders and Tin Planet buying public.
(At this point the rest of the band enter)
Franny: We were actually discussing what the first single should be.
So neither “Frightened Horses” nor “Fortune Teller” are singles as such?
Franny: Well, in a sense, but we’re talking about a physical copy.
Tommy: “Fortune Teller” is going to be a download that we’ll release at the end of the tour. We’ve just got 6 Music and Xfm to start playing it, so it’s just a little build-up: “getting to know you”, know what I mean?
(At this point Tommy is handed a set list, which includes “The Ballad of Tom Jones”)
Is Cerys Matthews going to be here tonight?
Tommy: We asked her, but she couldn’t get a babysitter! We’ve got her on a screen at the back of the stage.
It was about this time of year in 1998 that the song reached number 4 in the charts. What do you remember about that?
Tommy: I remember Jo Whiley saying something on the radio like “if this doesn’t get to number 1 then I’ll eat my hat”!
I’d love to see you guys play “Blow Your Cover”.
All: Oh ho!
Tommy: We’re not playing it tonight but we’ve learned it.
Franny: You’ve got to hear it, it’s fucking brilliant.
Has it got live drums on it?
Tommy: Yeah, it’s a bit more punky sounding.
Allan: The beat’s playing underneath. I’ve just got the cowbell constantly going.
Franny: It sounds amazing.
Tommy: We’ll play it on the bigger tour.
I was going to ask: so there’ll be another tour, then?
Tommy: Yeah, we’re supposed to be doing a 30/40-date tour.
Any festival dates lined up?
Tommy: At this moment until the album’s out we can only really get smaller ones. There’s a punk festival in Blackpool called Rebellion that we could never get on as The Drellas – we’re on the Bizarre Bazaar stage…
Franny: That’s ’cause Tommy’s in the band that we’re on the Bizarre stage. (Laughs)
Tommy: It’s like the punk’s guilty pleasure stage. We’re playing a few other small festivals like Willowman Festival and Penn Festival. Like last year, we couldn’t get any big ones because they didn’t believe that we were going to get an album out and we were just going to be a nostalgia band. We’ve got to prove to everyone that we’re not a nostalgia band and they’ll put us on. So there you go.
Have you completely washed your hands of Love You More Than Football?
Tommy: No, we haven’t disowned it. We tried playing “Steal My Love” but we couldn’t get the vibe that Edwyn Collins got on it, know what I mean? We just couldn’t capture it so we weren’t happy with it.
Do you keep in touch with Edwyn, and if so how is he?
Phil: I speak to Edwyn quite a lot, he’s really good. He’s playing in Liverpool soon.
Space, thank you.
Space have the following live dates coming up:
Sunday, March 10 – Old Fire Station, Bournemouth
Thursday, March 14 – O2 Academy Birmingham
Friday, March 15 – Esquires Club, Bedford
Saturday, March 16 – The Factory, Manchester
Monday, March 25 – Brudenell Social Club
Saturday, April 06 – Citadel Arts Centre
For more information, please visit spacetheband.com