Interview: Flies Are Spies From Hell

The whole post-rock genre usually carries with it a lot of negative connotations. Pretentious, soulless and plain boring are a few adjectives that can be attached to a lot of bands who choose to carve out their niche with a strong focus on instrumental performances and songs that last for more than five minutes. Certainly the genre is not particularly one for the faint of heart, with some of the most popular examples of post-rock musicianship clocking in at half hour lengths.

But one band who have no qualms in accepting their position in the post-rock stable are Flies Are Spies From Hell, an imaginatively named band hailing from the seedier parts of the south east of England, all brought together by attending the same school in Petersfield.

The group, consisting of Chris and Will on guitar, George on bass, Watty on drums and Fred on keyboards, initially came to my attention after I was handed out a leaflet featuring their Myspace address (a technique that seems to be doing good for them) after an ear battering performance from ISIS at Concorde2 in Brighton. After checking them out I was hooked, incredibly refreshed to hear a band that could compose a song full of the epic scale that the best representatives of post-rock offer, all packed into digestible five minute lengths.

With a new self released EP under their belt, ‘Mountain Language’, and plans to tour the country later this year, I decided to drop the lads a line and find out a little bit more about what made them tick.

First things first – Flies Are Spies from Hell. Where’d that come from then?

Will – That’s a question we often get asked and we always enjoy answering it. I was away in a place called Nimbim {Australia} a few years ago with some close friends at a cannabis festival. We met an elderly lady sitting at the bar of an old pub and she was dressed in her finest garments as if waiting for her long lost husband to return from the sea. I got talking to her and soon realized she was barking mad when she told me that at night she often received visits from banshees who would scream at her till morning. She then swore to me that flies are spies from hell. They come to her room at night and buzz around her head driving her insane and in the morning she had the arduous task of sweeping up their dead corpses. I found this concept an interesting one, even more so when three months later, a close friend of mine said his father has often endured the same experience, sharing the old bats view that in fact, Flies Are Spies From Hell.

You guys have been together for about three years now, how did things all get started? Is there any particular reason you chose to play the music you do?

Will – Well, I think we all believe that this band exists due to circumstances. We all went to school together and from a young age {in the early days we were a cover band with a singer called Oz} played together. When our singer left the band we decided that in fact we are capable of producing better music without him. That happened at a time when we were listening to albums like ‘The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place’ (Explosions in the Sky), ‘Young Team’ (Mogwai), ‘Effloresce’ (Oceansize) and ‘Slow Riot’ (Godspeed You! Black Emperor). The thing is we are all really strong friends. We get on extremely well and playing music is the manner in which we socialize together, other than getting catastrophically pissed. So, we started jamming a lot and came up with very basic but colorful ideas which we eventually turned into songs. I’m not quite sure how people who are not friends manage to make bands.

What do you consider to be your inspirations?

Chris – The big ones are a familiar list I suppose – Explosions, Isis, Pelican, Oceansize, Silver Mt. Zion, Mogwai, 65 Days of Static, Godspeed. I didn’t really know what music could do until I heard Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada, it blew my head off. Sometimes we play with bands and they just make you have to pick up your game live and that’s pretty inspiring – They Don’t Sleep, Our Own Devices, UpCDownC spring to mind. Playing with Russian Circles was pretty amazing too.

We just try and make every section of the songs worthwhile and not meander about “building atmosphere” for ages and ages.

The music you play draws a lot of comparisons to the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It can be quite difficult to find a fresh sound in a musical spectrum that often is criticised for being rather uninventive. What do you feel makes your music different?

Fred – I think the most obvious difference in our music is that our songs are a lot shorter than the average instrumental track. We’ve been described as writing “mini-epics”, which I think is fairly accurate. We also put a great deal of emphasis on song structure and making sure no part of it is just a gap filler, but aim to keep the audience interested with new melodies bouncing between the keys and guitars. I think also the fact that our guitarists and keyboardist (me) come from such different musical backgrounds leads to some quite interesting ideas.

Chris –
We’ve played with and heard a lot of post-rock and instrumental music and some bands can be a little uninventive, and think they can get away with it. I’m actually listening to a band now which sound so much like Explosions it’s a little embarrassing, but I’m still enjoying it. We just try and make every section of the songs worthwhile and not meander about “building atmosphere” for ages and ages.

You recently announced plans to tour in March alongside Red Paper Dragon, including a performance at Aeon festival. Do you feel you’re beginning to get some real recognition for the music you write?

Chris – If people turn up for the tour then I suppose we’ll be getting recognition! I don’t know – Oxford has always been really good to us – good Nightshift reviews, BBC Radio Oxford playing us, promoters putting us on good bills. I suppose we’ve picked up quite a few fans by now in the places we’ve been playing.

Being in a band myself I know how tough it can be to stay committed to writing and performing music, especially for quite a lengthy period. What keeps you guys together? Are there ever days where you just feel it’s not particularly worth it?

Chris – We had a bit of a shite practice yesterday actually. Someone mentioned the pub and that was that really. But this weekend we played a couple of gigs which went really well (and to decent crowds) and that’s when you feel the hard work is worth it. We’d gone for months without playing a gig and we were starting to get very itchy to get on stage again. We’ve played gigs that were such an effort and so badly run and promoted that in hindsight were probably not worth doing – but we’ve always have a laugh, even when we were playing to empty rooms.

‘Rows of Moving Cages’, ‘Siding with the Menaces’ and ‘Mountain Language’: just a few names of your songs. One thing I’ve always wondered concerning music that is primarily instrumental – how do you come up with these names?

Chris – Lots of different ways – often there’s a story behind a name. For instance, one night I got together with a mate for some mushrooms and a jam. We recorded it and when I listened back I got the main riffs for “You’re making me nervous; you’ve got to stop this” and the title – which is something my mate said to me when I was obviously freaking him out somehow. Another one would be one of our new tunes – we were drinking some foolishly strong Belgian beers with our Belgian mate and he basically said we were going to get so pissed we’d be “Swimming in the streets” which we thought was quite funny.

“We get on extremely well and playing music is the manner in which we socialize together, other than getting catastrophically pissed.”

Do you ever feel you’re missing out on anything without having a vocalist?

Chris – No. Next question…..

Will – …..

Fred – Of course, not having a vocalist does restrict us to a certain extent to what kind of audiences are likely to enjoy our music, but we know that the kind of tracks we write is what we’re best at, and so that’s what we should stick to. At the same time though, we’ve constantly been surprised in the past by the kind of people who have come to us at a gig and said they really enjoyed our set, people who never even heard of instrumental music before. I think the relative shortness of our songs gives us a commercial element and gives us a more general appeal. It can be frustrating though when promoters automatically overlook you for gigs and festivals simply because you don’t have a vocalist, but there are definitely signs that those times are changing.

You’ve played with some great bands in the past year, including Russian Circles and *Shels. What do you take from these experiences?

Chris – Mostly being grateful to see excellent bands for free. But we generally play with such good bands these days it’s always a pleasure – like seeing Kumiss was great the other night. And Witches and Frank Turner were especially good.

2008 is set to be an exciting year for the band, with new tours and the possibility of new recordings. Where would you like to see yourselves in a year’s time?

Chris – I’m extremely excited about the tour but also feel a sense of trepidation. We drink quite a lot as a band as it is, especially after gigs, and putting us in a van playing every night for 8 days is unlikely to be a very healthy situation. Presuming we survive we’ll be getting a new EP done, gigging lots over the summer, and then planning an autumn tour. Every year is better than the last for us so we’re just going to keep rolling on….

Any final words?

Onomatopoeia, Trapezium, Skull-duggery.

If you’re finding the whole post-rock label a bit tedious at the moment, or are looking to find something a bit fresh within the confines of the genre, then you can do no wrong listening to these guys. Their new self released EP is practically piracy at a mere £3, and is available from their Myspace.

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