YRB Interview: The Duke Spirit

By Stephanie Amy Collazo

British rock and roll quartet The Duke Spirit has come a long way from their modest beginnings playing in small clubs and bars in the U.K. On the road to success, the band has gone through a lineup change and a few adventures collaborating with the fashion world, specifically Philip Lim and the late Alexander McQueen, who both called vocalist Leila Moss their muse. Though the group, comprised of Leila, guitarists Luke Ford and Toby Butler and drummer Olly Betts, is fairly new to the U.S. market, they came to N.Y.C. this year to be a part of CMJ. The group recently dropped their third studio album, Bruiser, on November 21, featuring single “Don’t Wait.” Though taking on a huge European tour this fall, Leila took some time out to answer a few of our questions.

YRB: Tell me briefly about the group’s beginning? 

Liela: Luke, Toby and I were friends sharing a house 12 years ago. We tinkered with writing soft acoustic songs and played them in some clubs and bars just cutting our teeth and seeing if we liked performing music. A few mediocre years went by, drained by crappy jobs and frustrating band collectives, until 2003 when we all moved to a different part of the city, focused on one solid idea – British punk rock music that shoots from the hip and isn’t scared of a tender heart. We searched for the right people to be a ‘proper band’ and named ourselves The Duke Spirit, which sounded noble, regal and a bit like a Dickensian pub, which satisfied our boozy-cozy-sawdusty-bleary-menacing appetites.

YRB: You were famously a muse for Lee Alexander McQueen, can you tell us a little about that experience? 

Liela: McQueen was looking for a way of anchoring a range of clothes in collaboration with a big department store. The female head designer at the time was a fan who had seen us at Glastonbury the summer before the launch and brought our music to Lee’s attention. He was into the idea of us performing around the launch and liked the thought that a British rock band – female fronted – would infuse its energy into the project. So we played some shows, and they put a band picture of the profile of my face playing a bird-flute thing onto a T-shirt, which was very funny. I had a few meetings with the team about the range, movement and kinetic energy involved in what I do and wear as a performer. We laughed about Blythe Doll mini-me’s and Tim Burton-esque ad campaigns. I don’t think it ever quite worked that way in the end after Target took over, but hey, it was always a strange collaboration. That’s it really, I got to sit at the final McQueen catwalk show in Paris just before his death – a spectacle I will never, ever forget. Think of fetish, post-apocalyptic decay bursting with authority and defiance. Radicalized palette, a rapaciousness in the shapes and textures. I was pretty floored.

YRB: Was it hard breaking into the U.S. market? Have you had to change your music at all? 

Liela: I am still trying to break in… I’m sitting here with a balacava and torchlight, as we speak, hoping nobody can see me…

YRB: You recently dropped your third studio album, Bruiser. How have fans reacted?

Liela: A guy said to me [recently] that “Bodies” is his favorite song ever and he can’t sleep for thinking about it and singing along in his head, even when he took Nytol. I think that is high praise. I was gonna suggest he try swallowing his pills with a glass of Pinot Noir, works for me, but it could be a very bad idea, so I didn’t bother saying… YRB: How is this album different from the first two?

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