20 years after packing away their guitar picks, pianos and plans, Space Monkeys have formed a new line-up and are now back in Spirit Studios recording their comeback album. Busy working on the album, we grabbed a quick word with singer and guitarist, Richard McNevin-Duff, to hear what he has been up to and to get some advice for our students.
Hi Richard – it’s great to have you guys back in the studio. Before we find out about the new album, let’s talk about how it all started. What first inspired you to get into the music industry?
I grew up in a pub in the 80s. I remember the jukebox playing bands like; The Clash, Madness and The Jam, which were the first kind of bands I got into. From that, I found a love for music, and all types of music too.
When I fell asleep in the pub at night, there was always music playing – Motown, Soul and 80s pop. Listening to music on a daily basis made me just want to be in a band.
So, when I was 15 I decided to get some work experience at Square One Studios in Bury where Steve Boyce Buckley – who is now an Audio Engineering tutor here– was the Studio Engineer, which inspired me to take up music professionally.
But, when I was growing up and starting in bands there wasn’t really the options that people have these days, like the excellent facilities here in Spirit. The different options that kids have got – we didn’t really have those unless you had the money to pay for it. So, I didn’t really get any musical education other than just teaching myself how to rip off other musicians.
So, how did you get from singing along to songs on the jukebox to being in your own band?
We had a function room in the pub. When we were about 8 or 9, me and all my brothers and cousins would pretend we were in a band and make our instruments out of tin foil and cardboard. We also used to play Madness records on half speed so they sounded a bit like the chipmunks.
The next step was learning how to play an instrument and learning how to write songs. So, I decided to write my first songs over other band’s songs, like Madness – just changing the words to their songs and writing my own. From there, I learnt how to play guitar to a basic standard, write songs and joined a band with my mates at school. Then, it kind of just evolved from there.
How did Space Monkeys come about?
I started working in a record shop in Bury in 1990 where I met my best mate, Tony Pipes. I was in a band playing guitar and he was in a Hip-Hop band sampling music. We both got independent record deals, and then we became friends, started doing loads of crazy stuff together and then decided to form a band. Within about a year of being the Space Monkeys, Tony Wilson from Factory Records came down to see us and signed us up.
Space Monkeys is a cracking name – where did it come from?
Growing up, myself and Tony had the same kind of influences – we were kids from the 70s. So, stuff like Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica – everything that if you were a kid in the 70s would remember. So, it’s kind of a mix of all our favourite things; space, monkeys and apes.
That’s pretty cool. Can you put your finger on who your biggest influence is or is there just too many?
No, I can answer that straight away – Bob Dylan. As a song-writer, I’m not a great musician and I can’t particularly sing, but I think I can write pretty decent songs and that’s because of listening to Bob Dylan’s songs. Bob Dylan writes in a very traditional style because his influences were folk, roots, country and blues. But then, to make his music unique he added surreal imagery, beat poetry, and then fused with rock n roll. So yeah, he’s my biggest influence.
So, it’s been 20 years since you released your last album – what have you all been up to?
Life. What’s the John Lennon quote, ‘life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’. I’ve done a few different things musically, but the main focus for my life musically has always been Space Monkeys. We had a great adventure in the 90s, it came to an end, the band split up and everyone went different ways. After a period of time, we decided to get back together just to play some shows and gigs, and then decided to start writing again.
Well, it’s great to see you all back together. Would you say anything has changed since you released the last album?
The line-up has changed. However, the spirit and philosophy of the band is still the same and the influence and core of the band remains. What we are doing now is writing in a different style. The important thing that we are trying to do is to get the original spirit and soul of the band across. The great thing about being in the studio, and having the time in a great space like this, is be able to use your imagination and pull all the creative ideas together into a big melting pot.
What’s inspiring the new album?
The times lyrically. We’re living in pretty complicated times, so trying to be positive amongst everything that’s going on. So, we’re trying to take the situation that we’re in, socially and economically, and trying to put a spin on it to inspire and escape.
What made you want to record the album in Spirit?
We actually recorded some of our early demos in the old Spirit Studios on Tariff St, so it’s always had a heartbeat. It’s great for us that we’re coming in here and we’re able to spend time in the excellent facilities. Also, as we’re a Manchester band it’s great to record in our hometown.
What one piece of advice would you give to students trying to break it into the music industry?
If you’ve got students here who are learning the business side of the music industry, my advice again would be to take advice from as many people and get as much experience. Studio & Live Music Production student, Dan Harper, has been excellent helping out with the sessions. We’re allowing him to add his own creative input and in return we’re hopefully showing him some ideas that he may not have learnt. You can learn things through the educational route, but I don’t think you can substitute actual hard experience.
Well, it’s great to have you back! Are there any future plans for Space Monkeys?
Hopefully we will get to go on tour when the album comes out. We’ve been doing a few select gigs here and there at the moment. When we get a new record out that’ll hopefully change things and open up more opportunities. With music, you never really know what’s going to happen.
In the 90s, we were signed to an independent label, but didn’t have any dreams of doing anything other than making a record. Then, one of the songs got picked up by Interscope in America, which is one the biggest labels in the world, and then we got a hit in America. After that, we flew over to America and toured extensively for about a year and a half.
At the moment, we’re seeing it as a creative outlet and we want to make a record as good as our last one. Beyond that, we don’t really have any delusions of being millionaires or rock stars. The aim is to make music that connects with people and for people to like the music.
Just a bit of a random question before you go. If you were dumped on a deserted island and could only take one track or CD with you, what would it be?
Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan. It’s just a great album that he wrote in 1975 when he was getting divorced from his wife. It’s quite a personal album, but the lyrics are quite oblique too, it’s not a typical girl/ boy break up – it’s very clever. And, the music is superb and the lyrics are just timeless. I will never get bored of listening to that record.