The Duke Spirit’s frontwoman Leila Moss, she of the golden locks and black unitard, isn’t afraid of change. While her previous albums, Neptune and Cuts Across the Land, were comprised of rock-heavy anthems, the new one, Bruiser, recorded in Los Angeles by famed producer Andrew Scheps, goes lighter, leaner, and more toned down—much like Moss’ new hair color. We sat down with the London-based rocker to get to the bottom of the subdued shift.
BULLETT: In what ways is Bruiser different from your previous albums?
LEILA MOSS: Songs like “Villain,” “De Lux,” and the more menacing [sounding] “Bodies” play with that sort of atmosphere we did before, but they go further with a guitar-rooted dynamic. I just feel like we’ve made the songs stronger and bolder. “De Lux” moves with a delicacy that we haven’t quite achieved before. So for me, there are moments where we’ve played with more hooks and we’ve just enjoyed catchiness, like, Fuck! I’m going to enjoy the repetition here; I’m going to enjoy creating a hook for a chorus. And I’m going to try and not make it so wordy. I used to ram so many words into a chorus. I wanted to be more subtractive this time around. “Procession” and “Cherry Tree” see us taking things away, in order to just get your teeth into the song. And then there’s the mood of “Bodies,” which comes in at the middle of the album and is so different, and sounds like an area we’ve not tapped before, in which we have dug deeper and found a new sexually charged and spiritual evocativeness.
Did recording the album in Los Angeles in any way influence the final product?
There was a real concept of urgency because of it. We spent only three-and-a-half weeks in LA. We started some stuff in London because we were trying to start Bruiser on our own terms, with a sort-of DIY feel. We had makeshift headquarters in London, which was enough of a studio that we could record Bruiser. We then started to get enough technology that things were starting to sound quite good. We achieved a certain level on our own, then sat with it for a bit, took it home, and then played it on different stereos. We weren’t quite sure we got it. We worked with another guy who comes from a real electro background and did a couple of things with him. It didn’t quite work out, partly because of the sounds, the tones of it weren’t bold enough, but the feel was really interesting. So we asked ourselves, Where are we with the album? We weren’t loving the depth, and then got into the really fussy little details, like, I’m not really loving the bass tone on this. We achieved a kind of demo-y, crafty, DIY sort of vibe in London, and neither of them was working, but they both tasted really good. So we then we asked Andrew [Scheps, who produced the album] if we could come with him to America to pull it all together. He was like, “I’m really busy, so if you could get here in about a week we’ll just start it, and we’ll get it done.” And that’s exactly what we did.
What was it like working with Andrew Scheps, who has collaborated with everyone from Adele and Jay-Z to U2 and Metallica?
The best part is that when you start a project with him you end up drinking coffee for nine hours and asking him to tell stories about all the stuff he’s done. He’s toured Siberia with Michael Jackson and worked with Johnny Cash, so we were like, Okay, man, as long as you tell us all about that, we’ll do this together. He’s really talented, and he’s not afraid to work with a huge range of artists. There’s not one type of artist that sort of defines his palette.
Why call it Bruiser? What’s the title meant to represent?
Bruiser is about the brutal reality of being in this band that tours a lot of the time, and for whom things are still difficult. This isn’t a cash-rich project. But it’s also about how I’ve evolved, and how I’ve learned things. The title to me is really linked across the board through these brutal songs. It’s also about taking everything with a pinch of salt—otherwise we’d all be maniacs.
How would you describe your sound?
There’s definitely an American Blues influence in there, but at the same time I grew up with my mum who was a classical singer, and performing incredibly old and interesting European songs in choirs. She would always encourage me to sing, and not train or be shaped in any way whatsoever, and I have to thank her for that. Later on, when things become more tough because you’re on the road for ages and you’ve started to, like, not be able to find your voice, and then you must actually ask for help trying to find more breath and stuff like that. She was great and probably the most incredible bit of advice she gave me was, “I’m not going to teach you singing techniques. You seem to enjoy singing so much that you should just follow your own breath.” And so, that was pretty much what I did. My singing isn’t part of a specific lineage that can be traced back to a certain movement or genre and it’s not located in place—it’s a moment in time and it’s your breath and it’s your mood. I sing to work out exactly where I’m at with a problem or a feeling, you know? It’s how I contact me inside. [Laughs.]
Your sound isn’t the only thing that’s evolved—your once peroxide-blonde hair is now so much more muted.
It’s amazing how your hair is charged with so much importance, isn’t it? I got rather sick of the trashy, “rawk” look, and I felt sorry for my scalp. [Laughs.] I lost my way as to why I was a bleached blonde. I actually dyed my hair dark brown when I finished all the touring from the last record—partly as an experiment, because I think it’s good to surprise yourself and be freaked out when you look in the mirror. I also went on a sort of feminist path there for a moment. I was wondering if I had ever gotten to the point where I relied on having very light hair to work with the lights on stage. I thought, Am I relying on this? So I decided to totally destroy that notion to make sure I didn’t rely on something to be pretty.
Stay tuned for our BULLETT.TV video of Moss playing dress-up in Alexander McQueen.
photographer James Orlando
stylist Liela Moss
makeup Georgi Sandevi
hair Averil Hull
All clothing by Alexander McQueen. Available at Bergdorf Goodman, call 888.774.2424 for more information