The Spook School have been on some journey since they made their first recordings in guitarist Adam Todd’s bedroom six years ago. The Glasgow quartet, who met whilst studying at the University of Edinburgh, have recently released their third studio album, the effervescent, bouncing Could It Be Different? on Alcopop Records. It is a bracing, confident album full of songs unafraid to confront dark and personal subject matter, but always couched in sparkling melodic punkish bursts of energy.

Brexit, regressive social constructions, gender-binarism, self-acceptance and domestic abuse are all subjects covered on the new album, and it is their willingness to write so openly about such topics that has secured such a solid gold cult status in a relatively short period of time. We spoke to singer/guitarist Nye Todd and drummer Niall McCamley about how they remain optimistic in such glum times, their attitude towards writing about politics and the difficulties that continue to be faced by artists from the LGBTQI community.

I would say you are one of the most optimistic bands around. That's true on the new album too, but the title Could It Be Different? seems to suggest that things aren't as good as they could be. Is this album more doubtful about being optimistic, and if so is that because of world events?

Nye Todd:Haha, I’m not sure if we think that we’re all that optimistic but it’s nice to know that’s how we come across! The title Could It Be Different? is related to a couple of different things. Definitely, it’s partly a reaction to the many unsettling political events/general slide towards hatefulness and polarity of opinions that we’ve seen over the last couple of years. I think, for me anyway, there’s a natural inclination to think “people are inherently decent, there must be a way out of this” but also these situations are so complex that it can be hard to know what to do. So I guess “Could It Be Different?” as a title kind of captures some of that pull between optimism and despair! A lot of the songs on the album also focus on past relationships, decisions and choices and how they impact who you are now. So there’s also that question of “would x or y be different if I’d done this?” which the title also seemed to summarise quite well.

Nearly all of your songs are uptempo and positive musically, but a lot of them cover quite a dark subject matter. Do you like music that has that bittersweet quality to it?

Nye Todd:I think for us that combination kind of happened organically because we are anxious, worried people that also really enjoy playing live, especially when people are dancing. So the former comes through in the lyrics, the latter in the music. I do think it’s quite a nice thing - and some of my favourite songs have that same thing where you’re dancing along having a good time and then you actually listen to the lyrics and are like “oh wow, yeah this is actually pretty sad/angry/difficult".

I've read that 'Bad Year' is about Brexit, and you've talked in the past about being more willing to tackle subjects head on instead of from behind a veil now. When something like Brexit happens, are you comfortable in going straight ahead and writing about it?

Nye Todd:Not really. I think we’re all aware that we’re very much not experts on policy or politics - just people that have thoughts and emotions and use those to write songs. ‘Bad Year’ is an emotional response to terrible things happening (in the specific case when I was writing the lyrics, Brexit) and how powerless you can often feel to do anything other than despair at it. So it’s more an emotional song in relation to a political event than any kind of political song (if that makes sense). I think we’re more direct in our song-writing, certainly, but our songs still tend to come from an emotional/personal place rather than being about politics/current events.

With Brexit and Trump dominating the news schedule every single day, do you ever feel like completely disengaging from it, or do you still feel as strongly about it as you did at the start?

Nye Todd:It can definitely be tempting to disengage at times, particularly when you’re feeling powerless. Still trying to find useful ways to stay engaged and contribute because I feel like that’s probably the only way to combat that.

Your album starts with a Josie Long monologue. Did she write it for you? How did it come about? It seems to sum the album up.

Niall McCamley: It’s from her show Romance and Adventure. We’re all massive Josie Long fans and we’ve been lucky enough to hang out a few times. She appeared in our video for ‘Speak When You’re Spoken To’ and she sang a Le Tigre cover with us at a festival once. She’s super nice and her politics seem to really gel with ours. When we heard that extract from her show we thought it epitomised a lot of our feelings and thought why not ask her. We contacted her and she was super lovely about it. And now it’s immortalised as the album’s start!

Would it be fair to say that the second album was the four of you trying to figure out your identities, and this one is about the problems that still arise even after you've come to a place where you are comfortable with who you are? 'Body' seems to be about that.

Nye Todd: Kind of. I wouldn’t say that this album is any kind of endpoint where we’re comfortable with ourselves, we’re all still very much works in progress. But I guess part of living is realising that that’s your constant state - no one is ever ‘done’.

The album still feels very much like a celebration. 'Still Alive' deals with very serious subject matter, but it is a defiant celebration of the present. Is that one of the perks of being an artist with a following? It must be cathartic?

Nye Todd:It’s definitely very cool to hear/see people singing along to songs like that one, and people coming up and talking to you about some connection they’ve had with a song you’ve written out of some personal experience that you might have thought you were alone in can definitely be cathartic & nice.

There are a number of LGBTQI musical artists who are very successful now (Anohni, Laura Jane Grace, Perfume Genius, etc). Do you feel there should be more, and are there still barriers to success for members of that community?

Nye Todd: I mean, in a purely selfish sense, I’d love for there to be more because hearing more diverse perspectives of what a queer person can be is always a great thing. From listening to interviews with artists like Shamir it definitely seems like there are problems with major labels wanting to pigeonhole LGBTI+ artists to present and act in a certain way, which can stifle expression and creativity.

Have you had to face any obstacles from within the music industry yourselves, due to some/all of you being part of the LGBTQI community?

Nye Todd: I don’t think so, but also it’s pretty impossible to know whether we’d have got the same or more/less opportunities than we have if we were a bunch of straight boys. It’s also important to recognise that while we are queer/trans/non-binary, we’re also very privileged - we’re all white, able-bodied, we’re not going to be victims of trans-misogyny. So we may have got opportunities that other LGBTI musicians might have been denied.

Is the change in society's attitudes to trans acceptance happening more quickly or more slowly that you would have imagined?

Nye Todd:I’m not sure it’s something that I’ve ever actively imagined, other than thinking ‘I wish people were more aware of this’. The internet has certainly sped up the spread of information, but also comes hand in hand with a lot of misinformation, so it’s hard to say what impact it has had on trans acceptance overall. A global media certainly helps in that people sitting at home in say, a rural Scottish village, can see trans women and queer people on TV when they might not have been made aware of these identities years ago. It took me until my early twenties to properly learn what being transgender even was, and it seems strange to think that now, so maybe things have improved? Transmisogynistic violence is still such a massive problem though, and anti-trans activists are still being invited on C4 to debate our very right to exist so yeah, we’ve got some way to go yet.

Is there any danger of the LGBTQI tag becoming another kind of pigeon-hole for artists, where it could become the only thing discussed about them and they are put in a box, even though it's got nothing to do with what they sound like?

Nye Todd:Of course. That’s how it is now.

You ask for gender-neutral toilets at all of your shows. Is there ever any pushback on that? Would you like to see more artists ask for the same?

Nye Todd:It’s difficult at shows where we’re not headlining, where we definitely need co-operation to make it happen. We’ve had some issues with signs being torn down at a couple of shows in the US, which was disappointing (we just made new signs and put them back up but it’s not a great signal to other people at the gig) but generally venues, other bands and audiences have been incredibly cooperative, supportive and appreciative. I’d love to see more artists do it, or even better, more venues just having gender-neutral toilets on a permanent basis so there’s no longer that need.

I can imagine you get more interaction from fans than a lot of other bands. Do any stories stand out of fans getting in touch with you?

Niall McCamley: We get lots of emails and messages online but we also get gifts at shows or posted to us. It’s always super nice. We’ve had knitted dolls of ourselves, embroidered lyrics, vegan chocolate cake! All sorts! The messages can be very personal and emotional so we always try to take the time to reply thoughtfully and to let people know how much they mean to us. We’re very silly sausages and to think people sit down and take the time to write to us is very surreal and we want to be able to pay that back to people.

What's next for the band - I know you're playing The Great Escape next week. More festivals/touring? Any thoughts on writing more material yet?

Niall McCamley: We’re hoping to get back writing soon but we’re not giving ourselves any deadlines. We want to take our time. We have a lot of festivals this summer, and we’re really excited about it. We’re going to be going to the Isle of Wight for the first time so that’s exciting!

Is there any new music you're obsessed with at the moment?

Niall McCamley: Since seeing them when we played at Handmade Festival in Leicester I’ve been listening to a lot of Idles. We listen to the Dream Wife album a lot in the van, Charly Bliss too!