Spook & the Guay
(the Cool) fits the profile of many indie/alternative bands: learn to play as you go along, build a regional grass-roots following by constantly playing live at small clubs, and release your first albums on an independent label before making the jump to a major. But since Spook & the Guay
call Toulouse in southwest France home, that translates musically to a horn-flavored Euro-mix grounded in rock, ska, and reggae with a growing dose of Latin elements and lyrics delivered in Spanish, Jamaican patois, English, and surprisingly little French. The early Euro-mix sounds of Les Négresses Vertes
and Mano Negra
were in the air when Spook & the Guay
formed in Toulouse in 1990 and began playing locally until the lineup stabilized. The instrumental core of the band -- Niko Birotheau and Pierre Talavera (guitars), Jean (sax), Bruno (trumpet), Julien (bass), and Seb (drums) -- were soon joined by vocalists Xavier Couderc and Fabrice bringing in the ragamuffin reggae element. With support from homeboy "grandfathers" Zebda
and Basque indie stalwart Fermin Muguruza, the group built a loyal following through live performances and became a respected force on the independent scene in Spain, Italy, and southern France.
Just like Zebda
, a triumphant appearance at the 1995 Springtime in Bourges festival brought the band to national attention in France, but it stayed true to its indie roots by turning down numerous offers to sign with major labels. Spook & the Guay
released a six-track cassette (1994) and four-track CD (1996) on Mr. Loyal before releasing the full-length Mi Tierra
and leasing it to Italy's staunchly independent Gridalo Forte label in 1998. Mi Tierra
sold 15,000 copies with minimal promotion, and several French reviews indicated that it captured the flavor of the band's energetic Euro-mix. After replacing singer Fabrice with keyboard player Guillaume, the group followed up with Ocho Rios
through High Groove/MSI in 1999; the name ("Eight Rivers") refers to the eight sources the band draws on musically, with a strong Latin tinge being the latest influence to surface.
Wonder why most of the lyrics sung by a French band are in English or Spanish? In interviews, Coudrec and Birotheau said writing in English came more naturally at first because they listened to so much reggae, and they reserved French for stronger social critiques à la "Anti-Racist Soldiers" to get the message across. And a fairly sizable contingent of Spanish exiles settled in Toulouse when the Franco dictatorship was consolidated after the Spanish Civil War; three bandmembers are Spanish.
By 2000, the group was ready for the leap to the majors, formed its own production company, and signed with Virgin France. The next year, it released Live: Six Songs in Toulouse (which includes an extra CD-ROM) as a treat for hometown fans. After breaking in a new keyboard player, Spook & the Guay
's first full-length Virgin France CD, Sonora Vida, was released in June 2002.