Aussie rockers V. Spy V. Spy aren’t trying to change the world or anything


By Steve Newton

If you’ve been seeing ads about an Australian band that’s coming to town called V. Spy V. Spy, but you’ve been hearing about a band called “Spy Versus Spy”–don’t worry. You’ve not crazy. It’s just that these top-notch rockers from Sydney have had a tricky time of it in the name department, as drummer Cliff Grigg explained when he called from Toronto last week.

“When we went to register our name so we’d be a legitimate business–tax department and all that–there was already a band registered in Australia called Spyz in the catalogue under S. And the guy in corporate affairs said, ‘Look, you can’t register Spy Vs. Spy because there’s already a band called Spyz’. So I said, ‘Right, well, we’re called V. Spy V. Spy, infinite repeat.’ And we registered under the V catalogue and there was no problem. That way we didn’t have to worry about being sued by Mad magazine for their comic ‘Spy Vs. Spy’ either.

“So that’s the only reason why there’s a V in front of our name–it’s like a silent V. But we say to people, ‘Look, we’re called the Spies.’ That’s the easiest way.”

Those of you out in reader-land who haven’t yet heard the Spies’ music–let’s just say that if you like Midnight Oil, you’re gonna love these guys. The two bands aren’t overly similarly, but both meld powerhouse rock ‘n’ roll with gutsy vocals and lyrics that tend toward the socially and politically conscious. Until recently they’ve also had something else in common, namely manager Gary Morris, who on both the Oils’ and the Spies’ latest albums is credited as “facilitator” and lumped right in there as another band member.

“We used to have Gary as our manager,” says Grigg, “but we parted ways because w were having to make all sorts of career decisions with him over the phone. We weren’t in the same room to talk to each other face to face, and we decided, ‘Look this isn’t happening.’ He’s got a hot potato there with Midnight Oil, and they’re takin’ up all his time We’re just sick of being like ‘the other band’ for so many years.”

Grigg is the only native Australian n the Spies, joined by guitarist Michael Weiley from London, England, and bassist/vocalist Craig Bloxom from California. When the international power trio hits the Town Pump this Friday and Saturday (November 4 and 5), you can expect to hear plenty of tunes from the band’s new album Xenophobia (Why?). In my trusty Random House dictionary, xenophobia is defined as “an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of what is foreign or strange.”

“There’s a few lines from some of the songs that tie into that theme,” says Grigg. “Like the song ‘Mingle ‘n’ Mix’ was written about the western suburbs in Sydney, where you’ve got all sorts of cultures trying to mix on the same street.”

The Spies’ hope of bringing people together, wherever they’re from, is in keeping with the humanistic attitudes of that band from Ireland, U2. Grigg says that he still can’t get over the fact that his band opened for Bono and the boys during U2’s Australian tour last year.

“It was a big shock, actually, because we said to Gary–who was our manager at the time–‘Oh, can you get us tickets? We love U2!’ And he went ‘Yeah, no problem, no problem.’ And a week later he comes in and says, ‘Hey guys, remember you wanted some tickets?’, and we go, ‘Oh great, you got the tickets!, and he says, ‘I’ve done one better–you’re playing with them.’ And all our drawers dropped off.”

While Australia has produced its fair share of good-time party bands (AC/DC, Angel City, the Hoodoo Gurus), it’s better known these days for bands that tackle more serious social issues, groups like Midnight Oil and Hunters & Collectors. But what about the danger of socially conscious Aussie bands proliferating to the point where it becomes a cliche?

“Well, I was talking to someone about that last night,” says Grigg. “I was saying, ‘You lot must be getting sick of this Aussie invasion.’ But with our lyrics, we don’t wanna be political or ram anything down anyone’s throats. We’ve been accused of pointing the finger, but we’re really just pointing it at ourselves.

“All the words that we sing have a direct bearing on our lives, so that when we get up and sing them every night, we can sing them as if we mean them–not as if they’re a string of words that just fit the melody. And that’s all the Spies try to do with their lyrics. It’s not like we’re trying to change the world or anything.”

Maybe not, but some of the songs the Spies have recorded have had a strong effect on folks Down Under. For example, they did a song called “Credit Cards” on their 1986 album A.O. Mod. TV. Vers. which was a diatribe against a proposed ID card that every Australian would have been forced to carry at all times.

The Spies shot a video for the song, using a look-alike of Australian PM Bob Hawke, and at the end of the clip was the message “NO to ID cards!” Midnight Oil leader Peter Garrett was also opposed to the ID idea, and the proposal never became a reality.

“The music can make changes to public opinion,” Grigg says. “But the Spies don’t want to do that with every song we ever sing. If there’s something really important out there to sing about, we’ll sing about it, but we also like to laugh–we’re not that serious. Every second song we write is very tongue-in-cheek, and when we play it live we’re pushing each other around so that there’s always some sense of fun about the delivery of the music.

“Because it is fun,” he adds. “I have a great charge every night. I feel sort of lucky.”


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