“So if that’s Ireland”, his fingers trace the shape of the glass, “and there’s Dublin, and there’s Belfast, then I’m from just here, in the North, but on the border.” Declan Feenan, better known as Spy From Moscow, leans across the table and gathers the half-full pint in his hand, his smile already on the edge of laughter.
Much of our conversation with Declan is like this. He’s enthusiastic, warm and completely lacking in any kind of pretention.
We meet downstairs at The Hope & Ruin – the lower part of one of Brighton’s famous music venues, with its broken-down, higgledy-piggledy furniture and band posters pegged to washing lines strung haphazardly across the windows – to discuss all things Spy From Moscow.
“I studied English, just a generic McDonald’s degree, and then I came to London to start a band and ended up writing plays.. and just personal circumstances, I ended up, one day, just deciding I’m gonna do music again… collaborating with other musicians has been more of a thing for me the last few years than sitting in a room with a blank page.. I will get back to it.”
You get the sense from Declan that, while working alone is something he enjoys, currently he finds greater satisfaction in the collaborative process. Either way, beneath the laid-back demeanour, is someone compelled to make art. Lately, he has been working hard on his new single and video, The Priests of London Fields, which is due out in the autumn, and the city clearly has a grip on his heart.
“I landed in London to stay for 6 months and then it was 12 years later. Fell in love with it, fell out of love. Fell in love.. so I’ve stayed ever since.. don’t know if you’ve ever been to London Fields in Hackney? You should go, on a Saturday it’s an interesting place.”
I wonder whether his writing background has an impact on how he approaches music.
“When I listen to music I don’t think about lyrics, I just think about the music.. I’m really keen on capturing atmosphere in a lyric rather than a message. So it’s not what does it means, it’s how does it feel.. I kinda write androgynous lyrics.”
Declan is just back from a European tour and I ask him whether he struggles to balance his music with his day job (working for a housing charity in London). “It’s quite easy” he responds, shrugging his shoulders. “You’ve gotta have the skills to pay the bills.”
Upstairs, The Hope & Ruin is a dark and dingy sweatbox, stripped of all excess and hungry for music. It has fantastic sound, and as Declan’s guitar roars into life, reverberating across the room, there is a rugged intimacy between artist and audience.
Tonight is a stripped back show for Spy from Moscow, so it’s just Declan with a guitar and a bunch of pedals cracking out some fucking songs – as he would put it. For 45 minutes, he is imperious, the fragile, raw beauty of his voice punctuated by surging, angry guitar noise. There is a necessary intensity to his music which is only accentuated by the location.
He’s a restless, mesmeric force, always trying to get closer to the sound he hears in his head. This isn’t about the size of the band – though he admits he’d like to have the resources to do something superbig”, but about how it feels.
“I’m more about capturing atmosphere and a feeling than telling somebody how to vote. I think that’s a wasted journey as a musician.. There’s an emotional landscape that you can explore.”
You can buy the Little War EP by Spy From Moscow here.
And he’ll be in Brighton playing at The Gladstone on 6th July.