Spy Empire: did we see it coming? Should we have been more careful? Who’s watching us, and why? And who is this bi-coastal electro-rock duo who’ve taken up the unlikely name of Spy Empire, while fusing the moody majesty of classic synth outfits like Depeche Mode and Erasure with the jangly ’80s art-pop of Echo & the Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs?
Establishing their identity is easy enough: singer, lyricist and guitar player James Rotondi aka Roto, is a former touring member of the French super-group Air, a multi-instrumentalist for Mike Patton’s Mr. Bungle, and a New York singer-songwriter who combines music and live magic in his aptly named ensemble Roto’s Magic Act, an indie blend of two Davids: Blaine and Bowie.
More mysterious still is Spy Empire mastermind David Della-Santa, an East Bay producer, composer and synthesizer wizard who’s written literally hundreds of the last decade’s most edgy, ear-to-the-street cues for television and global media, winning several awards in the process, and putting his Volume Music house on the map as San Francisco’s go-to boutique music house.
Together they reach deep into their own back pages, emerging with a sound that’s pays homage to a time when drum machines co-existed with—even complemented—the idiosyncratic work of great drummers, as on the gutsy “Ticket Out,” featuring New York session ace John Clancy; when synthesizers and guitars were layered into ever more seductive textures, as on the darkly angelic “From the Sky”; and when the echoes of Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger and David Bowie loomed large in the context of fresh, exciting young bands from the Simple Minds to Japan to INXS, who spiced up their forebears’ arty delivery with plucky synthetic sounds and highly danceable rhythms. Cue up “Sex & Exhibition” for a dose of that medicine
Spy Empire: sure, we’ve all been rocked by the revelations of how the powerful have been watching us without our knowing. With Spy Empire, we look back: in homage to some of rock’s most powerful currents, and we look forward, as well, to musical revelations still to come. There are no secrets here. . . .