Franny Griffiths was in a nightclub one night in his native Liverpool, England, minding his own business when someone delivered an empty pack of cigarettes to him.
Scrawled on the back of the package was an offer for the keyboardist/sampling wizard to join the quirky rock group Space. He immediately dismissed it as soon as he read who had signed it: singer-bassist Tommy Scott and drummer Andy Parle.
Griffiths knew better.
“I know Tommy and Andy from way back when,” Griffiths said recently, “and they didn’t like each other when we were kids. So, I get this note that said, ‘Please come and join, help us do a demo.’ I thought someone was joking because Tommy and Andy were never friends, and here’s their names written on the back of a cigarette box.”
Cautious but curious, Griffiths agreed to meet Scott, Parle and guitarist Jamie Murphy the next day. Lo and behold, the group’s strange little songs showed promise and Scott and Parle were working together side by side.
Was Griffiths in another dimension?
“It sure felt like it,” he said, with a laugh. “To see them together now, it’s like they’ve known each other all their lives. They get along famously with each other. I’m still trying to get used to it.”
With the addition of Griffiths nearly three years ago, Space transformed from an ordinary collection of young lads from Liverpool dreaming of success (Sound familiar?) into a force to be reckoned with. On the quartet’s brilliant debut Gut Reaction/Universal album, “Spiders,” featuring the amusingly macabre single “Female of the Species,” their sound and influences extend in all directions: space-age pop, ska, Broadway tunes, Looney Tunes theme songs, rock ‘n’ roll and B-movie soundtracks.
In fact, “Female of the Species,” with Griffiths’ eerie keyboard loops and Scott’s toast to cocktail jazz, would feel right at home on the soundtrack to the films “Ed Wood” and “Mars Attacks!”
Griffiths never thought in a million light years that “Female of the Species” would take off in England, but it reached No. 13 on the pop chart. The next single, “Me & You Vs. The World,” peaked at No. 8 and a re-release of the first U.K. single, “Neighbourhood,” nearly cracked the Top 10.
Stateside, “Female of the Species” is in the Top 20 and climbing on Billboard’s modern rock tracks chart.
“To be honest, we didn’t know how people would take to our music, how they were going to react to it, whether they were going to like it,” Griffiths said. “In England, this has just gone ballistic. Everyone’s gone mad for it, and we just don’t understand it. It’s hard to get used to.”
“Female of the Species” was intended to be a B-side, but after the group finished recording it, they knew it would end up on the album and be a single. Gut Reaction in England agreed.
Griffiths considers it a compliment when critics, fans, radio programmers and music stores are unable to categorize Space.
“Each member is totally into different types of music,” he said, “and it comes across that way. I’m into hip-hop and punk, and Tommy doesn’t even listen to music. He watches movies and stuff. That’s where he gets all his ideas for songs, which we call short stories. And Jamie’s playing whatever’s going on at the time. It’s basically a mishmash of everything. We wondered whether it would work, but it has. It’s good because you don’t always have to stick to one formula, and you don’t get bored.”
All that has confounded the British music media.
“They really try to compare you with other bands in England,” Griffiths said, “and they always come up short. The press likes to think they can make a band and also get rid of a band. They build them up and then they drop them.
“They didn’t know how to pigeonhole us, so they couldn’t build us up in the first place. Till maybe when the second single came out, the press started getting interested, especially within the past few weeks.”
Coming from Liverpool has its drawbacks. Griffiths said most people expect another Beatles, so in press interviews they often open up with “We’re not the Beatles” even before a question is asked.
“We all loved the Beatles,” Griffiths said, “and we’re proud of what they’ve done for Liverpool, but if the Beatles were around now they’d be like The Prodigy or something. They would go with technology.
“You’ve got a lot of bands wanting to be like the Beatles now and think they are the new Beatles, but the Beatles would be spacing out, making techno music. They would’ve gone with the times.”
BWF (before we forget): A remix version of “Female of the Species” popped up on the “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” soundtrack album.