Tim Holly (aka Agent Number 6) says he could probably be in a non-theme band, but he can’t be sure.
“I think I could, but I don’t know,” he admits. “I’ve never tried.”
Before he formed the new wave, punk-sprinkled power trio International Espionage!, Holly was in a superhero group called Red Phone Dispatch. Prior to that, he was a driving force behind the future-based Manplanet.
Holly says he’s always had an interest in “pop culture spy stuff” from the ’60s. Originally, Holly planned to write songs that sounded like the theme songs to spy TV shows. “You try and write something, but then eventually, your own writing style comes through,” Holly explains. “My writing style is the Devo, Cars, Gary Numan kind of stuff.”
Holly says International Espionage! maintains one important element included in many a double-agent theme song: surf guitar. The instrumentation makes all the difference in delving into spy territory. “Other people have said that, too, which is a good thing.”
The lyrics are usually about the band’s secret world of competing spy agencies. International Espionage! belongs to the heroic S.T.A.R.E., or the Secret Tactical Agency for Reconnaissance and Espionage. The band’s nemesis is K.N.I.F.E., Kriminal Network Intent on Fighting Espionage. Other songs revolve around spy terminology or noteworthy events in the history of secret agents.
“It depends on which side they’re on. They could be an ally to us.”
Before embarking on a top-secret two-month tour, Agent Number 6 spoke to us on a secure line from his hometown of Minneapolis.
Did you have to research spies to add depth to the lyrics?
Oh yeah. I’d seen a lot of spy things before, but I read up on a lot more. It’s like, OK, we’ve gotta write another song about spy stuff, so I’d better start reading.
Do you have a favorite spy term?
There’s a spy term called a “honey trap,” which is when an agent would lure another agent into a trap sexually to try and steal information from them. If it’s a guy doing the luring, he was called a “raven,” and if it was a girl, she was a “swallow.”
Are you in full costume when you practice?
We have been before, but we aren’t normally. There was an incident when we figured out what we were going to wear for suits and we figured we should probably try them on. We wanted to see if it constrained us playing. We were practicing in our practice space and there was a thunderstorm and it knocked the power out.
What happened then?
We had these, like, miners’ headlamps on. All the music stopped, but we could still see so we started wandering around the hallways trying to figure out what was going on. But we realized there’s all these security cameras that have us in these cat suits sneaking around like we were robbing the place.
Where did this happen?
In a warehouse practice space. We were freaking out other bands, too. We didn’t think about the fact that we were still wearing these costumes. All these bands are like, what is going on?
Do people come to your shows dressed as spies?
Oh yeah. We’re trying to push the idea of people dressing incognito at shows. We’ve definitely had shows where people are dressed in trench coats or random costumes. It makes the whole show that much more fun if people are totally into it. We sell spy kits, too. One for S.T.A.R.E. and one for K.N.I.F.E., and you can choose which side you’re on.
If you encountered another spy band, would you try to take them out?
It depends on which side they’re on. They could be an ally to us. There was a band that was trying to get going in town that was specifically forming to be our rival band. But they never got off the ground.
Did you thwart their attempts to bring you down?
Well, I’m not going to go on record saying that, but ...