Spies on Film ~
A Spy Movie Without Pictures –
Inside the Instrumental Soundscape of Black Tie Spy
By Wesley Britton
Kay O’Hara graces the cover of Black Tie Spy
the latest CD from Spy-Fi.
A few years back, I interviewed Tom Pervanje for the first time
for an article entitled “Spy Guitar
– From Vic Flick to Spy-Fi.”
In that conversation (posted at this website in The James
Bond Files section), Bond guitarist Vic Flick shared some
insights into his Bond work and Tom provided some very thoughtful
analysis of the composers that had influenced his own work. He
also talked about the musical themes that became an integral part
of the espionage and detective genres on film and TV.
Back then, Pervanje was the main motor and lead guitarist for
Spy-Fi, a “Ventures”-like instrumental group that
had issued two albums in 2004 – Spies, Thighs,
and Private Eyes, volumes one and two. I reviewed both
those CDs in “Spy Guitar” and continue to
recommend them both to any fan of film themes and the California
surf sound. Both albums are enjoyable mixes of covers of classic
themes, original tunes, and interesting medleys.
I’ve kept up with Tom ever since, and was delighted
to learn about Spy-Fi’s new project – a concept
album called Black Tie Spy. I was even more delighted
to hear the finished album and was startled at the freshness and
originality of the performances and continuity of the various m
usical themes. Black Tie Spy very much sounds like
a soundtrack to a film – but, of course, there’s no
such movie. Here is what Tom said about the album in his press
This time Spy-Fi gathered a collection of original compositions
interspersed with select cover tunes. Those covers include a wide
variety of styles and influences, not necessarily from the
spy-detective genre. They include the classic Perry Mason
Theme by Fred Steiner, Rumble by Link Wray,
Apache by the Shadows, and Waveby
Antonio Carlos Jobim. Also included is a snippet of Edvard
Grieg’s Anitra’s Dance from
The album is organized around the diverse moods and
moments one might encounter in a movie soundtrack. Finished
thematic ideas are separated by short song sketches which
then segue back into more produced and finished tracks. Some
tracks also include spoken word segments in Russian, which
lend to the air of mystery and intrigue that one may find in a spy
At face value, a Black Tie Spy might suggest a male James
Bond type character in the usual tuxedo and black tie. But as
one can see on the CD cover, all is not what it seems. This
Black Tie Spy is a woman, and she means business –
and says so in Russian throughout the CD.
I was knocked out by what I read and heard, so I decided to
probe into Black Tie Spy a bit deeper and ask Tom
a few questions. Below is the inside story of an album you
Q – What inspired you to create a
concept album, something very different from your previous two
The first two volumes were a document of where the band was
at that time. They were the blueprint for the Spy-Fi version of
spy-detective music. There were about 7 originals on those works,
which began to hint at the next step for the band. The current
album concept was inspired by the John Barry soundtrack album
for The Ipcress File, in which Michael Caine has
short snippets of dialogue between tracks.
Q – Black Tie Spy sounds
very much like a soundtrack album for a movie – but, of
course, there’s no film. Did you have a storyline in mind,
visuals you had in your imagination that go along with the
I would love to tell you that I did, but no, there was no real
storyline in mind when I started. I realized the opportunity to
contrast and complement the moods of each song when it came
time to assemble the final order of the tracks on the CD. This led
me to create an aural landscape that would be experienced in real
time as one progressed through it. That was a lot of fun, especially
with the shorter “sketch” songs separating the
longer more completed thoughts. That’s when the
“visuals” for an order came to light.
Q – Why did you choose a female lead
character – and why the Russian spoken word clips from
Kay O’Hara plays a Russian femme fatale
in Black Tie Spy
“Black Tie Spy” suggests a tuxedo; which
suggests a male. I wanted to have fun with that idea, by turning it
around. The cover photo of Kay O’Hara just underscored it
As for Russian word clips. . . it all goes back to my first Bond
movie at 14 years old, Thunderball. Fiona Volpe (Luciana
Paluzzi) appeared to be Russian to me. I know now she’s
Italian, but it didn’t matter. I thought she was Russian, and
she was bad, very bad. And that was good, very good. Also, I had
a mad crush on Boris Badinov’s Natasha. Just kidding
– but I loved the way she talked: “Sneaky plan to
get Moose and Squirrel.”
So my Russian friend Alla helped me out with the Russian word
clips. I wrote the copy, she edited it for Russian and read it. She
thought I was silly of course, she had never heard of Boris and
Natasha (she’s 21). So I had to show her on YouTube
what that was all about. In the early 1960’s, when I was a
young boy, that’s the only “Russian” input
I had. And later Fiona Volpe came into my life and that was that.
Okay, trivia time – if I’m not correct, please let
me know, but I think Fiona Volpe is the only Bond girl to say
“Mr. Bond, James Bond” directly to his face. It’s
in the bedroom scene, check it out. Talk about a memory burn.
Q – Speaking of 007, tell us about your
collaboration with Vic Flick for the title track. What did he contribute
alongside playing his guitar?
Well, for starters Vic has been a great supporter of Spy-Fi,
and a tremendous mentor. He’s given some great advice
through the years, and I especially like hearing his opinions on
the music we create. It’s an honor to have someone of his
experience and stature giving input. In addition, he helped arrange
and write the song “Soul Booker”. We also
collaborated with him on “Black Tie Spy”, and as
listed on the album, he tracked the fabulous guitar parts in the
second half of the song.
My favorite part of the song is the very end. It was my idea to
suggest the James Bond Theme within the song and I dropped
half of the one signature riff and then Vic came back with guitar
parts on either side of my part. Admittedly, it’s a guitar
player geek thing to be so concerned about it, but it means a lot
to me to be on a record with Vic.
Q – How did you choose the cover tracks
and what were they intended to convey in your
“soundscape”? “Perry Mason,”
“Apache,” and “Rumble” don’t,
at first glance, seem very “spyish.”
Well, I suppose you’re correct. Spy-detective is the
genre description I’ve used until now; but in fact I think
“crime jazz” is another shade of the genre I’d
like to explore more. So I think “Perry Mason” fits.
“Apache” and “Rumble”
admittedly aren’t within the scope. But my thought was
that a movie soundtrack has a variety of moods, and I wanted some
things to contrast with the song before or after it. Some scenes
are violent, such as “Rumble,” and others are
more romantic such as “Apache.”
Plus “Apache” has a very special meaning for
me. A good friend, Bob Capuano, drummer for Blue Taxi, visited me
in July of 2007. He came over to fish in the small pond in my back
yard. When it got dark, I said, “Hey, let’s go down
and record “Apache” – I’m working
on a version with a wah-wah pedal”. We put down three
loose takes and called it a night.
Sadly, Bob passed away three months later. He was suffering
from mesothelioma, and it overtook him. His brother and my close
friend, Bill Capuano, is a very accomplished guitar player with
Blue Taxi and currently, with a band called The Extremes. We
finished the song together in tribute to Bob. You can hear Bill playing
acoustic guitar and the soaring lead.
Bill appears on 9 of the 20 songs on Black Tie Spy
and contributes some fantastic guitar playing. He’s
featured especially on “Soul Booker,”
“Sunset Beach,” “Fast Indian,”
and the first guitar lead in “Perry Mason.” In
fact, Bill and Bob are both extended family members of Spy-Fi.
They both played at the last Spy-Fi gig in October 2006, when
we opened for the Red Elvises in Cleveland.
Q – Some of your titles seem to be Western
oriented – “Fast Indian,” “El
Dorado,” “Apache.” How do they connect
to your Russian theme?
That’s a great observation. We actually had a
song called “Fistful of Mick” blocked out for this
CD but could not get it finished in time. Obviously, a spaghetti
western direction was subconsciously brewing. Maybe in my mind
the soundscape went to “spaghetti espionage”??
I would have to say that I didn’t want all the songs to have
such overt classic spy references. Think of the songs in Dr.
No. The song titles and references were very Jamaican
because of the script location. Maybe the Russian Black Tie Spy
was in the secret hills of Utah or New Mexico investigating Area
51. Who knows?
Q – The latter tracks have surf and soul
themes. Was this a means to bring in different musical approaches?
Yes. There are what I would call two “surf”
inspired songs on the album, “Memory Burn” and
“La Tavola Da Surf”. The latter means
“surfboard” in Italian. Spy-Fi has always included
surf/instro themes in its repertoire, and they both are tunes that
are upbeat and danceable.
Q – “Illya’s Theme”
sounds like an homage to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
and “To JB” a reference to 007. What film spies did
you have in mind?
Right on the mark. Illya was such a cool name to me; and I
really enjoyed MFU when I was a kid. In my mind, Illya was way
cooler than Napoleon. “To JB”? That title does
double duty: I was referencing James Bond of course, but also
Jeff Beck, one of my guitar heroes.
Q – I don’t know for sure
– but the fact listeners have to go to your website to read
the English translations of the Russian clips might be something
brand new in music marketing. Why did you decide on this approach?
Well, if you’ve noticed, I still refer to this work as an
album. To me, it still is an album, a collection of songs. Yes, it’s
in digital format (CD), but I was thinking that making someone go
to the site would take the place of the physical album cover. Plus,
it’s a bit of spy-detective work to find out what she’s
Q – You have a number of guest musicians
on the CD which contributes to the range of musicality, at least in my
opinion. How did you choose the players and what did they bring to
the various tracks?
Spy-Fi has grown to accept musicians that share the overall
concept and appreciate the opportunity to create something new. All
of the musicians are accomplished in their own right, and I was
honored to play with each and every one of them.
Thomas Pervanje with his Jazzmaster guitar.
Of course, I mentioned Vic Flick and his contributions earlier.
Scott Anderson, Bob Yeager and Mick Zofcin have been the
core of the band for many years. But since we’re now
separated in different parts of the country, it allows Spy-Fi to
grow and explore newer directions and musical influences. But I
can still keep the core members involved when they return to
town and drop in for a session or two.
Bill Capuano, whom I mentioned above, contributed significantly
to the album. It was wonderful having a second guitar sound and
a different approach to playing. Previously, I would double or triple
track the guitars and honestly, was getting tired of hearing my
own playing. So it was refreshing and invigorating to have new
guitar sounds with which to work. I’ve always enjoyed
playing with Bill because we work so well together.
Hank Levine, the original Spy-Fi drummer from 1996, did
such a great job on the jazzier tunes, and added great percussion
to “Bass Case”. He had the studio filled with all
kinds of cool percussion equipment, and I think he used every
Drummer Denny Melreit dropped in one night and we put
down the basics for “La Tavola Da Surf” in two
takes. It just snapped together.
Bob Rericha (mandolin) was teaching me jazz guitar lessons
in 2007. He encouraged me to tackle such tunes as
“Wave” and “Anitra’s Dance.”
Who would have thought Edvard Grieg’s “Peer
Gynt” would work in a crime jazz setting? Or for that
matter, mandolin on a spy song (“Illya’s
Theme”). But there you have it.
Q – What’s next for Spy-Fi?
Any projects in the pipeline?
Currently I’m in the process of marketing the new
CD. But there are a number of ideas in the can for the next album
on which I could start working. I have three concepts that I’ve
been tossing around: 1) trying some spy-electronica, similar to
the version of “The Saint” that was popular a
few years ago. 2) a more traditional soundtrack with a recurring
theme in different and varying style of music and 3) a reissue
of a classic 1968 spy-detective album. The latter is the least
interesting, simply because it takes Spy-Fi back into cover material
land and I’m not sure I want to go there again.
Although I can say this about covers: each Spy-Fi album
from here on out will contain one or two classic spy-detective
songs on it. Some tunes we used to do that never made it to
tape were “I Spy,” “You Only Live
Twice,” “Ipcress File,” and
“Our Man Flint” to name a few. I would still love
to take a stab at those. I’d even like to have a guest
female vocalist on “YOLT.” We’ll see
You can hear samples of Black Tie Spy and find
ordering information on the Spy-Fi website.
Black Tie Spy is also available through Amazon U.S.
Their blog can be found on MySpace.
You may contact Tom Pervanje
through his eMail address.