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Interview with The Struts

THE STRUTS

Interview by Simon Ramsay

If you've yet to be dazzled by The Struts inimitable anthemic charms, that may well change over the next couple of years. The Derby four-piece have already made significant waves in America thanks to a bombastic, feelgood sound that – while recalling everyone from Queen, The Rolling Stones and Slade to Oasis, The Killers and Mott The Hoople - traverses numerous styles and eras such as Glam Rock, Britpop, AOR and Classic Rock N' Roll with astonishing levels of class, confidence and charisma.

The UK mainstream has, unsurprisingly, yet to take notice, but if the group's second album 'Young & Dangerous' is anything to go by, those aforementioned waves will soon be crashing onto these shores with the force of an unstoppable tsunami. We spoke to flamboyant frontman Luke Spiller about their new record, making it in the USA and the reaction to a certain divisive duet with a well-known popstar.


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For people who may not be aware of your success in America, how did things unfold for you over there?

We've been touring here for almost four years. We came over in the beginning as a completely unknown band. Our song 'Could Have Been Me' went into the top five in the alternative chart and that led to a fantastic tour. 'Kiss This' went top ten and since then we've gone on to have the honour and privilege of opening for The Killers and Guns N' Roses. We were selected to play Motley Crue's last four dates. More recently, we've finished an eight-month tour with the Foo Fighters where I ended up singing a duet with Taylor Hawkins on a rendition of 'Under Pressure'. I've actually worked it out and think I've spent about three hours on stage with the Foos, with Dave Grohl playing drums and Taylor doing a brilliant Bowie.

Dave recently said you were the best band to ever support the Foo Fighters. What was the reaction to that statement because you can't buy publicity like that?

Mate, about two hours after that I suddenly had a call and it was my publicist saying 'hey, the NME want to talk to you.' This was the first time ever, so I was like 'finally, New Music Express want to see what my world's all about.' That's just one small part, but it's really opened up doors for us. That band, the whole tour we did, it's insane.

Have you stopped pinching yourself yet?

Let's put it this way, I'm at the beginning of a fort eight plus show tour going throughout the United States, something which – in a lot of ways – is completely unheard of. We're talking non-stop, three plus months of shows. Within that there are moments where you're extremely exhausted and suffering fatigue. Sometimes you wake up and all you want is to go home. But once you get on stage and are playing in front of two thousand kids it's like 'wow, this is what it's all about.' Those are the pinch me moments. I'm pinching myself every day. I've got marks all the way up my arm.

Your trajectory reminds me of Def Leppard's in the 1980s, when they broke big in America before Britain, but then subsequently suffered a backlash from their English fans. Have you encountered anything similar?

Not really. I do play on it and I've been told I can be fairly dramatic at times. The frustration I've had in the past with the United Kingdom, whether it's the radio or lack of press a few years ago, isn't as bad as I probably made it out to be. It's just the fact we haven't had any significant airplay on the major stations in the UK. So, we're not really in the public arena. But now things are beginning to change and it's the way we knew it was going to be once we started heading to America. Like 'We're gonna be very absent from our native country and we're not going to get as much exposure in the UK as America' and you can't blame anyone for that. It's just one of those things.

How's it going now in the UK, in terms of the exposure your new material is getting?

With the United Kingdom, even if the radio stations turn around and say 'it's not really for us', we have always said we're going to create an absolute monster of a song that is gonna be so great no one will be able to ignore it. Those particular songs have yet to be aired into the public spectrum so I'm waiting and seeing what happens. I've still got faith. There's still fight in me yet!

You really need to get on Jools Holland as that can really break a band.

Well it is and, funny enough, we're gonna be doing some fantastic late-night stuff in the US. Jools Holland's show, for me, would be an absolute dream come true as a Brit, as a fan of squeeze. I love Jools and really respect him and the show. His voice is something I've adopted when announcing our support acts. (Uncanny imitation) 'Give it up for White Reaper!'

'Everybody Wants' was one of the best debuts by a British rock band for a long time. You've repeatedly said 'Young & Dangerous' is much bigger and better, so why are you so confident it's a stronger record?

We've grown a lot as musicians, as writers, and extensive touring can only grow a band in a way playing and playing and playing can do. Physically seeing and hearing what audiences react to has definitely been a component when composing this album. It has a lot more depth than 'Everybody Wants'. There are tracks which really take you on a journey and express all types of emotion. We're talking about freedom to be what you are, young love, death, being a prima donna. There's so many dynamics compared to the first. The amount of work that was put into this has been ten times the amount that was on the first. I think it's very hard not to hear that.

How would you describe the stylistic evolution between the two?

The second is a lot more immediate. We've trimmed the fat on what we want to express and, in doing so, sculpted songs which have more impact. I always describe it as this: 'Everybody Wants' was a fantastic left hook in this fight for stardom and 'Young & Dangerous' is going to be a fantastic right punch knockout. Stronger and heavier than the last and carries much more weight. It's that second burst of energy to blow people away.

The reaction to having Kesha on a version of 'Body Talks' has polarised opinions, with some seeing it as an obvious attempt to crossover into the pop market. How do you feel about that?

I understand where they're coming from completely (Laughing). I'm not stupid. As soon as she said 'yes' I thought 'hmmm, this could rub people the wrong way.' Honestly, I don't give a shit. The only thing that matters to me is 'does it sound good?' I can say with my hand on my heart that this collaboration came so beautifully and naturally. She loves the band, we are musically kindred spirits in a lot of ways, and she injects this certain energy and je ne sais quoi I couldn't bring. I love the original but the one with her is brilliant and unique and I absolutely love it.

It must have really helped your profile too?

There's no doubt about it. It's like when people would ask bands who appeared on Live Aid 'did you do it for charity or were you thinking of that exposure?' I think you'd have to be an absolute arsehole to say 'yes, we did it a hundred per cent for charity.' I did this collaboration for creative reasons but I've also got a career to think about. I want to grow and want my audience to grow but, most importantly, I want to do it in my own way and on my terms. For those reasons, I have nothing to apologise for.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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Did you consciously think about what the best album to make would be in order to build on your success?

There was no clear musical direction. The only thing that was calculated was that this had to be as strong, and make an impact sonically, as much as the debut. With regards growing and taking chances, there's quite a few songs which are pushing the envelope and taking this band and our audience in an ever so slightly different direction. Just enough to make people stand up and go 'oh, Wow! They've tried this and they've definitely pulled it off.' Which is extremely important on the second album.

It is very radio friendly and accessible. It must have been in your mind to create something that would really stand out and get people's attention?

You're completely correct and what's so special about our music, and this album, is we've been able to do it in our own way. Which is the danger element. We've been able to think 'okay, let's listen to what's going on.' I'm still Luke Spiller and this band is still The Struts, but how are we gonna push things forward? How are we going to remain true to ourselves, convey the messages that we want, but bring a fresh sound to a genre full of people regurgitating the same thing and sounding exactly like a band that sprung up in the 1960s / 70s.

You guys draw from a huge pool of influences, more so than people give you credit for, and that creates a kind of classic sound that's also modern too.

Exactly. That's always been the number one priority. We do not, ever, want to just regurgitate the bands we love because they never did that. If there's anything you can learn from Oasis, Queen, the Stones, it's that you have to take things you love and push it forward to create something unique. There's only a certain amount of time a band can last being a carbon copy of something else. If you stand on the shoulders of giants then yes, you'll be up there, but you'll soon lose your balance and fall quite a way down when you're on top of a giant.

'Primadonna Like Me' is the perfect Struts anthem and has 'calling card' written all over it.

We had gone down a lot of avenues, a lot of rabbit holes, experimenting and some things were not working and some kind of were. In order to make something great you have to know exactly what you don't want to do. So, we went through that process for the first three to four months and 'Primadonna Like Me' was that fantastic moment where we had done it again. Like 'WOW! This is the Struts.' It's got a little bit of everything from Supergrass, the Stones, Queen. There's even the Kaiser Chiefs in there. It was this fantastic mixture and from then on was the template for the rest of the album.

'Who Am I?' is the biggest departure. What can you say about that song?

People say it's the departure but, if anything, I think it's an expansion on the ideology we had with 'Dirty Sexy Money'. We always love to inject groove in some songs because I love to dance and I'm heavily influenced by Motown records. We wanted to create something which was another fantastic groover, very bass driven. It's a slight departure because it's a lot more Disco than 'Dirty Sexy Money', but what makes it fantastic is its lyrical content. That's what binds it into The Struts. Saying 'I can be your Harley Quinn or Dr Strange' and having this sexual, provocative nature makes it super unique. We pushed things forward but we've definitely pulled it off.

'Tatler Magazine' is the kind of song Freddie Mercury would have loved. Are tracks like that a tongue in cheek summation of your dreams?

That track is 100% my 'inner head fantasy.' I was in the UK and ITV or Channel Four was running a documentary called 'Inside Tatler Magazine' and I thought 'Wow, this is absolutely fucking gold and why haven't I ever sung or talked about this because it's so me?' I went straight to the piano and started coming up with this musical theatre skeleton. My initial thought was 'this is never gonna see the light of day, but I'd love to exorcise this small bare-boned song.' I had been writing a rock opera musical in my spare time so the style of the song evolved from what I had been doing, having this freedom of the arrangement going wherever the song wanted to and keeping you entertained and interested every single beat and second.

When we were writing the album, we were doing very linear tracks and thinking everything had to be super hip and whatnot. By the time 'Tatler Magazine' was suggested it was a very unique and refreshing experience where I encouraged myself and Jed (Elliot, bass), who joined in for the majority of the writing of that song, 'let's just throw in the fucking towel for one day and have fun with this. What do you say?' It came out beautifully and was an absolute joy to record and finish at Sunset Sound (studio).

As huge Queen fans can you envisage a day when you may go full 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and shoot off in some mind-blowing directions like they used to?

Yeah, of course. It's something I hold close to my heart and there's a couple of moments in this album where I get to express myself in that way. Whether it's 'Tatler Magazine' or 'Ashes (Part Two)', or even in my own personal time when I'm writing musical theatre, I love that aspect of being able to take people on a journey. Not just with the lyrical content but the musical arrangements as well. Again, talking about the differences between the first and second album, I think there's a few tracks on this like 'Tatler...' and 'Fire.......' and 'Ashes....' that have this musical theatre, super-Queen, feel. I felt it was very important we sat down and did something like that to show everyone what we can do.

It feels like you can go a lot further too.

We will. We will. Trust me, there are things in the works, in terms of arrangements and really thinking outside the box, that have yet to be unveiled. I think it's very important to try and keep one step ahead of ourselves. It's something I'm constantly expanding on for sure.

A lot of bands almost consider it a crime to have fun, but you guys are all about escapism and getting the party started. In 2018 it feels like that separates you from the pack and is what's badly needed in the world today.

I think so too and not just in 2018. It's something I've always held true and it's always resonated in me in a way I can't really describe. It's in my nature. It's in my bones. As soon as I started to sing and perform, I always had this desire to embody different people and write songs which were a little out of this world and take people on a journey. When I was fifteen and sixteen and riding the bus from Cleveland into Bristol, attending school, at seven thirty in the morning, I'd have my CD Walkman on with my giant silver headphones. I'd smoke a little spliff before getting on the bus and would just float away into my own little world for forty-five minutes before arriving. That was my escapism and something I felt was so important and, in a lot of ways, is lacking in current music.

In the '70s and '80s rock groups like yourselves would be playing stadiums and arenas. Is that still possible?

Even if it's not I refuse to believe it. I believe in great music and when you have great music, most of the time, you have a great reaction and can cash in on that, so to speak. What we've been doing over here in the States is testament to that. For a band that started out playing in front of three hundred and fifty to four hundred people, we're now doing fifteen hundred to two thousand people, sold out, and this is all happening before our second album is out. I don't think Noel Gallagher would have been aggrieved bands weren't able to do arenas when they were coming out with 'Definitely Maybe'. When you look at bands like that what's the most important aspect? It's the perfect marriage of hype, a great live show and fantastic fucking music which - I believe - if you have can change the world.

How big can The Struts become?

The Struts can only become as big as we want to. The last few years is evidence towards the theory you can only get out what you put in. We've been touring non-stop for the last three years and we're definitely starting to see the fruits of that labour now. As long as we want to keep going and pointing towards the stars we can get there. We're definitely on our way and I think with 'Young & Dangerous' people will listen, lean back and think 'Wow, they're fucking going for it.' That was definitely what I wanted to get across.

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