The Struts – interview
The love-child of Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger delivered by Rocky Horror’s Frank N. Furter, Luke Spiller and The Struts hold the missing magical element in a Prince-less, Bowie-less, Freddie-less world. The Struts possess the link, the salvation to the commercial endeavours of prosaic sound-bites plaguing radio stations.
I follow tour manager Alex to the back of the Paramount Theater in Huntington New York, to a comfortable back stage lounge-type room where Derby-based band members Jed Elliott (bass), Adam Slack (guitar) and Gethin Davies (drums) sit waiting. Luke Spiller, (lead vocalist, pianist, song writer, and fashion police rebel) enters shortly after.
Louder than War: With this American tour, thus far you’ve been on Jimmy Fallon and performed with Kesha – which of you is having the most fun?
Jed: I know who isn’t…. I’m guilty of being a miserable bastard this tour, because I was supposed to see my girlfriend halfway through and it didn’t work out. I’ve let everyone know how miserable I am every day of this tour so far. I would say that Gethin as a drummer usually has the best time on tour. Until recently he’s been single for the last three years so he has definitely had the most fun on any tour.
What do you feel was the quantum leap, the pivotal point for The Struts? I mean you’ve been around for a few years and done a few gigs, a few festivals, then you opened for The Rolling Stones….
Luke: That was our big turning point, supporting The Stones in Paris four years ago. It was at that time that we decided to change management and the record label in the UK didn’t really give a toss about what was going on… so from that we managed to get some great management from the US and we brought our songs over here. Could Have Been Me started to make some real noise, and then we just came over here and started to capitalise on that. The last four years have been really life-changing.
Before that how long were you together?
Luke: With this line-up, 3 years… Gethin joined the band about seven years ago. So we would tour around the UK and then about a year before the Rolling Stones show in Paris we focused our energy on France, because we were getting more radio play there than in England. Then we got radio play over here which is a bigger market then France still, so we focused all our energy here, and we have done that for the last four years.
Gethin: We we’re doing some touring in the UK. That was the most frustrating part because the fans were genuine and we had some great shows. The tour that we did leading up to the Stones in the UK was actually pretty good.
Adam: I remember that. We did Manchester and Liverpool which were sold out. That was really, really good. It was the best we ever had in the UK but still nothing in comparison to what we did when we came over here.
Jed: We are going back to the UK for Christmas. Then we have a tour in the UK which is going to be our biggest one yet. We are doing Shepherds Bush, which will be a real Landmark show for us. We are doing Rock City in Nottingham which is the fastest selling show on the tour. So it’s going to be good.
Why do you think you became so much bigger here than in the UK?
Jed: One word answer…..radio. We were not played on the radio in the United Kingdom.
Luke: Quran Radio gave us a lot of support, Planet Rock has been showing us some great support. But unfortunately it is one of those things that the majority of UK public listens to Radio 1, Radio 2, XFM, Radio 6…. but if you really want to step into the public arena and be an exciting band you really need to get onto Radio 1. And for the last five years we keep bringing them songs, and we keep getting told it’s too retro. It’s something that has been very difficult for us. We just decided to go the hardest route possible and make enough noise over here, in the States, until they basically have to play us. It’s quite funny our English record label keeps telling us that we need more of a story. They obviously don’t know how to read a story because our videos are each a story within themselves.
What’s your point of view when people tell you that you sound like Freddie?
Luke: I think it’s lovely. Freddie was a big influence growing up, amongst Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, and even John Lydon actually. One of my first ever live performances I did was God Save The Queen, so there you go. I mean it’s natural for people to categorise you, especially when you’re new. I will never be as talented as he, and that’s a fact. So it’s nice, but I just don’t take it very seriously.
If I could ask you any question in the world, what would you want me to ask you?
Luke: It’s a bit narcissistic isn’t it? I haven’t really thought about it.
Jed: “Where would you like to record an album if you could record it anywhere?”, we’ve never been asked.
Adam: Well what would be the answer to that?
Luke: I’d love to record at the farm in Wales where Night At The Opera was made, and where Oasis did Morning Glory.
Jed: It’s a really legendary recording studio. I think it still exists.
Luke: I mean it’s something we’ve never experienced, being in one place and recording in one studio, so I can only imagine what that would be like. Especially when a lot of bands go there with a handful of songs and they spend three months somewhere and then they turn out an album. That must be amazing.
Jed: We’ve always done ours in between touring. So we would pick a studio for two days here and there. Our albums were recorded all over the place.
When will you be releasing your next album?
Jed: I’d say it will be at least 18 months, because we’re going to tour this one into the ground like we did with the last one.
Gethin: We’ve only just started touring this one because it just came out. We’re going to go out there to as many places as possible.
Adam: It came out two weeks ago.
You just gigged with Kesha?
Luke: We love her. We did the single Body Talks together on Jimmy Fallon, and then we played in Atlantic City where I guess we kind of opened for her, and then we joined her and did Body Talks together. Then we came on for her encore as well when she was doing Tik Tok. She said, “come on, get drunk, bring a birthday cake for my dancer”. Gethin was licking a birthday cake off her fingers.
How fun! If you could have your ultimate stage fantasy, what would you need to happen?
Luke: If I could go up on stage and have anything it would be two things. It would be a Grammy or a Lifetime Achievement Award, and Brit Award…a good award or recognition for all our hard work.
Jed: No it’s a stage set…
Luke: It’s a stage fantasy…
I’ve never had an answer like that, but it works. Who writes the songs?
Jed: Me, Luke and Adam, but for this album all four of us have written songs for the record. But it’s mainly Luke and Adam.
The Primadonna Like Me video with Alice Cooper looked like great fun.
Luke: I’m glad you think so.
Jed: I enjoyed it. It was my favorite video but we did have to fly 11 hours from the UK to Vegas. We landed and had an hours nap and then just started filming. We filmed all through the night because it was the only time we could get the Caesars Palace penthouse. It was amazing. We filmed up there and at 7AM we were doing the casino shots with beers. As the day went on, Alice Cooper was playing in town so we decided to go and say hello. Then when we were with him in his dressing room, we asked him to shoot a scene with us for this video.
You mean that wasn’t planned?
Jed: No. just happened. He throws knives for fun. He was throwing knives at a picture of Johnny Depp on his door. So he said “why don’t we just switch that over to a picture of The Struts?” So he got a picture of us up and he was throwing knives at us, as you can see in the video. And the reason Luke didn’t love it was because we then went straight from that all nighter, from the 11 hour flight, to play a headline show in Vegas. So it was exhausting. I don’t know quite how we did it, but as an experience if you take the fatigue out of it, it was a lot of fun.
It must be exhausting constantly touring?
Luke: I’m knackered (means exhausted in the UK). It’s like getting a kick in the bollocks but the biggest challenge is staying grateful to the audience, and meeting the fans and everything. That’s the only thing that keeps you going.
I know you truly adore your fans.
Luke: Yeah, we do. Having said that, we really shouldn’t be doing this amount of shows in one tour. It’s insane. It’s 67 gigs in a row – it is ridiculous. The first tour dates are brilliant, when you’re doing sold out shows every night, it’s fantastic. That’s how it is for the first six or seven weeks. We are on our last 20 now, which is like a normal tour. It’s just like anything. Everything is great but not for 67 days. Doing anything is great but too much can be a little bit silly. Even if we took a week off in the middle of the tour and went back to the UK to regroup it would be so much easier. But we’ve literally spent every second with us and all the crew in one little tour bus, and we have been doing that for 67 tour dates. Even a day off every three or four days is a luxury you have when you’re a big artist or you live in the country that you are touring. We could go back to the UK, but we don’t have the time or the money to keep flying back. So we just fill up the time in between when you would normally take a break with more tour dates. So that’s why we are unique in that sense, but if we want to be the biggest band on the planet, you’ve got to put the work in.
From your view point, musicians don’t really make money putting music out these days so my question is when you started as a new band how did you survive?
Adam: We were blessed with a publishing deal quite early on, which we managed to eke out for two years. We were getting peanuts – about £200 a month. We got signed in 2010 and got a record advance and didn’t really spend a lot of the money. We were able to scrape by with just giving ourselves a small wage. When that ran out our old manager lent us money. We had a house that we all lived in and we just had food and no spending money – it wasn’t great but it was a nice house. We didn’t have a job. This is a fun story: I remember the week after we supported the Rolling Stones in Paris where we played to 80,000 people, the following weekend I was in Bristol with a sandwich board on my back from Morrison Supermarket handing out leaflets to try and get 40 quid or something like that. You needed extra money to even fill your car. 200 quid a month is not a lot to live on. I remember thinking that this was very humbling.
Billy Hess (celebrity photographer who had been standing next to me the entire half hour thus far). Do you ever need a break from one another?
Luke: Not really, not from each other. We get along absolutely just fine. It’s like anything. You could bring the family out on the road and then once the lack of sleep and the general fatigue starts to take a toll, that’s what comes between you. You start snapping and it becomes too much. But for the most part it’s pretty doable.
What’s the first thing that you are going to do when the tour is over?
Luke: I’m going straight to the pub.
Jed: Luke is the only one that goes sober on tour, so he has his blowout as soon as he gets home. I’m probably going to do the opposite, not drink when I get home.
Luke: I mean it’s a little bit unnecessary but it’s good. It’s a challenge that I kind of give myself. I’ve spent half of this year sober which is pretty weird when I think about it. I kind of enjoy it. Now is when I really start to feel it. After two months I’m very sharp and it really affects the performance. I look back at pictures and my facial expressions are great and I can embody my character on stage a lot better. Then I get home and I sink a pint, and it’s that feeling I get when I was 16 and I would take a swig of beer. I can appreciate the buzz of alcohol again. It’s really nice. Then I get sick of it. It’s funny, I’ll go down to the pub every day for two weeks straight, then I go back on the road and I say “you know what, I’m fucking done with this”. I drink until I don’t like the taste of it. We have a very strong pub culture, where it’s not really frowned upon for most people to go down to the pub after work, especially in London – the men will hang outside the pub and drink on the streets. It’s a real spectacle to see. It’s great. But when you get here it’s so vast and you travel constantly you have to kind of keep all that at bay if you’re going to get through the tour. Which is why people like Oasis never completed a tour.
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.
Photo © Billy Hess