“Don’t wanna live as an untold story… Wrapped in your regret/ What a waste of blood and sweat… I wanna live better days/Never look back and say/Could have been me!”
These are lyrics famously sung by The Struts’ lead vocalist Luke Spiller on their 2014 breakout hit Could Have Been Me from their debut studio album Everybody Wants. Formed in Derby, England in 2012, The Struts; Spiller (vocals), Adam Slack (guitar), Jed Elliott (bass) and Gethin Davies (drums) have toured the world opening for iconic bands like the Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, The Who and The Foo Fighters. Spiller has been described as Freddie Mercury reincarnated—with a dash of Mick Jagger. At this point, it seems as though Spiller has lived up to his ambition to live life to the fullest as he boldly declares in Could Have Been Me. However, Spiller himself might disagree. He is relentless in his drive to make The Struts bigger every day.
It is six o’clock at night in England and Spiller has put his T-Rex documentary on pause to have a chat with us here at Screamer Magazine. In our discussion, he opened up about touring, his views on success, fashion, and pop music.
Lately, The Struts have been touring the world in support of 2018’s Young & Dangerous released on Interscope Records. Since Body Talks, Primadonna Like Me and Bulletproof Baby were released as singles prior to the album’s release, the band has been out touring almost non-stop in support of it. They have played worldwide headlining shows as well as festivals including Lollapalooza, Governors Ball, Bottle Rock, and Isle of Wright. This, of course, begs the question, what are audiences like in different countries. Spiller has the perfect answer to this question: “Brazilians cry, Italians scream, the British yell, the Americans jump, the Japanese clap, the French love, and the Germans are German.”
Just recently, they wrapped up a sold-out tour of the U.K. as well as joined Spanish indie rockers León Benavente and Green Day for the MTV World Stage show in Seville, Spain on November 2nd, 2019. Spiller explains that there are a few more shows coming up despite the bands relentless tour schedule: “Right now we’re just taking a little bit of time off, but we’ve got a few more shows. We’ve got two really great shows in Philly and then we’re doing a New Year’s Eve show in Nashville.”
The Struts also just announced a run of 2020 California tour dates. Tour de California will be presented by Harley-Davidson and will kick off on February 28, 2020 in San Diego. With their rock n’ roll persona, Harley-Davidson and The Struts seem like a perfect match. Spiller elaborates, “With its roots deeply embedded in classic style, The Struts share the qualities of Harley-Davidson as a means of expression and individuality.”
As with most young rock n’ roll bands, one can only imagine the tales of debauchery that life on the road brings with it, but with Spiller it will be left there–to your imagination–he’s not one to kiss and tell. “Every time someone asks me this question, I really have trouble answering it because, in all honesty, all of the escapades, it kind of becomes quite personal, if that makes any sense. I mean, I can definitely tell you that I got up to a lot of trouble and I had myself a very, very good time. The details of which, you know, that all of that entails, for the sake of probably my mum getting a hold of this interview and reading it, I can’t tell them unfortunately.” Spoken like a true gentleman.
With the success of Everybody Wants, one might wonder if the Struts felt some pressure to live up to the previous album when recording Young & Dangerous. However, for a band that seems to have hit the big time right out of the gate, Spiller is surprisingly quite humble about the band’s success, “Honestly, I don’t really think I’m successful yet. I think I’m probably about 10% of where I want to be. So, I don’t really see any pressure. I don’t see myself winning any awards. I don’t see myself headlining stadiums. I don’t see my face in tabloid magazines. So, I wouldn’t consider myself as a quote unquote successful musician. I’d say I’m just doing good at the moment. So, there’s not too much pressure. It just drives me to keep wanting to get bigger and bigger.”
This drive is the subject of their recent single from Young & Dangerous Tatler Magazine, the lyrics of which reiterate what Spiller just described: “Some people stay content with how they’re living/ Well I want more/I wanna be in a Tatler Magazine/ It’s been my ambition and dream since I was about seventeen.”
It is obvious that Spiller puts a lot of himself into his lyrics. Thus, one might wonder if he really is the prima donna he proclaims to be in Primadonna Like Me. To this he replies, “No, I mean, I’ve never taken anything really too seriously. It’s just all of this fantasy, you know. It’s not like serious. I don’t know. I can’t describe it. Its very character driven that song and it’s kind of like I’m pulling things out [of] myself that, you know, maybe I wish I could be more like.”
Many bands worry about a “sophomore slump” on their second album, but The Struts managed to outdo themselves on Young & Dangerous with hits like Body Talks and Primadonna Like Me. The album peaked at number 7 on Billboard’s US Top Alternative Albums. As far as the pressure to create the big, catchy rock anthems the Struts have come to be known for, this is most definitely on the band’s mind. Spiller explains, “It’s a matter of taste, I think the quality of the music is definitely important. It’s something that we’ve always felt very strong about. I’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that we don’t turn left at the chorus, if that makes any sense. I like big choruses. I don’t like to just pussy out and just settle for second best when it comes to a certain part of the song. If you can, always make each bit better and so it satisfies you in some way.”
The Struts recorded Young & Dangerous while on tour in support of Everybody Wants, a feat that most bands can’t pull off. Spiller describes the process, “It would be, say goodbye to the bus, and then it would start with me and the band just jumping back in the studio and writing on the spot. It was a very difficult process. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but it was basically all the time off that we had on tour was spent in the studio. So, there really wasn’t any respite or any windows of time where we could really sit back, which was good and bad. It was good in the sense that there was this feeling of the Struts being this mad train that just never stopped, whether it was in the studio or out on the road going all around the world. But I think on the flip side, it can be quite easy to kind of lose sight of what you’re doing. I found it extremely disorientating towards the end, like the last month of doing shows and then jumping back into the studio. It definitely took kind of a mental toll on me. But yeah, I’m proud of what we achieved, and I think you can hear it in the album.”
As far as how this added to the spontaneous and frenetic quality of Young & Dangerous, Spiller details, “I mean it’s definitely very schizophrenic. It jumps from one thing to the next and I think that’s because it wasn’t done in one sitting. It was like you would go out and do a bunch of shows, have certain experiences, sometimes you’d feel a lot more refreshed than other times, so that has an effect. And then living with the material for so long, I would get bored. I’d be like, ‘no, this sucks. Like let’s move on, let’s do something else.’ It became quite productive because if you get bored easily, you ended up doing more stuff. Then sometimes the spontaneous songs that really just sprout out of nowhere can be the strongest.”
Interestingly, on Young & Dangerous The Struts worked with not one, but two major producers: Butch Walker (Weezer, Panic! At the Disco) and Sam Hollander (Fitz and the Tantrums, Neon Trees). “We’d be traveling and then we’d end up somewhere, and producers are busy people and we’ve never been able to dedicate more than a week at a time somewhere. So, we had to get the job done and just work with whoever was available. It can be quite difficult, but it’s also great to get a different perspective from so many different people. You play what else you’ve been doing for the people that you’re in with on that particular day, so it does help you get a new perspective on the music, especially if you’re just curious as to what other people are thinking as well.”
Apparently, Everybody Wants was recorded in a similar manner while the band was on tour supporting the Have You Heard EP, “They’re both very different albums but done in very similar ways, where we’d be traveling and then we’d end up somewhere and record.” With the band’s hectic schedule, one might wonder why they don’t just produce their own records, Spiller responds to this idea, “I’d love to, but we just don’t have time. I mean, I love to literally say to everyone, ‘Hey, I want 12 weeks and we’re going to do this,’ but, that’s just not the way we can do things. We’ve got too many things happening.”
Having toured with rock n’ roll legends like Guns N’ Roses and The Rolling Stones, have The Struts received any valuable career advice? “I think the message is basically the same. It’s just keep going. I think everyone recognizes that we’re a great live act and that’s also something that I pride myself in. We put in a lot of work and effort and thought into the live performance, so that the songs kind of take on a different life altogether. And I think everyone’s just said, ‘just keep going.’ You know, it’s just a matter of time before the stars align and things really happened for you. So, it’s just been encouragement.”
The Struts have a clear classic rock influence in their music, but they do support some newer bands too. For example, Spiller states, “there’s a band called White Reaper who I think are pretty good. We’ve also got a band coming out with us next year called Starcrawler I think is pretty cool. Sunflower Bean is another one I like. Just off the top of my head, those are the ones that kind of jump out.” Spiller admits though, that he usually prefers older music, “Other than that, it’s really bad, but I really don’t care for a lot of modern music. I know it’s bad, but it just doesn’t turn me on in the same way. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not for me, you know?”
Spiller has stated in the past, “One of the things we most want to do with our music is inspire young people to pick up a guitar again. We live in a time that’s very much dominated by hip-hop and dance music, and that’s a great thing, but we want to give the world a big reminder that there’s something else going on out there. This album is our way of saying, ‘If you feel a little out of place, there’s always an electric guitar—and just look at what you can do with it.’”
Does this mean he’s disparaging today’s pop music? “I think what I was trying to say in that statement is even pop music can be music where you can actually fucking hear a guitar in it, and when I say that, I mean a GUITAR! I’m not talking like an acoustic, Spanish guitar playing sort of like Latin American rhythms and with Justin Bieber singing on it. I’m talking like actual licks and sort of like cool guitar parts and stuff like that. Some of the world’s greatest pop music has that. If you listen to Mama Mia, the main hook goes along with the piano and a sort of like harmonized electric guitar part, which I love of course. I think rock and pop can definitely mix with one another. I think that’s where some of the greatest songs have been made.”
The Struts’ cover of Dancing In the Streets is certainly a rock and pop hybrid that has also been covered by the likes of David Bowie and Mick Jagger, The Kinks, The Everly Brothers and even Van Halen, among others. Despite this song being done many times, The Struts have a unique take on it that is funky and upbeat, “Yeah it’s definitely like a hybrid between rock and pop which I think came up quite unique. It’s really nice.”
The Struts also have rock and pop come together on one version of their song Body Talks where they paired up with Kesha. The song was released in two versions, one with the duet, and one without, the pairing is genius and the two seem to have real chemistry. “We met her at this college show and we just kind of kept in touch really. And then we had the song and the idea was thrown out like this would be pretty cool to do a duet. She was the first person that we thought of that would probably get it and who would be able to deliver something which was unique, and she said yes straight away.”
Amazingly, while touring and recording, the band has also managed to film quite a few videos as well. For Young & Dangerous alone they have released six videos including Body Talks directed by Greg Watermann, Body Talks ft. Kesha directed by Lagan Sebert, Primadonna Like Me again by Greg Watermann, and their cover of Dancing in the Streets by Sebastian Savino.
The band has frequently worked with Watermann, who proclaims himself to be a “Rock Star Photographer” and has done videos for Pitbull and System of a Down. He really captures the essence of The Struts live in Primadonna Like Me. Do they consider the visual aspect of the band as important as the music? Spiller says, “yeah, always. We shoot videos all the time, like when we’re on tour, so we have a couple of things that are going to be released in the next couple of weeks.”
If the visual aspect is just as important as the music, this means that means Spiller himself is a visual focal point. He has even had clothes specially designed for him by the likes of Zandra Rhodes, who formerly dressed Freddie Mercury. Spiller explains, “She made me two outfits around five years ago. And since then, we’ve been getting a lot of stuff with a guy called Ray Brown, who’s equally as talented. He’s fantastic.” Brown is an Australian tailor known for designing custom clothing for celebrity rock musicians.
Spiller was also featured in the BBC documentary Oh You Pretty Things: The Story of Music and Fashion. When asked if he feels like a fashion icon, Spiller laughs and replies, “Fuck no! Obviously, I want to look good and I like things to be presented in a certain way and, yeah, it is important. I couldn’t do a video in tacky bottoms and a hoodie. I want it to say something. I mean, I don’t know… all I know is, I do what I want. I look the way I want. I sound the way that I want, and it makes me happy and I’m just happy that it makes other people happy. And if people find wisdom in any of that or strength then that’s a bonus.”
As far as what the future holds, Spiller can’t tell us much, but he tries anyway, “We’re going to just try to come up with some new material which I’m really looking forward to getting out. It’s going to be fantastic. I can’t really tell you anything because I’ll get in extreme trouble. I try and give lovely fruitful answers in interviews, sort of like exclusive information, and then I just get in trouble for it. So, I have to really watch what I say. But in like four days’ time, I’m flying out to LA to just jump back in the studio and see what happens for a month.”
Upcoming tour dates for The Struts include…
Dec 28 and Dec 29 Philadelphia, PA – The Fillmore Philadelphia
Dec 31 Jack Daniel’s Music City Midnight – New Year’s Eve in Nashville
2020 Dates – Tour de California Presented by Harley-Davidson
February 28 San Diego, CA Soma
February 29 Anaheim, CA House of Blues
March 3 San Francisco, CA The Warfield
March 4 Santa Cruz, CA The Catalyst
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