AM’s Greg Phillips spoke to The Struts singer Luke Spiller and guitarist Adam Slack ahead of their current Australian tour
Just as their name implies, UK glam-rockers The Struts are brash, confident and hungry for success. However none of the significant inroads made by the band to date in their quest for megastardom have effected the size of their heads … they’re grateful for the opportunity to travel the world playing music with their mates, know that hard work is the key to longevity and seem like genuinely nice blokes. Today charismatic frontman Luke Spiller and talented guitarist Adam Slack are slightly delirious, having flown into Australia from Japan hours earlier, yet know that media commitments are all part of the deal in pushing The Struts brand forward and are happy to chat.
“Playing shows is something we really enjoy doing and my god we play a lot, so it’s a blessing and a curse,” Adam responds when I ask what the best thing about being in The Struts is. “We love travelling the world and seeing different countries and playing shows in them. We miss home sometimes but it’s a dream for sure to be able to do it and call it a real job.” Luke chips in too. “All the best parts of being in The Struts are also the worst parts,“ he says referring to the jetlag they’re feeling.
The Struts is such a classic rock ’n’ roll band name that you’d think that someone would have already claimed it but the British quartet lucked out in that regard. The Devon Bridge Society and Baby Strange were also names under consideration before their manager at the time suggested The Struts as a name because Luke was always ‘struttin’ around’.
Such is the work ethic of The Struts that they’re back in Australia merely six months after their last trip. On that occasion they were supporting another global ‘buzz band’ Greta Van Fleet, who had to cancel gigs after their singer had come down with laryngitis. Rather than sit around in their hotel suites waiting for their departure date, The Struts decided to play a couple of now famous free gigs in Melbourne, one at the legendary Cherry Bar and the other at sister club Yah Yahs. It was a week that fans and the band remember fondly. “The memories are great ones,” says Luke without hesitation. “We took a bad situation and we flipped it on its head and in doing so had a couple of really special shows. I remember the walls literally sweating, that’s how hot it was.”
While The Struts come across as a band very much on a mission, you get the feeling that in their relatively short two album career, they’re still very much trying to work this whole international touring and recording thing out. When they talk together as a band and discuss the future and goals, I wondered what the key elements were that kept coming up?
“Money!” states Luke quick as a flash as the band, listening in the background break into laughter. “In all honesty, the music side of it … that’s not really the challenge. There’s always songs floating around, there’s always ideas. It is not like we are at a point where we are not driven musically. Most of the meetings are usually about things like … if something has happened or something in the show was not working, it’s normally all quite constructive really. It usually all four of us at a pub or bar and we end up talking about something.”
One of the other current topics of conversation is the next album, the follow up to their acclaimed second disc Young & Dangerous. Where are they at with that project? “Nowhere really,” jokes Luke. “We are kinda accumulating ideas but it is really difficult to say. We are kind of in a slightly limbo kind of situation. When I say that, we are basically trying to figure out … do we consolidate these four weeks on this side of the year into trying to make an album or do we spend four weeks with no additional pressure but maybe try and come up with two or three really great songs instead of 10 and see where that goes? It is kind of starting but officially it hasn’t, if that make sense?
We were there mental notes made or lessons learned from Young & Dangerous that they would take into the next recording?
“I think the second album was pretty horrible to make at times but no mental notes really,” says Luke on reflection. “I think there were a few things in there that we could have done better. On the whole we are really proud of it but because of the constant touring and the fatigue and sheer amount of songs that were written in a short space of time, it kinda clouded judgement at times, which is something that I don’t think we want to repeat. So maybe relying on our gut instincts a little more is something that we could take awy from that.”
“Another thing we take away … is carving some time out to actually write and record instead of just getting off a 15 hour flight from Quebec and then trying to start writing a song for two days, record it and leave again … which is what we were doing,” Adam adds. “We are going to LA in November for a month and we’re just going to sit down and write some stuff, ”
It seems I’d hit a nerve and Luke gets quite animated as he recalls just how hectic their lifestyle has been. “Yeah, we’d come back to the UK after being on the west coast of the US and then we’d be in the studio the day after we landed. I remember we were recording a song … Adam was playing this riff and I fell asleep at 1pm in the afternoon, I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I woke up and he was still playing it. So fuckin hell mate, we don’t want to do that again. Although we probably will. We always say the same shit, we won’t do this many shows again or don’t worry mum and dad and family, I am not going to let people walk over me and then bang, before you know it, we are touring 395 days of a 365 day year.”
For me, the best things about watching The Struts perform on stage are both the level of energy that the guys create and the simplicity and flexibility of their shows, the old three chords and the truth approach as opposed to being prisoners to pyrotechnics or lighting cues as many of today’s bigger bands are. However Luke is quick to shoot that philosophy down in flames.
“Well it has only been simplistic just because of money really,“ he says bluntly. “We did a show in New York at Pier 17, which is where I think the band should be heading, we had pyrotechnics, flame throwers, sparks. I rode a Harley Davidson out on stage. If your impression of us is that we keep the production minimal for artistic reasons, then I’m afraid you’re gravely mistaken. It’s simply because we can’t afford it.”
What is an indisputable fact however, is that The Struts possess an enticingly loud, chunky and rich rock ’n’ roll sound. A large part of that is due to lead guitarist Adam Slack’s tone. Growing up, Slack was a major fan of Brian May’s Red Special sound and also Keith Richards’ Telecaster tones. While Adam does own a couple of Red Special replicas, it’s been the Les Paul sound that he has gravitated to.
“Being the only guitar player in the band .. I have a Tele and I do play it sometimes but it doesn’t fill the space I need to fill being the only guitar player,” he explains. “A lot of the songs on the record have multiple guitar parts. I have gone to other guitars because I love the tone of the Teles. In the studio I use them a lot. When I play live I always gravitate to this one Les Paul, which is 59 replica of Mike McCready’s (Pearl Jam guitarist) Les Paul. I played about ten of them in the Chicago Music Exchange and I didn’t know the price of any of them and that one was amazing and sounded incredible. Of course, it was the most expensive but I got it and have used that in the studio since I’ve had it and taken it around the world with me and I love it. You can do everything on it and especially live … our sound guy absolutely loves it. Whenever I play anything else, he’s like yeah it good but the Les Paul is awesome… I have just got a new set of amps too. I’ve still got the AC30 but now I have a Marshall replica of Angus Young’s 67 Blackface from this company called SoloDallas. It’s a guy who lives in the Newport Beach area of California who is obsessed with AC/DC. He’s been nerding out over Angus Young’s wireless kit that he used in the studio for Back in Black, it compressed the tone. Anyway he has made that into a pedal and I have got the pedal and I saw that he made the amp and I got one too and it’s the best amp purchase I have ever made. So I have an AC30 blended with that Marshall and then I also have a little 12 inch Supro amp mixed in. Mainly it’s the Les Paul and then I have a couple of juniors that I really love, which is Keith Richards to me as well … the TV yellow double cut, which he called Tumbling Dice.”
If you’re looking for the ultimate example of The Struts great rock ’n’ roll tone, look no further than their cover of The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz, which they recorded for the 2016 movie Edge of Seventeen. It has all the excitement of the original glam rock classic yet invigorated with modern day production, offering much fatter riffs and bigger bottom end. I suggested that 70s glam rock is a largely untapped treasure trove of potential hit cover versions.
“Absolutely,”says Luke. “That’s kinda where we are coming from to an extent. We’ve covered Get It On by T Rex live numerous times and Rebel Rebel. Maybe we could do Tiger Feet (Mud) or Mickey (Toni Basil),” he throws up as recording possibilities but in the same breath suggests, “Sorry man I am delirious, I am knackered and have no idea what I am saying.” On that note I left the band to grab whatever rest they could before hitting the stage later that night at The Corner Hotel to further enhance the band’s fine reputation.
The Struts website