With The Struts Ready To Roll Back Through Europe / Uk In August, Guitarist Adam Slack Discusses Why The Band Have Found A Natural Home In The US, And Teases Us With Details Of Their New Album

“We were playing Leamington Spa for eight people, and then we had a bit of a thing in Camden towards the end of 2014 into 2015. But then we...

 

Interview by Mark Lacey

 

 

“We were playing Leamington Spa for eight people, and then we had a bit of a thing in Camden towards the end of 2014 into 2015. But then we got signed in America, and our first tour was sold out; all through alternative radio playing us. We stayed where we were wanted. Obviously, we’d love to be bigger in the UK and do some of the bigger festivals, but it just seems harder to come by”.

For a band whose humble beginnings were born in Bristol and Derby, The Struts are rarely to be seen in the UK, with their successes in the US increasingly keeping them busy overseas. Luke Spiller’s vocal talents and stage persona has been deservedly compared to the likes of Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, and Justin Hawkins. Coupled with Adam Slack’s formidable guitar work, the songwriting pair and their band mates, Gethin and Jed, deliver an anthemic feast of pop rock. The Struts and are fast becoming one of the UK’s most promising exports, and their August tour promises to extend the summer sunshine.

Photo Credit: Ben Cope

 

MGM: The Struts have already got a pretty strong fan base in the UK and the US. But there are some people out there that won’t have heard of you. How would you describe The Struts sound now for someone that’s coming to it for the first time?

AS: We’re just a rock and roll band, I guess. One thing we always used to say was Stones meets Queen. Then I remember we had some PR training, and we were told ‘never use other bands to describe your sound’. But that does describe it; everything from sixties through to now in rock n roll. Seventies glam is something that’s come up. But I’d say we’re just a fun rock n roll band.

MGM: The Struts are about to embark on an extended tour for the next few months. It looks like a quite terrifying run of dates, with 40 in a row, pretty much night after night.

AS: Honestly, I’m just buzzing to be out playing. We did bigger festivals last year and stuff like that, but a lot of it was just throw and go; lugging forty pieces of gear onto a plane, and getting up at five in the morning. But we haven’t done a tour properly since before COVID. We did one in 2021, but that was cut short because Jed got COVID and we managed to carry on without him with someone stepping in. And then I got COVID and then we bailed on it in the end. But, I’m excited. I think it’s going to be fun. We’ve changed the set up for the first time in forever, and we’re playing some new songs. I’m just buzzing to be out, and this goes on for like six weeks, it’s a US tour and then we go to Europe and then I think there’s going to be more at the end of the year in America as well. I’m happiest when I’m on tour because I don’t feel guilty about not doing anything else, because I’ve got one job …. to just go play a show. Whereas when I’m at home I should be writing more, I should be practising more, I should be doing more of this, I should be doing that, and now I just get to do one job.

MGM: Well, apart from the lack of sleep and getting used to a bunk bed in a bus again, how else do you feel about the prospect of being away from home for six to eight weeks? That must take some mental preparation as well as some physical preparation.

AS: Physical preparation? I’m still trying to get rid of the fat I put on during COVID. So, a lot of gym sessions and lots of trying to cut the drinking down, less takeaways. Honestly, since we came to America in 2015, we toured solidly up until COVID. And I didn’t have a home. I stayed at my parents’ house when I used to go back to England, but we’d stay in America at Oakwood Apartments in LA, because it was cheaper to house us there than it was to fly back to England, and then fly back again. I’m pretty accustomed to being away from home. My girlfriend’s a musician as well, and she’s on tour at the moment, so we’re used to that lifestyle. The only thing is, now we have a dog, so that’s difficult, but we make it work.

MGM: You mentioned that you’re going to be shaking the set up a bit on this bunch of dates, so what can fans expect?

AS: We used to start with ‘Primadonna like me’, ‘Body Talks’ and ‘Kiss this’ for every show for literally five years. We’ve changed that around and we put in some songs we haven’t played for ages, and we’ve done a new medley. It’s fun to build those medleys, trying to figure out the key changes to make it all work. It’s fun to see the faces on the fans. We’re still playing the songs that I think everyone likes and we like, but we’re trying to throw some other little fan favourites in that maybe we haven’t played for a while.

MGM: Your set list must pretty much write itself, as every one of your albums has got five, six, seven really catchy numbers on it. It must be more difficult, the more albums you do as you’ve got to leave something out.

AS: It’s one of those things. It’s like when you announce the tour dates and you’re doing 48 states across America, then someone goes ‘please come to Alaska’. You can’t please everybody. There’s always going to be some songs you miss off. But it is getting to that point where we’re like, oh shit, we’ve got to do ‘Could have been me’, Kiss this’, ‘Put your money on me’, ‘Body talks’, Dirty sexy money’, ‘Primadonna like me’. You’ve got to do those songs. And then ‘One night only’, ‘Fallin with me’ … the new song, and then we’ve got to do the new single. Fuck, that’s nine songs! It’s a nice problem to have, though. These songs are bangers. You look back at a set from 2015, you’re like, who wanted us to play ‘Let’s make this happen tonight’. But they were the only songs we had.

MGM: One of the songs that you played on the tour last year was ‘Fallin with Me’, which you’ve since put out as a single. That’s now become a mainstay in your set, hasn’t it? You’ve also been playing another new song recently, ‘Too Good at Raising Hell’.

AS: That’s going to be the new single. That’s the first one off this album that’s going to be coming out later this year and it’s just great fun rock n roll; very AC/DC inspired, but with a modern twist, and it went down great. With the last two singles we put out, instantly crowds just seemed to really dig it. So that’s a great first indicator.

MGM: I’m sure you must get asked this a lot, but you’re from Derby and Luke’s from Bristol. A lot of US rock bands have been coming over here to tour, and they often say that the UK market is more accepting of that music. And yet the Struts have gone in the other direction; you’re a UK band but you seem to be much more successful in the US. Why do you think that is?

AS: I think it just comes down to, if you’re not on Radio 1 or Radio 2 in England, there’s a ceiling to how big your band can get. I think streaming obviously has its own life, but for us, it was about going to America, and every state has a Top 40 station and an alternative station, and then a rock station, and we had really good success on alternative radio over there. And that’s just been the main reason why we’ve had more success, because more people are hearing our music. Radio One just has not wanted to play us, and I don’t know why. There’s no point crying about it. Radio 2 gave us some love on the last album, which I think was because of Robbie (Williams) being involved with it. Planet Rock has been great to us in the UK and other stations, too, like local radio, but I just think there’s a ceiling for us. We went from playing Leamington Spa for eight people, and then we had a bit of a thing in Camden towards the end of 2014 into 2015, we did a residency at the Monarch, which I think has closed down, and we had a thing buzzing there. But then we got signed in America, and our first tour was sold out; 200-300 cap venues, all through alternative radio playing us. We stayed where we were wanted. Obviously, we’d love to be bigger in the UK and do Glastonbury, and some of the bigger festivals, but it just seems harder to come by. So, we do the same thing every year; come back and do the Forum or Rock City in Nottingham. Hopefully, now is our time as we’ve got a new label, and this album, which I think is our best yet. If it doesn’t happen on this one, then we’ll keep going.

MGM: When you hit the UK in August, you’ll be playing Nottingham Rock City, the Manchester Ritz, and the Forum in Kentish town. What do you do to keep yourselves sane while you’re on the road?

AS: We’re a really close band. We’ve got a telepathic thing; you can tell when someone’s a bit burnt out and you just give them some space. I like being on my own. I do like my own space because I get a bit peopled out and I get a bit of social anxiety. But one thing I like doing is go for breakfast on my own or go to the cinema on my own on the day off or play video games in my hotel room. It’s something that I do to unwind. But I love after we finish the gig, going to a bar, sinking some pints and getting back on the bus and playing music and having a laugh, because we’re close with our crew as well. It’s like a family. Some of the best nights we have are in the middle of nowhere and outside the bus in little chairs, having some beers. It’s the best job in the world. I’m so lucky and I’m so grateful.

MGM: It’s been a couple of years since you put out the Strange Days album. When that came out, the band were talking about it as being put together as a sort of moment in time.

AS: Some of the songs that are coming out on our next new album were started in 2019, and the idea was, well, let’s hit pause on the album right now, and let’s just go into the studio and make an EP of some new songs. We went in and then within six days, we’d written nine songs, and were like, oh fuck, I guess this is an album. And then we then we did the cover of ‘Do You Love Me?’ and I think you can hear to an extent that the songwriting isn’t as good as we’ve done in the past because we literally did it in six days. It was like lightning in a bottle really, because we tried to recreate it again last year and it just didn’t have the same result. We started overthinking things. What was great about that album was that there was no second guessing. That feels good, let’s go. That feels good, let’s go. Arguably, when I listen to the guitar work, I’ll go, I wish I’d spent more time on that, but I think it’s great. And it’s the most raw that you’ll hear is, because it was literally recorded live, with John the producer played piano along with us. I do one set of overdubs and that was it.

MGM: ‘Strange Days’ was also the first time that Jed and Gethin had writing credits on the songs. Does that reflect a change in your writing processes since you put the first couple of albums together?

AS: I think it was just because I came with a load of riffs, Luke came with a load of lyrics and then it was just the four of us in the room collaborating with John as well. We all pitched in together in some way and I think if everyone’s in the room, we just sort of split everything equally because we all came in here together and it doesn’t matter. It was nice to do that, but, yeah, predominantly me and Luke work just the two of us and then we co-write with other people as well. But it was fun to do that and, it felt fair because we were all in it together.

MGM: Your writing partnership with Luke is now 11-12 years. You often hear about lead guitar players and lead singers having a healthy tension that drives their creativity. You don’t seem to have those tensions. Why do you think your partnership works so well?

AS: I think it’s just been the heartbeat of the band. I met him in 2009, which is …. 14 years. Wow. That’s crazy. Before we’d write everything together, just the two of us in the room, and that’s evolved into us writing ideas separately and then bringing it together in a session and we’ll finish it together. But I think it’s good, and healthy, and there’s a real good mutual respect between the two of us. There’s no real ego, or any ‘this is my idea. I want to do this’. Me and him have never fallen out, but there’s definitely been times along the way where we grow apart and then we come back together. It was only a few months ago we were talking about that, and it was like, we’re lucky. Most bands break up because of differences, or they fight, and we’ve never had that. I just think it’s natural. You spend so much time with one another and you work together and you naturally grow apart sometimes. But now we’re closer than ever. Going into this album, it was something that we worked really hard on and we wrote a lot of songs. We get each other and it’s something that just works.

MGM: You’ve mentioned the new album a few times now. Is it finished?

AS: It’s mixed and mastered. It’s ready, it’s done. It’s great listening back to it. We just kept writing songs, and basically the label said, stop writing songs and go and record, because we were on 50 or 60 songs. We didn’t think we had a single. And then we recorded the album and then we were like, okay, I think we have ten singles. It was weird and it was great. We went in with Julian Raymond and we self-produced it with him. It was the first time that we had a bunch of songs to choose from and record them as a band; have the four of us in a room. We also had an extra guitar player in Tom Bukovac, who I’m a huge fan of. We wanted to record it live, and it was nice to have another guitarist to back me up or come up with ideas, and I could bounce off him. And then we had a piano player come in as well, Tim Lauer. So, it was great. Learning from the first two albums where we really tried to push the production into something really fresh and really different, and the third album being so live, it’s like a great combination because we wanted to make the best rock album for now. And we know we can do it. So many people love the way we sound live and we love how we sound live, so let’s just do that, but still have that element we had on the first two records, to make it sound fresh and exciting rather than just regurgitate. I think this album is a real happy mixture.

MGM: You recently performed another new track at the Unplugged East West sessions earlier this year, called ‘Pretty Vicious’. That set also included a couple of covers including one by Michael Jackson. The Struts have often performed covers during your sets; everything from Bruce Springsteen to Bowie to James Brown and Prince. You also famously played as the ‘Gin & Tonics’ tribute to Oasis. Why do you keep performing covers when your originals are so strong, and can we expect a covers album at some point?

AS: I don’t think we’ll do a covers album. But this band was born in pubs playing covers, and you can fuck up covers and we don’t care as much. We’d play ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ for the tenth time, sinking pints of Carling all night, and play until two in the morning. All shit faced. And it was just so fun, because it’s just jamming. That was part of what we liked about doing covers; you can jam and if you mess up, because it’s somebody else’s song, it doesn’t feel like it’s bad. For this tour, we’re not doing a cover because we’ve got a lot of songs that people want to hear.

MGM: The Struts are known as much for your image as the music, as perfectly illustrated in the ‘Primadonna like me’ video. You’ve worked on a number of commercial partnerships; Luke’s promoting Misfit watches, you had your Victoria’s Secret fashion show thing, and you had your Funko cereal project. How you decide which ones to do?

AS: I think we’ve been lucky that the things that have come our way are all things that we like. I love Funko. I collect Funko and I’m still waiting for my Funko POP. Luke’s got one. But the cereal thing was great. One thing that we did was with Dodge; I’d never driven a Dodge car, but they’re cool and it helped pay for the Kesha music video. I think all the brands that we’ve worked with are cool and something that we like.

MGM: Given your exhaustive touring schedule, do you get a chance to watch much other music?

AS: There’s a band called White Reaper that I really like over here. They’re from Louisville, Kentucky, and opened for us, but I’ve been a huge fan of them since then. I think they’re Thin Lizzy meets the Ramones; a really cool band. I really like the 1975. This new band we’ve just got out with us called Mac Saturn are also really cool, and I think they’re going to blow up. I still love watching the Stones. I think they’re better than ever.

 

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