Backstage With The Struts

  I’m sitting in a backstage Philadelphia dressing room with singer Luke Spiller, guitarist Adam Slack, bassist Jed Elliott and drummer Gethin Davies, known collectively as The Struts. They just may be the hottest band in the world. The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters and Motley Crue all wanted them (and got them) as their opening act. The major label Everybody Loves debut was strikingly anthemic, every song. The Young & Dangerous follow-up is even better, filled with fist-pumping adrenaline, dramatic choruses with that unerring propensity for over-the-top arrangements, very British influences and a definite Queen-centric vibe. Plus, the new one strays into sounds omitted on the debut. It has more character, balls and substance. And, yes, they’re already thinking about their third album.

  Part glam, part punk, part instant classic rock, The Struts are carving out their own legend here in the States before they even get played on British radio. And don’t think the four off-stage polite lads don’t chew on that. Sure, other bands have made it here before they even made it in their own country. Led Zeppelin certainly comes to mind. Oasis too.  But these lads from Derby, Derbyshire, Great Britain are doing it the hard way: constant touring. They’re that good. So, what’s all the fuss about?

What’s the difference between Everybody Wants and Young And Dangerous?

  Adam Slack: Luke and I wrote the majority of the first album over seven years ago. We’ve since evolved more as songwriters. The production is better now. We’re all better musicians now. There was much more experimentation production-wise and the complexity of the songs themselves is bigger and more ambitious.

You’ve definitely got some different kinds of sounds on it that weren’t on the first. If Everybody Wants contained grandiloquent, emotional, orgasmic joyousness, the second one doubles-down on that, yet adds totally new sounds, spilling into a post-glam, post-punk arrogance like no band in recent memory. There’s an American band that also has always had that joyousness, Cheap Trick. I even hear some of them in what you do.

  Luke Spiller: A lot, yeah. But we can’t really compare because things are always changing. First of all, we have yet to be even acknowledged in the United Kingdom! No radio! No television! No anything! So, it’s kind of hard to put us in any context with previous British bands. We’re totally on our own path. I think the closest thing we could probably get compared to is maybe Def Leppard, okay? Just because they did exactly what we’re doing.

  Jed Elliott: I wouldn’t say sound-wise. Just in terms of their journey, because they did it backwards like us. There’s a reason that Joe Elliott loves us so much. He’s a big fan of the songs, and plays us on his radio show in the U.K. — he’s the only one — and he mentions us quite fervently. I’m convinced it’s because his band went through what we’re going through. They had to get a ticket to America and only then did they blow up before they went back home and got their recognition.

Led Zeppelin too.

  JE: Going back even further, when Ray Davies refused to get his teeth done, that’s when America turned their back on The Kinks and they went home, did their most British album of all, Village Green Preservation Society, total “fish ‘n’ chip rock.” Extremely British.  We’re conscious that we too can seem very, very English to the American ear and it’s a thin line because we don’t only want to be fish ‘n’ chip rock. I think our song “Tatler Magazine” is our most British-sounding. But we have to maintain a balance. Maybe not so much in the future but now, only on our second album, we strive to be more universal.

Joe Elliott isn’t the only rock star who digs you guys. Dave Grohl raves about you! How much does that help?

  LS: Tremendously, especially in the U.K. Foo Fighters had just done Wembley and, at the time, had Starcrawler and Wolf Alice opening, who are both getting more radio play in England than we are. Yet, as soon as he said that on the radio, though, people listened. And the most ironic thing was that the DJ interviewing him turned around and said, “Oh yeah, I love that band. They’re amazing.” Yet the fucker’s never once played our music.

  LS: It’s just one of those things. I think everything happens for a reason. The best thing that’s happened from the lack of attention was the fact that we’ve come here. If we had gained traction in our home country like we had here on the first album, we wouldn’t have added additional Everybody Wants songs. It made it a stronger album. Plus, we wouldn’t have gone on this incredible journey.

  JE: We wouldn’t have got the Foo Fighters tour.

  LS: We might not have even come to the States at all yet, who knows?

When did Dave Grohl first become aware of you?

  JE: In D.C. at The 9:30 Club. He’s from around there. He just showed up with a buddy who’s a big fan of us. He told Dave, “You’ve got to check this band out!” We wound up chatting with him for three hours after the gig. That’s when he first told us, “I really want to take you boys out on the road with us because you’re amazing!” Had we not put in the work and the time, we probably wouldn’t even have gotten the D.C. booking. I also think the fact that we were in this country for so long and this is our primary touring focus, that it led to opportunities like that, as Luke said, had we been forced on focusing on our career back home, we never would have achieved half of what’s gone on.

  LS: Right. And on reflection, what we have, it really makes you think. I mean, we’re friends with bands that get a lot of attention back in the U.K. and not one them seems to really spend the amount of time that we do here in the States. And make no mistake about it, the opportunities are here. We never would’ve got the opportunity, for instance, to perform on America’s Got Talent which we did [backing up 14-year-old American Courtney Hadwin] at the very last minute. We actually got asked to do that show 24 hours before we did it. We would’ve never been asked to do that show had we been touring back home. It just wouldn’t have been possible. Same thing with that Victoria’s Secret event and being on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

How did the Kesha duet on “Body Talks” come about?

  LS: We met her a year or so ago on a college tour and kept in contact. Then, when we were writing the new album, we thought it would be great to have her on a track. We couldn’t figure out which one, though. We thought it would be “Who Am I.” But then we realized that song is pretty off-topic for a conversational piece from one person to another. “Body Talks” worked much better.

And how did Alice Cooper come to be on the video for “Primadonna Like Me”?

  LS: I went on holiday in Maui after the first tour in 2015. It was a very long tour supporting the EP. Our first album had yet to even come out. We did a lot of American radio stations too. We were always working. I had to just get away from everything. It was all too much. I ended up at an event in Maui where I met Alice and [manager] Shep [Gordon]. We were talking and he was already aware of the band, which I thought was really cool. Alice said, “I love what you’re doing. I love the fact that you’re daring to do something different and you’re standing by that.” He was really cool.

  Then when it came time to shoot the video in Las Vegas, he just happened to be playing a show in town that night. We went to just say hi but we brought the camera. Just in case. That’s when we asked him to be in our video. He agreed immediately. At first, he was cast as my dad. That didn’t quite work out. Then we just did a bunch of b-roll footage. He likes to throw knives. When I first walked in, he was throwing a knife at a picture of Johnny Depp. I didn’t want to do that so we blew up a Struts pic and threw knives at that. I don’t think it would have been good for us to throw knives at Johnny Depp in the video.

Being the cynical journalist I am, when I first saw it, I figured it was a piece of brilliant marketing to get the Baby Boomer crowd into the band. But it wasn’t, was it?

  LS: Define great marketing.

Reaching out for a new audience, one that might not have been aware of you prior.

  LS: Kesha is great marketing.  But what makes it great is the fact that it’s natural. That’s what I define as great. Like Queen and Bowie getting together. That wasn’t some pre-meditated idea where a bunch of suits got together and said they should do that. They just happened to be recording in the same town at the same time. Yet there’s no denying we’re reaping benefits of it while opening our music to a totally different audience.

I talk to a lot of musicians from the ‘60s and ‘70s mostly. I always ask them to what do they attribute their longevity. Invariably, they’ll always say how — during the first few albums — there was drink, drugs and groupies but they learned how to calm down. Yet, you guys are just getting started! So how self-destructive are you?

  Gethin Davies: So the first time we came over to America, we had yet to be on a proper tour. In England, we were living in a house and had a show every week. So we partied then because we had nothing else to do. Then here, we partied a bit at the start but soon realized that you simply cannot do this lifestyle by partying every day. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, you could first wake up at 3:00 p.m. You might not even have a soundcheck. Besides the show, you got nothing. Nowadays, we got massive promo, interviews, radio, travel, photo shoots, television, but, uh, yeah, we pick our times [Laughs].

  LS:  There’s definitely still fun, though.

  AS: It’s hard. But we do it. Or else we’d go nuts. The first six months, especially during the Motley Crue dates, were particularly bad. We hadn’t had to really be such good boys. I mean, we were playing shows every night but they weren’t really such serious shows. I mean, sure, in our heads, we took ‘em seriously enough. But that sort of thing tapered out and six months into 2016, we straightened out. We did 235 shows that year. It got to the point where we knew it couldn’t continue as is.

  LS: Personally, the majority of the drugs I’ve done, were all before things got really busy. I can put my hand on my heart and honestly say I’ve done enough already, more than most.

You’re so young to be saying that.

  LS: I’m 30. The rest of the band is in their 20s. Even before I joined the band, I’d seen and done a lot of stuff. That kind of lifestyle was still quite profound in my early years. When we lived in that house in Darby, man, not really touring, you get bored, man. You get down on yourself for whatever reason so you drink and use heavy drugs. Then you grow up. You mature, you say to yourself, “What do I find most important in life? Why am I doing this in the first place?” And the answer is you do what you do because you love playing. And I think for me, I started to realize that the tours are way too long to drink. You’re living in close confined spaces with others. I don’t do good with that anyway, regardless. And when I was hung over, it just never made things any easier. I didn’t sleep well. I wasn’t polite to people. Now, I do it clean.

  When this tour is over, I won’t have had a drink in three months. I’m reaping the benefits of it too. I sing better. The shows have gotten longer. The tour is the biggest we’ve done so far without a break. I don’t think you can achieve that while drunk [Laughs]. It’s a lifestyle determined by your level of ambition. It’s been a gift that we didn’t blow up right at the start of our careers. We weren’t quite focused enough. I know I certainly wasn’t ready. It’s all happened for a reason and now that it’s come, I appreciate it more and we have the proper tools to think right. It’s an awful lot of work but we can handle it now. We can take the job seriously and make the show the absolute priority. We want it to be the best show possible.

  I even had to argue to cut down on the promo.  Our bread and butter as a band are the shows. This second album charted at like No. 107 or something. We’re just not there yet. We’re not here because of hugely selling singles. We got here because of our live reputation. That’s what we have to be focused on. It’s what makes us so special. It’s kind of put us on the organic long road.

So it’s a good thing you didn’t make it nine years ago when you were 21.

  LS:  My mom says had that happened, I would be dead by now. If you would’ve told me when I was 21, that it would take nine years to get to where I’m at now, I would’ve laughed in your face. And we’re still not where we want to be. We’re only about a fifth of the way there. I was arrogant back then, but it’s just amazing how we’ve — not voluntarily — taken this path which has made us better friends and a better band.

I assume you three gentlemen concur with everything Luke just said. Or, is there one of you thinking, “Fuck that, I’m gonna go get high!”

  GD: Not at all, we all know that we’re a team and not one of us wants to let the others down. We work together, we’re best friends. We depend upon each other.

  LS: I could be selfish and say, “Fuck it, I’m gonna go out, do some lines, and stay out all night.” That wouldn’t be fair. I could end up cancelling a show, which we haven’t done in over four years. We’d lose money. And it’s not my way. I’m no solo artist. There’s three other individuals in this band and this is their fucking livelihood. And at this moment-in- time, we’re on such thin ice. This business is so fickle, everything can be taken away so quickly. And we’re simply not taking that chance.
We all share that ambition. We want to be the biggest band in the world so why jeopardize that? We can have fun after. We can choose our times to do that, but we have our heads on straight to write the best music and make the best live show possible.

  LS: When I go back home, I’ll be living at the pub and doing what I want including staying up all night.
  GD: Luke’s the granddad of the group so he knows better. Sometimes only a few years can make a big difference.

  LS: When I was 27, I was not in the head space that I am now. Not that time is ticking so rapidly but you put yourself under great pressure once you realize you’re leaving your twenties. There are so many things I want to achieve and I got to fucking buckle down to make that happen. What happens is you think you’re the real shit yet you come to America it’s so fucking humbling. It just goes to show you how much work and how hard you have to work to come anywhere close to being notably successful or whatever that means. And I think had we gained real UK success like, say, Oasis, we would have fallen in the trap like a lot of other UK bands do. Oasis went from three years of nothing to playing Knebworth. Would we have had the drive had that happened to us? I don’t think Liam Gallagher did at all. You have to start all over again. It’s grueling. Unless you have an absolute monster or a song or album, the States is a blank canvas. And let’s face it, for 2018 rock ‘n’ roll, that’s virtually impossible.

  But what I really love is that we are the only band daring to accomplish the impossible. What is the impossible? The impossible is first of all, taking a rock band from the United Kingdom, crossing over into the Top 40 chart, gaining so much success over here that U.K. radio will be forced to finally fucking play us. We’ll keep going until we achieve the impossible.

So you’re the new Queen and Greta Van Fleet is the new Led Zeppelin.

  LS: That Zeppelin thing hangs around their neck like noose but they’ve used it to their advantage. I’m glad people are seeing more in us than just Queen. We’ve been told people hear Mott The Hoople, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Rolling Stones, Queen, Kinks and, as you yourself mentioned earlier, Cheap Trick. I love that one. But we did release the album the same week that Bohemian Rhapsody hit American movie theaters. Total coincidence.

  GD: Maybe not. Maybe good marketing [Laughs]. There’s a lot of conspiracy theories about it.


  And with that, their tour manager sticks his head in the door, breaks up the talk, and it’s on to soundcheck.