The Struts Frontman Luke Spiller Talks Energetic New Album ‘Strange Days’
A band with plenty of flamboyant rock extravagance is Derby, UK’s the Struts. They combine the over-the-top theatricality of Queen, camp indulgences of the Darkness and the rock stylings of Aerosmith, along with an added touch of the intricate musicianship of the Smiths, and even the infamous sing-along posturing of Oasis.
The Struts debut album “Everybody Wants,” catapulted them to fame, and they went on to tour with such illustrious names as the Rolling Stones, the Who, Guns N’ Roses, and the Foo Fighters. Consistent with the groups collaborative spirit, they have also worked with such versatile artists as Kesha, the Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. and Brit pop sensation Robbie Williams. Their latest album, “Strange Days,” demonstrates an impressive range and a rock ‘n‘ roll posturing that reminds us what drew them attention and cultivated a fervent fanbase in the first place. The band’s frontman Luke Spiller spoke with Entertainment Voice about their latest album.
Let’s get started with the title track, “Strange Days,” it seems a bit macabre at first, yet it is delivered with a lighthearted, optimistic manner, you know, the title track, which suggests somehow to embrace our current times, perhaps even find a sense of romance about how peculiar it all is. What is your general statement and attitude in this song?
I think you hit the nail on the head. I wanted to create something that was “of the times,” so to speak, but simultaneously I did want to create something which did have an uplifting quality to it and I think we achieved that. That was kind of my main objective. I think some of the things we’ve done in the past musically and lyrically kind of sometimes talk about quite real things or things that are “relatable.” But I think it’s always important to put a positive spin on it. I wanted to provide some sort of escapism while approaching the subject head on and remaining optimistic.
And of course The Struts just stand out for bringing back this high-octane, fun-loving strain of rock. Had this general style already been a favorite sound of yours or did you just sense it was a sound overdue for a resurgence?
No, not at all. I mean, I tend to just do what kind of feels good to me. I think, like, this album really wasn’t anything we’d done before probably reflects my influences, the entire band’s influences, the groups I used to love and still do in many ways like when I was really discovering what music was all about and what had been. I found it to be like an incredible education. The more I see music it’s just kind of living out a little bit of a fantasy, uhm, don’t really take it entirely too seriously but as long as I’m enjoying it and it makes me feel good. I mean, I definitely want to shadow some of my heroes and kind of like, get into that world. That’s why I just enjoy doing. It’s not as scientific as some people like to think. It’s us having fun really and kind of living out our childhood dreams.
You feel the presence of those influences in the work. In particular in a song like “Do You Love Me,” it sounds like it just might be the greatest party track of the whole album. How did this one come together and what did you intend to express?
That one was a cover. It’s originally a KISS song and there was a band called Girl from the UK who did a version of it which I absolutely loved and I thought the KISS version was pretty good, the Girl version was even better so I thought let’s knock it out of the park and create the greatest version of the song “Do You Love Me,” and that was one of the main motivations just because this album was a complete experiment and doing a cover was part of that process. I always think it’s important if you’re gonna take a song on you’re either going to take it to the next level or you’re going to reimagine it completely and I just wanted to sort of do the song the way I’d been hearing it in my head, since I’d been listening to it. So, uhm, that one was kind of just, it was a way to stay productive when we, like, hit a little bit of a writing block, not a writing block but by the fourth day we had recorded like six songs, so we decided to take the day off on the fifth day. Then on the sixth we did three songs including the cover of “Do You Love Me.” So it was a nice way to keep having fun.
On the flip side there’s a song like “I Hate How Much I Want You,” which takes a rather different approach, about being smitten to the maximum, in a way it almost serves as a foil to the previous track. Are these two meant to go together as a pair?
Well I’m always a big fan of a record that can be heard and listened to from start to finish with some sort of solid journey. With this record it was very apparent after some tweaks in terms of the arrangement of the tracks that “I Hate How Much I Want You,” for instance, should come straight after “Do You Love Me.” I always like to kind of pair things that sound kind of similar, express some things, yeah, “I Hate How Much I Want You,” along with “Do You Love Me” and “All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go,” those three of them all felt very “glam” and kind of really cool ‘70s element to them. So I felt really nice if I could keep them together because as a listener if you enjoy “All Dressed Up” and then it hits you with “Do You Love Me” and “I Hate How Much I Want You” is an heavier song compared to the previous two and then you go on to “Wild Child” which is super heavy. The order is definitely intentional.
We’re talking about influences and in this track what is the story behind choosing to tap Joe and Phil of Def Leppard to feature on the track, and was greenlighting the collaboration as simple as the phone call between you and Joe on the intro of the song? Or what’s the backstory?
The story was as simple as this: I had been in contact with Joe and a little bit later on Phil kind of came into the equation and we were talking probably a month before we went in to do these 10 days to write and record this record. And I said to them if we can kind of come up with anything, would they be interested and they were like, “yeah yeah yeah.” My original intention was to have them on “Do You Love Me” because Phil was the guitar player for Girl before joining Def Leppard eventually. So I thought it could’ve been cool to have them join in on that song and then for it to kind of go full circle and they politely declined so I immediately forwarded them “Do You Love Me” which they were much more excited about. With the phone call I was in Hawaii and upon listening to the rough version that we had, I wanted to establish the listener would know that Joe Elliott was going to be on this song as soon as they press play, so I kind of just called up Joe which is like, “wait, can I have 5 minutes of your time? I’m just going to record a quick phone conversation, and just follow my lead.” And that was the second take, it was kind of a bit of fun, really. But I was kind of influenced by a lot of the early 2000s rap albums. I have all these skips inside the songs in certain ways. I just thought it would be cool to do that, because we’d never done it before.
Some of the most thrilling guitar work, in an album already brimming with stimulating, mobilizing sounds is “Wild Child,” featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. Tell us about how this track came together.
It was a marriage between a lyric I had and this repetitive riff that Adam had and I remember I was kind of going over the lyric outside in the studio and the band was just playing this riff over and over again and I was like, what is this racket? Can we get serious and make some music? And it was the producer who was like, “no, no, no, this is cool, you should work on this.” So, uh, it came about very, very quickly like every other song, it was just I had all the lyrical content for the most part and it was just a case of shoe-horning and finding the melody and uh, yeah, it was kind of born very, very quickly. And it was a great expression of kind of musical freedom, especially when it goes into this three-four section half-way through up in the second chorus and then eventually goes back into four-four. It was just kind of really cool and then upon giving Tom, for instance, the song he just kind of took it to a completely different level which was brilliant. I’m a big, big fan of his and all of his work.
It just has this great collage of collaborators and another prominent feature is Albert Hammond Jr. of the Strokes, on “Another Hit of Showmanship,” who seems to vaguely tone down the vibrant excess of your music, while still retaining an energy consistent with the spirit of the band. How did the collaboration with Albert and the sound of this track come together?
The song was, you know, written/recorded before Albert kind of got his hands on it, but we had the arrangement, the melodies, the lyrics, we had all the parts that the band had, and it was kind of just very straightforward in terms of some of the guitar work. We had this cool riff that was sort of happening. We were really happy with the song because we all got a bit of that early 2000 indie in us and it was really kind of hard to avoid that growing up. It was definitely a nostalgic track when we started doing it. Again, I just kind of gave it to Albert and said “do whatever you like, literally. Go absolutely nuts.” And he came back with all these guitar tracks and I was like, “Wow! There we go!” And it just kind of took it to a completely different new level. He was perfect because, like I said, the song itself was a bit of a tip of the hat to bands like The Cure and obviously The Strokes and The Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines and Razorlight and these bands who were really sort of like big when we were discovering music. So it seemed like a perfect fit.
Let’s talk a bit about how the world has obviously been turned upside down in 2020. You have a string of UK acoustic shows planned for next year, 2021. Have you given any thought to translating your electrifying live style, and reproducing the energy to a virtual live setting in the meantime?
I mean we’ve definitely thought about doing some live streams or pre-taped performances which I think would be really good. In all honesty, for instance, we did some drive-in shows which are never gonna be able to compete with “the real thing,” but it was better than doing nothing. In terms of thinking how are we going to translate these tracks acoustically, we never worry too much about how we’re going to do things acoustically, or live for that matter, it’s kind of important not to do that otherwise you end up second-guessing yourself like while you’re in the moment and you’re creating and you’re laying songs down. So, we will, we will, we’ll definitely do that, especially since there’s no sign of a vaccine or anything, so no one’s going to be getting out and doing any shows anytime soon. So I’m sure we’ll end up doing something and keeping in touch with our fans.
Finally, what’s been your quarantine, your lockdown playlist? What bands, songs, artists have kept you company during this whole insane year?
Oh my gosh, uhm, I tend to just love making playlists, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Adele and Lana Del Rey, Elvis, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Noel Harrison, uh, Scott Walker, Edith Piaf, just anything that kind of floats my boat. You know, I love lyrically-driven music.
“Strange Days” releases Oct. 16 on Apple Music.